This November it has been eight years since our first two kiddos were brought to our door and we plunged into the journey of parenting. We have certainly learned a lot in those eight years! We often get asked if we would do life any differently had we known back then what we know now. The answer is a most emphatic yes!
We were once told by a therapist on an adoptive family retreat that we and the other adoptive parents have got to stop “shoulding on” ourselves, that is to say that we must stop saying, “We should have…” or “We should be…” There’s danger in drowning in oceans of regrets, getting stuck, and not moving forward. BUT, there’s power in learning from our mistakes and sharing them with others, hopefully catching them earlier in their journeys. So, in the hope of helping others earlier in their journey…
Here Is What We Would Have Done Differently.
- Asked more questions prior to accepting placement
I’m not sure if we would have gotten anymore information or that it would have been accurate information, but I wish we would have asked more questions before plunging in with rose-colored glasses. At times, we feel we would have done things differently had we known that we were taking on four children with some very intense, long-term needs, one of which is going to need lifelong care (which was not communicated to us). We often feel we would have done a much better job of helping them heal if we had fewer children to concentrate on and weren’t so busy just trying to keep them all safe and their basic needs met.
- Put in place better strategies to encourage attachment and bonding
There are so many strategies we have learned now, several years into our journey, that we didn’t know when our kids first moved in, and implementing them now would not have the same effect. We “should have” kept our family’s world small, creating a cocoon for bonding to take place in, and not introduced the children quickly to so many people and activities. We “should have” limited physical affection, gifts, and feeding to just us for a period of time.
- Been more assertive
Foster-to-adopt parents are limited in the choices they can make and what they can do until adoption is finalized, and we advocated fiercely for our kids in some areas. But, there were areas in which we “should have” fought harder. The biggest example of this relates to school choice for one of our children. A year after placement, the agency’s education liaison—who’d never met the child, us, or the teachers before—looked at me in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting and said, “You’re not [x’s] mom. You can’t make this decision [regarding what school the child would attend].” I cried, mostly because I wanted to slap him and yell, asking “And who’s fault is that? After your agency hasn’t completed the adoption in 15 months!” The school social worker called later to check on me after what she declared the worst IEP meeting she had ever attended. I stopped fighting and later found out I had more rights than I knew. The child, who was thriving and growing in the school we had placed the child in the first year, flatlined at the school the agency chose and really has not progressed much at all in the 6 years since. I “should have” been more assertive.
- Pushed for more evaluations
There are answers to our children’s challenges that we have just had answered in the last year or so, and looking back, I wish I would have asked for more evaluations earlier on so we could have implemented more interventions years ago.
- Not used typical parenting strategies
In the early days of parenting, we used typical, mainstream parenting strategies, such as time-outs, rewards, and punishment. These were so ineffective, and we didn’t learn until at least a couple years into our journey why typical parenting strategies do not work with traumatized children, nor did we know what strategies would work better. Reading The Connected Child by Dr. Purvis, Dr. Cross, and Wendy Sunshine and Adopting the Hurt Child by Keck and Kupecky revolutionized our parenting strategies and changed our family, and I try to revisit them as often as possible to ensure I don’t fall back into old habits.
- Not sweat the small stuff, picked our battles, and set the bar low
So I know that is a string of cliches, but making big deals out of small behaviors, taking on too many problematic behaviors at once, and expecting more age-appropriate behavior out of our children back when we didn’t know better definitely did not help bonding, attachment, and healing. We would have pretty well put aside homework battles, held kids that were “too big,” worked on big problems one by one, and so on had we known then what we know now.
I’m not sure how our family’s life would look had we done these six things differently. I can imagine several different outcomes. I know we can only be responsible for what we know at any given time…I just sure wish I would have known more eight years ago. I hope others can learn these lessons before we did on their journeys.
Now It’s Your Turn:
- What would you have done differently early in your foster care or adoption journey had you known then what you know now? Share so others can learn from your experiences.
My husband and I were longing for grandchildren. Our son and his wife had been married for 7 years and daughter and her husband for 4 years. Finally in November 2008 Darren and Margie called saying they were getting two foster children. Three days after Jasmine and Dalton came to live with them my father (Darren’s grandfather) passed away. Darren and Margie, of course, were bringing the children home with them for the funeral. We were excited to meet them but also had some reservations.
Reservations About Foster Grandchildren:
- We really love children, but would they respond to our love?
- Would they be sweet loving children or would they react differently because of all they had gone through in their biological home and the foster care system already?
- They would be spending time with so many new people because of the funeral. How will that affect them?
We needn’t have worried. Both Jasmine and Dalton called us Grandma and Grandpa from the beginning, even though we had given them the option of calling us by our given names. Dalton and Grandpa connected almost immediately. Jasmine and I had sooo much fun too. She helped me bake cookies. We helped Grandpa put decorations in the yard for Christmas. And we all had lots of fun playing in the park. At the funeral dinner I was so impressed at the concern Jasmine had for Grammy (my mother) who had just lost her husband. These two little ones definitely have a lot of love to give!
Our daughter and husband were also home for the funeral. And during this visit they announced they were expecting a baby due in June. Oh my, what great news! Now that brought another concern silently to my mind.
