Orphan Sunday: Join Us to Support Vulnerable Children

Orphan Sunday is about raising awareness of the many children here and around the world who are in need of a loving and nurturing adoptive family. On November 11, 2018 Spence-Chapin will once again join the Orphan Sunday movement to help bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and single women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Whether living in a children’s home or with a foster family, today we stand alongside every child who has been disconnected from the possibility of a permanent family.

Spence-Chapin advocates for children in the New York Metro area and around the world through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. We also offer lifelong support for children and their families through our counseling, parent coaching and post-adoption support services.

Building and strengthening families is our top priority.  We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition, and we focus on finding families for the most vulnerable children: the thousands of pre-school and school-age children, sibling groups, and children with medical needs living in orphanages and foster care around the world. 

Join us at an event during National Adoption Month to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference in the life of a child:

To learn more about domestic and international adoption at Spence-Chapin, or to view profiles of Waiting Children ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.  

To learn about post-adoption supportservices and community programs, contact us at 646-539-2167 or  info@modernfamilycenter.org.

Bulgaria Program Updates

Spence-Chapin’s mission is driven by a fundamental belief that all children deserve a forever family. Since 1995, Spence-Chapin has been finding permanent, loving homes for children in Bulgaria. Our agency partners with ANIDO, a highly reputable non-governmental organization licensed by the Ministry of Justice, Bulgaria’s central authority for adoption. Spence-Chapin is a Hague accredited agency with over 40 years of experience in international adoption and we continue to seek families living anywhere in the United States who are drawn to Bulgaria as the country to build their families and who will embrace the process of incorporating Bulgarian culture into the life of their family going forward.

In July of 2017, we expanded our Bulgaria Program to find permanent, loving families for toddlers, pre-school age and school-age children in Bulgaria. There are thousands of young and school-aged children, sibling groups, and children with special needs in Bulgaria who are waiting for international adoption. The children are typically cared for in state-run institutions, small group homes or foster care. Children reflect the full range of ethnicities inBulgaria and are primarily of Roma or Turkish descent. As ethnic minorities within the country, these children are more vulnerable to factors that leave them in need of a family.

The wait time for adoptive families to be matched with a child after dossier submission to Bulgaria varies based on each family’s openness around age of the child:

  • The wait time to be matched with medically healthy children ages 0-3 years old is approximately 5 years after dossier submission.
  • The wait time to be matched with medically healthy children ages 3-6 years old is approximately 4 years after dossier submission.
  • Families can also request to adopt a healthy sibling group under the age of 6 and the wait time to be matched is approximately 4 years.

In addition to older kids and sibling groups, there are also younger children diagnosed with medical needs, such as Down syndrome and developmental delays, in need of adoption. Families are encouraged to speak with a medical professional who can assist them in determining their family’s particular medical openness. Families open to a child with special needs are typically matched in 6-12 months after dossier submission.

Waiting Children

In addition to the being matched with a child, adoptive families and Bulgarian children can be matched with a Waiting Child.

Through ANIDO, Spence-Chapin receives profiles of identified Waiting Children who are available for immediate matching with a family several times per year. The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice maintains a Waiting Child registry of over 1,800 children and provides profiles of these children to agencies as one more way for families and children to find one another. The Waiting Child profiles are reflective of all children available for adoption in Bulgaria and range in age and health status.

Spence-Chapin advocates for Waiting Children by featuring their profiles on our website in the hopes of identifying the right family. Families can be matched with a Waiting Child at any phase of their adoption process. Many families adopting older children are often adopting waiting children and therefore don’t experience the typical wait time to be matched.

Current Waiting Children from all of Spence-Chapin’s programs can be viewed on our website by clicking here.

Following placement of a child or sibling group from Bulgaria, Spence-Chapin is available for support and guidance for the lifetime of your family. Our Modern Family Center offers counseling, parent coaching, post adoption support, mentorship and birthland trips.

Children in Bulgaria are waiting for you! To learn more about adoption through our Bulgaria program or to view profiles of Waiting Children in Bulgaria ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.

