Saturday, January 4, 2014

Our Experience & Advice : Adopting older children from Haiti

(The following guest post was written by a family who adopted two children from BRESMA orphanage.)

Adoption was never in our grand plan.  My husband and I had two children at home and one already grown.  We were only exploring a monthly sponsorship online.  But then that picture came on the screen:  that 8-year-old girl; that sheepish smile; those crazy braids!  Looking back we can see that God had planted the seed long before that moment, because it only took one evening to decide that we were meant to adopt ~ not just one, but two children since we would be bringing them to the upper Midwest with so little diversity.  They would always have someone there who shared their culture and experience.


Yes, we had the same reservations all families have when considering adoption of older children.  What tough experiences would they be bringing to our home?  Would they be too old to bond with us emotionally?  How would an older boy treat our younger, more sensitive son?  What about all those years of missed education?  But the questions we could not get out of our minds were these:  What would happen to them if they were NOT adopted?  Didn’t we want to continue at the stage we were already at with our children, rather than going back to preschool years?  Wouldn’t older kids bond much better with our other older children at home? 

Fast forward 6 months as we arrived to the orphanage to meet our two new children:  that crazy braided 8-year-old girl from the initial picture and the most tender-hearted nearly 9-year-old boy.  They couldn’t even stay seated, as directed by the nannies.  Both ran to tackle us to the ground with hugs and squeals.  Since their arrival to our home four years ago, we have noted some things unique to older adoptions that may be helpful to prospective adoptive parents. 


1)      Bonding needs to be more intentional since you are not naturally holding, feeding, and caring for them as you would a younger child.  Eye contact, consistency, close contact reading and playing games, humor, etc. work well and are mutually rewarding.  Be patient and trusting, for it takes a long time. 
2)      Catching them up educationally takes more time and energy in the early years.  Invest in tutoring for all those early educational standards they have missed, so they have the building blocks to move along with same-age peers.  After 3 years or so, they should be about caught up and able to work more independently.    
3)      Socially they need to be with age level peers to learn age-appropriate behaviors.  Maintain those expectations, but understand that they will be well behind peers in maturity for quite some time.  Do not panic when you experience behaviors that might simply be cultural or from the orphanage.  Stick to positive parenting. 
4)      Be open in talking about their memories and experiences in their native country.  Share your thankfulness for their birthparents choice to trust them with you.  Point out specific talents and traits that you guess might be from their birth family.  Fill your home with photos/artwork, foods, and music from their homeland.
5)      Keep in touch with any birth family possible.  Send photo books at regular intervals.  Consider returning to their native country and even possibly planning a reunion with birth family when the child is old enough to understand about the poverty of their country and the reasons behind their adoption.

We just returned from such a reunion in Haiti.  We invited both birth families to our hotel for lunch and a few hours with an interpreter.  Everyone had the chance to share their history and stories.  All of our questions were answered, and the birth parents were able to see how God had answered their prayers.  One birth mother put it best, telling us, “I wish you could climb into my heart to see the joy I feel to see my daughter again.”  After the trip, our adopted son now 13 hugged us hard and said, “Thank you so much for doing this for me!  Everybody is going to be ok.”

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