I’m wrapping up a series today on international adoption, and while I still have about 100 other topics I could talk about, since I wrote a blog about waiting well, I wanted to address coming home and transition into life as a family.
Like everything else in adoption, people have strong opinions about whether or not to have people at the airport to welcome you and your new child home, and once again, I think it depends on many different factors. We did choose to have people at the airport, and I don’t regret that for a second. It was one of the sweetest moments in our whole journey to walk into baggage claim and see the faces of our family and closest friends who walked alongside us. To see all their hands go up in and cheer in celebration, to share tears of joy and relief with them, for them to see our son and just be so full of love for him was something we’ll always cherish.
But, we also wanted the amount of people to be within reason. This was a special but overwhelming moment for us, especially our son. We were utterly exhausted and he was still getting used to his very new parents-we had only been together a matter of days. We didn’t have the energy to talk to an overwhelming amount of people and we didn’t want him to be more overwhelmed than he already was. We had lots of people on social media following our journey and we appreciated all of the support, but we just felt like this was a sacred moment that we wanted to keep to those closest to us. So many sweet moments happened at the airport, like Kai looking up at me and giving me the biggest smile I had seen since we had been together, the way my nephew kept reaching up and just rubbing his little head, the way Kai turned and looked at my identical twin nephews and grinned like “hey! there’s two of you!”, both sets of grandparents meeting their newest grandson in an unconventional way but with full acceptance.
Having people at the airport may not be for everyone, but I do think it can be done well. With that, I wanted to give you some things to consider along with some tips to help you make the best decision for your set of circumstances and family.
Things to Consider
-The age of your child. If you are bringing home an older child, I would highly suggest making it just family, if that. Coming into a new country, into a room full of strangers who want to suddenly meet you is intimidating and overwhelming. The last thing you want in that moment is to elicit a fear response in him or her.
-Your child’s health/needs. Some of you may be adopting a child with special needs or health conditions, so limiting exposure may be in their best interest physically and emotionally.
-Biological kids. Some of you have biological children who may not be traveling with you. You may be away from them for a couple of weeks, they are missing you and excited to see you and their new sibling, so its important they don’t feel overshadowed or overwhelmed either.
-Your own motivations. If you are inviting people to the airport out of guilt because they supported you so you feel like you have to or owe it to them, that is not a right motivation. I know you are also so excited to finally be home and together and want to celebrate, but the number one priority is what is right for your child and your family in that moment, nothing else.
-Limit the number of people. I am telling you, do not make it an open invitation. I am really glad I stood my ground in this, because we had lots of people who supported and followed our journey through social media and wanted to be there, but I cannot stress enough how overwhelming it will be for all of your, especially your child to see that many new faces at once. If people are offended by that, I’d honestly be questioning their true support.
-Set a point person for communication. I asked my mom and my sister to be that point of communication to give all the details. I gave them our flight info and the list of people we wanted there, they handled the rest. That way I wasn’t consumed with messages while trying to travel with my new baby. If someone had a question, they went to one of them to get it answered. We did have a facebook page for people to follow, and one thing I wish I would have done was ask my mom or sister to post on that page that we weren’t doing a big airport thing and to respect our privacy in coming home. I was getting messages about what time our flight was coming in from people who weren’t invited to be there and when they could meet/see Kai and it was just too much.
-Set clear boundaries. This is so important and I think another thing that your point person of communication needs to communicate. I strongly encourage you not to let anyone else hold your child at the airport, keep them close to you. I kept Kai in the ergo, and vote if you can wear your baby or toddler, do it. People can still wave and say to them sweetly, but don’t let your child get passed around. You need to remember where your child is coming from and once again, go back to those considerations. Whatever you want the boundary to be, no holding, no touching, no hugging (also consider the fact that your child may have had very limited exposure to physical touch or an over-exposure and either way, not understand boundaries), no posting on social media, whatever you feel is best. You are the parent, you know what is best, stand your ground.
-Keep it short. I know people have waited a long time to welcome everyone home, but you need to do just that, go home. I think we were there about 20-30 minutes. Made our rounds, took some pictures (I also recommend having a photographer there or at least appoint someone to take some good photos-I cherish them, my son cherishes them, and I wasn’t stressing about it), grabbed our bags, and headed out. There will be a time and a place to catch up, but the airport isn’t it.
The journey does not end when there’s no more paperwork, and reality definitely sets in after the airport. The transition home is hard. I have no other word for it. I wanted to share with you what I believe is the best decision we made to help transition and with attachment, but also some things that I wish I could go back and change.
-Keep their world “small.” This is my biggest regret. What I mean by small is I wish we would have taken a hiatus from all of our commitments and just focused on being a family of 3, staying home being our number one priority. Some people call this “cocooning”, and we will definitely be doing it with our next adoption. Seriously, two days after we got home I felt like I needed to go to the arboretum because family was in town. Just no. I thought we could “jump in” to normal life, like I’ll cook every night and work and go to the store and keep going to community group and church and serve and #allthethings. I’m telling you, do not do this, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s attachment. People can wait. Commitments can wait-someone else will step in and if they don’t, the world will still spin. Good friends and faithful family members will be understanding and still be there when cocooning is over and you slowly emerge to the world.
-Accept help. I know this sounds crazy, but I truly felt like after we fundraised and so many people offered us support during our process, we did not deserve any more help. On top of that, I felt like since we weren’t bringing home a newborn we weren’t supposed to accept help. People kept offering to cook meals for us and I said no. People offered to do house/yard work and I said no. Thank God for the friends who didn’t listen to me and had a key to our house while we were gone and stuck meals in my freezer anyway. You will be tired and overwhelmed. Let people help you. Say yes to the meal train. Say yes to having a cleaning service come in once a week for that first month at least (what a GREAT gift to give a newly adoptive family). Say yes to coffee and chocolate and wine being dropped off on your porch. Say no to the commitments and keep their world small, but say yes to the things that will actually free you to do that well.
-Be vigilant about boundaries. This is the thing I feel we did right. When we brought our son home, he was five months old, and no one was allowed to hold him or feed him except us. We prepared our families for this, and did not even give them a time frame, just, whenever we feel like we’ve developed a strong enough attachment. The reason for this is even though yes, our son was an infant, he had multiple caregivers during those first five months. Want to know the most critical time for attachment? The nine months in the womb and the first year out of it. He lost him mom he bonded with for nine months, and the first nearly half of that year his caregivers were precious, but they had multiple kids with multiple needs to take care of. He needed to know our consistency. He needed to know we were mom and dad, and we weren’t going anywhere. This didn’t mean grandparents or other family couldn’t get on the floor and play with him or help give him a bath, it just meant the things that children need most to survive and feel loved and cared for, we needed to be the only ones doing that for him so it was clear. If someone held their arms out like people do with babies (you know the “want to come see me?”), I would put my arm in front and say “I’m sorry, I know he’s cute but we need to be the only ones holding him right now. And if you can wear your child in an ergo or wrap so they are close to you as much as possible, that’s even better. Two months later, we did allow grandparents to start holding him, but we were extremely slow with introducing people. I think it took nearly 6-7 months for all of our family members to hold him at some point, and probably a year for close friends. He didn’t go into childcare at church until he was two, and even then that entire year we switched off who served in his class each week so one of us was still there. Every situation and child will be different, but it’s imperative to set some good boundaries for attachment.
I hope if you are a waiting family, this helps gives you some guidance as you navigate your journey and prepare to bring your son or daughter home. It is such a sweet, hard, but precious time for your family. Always remember that you are the parent, you know what is best, and you get to make the decisions. I pray your coming home and transition goes as smooth as it can.