SMH: Not making this up, Only wanting to help

This is one in an occasional Shaking my Head series about random but significant issues in adoption. 

I believe in adoption, I want to see adoptions done with integrity and respect, and I believe adoption practice is changing and must continue to change. A couple of recent examples via Facebook made me shake my head,

An adoptive mom of a 2-year-old from Ethiopia asked for suggestions on getting the little boy to sleep: he wants to be held until he falls asleep, then often wakes and cries. With 4 other kids, the hour plus routine is getting hard. She is hesitant to let him cry it out. The little boy has been home for a week.

A week! My heart ached–only a week since a 2-year-old child–at a big developmental point in terms of brain growth, language acquisition, motor skills–suddenly lost everything he had previously known.

I wondered if the adoption agency had provided any guidance about trauma in adopted children, about transition, about what this child is going through. The advice the mom got online was very good, including  “If you go slowly, always moving toward the goal of getting him to sleep on his own, you will probably get there in 6-8 months,” and “He is probably worried that if you leave at night, he might never see you again (like he has had happen at least once in his life, one week ago,” and “Put in the time now, hire a sitter to help with the other kids. Lie down with him, co-sleep. You will be so grateful later.”

Sleep issues in childhood are huge, regardless of adoptive status. For adopted children, they can be particularly complex and common. I’m glad this mom got such good advice, and in a supportive community.  Hope she takes the advice. I just wonder how many families struggle alone. Helping adopted children adjust to their new life, as infants, toddlers, or older, is a critical post-placement service. Sleep adjustment (the transition to sleep, the ability to sleep through the night, the development of trust and movement away from fear and loss) is a vital skill.  An overtired 2-year-old is no fun in the best circumstances; an overtired 2-year-old trying to adjust to an enormously new life where the people look different, smell different, sound different, where he has no common language, where he cannot express himself pleasantly (because he’s 2)–it’s a hard journey, and a long road. And I’ve no doubts the mom and dad are tired from trying to keep things “normal” for the other 4 children, who are all under 9 years of age.  Oh my.

As happy as the adoptive family is to welcome the longed-for, long-awaited child into their home, the confusion (stress, upheaval) for the child is just as great.

An adoptive mother posted on a closed Eastern European adoption group about how proud she is of her now 18-year-old Russian son, graduating from high school, heading off to college. She noted he “is past all that teenage angst about adoption,” and moving on with his life.

I wish them well.  I’d also suggest that adoption with its joys and sorrows, its realities, its rhythms is far more than “teenage angst.” Many adoptees aren’t even able to process some of the complexities until well into their 20’s or older. And, of course, some apparently have few struggles.  However, to dismiss understanding of adoption as post-pubesecent emotion is to misunderstand the depth of adoption, trust, grief, and loss.

We are all in this together.  It’s so important that we keep talking, that we listen to the  insights of current research, that we acknowledge struggle, and that we seek help to grow strong. There’s so much at stake, and, sometimes, no extra chances to do the right thing.


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