 

 

Have You Been Called to Help Children on Orphan Sunday?

waiting children

On November 13, 2016 the world will join together to learn about the millions of orphans around the world who are waiting for a loving and permanent family. Spence-Chapin is joining the Orphan Sunday movement to bring awareness to the many children who are living in orphanages and waiting for their adoptive parents to find them. Spence-Chapin advocates for children in New York and around the world in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. In New York and around the world there are infants and children waiting for the love and stability of an adoptive family. All the children profiled on Spence-Chapin’s website are part of our Special Needs or International Adoption programs- Spence-Chapin has eliminated our Professional Services fee for these adoptions. The children are in immediate need of an adoptive family.

Please help us bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Join us for an event during National Adoption Month – Voices of the Triad Panel Discussion on November 10th, Adoption 101 webinar on November 15th, or New Jersey adoption fair November 18th. Orphan Sunday is an opportunity to raise awareness of the children here and around the world in need of adoptive families and to promote the need for post-adoption support for all members of the adoption constellation.

Meet Ana Maria!

Here at the Modern Family Center, our mission is to provide a community that connects with and understands you and your family. And what better way to do so than to introduce you to who we are?

This month we talked to Ana Maria Leon Gomez, LMHC, about her work. 
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  1. Why did you choose to work at Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center?

I chose to work here because I really believe in Spence-Chapin’s mission. I really feel that children’s lives change when they are adopted into a forever family. I think it’s very important that children are loved and cared for and have a family they can rely on.

 

  1. When did you become interested in a career in adoption?

I started working in the area of psychology since I was very young after I graduated from Vassar College. I then carried out my Master’s degree at the University of Manchester in England. These studies led me to open my private practice, where I came across children who were adopted and helped them with the process. Three and a half years ago I moved to the U.S from my native Honduras. I started working at Spence-Chapin as a bilingual clinician working fully in adoption.

  1. What’s a typical workday?

My workdays are very varied. Somedays I see clients at our Brooklyn or Manhattan offices. I work with families, adoptees, birth parents and individuals with different mental health issues. Other days I work as a consultant with the foster care agencies we partner with. I provide guidance and training for their staff and foster parents particularly those that are Spanish-speaking. I also provide clinical services for some of their families. My job is really very exciting and never monotonous. It comes alive every day.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part is when I see children who have experienced trauma. Sometimes they’re so young, six or seven, and they’ve undergone trauma that an adult may not have had in their whole lifetime. It’s difficult to deal with but at the same time, when you do start working with the child and the family and their lives start changing, you know you’re doing something positive.

  1. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is when you see the family improve and deal with everyday life in a more positive way. In regards to the children it´s important for them to know their story, to be able to look at it and integrate it as part of who they are. In this way I help them be happier and be more productive in their lives.

  1. How would you describe your job in three words?

Important, rewarding, and compassionate.

  1. Has working at the Modern Family Center changed you in any way?

Working here has made me grow in many ways. It’s helped me understand that there are many communities we can work with, and all these communities require different kinds of help and therapeutic interventions. I have also appreciated more the value of teamwork and how together we can achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Want to learn more about how our clinic can help you and your family through parent coaching or counseling? Call us at 646-539-2167.

Can we do this?

Can we do this blog post picture

How this question all parents face relates to parenting an older child

Inevitably there is a “can we do this?” moment for parents—all parents. It can occur before a child arrives. It can occur when that child is growing. It can occur if that child is a biological child. It can occur if that child is an adopted child. It can occur during easy, happy times. It can occur when there are storms to be weathered. It can occur once. Or it can occur every day. Inevitably—it will occur.

Questions we often hear prospective parents ask include:

  • Can we do this? Can we adopt? Can we raise a child who may not look like us?
  • Can we raise an older child? What about a child who was born in another country?
  • What if they have experienced trauma? Will that child be able to understand that we love him or her?

Will we be able to weather those storms?

