Those of you who have read my blogs before know that I typically write about the international adoption process my family went through over 10 years ago, and the impact that it has had on my parenting. As a change of pace, I interviewed my 17-year-old son, who was adopted at seven years of age, for this blog. It is my hope that perhaps it will provide adoptive parents some insight into what we, as parents, don’t understand when trying to blend our families through adoption.
In our case, we had a 9-year-old biological son when our adopted boys came home, and I was wondering what it was like for two young boys to come into a family who already had a child. While I have worked to understand the gap that exists between adoptive parents and the children who are coming into their lives, I don’t think we can ever truly understand it unless we ask.
I am lucky in that respect; my son is willing to share his ideas. I think we can all learn from his perspective—and I hope that the parents reading this can learn from my family’s missteps as well.
Q: How was it for you, coming into a new home and having to follow new rules?
A: Because me and my brother came into the house and didn’t speak the language (English), we tried to follow the lead of someone who had been there and knew the rules (our new brother). When we got in trouble, if we had been doing two things, we had to try to figure out which one we were getting in trouble for, then not do that one again. If we guessed wrong, we would then know that… Oops! We didn’t get it right! That’s where the English/ Polish barrier was hard for us. Until we learned English and started to get it, there were some hard times.
Q: We had a translator for the whole summer when you first came. As parents, it was very helpful. It gave me comfort that someone could help you guys understand and act as a mediator. Was it helpful for you?
A: I personally liked listening to others speak English and learning from them. It did help me understand things better, so I would have to say, yes.
Q: Are there any thoughts you have to give parents that have a child coming into their lives that does not speak the same language?
A: I would say, don’t rush into schooling. Make sure the child is ready; possibly even leave him back a year. Remember, this change is a big thing, and they are not as ready as you think. Make sure the child knows his address. That was big and scary for me, not knowing if the bus driver really knew where I lived. Especially when you put me in the after-school homework club; I wasn’t sure that bus driver knew my address. That gave me a lot of anxiety; that’s why I never went and would show up home early.
Q: In our situation, we felt holding you back a year was the right thing to do. Do you agree or disagree?
A: In my case, I agree. I think it was the right thing. I would be a senior in high school now if I wasn’t left back, but I would be way behind in everything education and sports-wise.
Q: Do you feel maturity hit you at the right time, age-wise?
A: Yes, I feel like this summer it hit me; like, yeah, I better start taking all of this seriously. I need to do well, I have my license now, I need to stop getting in trouble; and if I was a senior, I would really have done badly my junior year. I would be in worse shape, grades-wise, and then would possibly end up in a community college. That’s not bad, but that’s not where I want to be.
Q: What do you think could make a difference in helping a family blend?
A: I feel like when people adopt, they want to get the child right on point; and they feel they need to be serious right away and up to speed as soon as possible. To build the child’s trust, I feel the adults should act more like a friend in the beginning and not punish right from the start. Then later on, act more like a parent.
Q: Do you mean the parents should be calmer around new situations?
A: Yeah, I would say, don’t jump the gun at first; think about what the child would be thinking. That he knows he got in trouble for something, but really doesn’t understand for what.
Q: What if you have told the child numerous times not to do something, and they continue to do it over and over? Or, what if the child is being destructive and dangerous? How should the parent react?
A: I would say there should be baselines for rules. But, stay as calm as possible, even when they push your buttons. Remember, the child is new to all of this and not used to structure; it will take time for them to learn and understand that.
I hope there are some insights in here that can help you. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section; I’ll set up another interview to address the things that inquiring minds would like to know!
As always, I wish you all the best in your adoption journey. I hope our family’s experience is there for you when you need it most.