Homecoming parties and other mistakes to avoid
Recently I read a post on a Yahoo Adoption Group that made me cringe: A woman was thrilled that her newly adopted 8-year-old son would be home in time to join her family on a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas. They were leaving two days after he arrived and she thought it would be a great family bonding experience.
I thought back to when my son first came home. He did not want to leave the apartment at all, and was perfectly content wandering around, opening and closing doors and turning lights on and off. He had never opened a cabinet door or turned on a light before and was fascinated by it. We had purposely kept our toy purchases to a minimum and had gotten blocks, crayons, a stuffed animal and a toy car for him, but just taking in his new surroundings — his room and our apartment was enough for him. He needed time to absorb it all.
We stayed inside for a week before venturing out and I still remember the look in his eyes when we did — it was a mixture of overwhelming fear and sadness. I later learned that a friend’s child had been told that she would be sold into slavery when she arrived in her new country. I imagine my son may have been told something similar and thought his time with us was coming to an end and we were bringing him to some new unfamiliar place.
We never know what our children are thinking and this is especially true when they are working to adapt to their new lives, new families, new sights, sounds and tastes. As expats, we have the benefit of slowly easing our children into their new lives, but very few of us take advantage of this. As proud parents we want to show our children off and often plan trips to our native country even before we’ve settled into our lives as expat parents.
We cocooned our son for about three weeks, venturing out more and more as he became comfortable with his surroundings. We would go to the local park during off-hours when most the children were at school so he could familiarize himself with the equipment without having to worry about socializing or feeling awkward
After three weeks, perhaps feeling a little isolated ourselves, we invited another couple over only to realize that he still was not ready for company. He was obviously still struggling with the idea of family. He asked me excitedly if he was getting an additional mother and father. While I found it disconcerting, I was comforted that he knew that we would always be his parents – he now needed to understand that we were the only parents he was getting.
And so we went back into semi-cocoon phase again until he had a clear understanding of family and our respective roles. Looking back, I think that the time we spent alone as a family helped him tremendously. If we had thrown a welcome home party or taken him on a grand vacation to show him “his wonderful new life” he would have had a complete meltdown. My son came from very humble beginnings, he was in an orphanage since he was an infant and had never had a toy of his own before.
We even asked our family to wait to visit until he was comfortable and felt safe. They honored our request (not happily) and the initial meetings took place 6 months after our son had arrived home. He was comfortable, understood that his grandparents were visiting, knew what that meant and was exited to meet them. We have our children for a lifetime, we can give them six months to adjust to their new lives and to bond with us without any pressure or social responsibilities imposed on them.
Here are a few things you can do to help your child adjust to his new surroundings:
• Do not have a big party or a grand welcome home. Your child is overwhelmed, give him time to adjust.
• Do not invite people over for at least the first week he is home, more if you feel it is necessary. Allow him the luxury of exploring his new environment in relative privacy.
• Do not buy him a lot of toys or things. Remember, he comes from humble beginnings and may never have played with a real toy before. Ease him into it slowly with simple items, like crayons and paper.
• Do not allow people outside the immediate family to hold or cuddle your child for the first month he is home. He needs to learn that you are his primary caregiver and what it means to be a family.
• Do not go on a vacation or on a trip back to your country of origin until your child is secure in his new life if this is possible.
• Don’t expect your child to automatically know how to play. Many children have to be taught. Explain to them what each piece of equipment at the playground is and how it is used. Physically climb with them and play until they get the hang of it.
• Be patient with food. Many children will not eat what you put in front of them because it is unfamiliar. Try to cook foods from his native country.
• We brought some of the same soap used at the orphanage home with us and bathed him with it. It gave him at least one smell that was familiar!
Enjoy this special bonding time and enjoy your child.