Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Open Letter to Our Friends and Family... What is to Come (Maybe)

Let me start by asking you to read this post with a tone of humility and meekness. We are seeking to express and explain some of what the next few months of our lives might look like and to ask for your help as we begin this unpredictable phase of life. We are so grateful to have such an adoption savvy group of family and friends so most of this information may not come of any surprise to many of you. There may be some things in this post that offend or frustrate some of you however but please know that is not our intent. We desire to be upfront and communicate the little we know about what lies ahead for us. Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have after reading this post! (I apologize upfront for the length of the post but so appreciate you reading!)

One of the main things we heard in the many hours of training we did in preparation for adoption is that parenting adopted children almost always looks different than parenting biological children. Since we have no biological children of our own, we do not have habits and "go-to-strategies" that we will fall back on or resort to, which may make some of this slightly easier, but many times we will be going with what we have learned to be best for our children but may cause outsiders to question what we are doing in raising our boys. 

Let me start with a brief explanation as to why parenting adopted children has to be different than parenting biological children. Adopted children have all experienced trauma, loss and grief to some extent even children adopted shortly after birth. Children who have spent any time in an orphanage have not consistently had their needs met and do not understand what a family unit is or what a mom and dad figure should do for them. Due to the inconsistency of care, children learn unhealthy ways to get their needs met and/or unhealthy and sometimes destructive ways to cope with those unmet needs. Even in an orphanage with the best conditions and the most loving nannies, children will still deal with issues with bonding, attachment, trust, food, etc. There is a significant amount of research and information out there to help prepare us for these issues and offer advice when we are facing them which we are SO grateful for, but we have had years to digest this information, read it, pray about it and ask questions about it and we want to give you a picture of what this might look like for us.

Cocooning ---- what is this anyway? 

A word that flies around in adoption circles is cocooning. This is the name given to the time right after an adoptive family is home with their child(ren). Just as a caterpillar cocoons to prepare to break out to become a butterfly and fly around the world, the advice given to all adoptive families is to keep your child's world as small as possible (home as much as possible, only venturing out for necessities like doctor's appointments) when you first bring them home. Children from orphanages are used to have numerous caregivers so one of the goals of "cocooning" is for your child to learn to see you and your spouse as mom and dad and to understand that you will be their primary caregivers to provide love, food, shelter, comfort, protection, etc. Also, keeping your child's world small allows them to process the huge transition and change they  have just encountered by leaving the orphanage they have known most, if not all, of their life and flown far away to a new place. Even the smallest of children will grieve this loss.

Many of you are probably sitting here thinking "loss?" "How is this a loss to be taken way from something we see as horrible and brought into a loving home with a family?"

Even though an orphanage is not a desirable place to live and grow up, it is what they know as home, it is where they are comfortable and it is where the faces of those who have somewhat met their needs are. They will grieve the loss of all of this. Imagine being plucked from your home, friends, family and city and flown to a place you can't understand what people are saying and know, as much as your young heart can comprehend, that you will never return to the "home" you've known. You would grieve too. Children grieve these losses in a number of ways, but with time, this grief and pain will lessen.

Even though our boys are school age, they will most likely be at least 2-3 years behind developmentally. Children are resilient and we are confident God is going to do so much in and through them as well as us, but we want to allow them time to learn their new surroundings, learn they can trust us and learn that we are going to be with them for the long haul and that we are not leaving. During the initial weeks and months home with the twins, it is imperative that they see Philip and I as their primary and only caregivers. We want to meet their needs for food, comfort, safety, etc.

What will this look like for all of you... 
For those who come to the airport to welcome us home, we ask that you not pick up the boys or hug them. I know, it sounds extreme, but we will be firm on this. We highly encourage high fives, fist bumps and hand shakes, if the boys are comfortable with it. Please do not be offended if they are not ready for this. It will come, but please give it time.

For at least the first few weeks and mostly likely months, we won't be venturing out of the house to do much and when we do, we will keep it very low-key. We probably won't have visitors over, especially in the first few weeks. Just like parents of a newborn baby stay at home to avoid exposing them to illness or situations too extreme or stimulating, we will be playing it by ear and letting the boys show us when they are ready. If you do come by, please allow us to meet the boys needs for food, water, etc. I know it may seem like you are helping all of us out by getting them a snack, but we want them to ask us for this and we want them to see us provide it for them. If they do ask you for something, we ask that you redirect them to one of us. As another adoptive mom put it, "they are not just learning that we are their Mom and Dad, they are learning what it means to have a Mom and Dad."

