I think we as adoptive parents also need to be a little more honest about what coming home with a new, non-infant child really looks like. If we make things seem too easy-breezy, then when new parents find themselves struggling, they will think it is because there is something wrong with them. So, in an effort for full disclosure, here are some of the things we have experienced when bringing home a new child.
1. Normal always takes longer than you think it will. This is especially true if you think you will get over the jet lag and step back into life as you knew it. I'll tell you right now, there is no more life as you knew it. Nope, no matter how much sleep you can get, you're not going back there. I'm going to steal a word picture from Edith Schaeffer here. Picture a mobile. You know, the ones that are all counterbalanced and hang evenly because everything is just so. Now, what happens to that mobile when you add something new to it? It's swings around wildly and you have to take some time to fuss with it before it hangs evenly again. Even when it is even, you still have to wait for the swinging to stop. Now imagine that you family is that mobile. Before you brought your new child home, things were pretty well balanced. You might swing a bit if there was a breeze, but you were pretty stable. Now, you have added a completely new member to your family mobile. Your whole family life is going to have to readjust itself to accommodate this person, and even when you do, life is still going to feel as though it is swinging for a good long while. If you are home just three weeks, you haven't even started the adjustment process yet. We're now home a little more than eight months and while we are still swinging, it feels more or less as though we have finally figured out the whole balance thing. Remember, if you have brought home two children, there is more to balance and the whole process will take longer.
2. Life will feel as though it has fallen apart. Bringing home a new non-infant is not much different than having a new baby. The new child is bigger, but requires just as much time and effort. This new child, even if they look as though they are older is also starting from scratch; everything is new. New language, new family, new home, new customs, new clothes, new foods, new expectations, new limitations. New. New. New. There is nothing to hang on to. It is hard to navigate this. Some children rage, others are spacey, others are uncooperative or clingy or panicked if the parent leaves. These new parents are the only thing that are even remotely familiar from before the plane ride. It is not unusual for a new child to not sleep or only sleep if the parent is right there. It is not unusual for a child to not want the parent out of his sight. It is not unusual for a child to be extremely picky. It is not unusual to have all of these things at once. Some children won't be able to dress themselves, even though they are at an age where we think they should. Some children will not be able to any of the things their age mates in stable circumstances can. And the whole, I'll avoid toileting issues if I don't have to change a diaper-thing? Ha! You will deal with the toilet and everything that comes with it. Essentially you will have a giant newborn that needs every ounce of energy that you have until that child feels comfortable again. It could take months. Your job will become that child for that period of time.
3. You will get nothing done. Nothing. Unless you have many friends who will provide you with many meals, you will order more take-out than you like. There will be dust bunnies freely roaming your home, seeking to devour young children. Laundry will pile up to the heights of Mt. Everest. You will probably at some point even go to the store to buy new underwear because then at least it will be clean. Paper plates will become your friend even if you detest them with your entire being. You will not do a single thing that you were used to doing before because you either won't have the energy or you won't have the time or both. You will feel as though you are the worst parent in the world because you using the wrong measuring stick. If you would never suggest a mother with a newborn should keep on top of all those things, then you should not expect them of yourself. There is no reason to feel bad if you spend your time caring for a child instead of loading the dishwasher. Life will feel out of control and you will wonder what you have done. This will happen, do not kid yourself that it won't.
It doesn't sound like much fun, I know. Truly, in these early days, fun is hard to come by. It is a season, though, and life does begin to slowly regain a sense of normal. To help you get through it, there are couple of things that can help.
- Sleep as much as you can. If you have a non-sleeping child, this can be difficult, but try to sleep at every opportunity. For truly dire situations, spouses may have to tag team to ensure that sleep can be caught up a bit.
- Friends. You need people in your life who will support you through the hard. I know some adoptive parents have trouble finding friends who will be supportive, but it is worth the search.
- Respite. You need to give yourself a break every now and then. This is vital to your mental health. Do not feel guilty about a break, it will make you a better parent.
- Realistic expectations. If you think you will be able to keep your house as you would like, cook your meals, and manage your life as well as introducing a new child into your family, you will make things worse by adding to your own stress. Let all of those things go. Focus on your new child and your other children if you have them to make everyone as comfortable as possible. This is your full-time job, everything else is negotiable.
And that three week mark? In my experience of bring home 12 children it is the absolute nadir of well, everything. It doesn't matter if it is a birth or adoption, three weeks in is dreadful. The worst. It is the week everyone should bring meals to the new family because it is when the slow decline has become an avalanche and life has officially careened out of control. The only thing you can do is get through it as best you can and remember it really does get better from here.