One More Honest Concern:
- How would we feel toward foster children after we have a biological grandchild? Would we love and treat them all the same? And, of course, we didn’t know how long these two foster kids would be in our lives. The goal was to help their biological mom learn to care for all their needs and return them to her home.
Then in the Spring before the birth of our daughter’s child Darren and Margie announced they were getting two more foster children. Two boys who would be eligible for adoption were coming to live with them. So we went from having no grandchildren to 7 months later having 5 children calling us Grandma and Grandpa! They are each one unique and an important part of our family. We love them all. We needn’t have worried could we love adopted grandkids as much as biological grandkids. They are all “OURS.”
A Lesson Learned:
One thing we have learned about having adopted through foster care grandkids is that they live in the moment. They love receiving gifts but for the most part aren’t so concerned about keeping them or having a sentimental attachment just because it came from Grandma and Grandpa. Nothing has been permanent for them. How could it be when they’ve been in seven foster homes before being adopted and not being able to take all their belongings with them each time?
We find that spending fun times together is the most rewarding for them and for us.
- Trips to the zoo and theme parks as well as picnics
- Card games
A simple game of fox and geese in the snow with Grandpa at his house have been especially memorable for us and hopefully our adopted grandchildren will hold these memories close long after Grandma and Grandpa have departed this life.
What do you think of Gilderoy Lockhart? I’m not sure that our family has met anyone that would love to invite him over for dinner. Have you noticed how everyone is treating him.
- Professor Sprout is annoyed with him and gives him bad stares
- Harry and Ron groan at the thought of having to listen to him
- The other students think he’s a joke
How would you react if you had to talk to someone like Professor Lockhart? Would you be polite and listen to him?
Our family noticed that Lockhart only seems to talk about one thing – himself. He tells Professor Sprout how well he could repair the Whomping Willow. He talks with Harry Potter about his fame. He tries to prove to his class that he is very brave and daring. He even gives his students an exam that contains questions about himself.
Professor Lockhart is driving people away because he talks about himself too much. He doesn’t appear to have any friends except for his own reflection in the mirror.
However, it can be hard to make friends. When you’re a foster kid, adopted kid, or a kid with a special need, other people can just think you’re plain weird. To be honest though it can be hard to make friends for several reasons that are our fault:
- We move around from home to home so much that it’s hard to learn how to make friends.
- We don’t want to make friends because we know we’ll move to a new house anyways.
- We want friends but we just know that people will think we’re weird if they know about our past in our biological home.
Our adopted kids agreed that making friends could be scary. You might have some people that think you’re weird. Some people might make fun of you because they don’t understand why you’re scared of the dark still. However, as one of my kids said, “Trusting people can be very, very scary but all good stuff comes from trusting people.”
What are some ways to make friends?
- Ask people questions about themselves
Don’t JUST tell people about your favorite movie or favorite Wii game. Ask them what their favorite movie is or what they like to do on the weekend.
- Listening is important
Whenever you’re with people that you want to make friends with, use your ears more than you use your mouth. Listen to them talk about their weekend so you can find out more about someone’s family and friends. You’ll find out what things you have in common.
- Show interest in their conversation
When you come upon a few people talking about something, don’t be like Gilderoy and make the conversation about you. Listen to what people are already talking about and then compliment them or ask a question about THEIR conversation.
- Kind words are the best
Other people usually don’t want to be around people that talk bad about them. There is nothing wrong with telling someone that you would like to be friends with them because they’re really good at basketball or dance or whatever. You’ll actually make the other person feel special.
- Don’t force someone to be your friend
Look. There are a lot of people in the world with different likes and dislikes. Not everyone is going to want to be your friend – AND THAT’S OK. There are other people that will want to be your friend. For some kids it hurts their feelings when someone doesn’t get along with them so they try harder to be their friend. You’ll actually make the other person more upset when you won’t leave them alone. Remember. It’s ok to feel bad that the friendship didn’t work out BUT there are other people to build relationships. One great and safe friendship is better than twenty just okay friendships.
Now It’s Your Turn:
Dana just moved in with her adoptive parents. She gets along great with her mom and dad. She just really wants friends that are her age to hangout with rather than spending time with her parents all the time. There are other girls Dana’s age in her new neighborhood. Dana always sees the other girls talking and having fun. Dana really admires the way they do each other’s hair with really cool ribbons and most of them also seem to be really good at playing baseball. They all seem nice enough but Dana is really nervous to talk with them.
Dana is really scared of the dark even though she is eleven years old. Some bad things happened to her in her biological home during the night. She doesn’t like to remember her biological home and doesn’t really want to talk about those things much. However, she doesn’t know what to do if the other girls were to find out about her fear of the dark and her past. To make things more complicated Dana has heard that the other girls are planning an overnight party. The mother of one of the girls asked Dana’s mom if she would like to join the girls.
- What would you do if you were Dana?
- Should Dana try to make friends? Why?
- How would you make friends?
- How could Dana’s mom help her in this situation?
- What are some good questions Dana could ask to make friends?
- What are some compliments Dana could tell the other girls?
Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04 | Ch. 05 | Ch. 06 | Ch. 07 | Ch. 08 | Ch. 09 | Ch. 10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12 |
Ch. 01 | Ch. 02 | Ch. 03 | Ch. 04