To our amazing church family at First Free, we CANNOT wait until our boys are plugged into children's ministry activities at church and singing in the kids choir and so many other incredible opportunities for kids at our church. However, when we feel ready to bring the boys to church, we may just come to first service and go home. We aren't avoiding you and we aren't trying to keep you from meeting the boys, but we are trying to limit situations especially in the early days that will be over stimulating and confusing for the boys. Again, we will stick with the high fives, fist bumps and hand shakes for quite some time. We so look forward to our boys being loved on by so many of you in time but want to ensure this happens after they have bonded and attached well with us. 

To our incredible extended family and amazing group of friends, we are SO excited to see many of you at my sister's wedding and Lord willing, the boys will be home by that time. However, if they are home by then, it will not have been for long so we will be in the throws of bonding and attachment and learning what life looks like for us as a family of four. We have no idea what this day will look like, but even though we may have the boys with us, we will seek to keep things as simple as possible on that day. Please follow our lead on this day especially. Please do not take it as rude if we do not make the rounds at the reception to introduce them to all of you. Please do not take it as rude if the boys do not speak to you or smile at you. It will happen, with time. I know little things like taking them up to get another cupcake seems harmless and insignificant, but given the issues many adoptive children have with food, we ask that you not ask to get them more food or to "take them" anywhere on this day. Philip will most likely be hanging out with the boys and gets the duty of being "in charge" since I get the amazing privilege of being the maid of honor for my dear sister. So please, take cues from Philip. Stop by the table he is at with the boys and say hi. If Philip makes the decision to not bring the boys to the reception, please respect this decision.

Ok, last bit of "don'ts"... sorry that it seems like there are so many. As we begin to venture out and introduce the boys to more faces and places, we would ask that you keep your questions about the boys' background or adjustment to times you can ask one of us when they aren't around. I have said this entire journey that I am an open book. There really aren't any questions that I deem "too personal" for you to ask about me or our process. There are parts of their story before joining our family that we will keep private and allow the boys to decide when they are ready if they want to share that with others. But please don't be scared to ask us questions, "How's it going with bonding, attachment, sleeping, etc?" but be ready to hear the truth. :) Just ask when the boys aren't standing right there.

We look forward to the boys getting to know and love all of you! We are so excited to see what the journey holds for us as a family of four. We cannot wait to do all the things "normal" families and kids do, but we know that it will take time before life looks and feels "normal" so please be patient with us and the boys. 

"So, Holly, what can we do to help and support you?"

Thanks for asking and thanks to those of you who are still reading and aren't upset by anything I've said thus far.

We are going to be brand new at this parenting thing so we are really shooting at a moving target and each day will be an experiment and a huge learning curve. Below is a list of simple ways to be involved in our initial days and weeks home with the boys...

1) Bring by a simple meal (I'm sure there will be a meal sign up and I will post it on my Facebook for those interested.) Other adoptive moms have also suggested gift cards to restaurants/fast food places as well for quick easy dinners with no clean up. 
2) Text us, email us, Facebook us, check in with us through whatever means you have.. though our lives will be very "isolated" initially from many of you, we do not want to be disconnected. If I don't answer when you call, leave a message. I will call or text back when there is a better time. To be honest, I may not answer the phone much as I do not want to spend precious minutes on the phone while the boys are at home. We also want to continue to hear about what is going on in your lives and would love to have conversations NOT always centered around adoption. :)
3) QuikTrip unsweetended iced tea (with crushed ice) for me or a black coffee from Starbucks for Philip... these are our caffeinated drinks of choice... We won't refuse one if you drop it by the house.
4) For those of you with kiddos around the age of our boys, eventually we will be looking for some play dates in small settings so I would love to know if I can call you about meeting at the park or play place sometime.
5) Pray for us! This should really be first on the list, but I will end here. We cannot thank you enough for those of you who have been praying for and with us since the start of this journey 3.5 years ago. 

Thanks for being in this with us!

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