We know that there are certain traumas that can accompany life in the child welfare system, either domestically or internationally. Sometimes the separation from biological family is itself the traumatic event and sometimes that trauma is only realized later. The knowledge of this as a possibility for their child can cause worry for parents. It can cause parents considering international or older child adoption to ask the same question other parents ask themselves every day: “Can we do this?”

At Spence-Chapin we provide families with the resources needed to make an informed decision and one that is right for each family. We support families in arriving at their answer to that inevitable question and provide continued support as that question is bound to come up again—and that’s okay.

Some helpful essential reads on older child adoption can be found here:

  • Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child by Trish Maskew
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck
  • Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together    Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen
  • The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier

For more information about our domestic, international and older child adoption programs, please contact the Adoption Team at 212-400-8150 or info@spence-chapin.org.

To schedule a pre-adoption consultation or if you would like more information about our Adoption Support & Counseling Services, please contact Spence Chapin’s Modern Family Center at 646-539-2167 or info@modernfamilycenter.org.

Colombian Host-to-Adopt Program

Spence-Chapin Services for Families and Children announces the launch of a Colombian host-adopt program for the tri-state community.

Spence-Chapin and Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) in Colombia are partnering to present a special host-adopt program in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. IMG_8665The program allows families interested in adopting an older child the opportunity to host a child in their home for three (3) weeks prior to making the commitment to adopt.

School-age children, those who are 8 years old and older at time of placement, are the most overly represented population in orphanages worldwide. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of older children discourage many prospective parents from exploring this option. Currently, close to 8,000 children in Colombia, ages 10 and older, are waiting for a family. The goal of this host-adopt program is simple: to join those older children and sibling groups in need of parents with families who are ready to adopt.

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Having a child in a home before adoption finalization offers many benefits; aside from simply getting to know the child, a hosting period allows families to best prepare for the child’s homecoming – from favorite foods, familiarity with their routines, understanding the child’s personality, interests, and hobbies, families are better able to provide a child with a smoother transition into family life.

For the child, a host-to-adopt program allows for reflection on and a commitment to their adoption process. Children selected for hosting have expressed an interest in adoption; a hosting program offers the child not only a voice in their future, but also a choice. The adoption is a process of mutual selection – the family commits to the child, and the child commits to the family. Because of this, host-adopt programs have been very effective at placing school-age children.

For over 100 years Spence-Chapin has been the leader in adoption in the New York, New Jersey and across the USA finding homes for more than 20,000 children. Spence-Chapin also supports families with a variety of services including counseling, support groups, parent coaching, mentorships, and more. Similarly, the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) has been caring for thousands of children for over 40 years. Through their host-adopt program more than 9,000 children have found fulfilling futures with loving families.

 

Farewell to Linda Wright

After 18 years at Spence-Chapin, Director of Development Linda Wright, retires. In a touching letter, she reflects on her time spent in the organization and gives thanks to those that were fundamental in the success of the development department.

646_LindaWrightWeeding through my piles and files these past few weeks has been a trek down memory lane!

Time and time again many of you have demonstrated your commitment to Spence-Chapin. You have supported the agency financially and phoned other families to enlist their support of our Annual Fund. You have served on committees – African-American Parents Advisory (AAPAC), International Parents Advisory (IPAC), and Long Island Families Together (LIFT); May’s Birth Parent Gathering; Annual Theatre and Adoptionship Benefits; 55th Anniversary of African-American Adoptions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, KOREA35 and CHINA20. You have shared ideas, time, energy and connections as we developed outreach strategies and planned program celebrations, family get-togethers, and fundraisers. And, so the list goes on and on and on.

Of course, as a Development professional, I usually measure achievements with numbers, and particularly those preceded with dollar-signs. Over the last 18 years we – you the star performers; me simply stage manager — have kept Spence-Chapin fiscally strong and ready to respond to new opportunities and changing needs with creativity and kindness. The total contributed during this period exceeds $35 million, a sum derived from several initiatives.

