Four Things to do When Bringing Home a Child from Hard Places

{Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on on September 4, 2013.}

When we brought our kids home from Haiti, we didn’t have any close friends that had also brought older children home into their families. The friends we knew were like us and had adopted infants domestically. One of the things that kept me going in those first few months after bringing them home were “friends” that I had met via blogs. I would email them random questions and they were so gracious to listen and encourage me.

While we were in our process I had followed a few blogs as they brought their kids home and their honesty in the first few months after their children arrived home was so good for me. On one hand I had read that it wasn’t at all easy in those first few months, but on the other hand you don’t really comprehend that until it’s you in those shoes. 

My biggest advice when you bring your kids home is to know that this is a journey. 

Two steps forward and three steps back is how I look at it. It’s a long and hard journey and if you thought that your wait for your child was grueling, you have no idea what the next few months/years have in store for you. Just as you tell a new mom that eventually her baby will sleep through the night, or that your child will one day be out of diapers, it’s the same with your child from hard places. Eventually they will love you. Eventually they will trust you. Eventually they will look you in your eyes when you talk to them. Eventually, friends.

1. Create Boundaries 

I once had a woman tell me that if you bring home a child that once lived in an orphanage or was in foster care you need to automatically assume that they have been abused physically and or sexually. That’s a hard reality to grasp. Parents want to ignore this and believe that this could not have happened to their child, but you should assume it did until you know that something has not happened to your child. What this means for your family is that you set up boundaries in your home and you discipline differently than you might be used to.

For us, our boundaries looked like this:

  • no kids shower or bathe together, ever 
  • all kids have clothes on at all times around the house, and aren’t running around in their undies 
  • no kids share beds with any other kids 
  • children are not left unsupervised to play – doors stay open at all times 

These seem drastic, and for those of you that have never brought children home from hard places this will mean a lifestyle change, but this is to protect every child in your home. It’s not rare for children to run around home in their underwear or bathe together, but I would suggest this stop when you bring your child home.

If your child does exhibit behavior that leads you to believe that something has happened to them, I would suggest contacting a counselor immediately. I would also suggest that you up your boundaries to protect this child and to protect your other children. Also remember it is not your child’s fault. In some cultures children are not protected for sexual images and acts like they are here in ours. It is not their fault.  Love them, and help them learn a new norm. Help shape their new view of family and how we treat each other in our families.

2. Stay Home 

This is a hard one for people, and I get it, but I find staying home to be very beneficial for everyone involved. Your child has been yanked out of their country, their home, their environment and thrown into something so strange. Although to us this seems better than where they were for many reasons, it’s still not their home. Even if they were in the worst orphanage ever, it was still their home, and you can expect some changes to be hard on kids. Your child needs to relearn a lot, and constantly being with his/her family is the best way to do that.

If you have been in this process for a long time, you have people that have journeyed with you and feel a part of this story as well. They want to see your son/daughter and love them.  I get that. But here’s the problem with this: your child needs to learn about family. They need to learn who their mom and dad are, and if they are constantly being passed around to lots of different adults this process becomes hard for them. We had visited our son Amos in Haiti for two years consistently, and when we arrived home we still bunkered down. Although he called us Mama & Papa, he had never had a consistent mom and dad, and I’m not even fully convinced that he knew what a mom and dad did or were.  We needed to provide his needs 24/7 just as a new mom and dad do for their infant.  They create a bond of trust and love by meeting those needs, and that is hard to do when lots of people are meeting those needs.

We were strict about it, and asked people not to touch or hug our kids for a while. I know it sounds lame, but our kids needed to receive all their love and affection from us, so they would begin to bond with us. I say all the time that in those first few months had you come over and offered Amos a better deal he would have gone home with you. Yes he loved us, yes we were his parents, but also our bond was still growing, and we needed time to make that stronger.

You will go stir crazy, especially the main care giver. What we did was a lot of trading off. I would go for a run and release some energy while Aaron would stay home. We would get our kids down at night and have a close friend come over to sit with them while we went on a date after they were all asleep. Aaron worked from home a lot and tried to be at every meal during the day. It takes work friends, but this is not forever. It’s a few months. You can do it for the sake of your child.

3. Keep Loving 

One of the hardest things for me as a parent was loving a child and not getting love back. I had never experienced this before as my other two kids had been with me since birth – one bio and one domestic adoption – and had always loved me. Story was two when she came home and loved me back as well.  Then I bring home a four-and-a-half year-old that I have known and visited since he was two and he doesn’t always love me. In fact he doesn’t really exhibit love towards me at all. I was not prepared for that one bit, and it hurt. It hurt to the core, because I had pursued this child for years and given him my whole heart and soul and now he doesn’t even care. I cried many tears over this, and it was way harder than I had imagined.

My first instinct was to keep loving. I mean, I’m a grown woman, I know I need to keep loving this child because he is my son. But if I’m completely honest with you, there were some dark days in there when I didn’t want to love him anymore. I was tired. I was exhausted from giving and giving and giving and getting nothing in return. I saw so much ugliness in my heart that I never knew was there and I was full of shame and guilt for the things I thought about my child that I truly did love so much. He pushed every single button I had. I also developed new buttons, and he pushed the heck out of those as well.

But I want to tell you that there is hope. You don’t have to give up on loving and pursuing this child. Keep begging God to put his love in you. This child needs unconditional love more than anyone in your home right now. They don’t know love like this. They have always had people leave them and not love them. The only way I made it through that first year was Jesus. To be reminded of his love for me as I push and push and push him away, and he always pursues me.  Always loves me.  I want to show that to my child.

4. Pursue Community 

Lastly (although I could really come up with about 897 things to tell you), surround yourself with people that you love and trust. You will need people around you that love you unconditionally, support you 110%, and that are trustworthy. You need people that will listen intently to what you are saying and feeling, that won’t judge you, that won’t try to fix you, and that will point you to Jesus. You need people that you can tell them how you are really doing and they won’t give you the look that says “well you wanted  this, so suck it up and deal with it”. (Yes, someone said that me once. Ugh.) Find people that have walked this road before and listen to them. They are a few steps in front of you, and can offer you wisdom you can’t imagine that you would need.

Bringing kids home is hard. Heck, bringing an infant home that you birthed is hard, but bringing home kids that have been in hard places is super hard. Adoption is hard. These are just four things that I think are super important in those first few months that you bring your child home. Trust your gut, and follow it. Pray a lot. Also, know that this is a season.  If your routine is jacked up for half a year, it’s okay. It’s worth it for your child. They need you so much right now, even if they act like they don’t!

*I know that just as there are special cases where some kids don’t reach milestones ever in their lives for physical or mental reasons, some kids adopted from hard places don’t meet all these milestones either – but I’m speaking generally here, and most will.

Published September 15, 2014