11 Ways to Help Newly Adoptive Families

Our last flight home!
"How can we best help when they come home?"

This was one of the best questions someone asked me recently about a friend coming home from an international adoption. Friends and family want to help, but they don't really know how to help once adoptive families bring their kiddos home. It's not the same as having a baby. You can't always help them the same way by sitting and holding a baby and letting a mom take a nap.

Agencies do their part to prepare adoptive parents. They encourage them to line up help with food, groceries, respite, etc. But, having friends who are willing to take the initiative when it comes to these types of things is super helpful. So...ASK! Ask what is most helpful, ask if you can head up a meal train, ask what you can do. Ask how to help. Ask, Ask, Ask!

Adoptive families have already spent time, and in our case, years raising support, doing fundraisers, asking friends for reference letters and a long list of other things. While they travel they have to find people to help with animals while their gone, watch their house, watch their kids, get their mail, get their house hurricane ready (Oh, that was just us), you name it. I will never forget our neighbor texting me shortly before we were to travel back home from Bulgaria to tell me she cleaned out our fridge and freezer. That was not a pretty job, Hurricane Florence hit Wilmington right after we left for Bulgaria, by this time our power had been out about a week and a half. I would have never asked her to deal with spoiled meat and molding food, but she took the initiative and helped in a practical way that made coming home so much easier. On top of that, she texted me when we were flying back home to find out what she should restock it with. Adoption is a humbling process to begin with and it's hard to ask for more help, but those families need it more than ever when they come home with traumatized children that will require every ounce of time and emotional energy they have to offer.

Here are some easy practical ways to help out a newly adoptive family!

1. Welcome them home. Personally, I wanted a huge reception at the airport when we arrived from our international pick-up trip, but unfortunately, we didn't fly in to a local airport. Some people may prefer a simple "Welcome Home" sign in the yard or balloons! Send a simple text to check-in after they get home. Most importantly, find out how the family wants to be welcomed home by asking. Everyone loves a good surprise, but after a transcontinental flight home with an overstimulated child a big welcome at the airport may be more stressful than helpful for some people. Ask the family what they would like and be prepared for it to possibly change at the last minute!

2. Set up a meal train for them! This seems like an obvious one, but it doesn't always happen. When you set it up consider doing it for at least six weeks. The first couple of weeks these parents are barely getting their feet on the ground and most times, it takes even longer than that. Trust me, trying to fix dinner with a child that cries constantly, won't let you put him down, clingy bio kids that are struggling with insecurity because of the new situation and losing all track of time is not the most conducive environment to plan and fix a meal.

3. Respect their time cocooning. Families are cocooning to ensure their adoptive children attach and learn that they are their parents, that they will be the ones providing for their needs. Children from orphanages have multiple caregivers. Cocooning gives the parents time to be the primary caregivers so when their children venture out into the world, they know they are the ones that will be caring and providing for them. Children from adopted from foster care in the states or internationally, need to learn this is their permanent family and source of support, not something temporary. It's so basic, but many of these children do not know what a mother is. They may not have any experience in a family or their experience in a family could be very distorted and traumatic. Cocooning also just gives everyone time to get to know each other and adjust to a new normal.

4. Find out the boundaries the adoptive parents want to have for their children regarding their interaction with non-immediate family members. Most adoptive families will communicate with you about this boundaries in one way or another, if they don't ask them for guidance. Once families emerge from the cocoon the kids aren't fixed. Currently, they know the most about survival and that means if they get thirsty, they ask whoever is around for a drink. If they get scared and need a hug they will look for that from anyone that is available. If they've had multiple caregivers, they don't know to seek help from parents. When you cocoon the kiddos only have their parents as options to meet their needs, but when they get out into the real world there are lots of well-meaning people that want to help. The parents need you to help reinforce to their children that their needs will be met by their mom and dad. This is best for the parents AND for the kiddos. That means requests for hugs, food, water, help are all directed back to their parents if they are present. If a kid needs help opening a water bottle, it's easy to just say, "I bet your mom or dad would love to help you get that bottle open." Help the parents by always directing their child back to them for any kind of help they need. If they speak another language that you know, speak only to them in English, unless asked by the parent to do otherwise. Remember the goal is to help secure attachment with the parents, cutting the parent out of communication undermines that goal. Again, ask for guidance from the parents for what they want in your interaction with their children and continue to ask because it may change over time.

5. Pick up groceries and run errands. No need to explain this one! It's a life saver to not have to worry about these details!!

6. Check-in with them. Quite honestly, most adoptive parent have absolutely no idea what life will look like when they get back home with their kiddos. Soooo, checking in after they are home to see if there are more specific ways you can help is amazing. Getting a text or a quick call makes a difference. It lets you know you aren't alone and someone cares. Adoption is lonely and hard, especially once you get home. Checking in and letting them know that while they may be holed up in their house they aren't forgotten. It is almost as good as a prepared dinner, picking up their groceries and mowing their yard...combined! Well, maybe not for everyone, but if you are a people person like I am it was huge!

Girls night out at Jungle Rapids!!!
7. Offer to take their biological kids out for a night. Adoption is hard on the bio kids. They have to learn to share their parents, live with new siblings and their whole household has been turned upside down. Sometimes a special night out with friends or family is exactly what they need to feel encouraged and loved. We had some sweet college-aged girls that invested in our girls during this season. They made them feel loved and special. As always, make sure you check with the parents to ensure that this will be helpful and not the opposite.

8. If appropriate, give them a night out. This isn't doable always, but in some scenarios it can work. Maybe if they have a younger child that is a good sleeper, you can come over during nap or bedtime and let them run out for a minute.

9. Take them a gift. Maybe it's dropping a coffee or tea by one morning because who are we kidding, you know they are exhausted. A friend brought me some lotion and body wash when she dropped off a meal. It totally surprised me, but I so appreciated her thoughtfulness. I had another friend who showed up randomly and often with my favorite--chai tea latte! Small things make you feel loved, normal and not alone.

10. Be thoughtful about what you say. Many adoptive parents are ok with questions, but many are not. Know your friends and err on the side of caution when asking about the child's history or bio family.

Bozi's first friend and party.
11. Extend grace to your friend. Remember this relationship will be one-way for a season. These families are going through a major adjustment. Don't be angry if they don't return a text or call in a timely manner or at all. Don't be offended if they forget your birthday or can't attend your child's birthday party with the new kiddos. Bozi was invited to a birthday party a week or so after we got home. Fortunately, the parents of the child put no pressure on us at all to attend. The party was in a park where we could hover nearby or wander off and not participate if we needed to. We did a little of both and it was a great experience for Bozi, he made his first friend here in the USA. This doesn't work for every family or child so just be sensitive. We missed a wedding of a very close set of friends due to our travel dates. They were so kind and understanding. Just be patient!

This list is far from exhaustive. I'm sure I've missed some tips, so feel free to add them in the comments! Each family is different. Every adoption is different. People have different needs and find different things helpful. Communication is crucial. People tell you all the time in a crisis or difficult time to just give them a call if you need help and they mean it. I've said this as well. Sometimes setting up a plan or texting someone and offering specific help is the extra step they need to make it actually happen.

Take the initiative. ASK!