As I was praying for you this morning, I thought of a few things I wish I had done or known about before we brought our own two fost/adopt kids into our home. I'd like to share these things with you. The things I say here may not be right for your family. Each person, each child, each family, each situation is different, so you can take any advice or leave it. The only advice I do encourage you to take is to depend on God every step of the way, asking him to lead and guide you.
There are a few other things I learned in our family's journey that you may want to consider as you prepare for the two new little guys:
- Take time away from the children at least once every week or two. If someone offers respite care, use it. If no one does, ask people. Ask me. It will be a lot more difficult for you than you thought it would be. The needs of the two little ones will be so all encompassing, there is a real danger in neglecting your health, your marriage, your other child, and anything else you need to do.
- Do all you can to work on attachment issues. Assume they will have attachment issues. I know a good therapist in our area, but there are books, trainings, and the advice of others who have walked this road before. Some of the things I wished I had done sooner were to play more face to face games, feed them with bottles or sippy cups looking into their eyes, use a carrier to keep them close, sing to them, and have "time ins" instead of "time outs." I would also severely limit the toys. It is too easy for unattached children to put material things before relationships.
- Put relationships before material things yourself. If something is really dear to you, like grandma's china, lock it up. The kids will know just what to break in order to get under your skin. Kids with RAD also tend to be accident prone. We had to replace many towel and toilet paper holders the first year they came to us. We also had to replace some screens that we worked so hard to put in before the kids came to us. Why? The kids kept trying to escape and pushed through them.
- It may be good to get little alarms that beep when a door or window is opened. It may save you a screen. The alarms may also save you from having to run after a naked child running into traffic.
- Know that you, the mother, will be the target of their rages and anger. Even your husband may not understand what you have to deal with when it's just you and the kids. The boys may act like perfect angels around strangers, but when they feel they are beginning to love you, they will probably try to push you away. The way they push you away may look different, depending on the type of attachment disorder, so be aware. It may be easy to spot the RAD in a child who kicks, hits, and swears at you, but the other child who likes to quietly play in his room may be even more unattached.
- Have a good support system. Accept help from people. There is no shame in asking for meals or a housecleaning. I tried to clean the house myself, but utterly failed when the whole family, except for the two kids, came down with the flu. That's when we had an investigation because of false abuse charges. It was a really difficult time. I wish I would have asked for help, but I didn't want to bother people. Go ahead bother us! If you are overwhelmed, ask for help. Really! Ask me!
- The people who offer to help before you get the kids may be different than the people who actually do it. Some people wait until asked, and don't understand that sometimes you are just to tired to even pick up the phone. They want to help, but they don't know how, or they don't want to help in ways you don't like or someone else is already giving. An online care calender is a good way to let your needs be known. Others shy away when they see how much help you really need or think you've bit off more than you can chew. They avoid pain. Still others have things that come up in their own lives, and can't help as much as they'd like.
- Go to meetings and talk with other foster and adoptive parents where you will learn you are not alone. They may just have the perfect advice for you, and almost all of them understand that you can take their advice or leave it. We all know that there isn't a typical foster child and one size does not fit all. I know of a group in our area that meets once a month that has been a real help to me.
- You will spend a lot of time taking your new kids to visits, doctors, dentists, therapists, social worker visits, and specialists. You will also spend a lot of time doing paperwork for the county that will take time from your kids. Some of the rules, appointments, and requirements were almost more of a burden than taking care of the kids. But they have to be done. One social worker told me to document every time one of my kids hit or kicked me when he first came to our house. I told her I couldn't because it happened many times an hour and I'd be writing more than parenting. I understand the county's need for documentation to avoid lawsuits, but it was such a burden. I dread paperwork to this day.
- Learn the signs of FASD. Many doctors and social workers around here don't know how to recognize it themselves and minimize its effect on children. My daughter's first doctor didn't see it, the county social workers didn't see it, but she has full FAS. Unfortunately, our state is one of the worst in diagnosis and treatment of FASD, but at least you can change your parenting style and do what you can to prevent secondary problems. I've had social workers admit that most of the children in the foster care system have been exposed to drugs and alcohol, but they don't think it causes many long term problems. It does.
- Understand that when your children come into your home, they are coming into a new culture, even if they come from the same city and are the same race. There are new foods, music, ways of handling conflict, social expectations, routines, and smells. This is a lot for anyone to handle, and even more so for kids who come from hard places. Just like anyone moving into a new culture, there may be a period of time where there is a honeymoon phase. But then the culture shock happens and all hell breaks loose. It's usually around the time RAD sets in. But know that when the kids regress, they are actually closer to becoming a part of your family.
- You will feel the loss that your kids suffer and for yourself. Give yourself room to grieve. You will learn the forgiveness of God as you learn to forgive the birth family and others. You will learn to forgive yourself. Take time away to let God work in your heart and to let your guard down. When you are with the kids, you need to be cheerful, playful, firm, and kind. You will also be too busy to work through your own relationship with God. I wish I had spent more time alone with God, instead of stuffing the hard emotions. A good therapist or spiritual director would have helped also. But because I didn't take the time then, I have to take the time now, when it's a lot more difficult. My health also suffered. I gained twenty pounds at one point, and developed migraines, backaches, and more asthma.