The Spirit of Spence-Chapin Annual Fund, launched in the fall of 1996, has raised nearly $10 million for general operating support. Events to fund Adoptionships for prospective families needing assistance with adoption costs produced almost $600,000. The annual Theatre Benefit, which began in the 1950s, continued to draw together new and old friends who contributed $2.2 million to enable more children to come home. Support for our Granny Program and other relief efforts overseas has reached $1.3 million and now 234 children in orphanages in Colombia, China, Moldova, and South Africa get daily one-on-one attention from 82 loving Grannies who were recruited from local communities. And, our historic Campaign for the Second Century garnered $14.5 million to secure Spence-Chapin’s work for another 100 years.

I am grateful to all of you for your generosity and conviction that Spence-Chapin deserves LJW_Retirement (SKasowitz-Director)your support. I believe we have given Mary Connolly, my successor, a solid foundation for advancing Spence-Chapin’s development program. The thread that binds the Spence-Chapin community together is the belief that every child deserves the unconditional love and nurturing that comes from a permanent family. It is a community willing to extend itself to ensure that Spence-Chapin is here to find and prepare the families eager to welcome a child into their homes and hearts.

This magic happened for 3,022 children during the past 18 years. The children traveled from China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia; from Russia, Bulgaria and Moldova; from Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Guatemala; from South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to become part of a family in the USA. Our local babies didn’t journey thousands of miles to reach their new homes but, as their birth parents struggled to plan for their futures, they received tender care from our interim volunteer families – another special group in our community.

Today at least 132 million children worldwide are homeless or live in institutions, many of them orphaned or abandoned. In the USA, nearly a half a million children are in foster care, and over a quarter of them are eligible for adoption. Spence-Chapin is their hope for a family, for a future that will allow them to thrive in a loving, safe home. Our challenge individually and as a community is to find the wherewithal for that to happen. During and before my arrival at Spence-Chapin, more than 20,000 have been touched by many of you – some very directly and very immediately. I have enjoyed watching your children grow up, and I have personally benefited from your generosity and friendship. I take a bit of each of you with me and for that – and so much more – I Thank You!

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A Special Needs Adoption Story

You will never see a child with a bigger smile or a sunnier countenance than Alex.  Even though he was was born prematurely and developed severe medical issues, he seems to think being pushed in a swing is pure heaven.

Alex never came home from the hospital where he was born or from the interim institution that cared for him after that.  His birth parents visited him often at Elizabeth Seton Hospital, hoping that somehow Alex could improve to the point where he would come home with them.  But in the end, they made the difficult decision that Alex should be freed for adoption.  He was by then, in adoption parlance, an “older” child at age 4.  This is when Spence-Chapin first learned about Alex, who would not be permanently placed for nearly two more years.

Alex’s journey was far longer than any of the other special needs babies placed through Spence-Chapin because of several factors.  There was the on-going hope of the birth parents that they would be able, at some point, to properly care for him.   Another factor was the very real difficulty of his continuing medical condition.  When Alex’s information was put up the ASAP website here, there were fewer responses than usual.  He was no longer a baby but now a child of 4. His special needs remained, and would remain, severe.  Nevertheless, a special couple came forward, a same sex couple who wanted to take Alex home and love him but were not able to move ahead because of a medical emergency.

AlexAlex had to wait even longer because of more medical difficulties not his own.  The Mongillo family, well known to us at Spence-Chapin, was very interested in Alex but just when they were to act on adopting him, one of their other children – a baby of two suffering from leukemia – became much sicker and it was determined to hold off on the placement until the Mongillo’s were able to resolve the needs of their baby who was in crisis.  Alex remained at Elizabeth Seton.

AAlexlex didn’t leave the hospital until he was six-years-old.  But, at last, at the end of March of this year, Alex finally went home to his own forever family, the extraordinary Mongillo’s of Long Island.  The family has adopted several times from Spence-Chapin and their home and their hearts seem always open to a child in need.  Each of the children placed in this home has blossomed, making progress far beyond what doctors had predicted.  The household is calm and loving and everyone agrees that Alex will thrive there too and attain every bit of his potential growth and then some.The Mongillo’s will stay in touch with Alex’s birth parents, visiting with them and allowing them to take comfort and joy in Alex’s bright future.  It is truly a happy ending for Alex – and for us.

