Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pointers for Adopting Families

A rare slow day. In the morning I went to the stables with a friend, wearing one of the other hats I am forced to wear in Haiti – unlicensed practicing veterinarian. Her horse is lame, and there really is no large animal veterinarian on this half of the island. We had a leisurely morning sitting on the patio at the barn chatting when we were done with the horse. I’m feeling very stressed out about my meeting on Tuesday, and any distraction is a welcome relief. In fact, I’m going back out to the barn tomorrow after my Visa appointment. Nothing like exercise and the great outdoors for fighting stress!

I spent the afternoon with Jamie. I got to meet the niece of one of my adopting mothers. Hillary is here in Haiti teaching at a Christian school called Quisqueya. I had a million questions about how she managed daily life here. Without all the help I get from my nannies here, I’d be totally lost. Here in Haiti I am like a child. I don’t know how to cook over charcoal. I’m perfectly awful at figuring out the money – all the bills are marked in gourdes, but everyone tells you the prices in Haitian dollars. One Haitian dollar is five gourdes, but it takes me far too long to multiply and divide it all out my head, while at the same time trying to manage numbers in Kreyol. They are a lot more complicated than they are in English. I wouldn’t have the first idea how to rent an apartment, figure out which taptap to take, order water delivery. I am still just as in awe of Jamie and Ali as ever!

Jamie and I had a good long talk. She remains concerned that parents are not hearing our message that all of these children have experienced trauma, and that trauma is going to come out in some form when they get home. Many of our children are less traumatized than most of the adopted children in the world. But still, each and every one of them has lost his parents. And when we bring them home, they lose their whole orphanage family, their culture, their country, and even their language. Our gain is very much their loss. Those losses are bound to show in some way at some time.
It is so important to remember that in fact, most of the children are normal children. And if normal children lose their entire families and live in a institution with no parents for several years – even an institution as good as BRESMA – there will be damage. It is inevitable. None of us would allow the daycare center to raise our child. Even though I believe that Jamie’s House is better than any commercial daycare center I’ve ever seen in America, it is still not a real family. Loving, consistent, paid caretakers are not as good as a real family. We’ve seen this over and over again in the US, where children raised by the best foster parents are still hurt by never having a family of their own.

Most BRESMA kids come out on top in the end. Almost all adoptions from BRESMA II and thus far all of those from Jamie’s House are going very well. But most of them have had a few rough spots. These children will be grieving losses that we will never have to endure at the same time as we are rejoicing that they are home at last.

Do you want to ensure that your family is one of the lucky ones? Well, you can’t really ensure anything about parenting. But you can certainly improve your odds. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Learn about grieving and angry children. Learn how to be empathetic and how to build attachment. Consult with a professional about your expectations for your new child’s behavior upon arrival at home, in a year, in ten years. Are you adopting a child because you hope to become someone who can love him, or because you hope him to become someone you think you can love?

There are a few characteristics I’ve found happy adoptive parents have in common:

  • Flexibility

  • A sense of humor

  • Reasonable expectations

  • The ability not to take a child’s feelings personally (it’s not about us, most of the time!)

  • Faith

  • Support

  • The knowledge that love is a verb, not just a noun

  • Absolute commitment to their child

  • Eagerness to become a whole new kind of family

Have you completed your adoption or spent a lot of time with your child in Haiti? Please put in your two cents. What do adopting parents need to know when recreating their families?

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