 

 

How do I talk to my child about adoption

adoption, counseling, When you adopt a child, you are giving him/her the wonderful gift of a home.  However, with all of the love that you have to offer also comes the responsibility of being willing to discuss his birth parents at some point in his life. For many parents, this can be a challenging task; it can be even harder for the child.

Most adoptive parents understand that their child not only needs and deserves knowledge of how their family was created through adoption, but also that this knowledge must be provided in a way that will give the child the pride and self-respect every person needs as a foundation in life.

Years ago, parents thought that they should wait until the child was old enough to talk about the adoption. We now know that this way can do more harm than good as many adopted children are finding out about their adoption from other people and feeling betrayed.

Adopted children often have many questions about their heritage and they should be answered by their adoptive parents when they are asked. I have worked with foster and adopted children and families for more 15 years, and every child I have counseled has had questions about their biological family starting at a young age. Some younger children are often unsure whether they should bring up their birth parents to their adoptive parents, in fear that it will hurt their feelings or that it will cause anger and they will be abandoned once again. In some cases their fears are real, while in others they are not.

Prior to adolescence, children are extremely curious about their adoption stories. Although they question the circumstances that led to their adoption, most of them seem to accept the answers calmly – See more at:
Some of the questions adopted children ask are, “Did my mom and dad love me? Did my mom and dad love each other? Why did they put me up for adoption?” These are all valid questions which need to be answered to ensure that the child feels secure.

Adoptive parents have said to me, “I know that I have to talk to my daughter or son about the adoption, but where do I begin?” I think it is best to begin when the child is very young and is able to cognitively understand language — usually at around 1 ½ to 2 years of age. You want to be able to tell your child about the adoption often. Also, if you are married or in a relationship, you want to make sure that both parents agree on the same story. This will make the experience less complicated and stressful for your child. I always encourage parents to practice what they are going to say to the child before talking. It builds parents’ confidence and prepares them for questions. And be prepared — they will have lots of questions!

Here are a few more tips for talking to a child about their adoption.

1. Always be willing to talk about the adoption with your children. The more open you are about it, the more comfortable the child will be.

2. Keep the conversation age-appropriate. When a child is younger, use a story telling technique (Fisher, 2000) and keep the language simple. As the child ages and becomes more mature, more sophisticated language can be used.

3. Be honest but don’t scare the child. If you don’t know something, then say, “I don’t know.” If the child was a product of rape for instance, “You don’t want to start out by saying your mommy and daddy loved each other very much,” says Lois Melina, author of Making Sense of Adoption and Raising Adopted Children. “You can say something that would imply that their parents didn’t know each other very well.”

4. Help your child learn how to express their emotions about being adopted. This can be done not only through talking but through drawing or making a life book.

Addressing the adopted child’s past is the key to helping them move towards a bright future.

– By Dr. Sue, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Temple University and an expert in parenting, foster care and child abuse. This article was originally posted on montgomerynews.com

Championing the Waiting Child

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does.

Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

South Africa Adoption Program: Program Development

Orphanages around the world have one thing in common: beautiful children who deserve a loving family to call their own.  While this theme is consistent, there are numerous differences that set them apart.  As the Coordinator of Program Development at Spence-Chapin, it is my responsibility to establish adoption programs that will be successful.  Success, in this context, is defined as identifying countries where there are children in need of families and confirming that the country has systems in place to process adoptions in a transparent and ethical manner.  South Africa meets these criteria perfectly.

Spence-Chapin South Afica Adoption Program

So what makes South Africa different?  Having placed children with families from Belgium and Finland for many years, Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW) is experienced in international adoptions and has formalized procedures in place.  They are involved in all phases of the adoption process from monitoring the children in care to providing families with a cultural integration program while in South Africa.  JCW is responsible for written reports on the children, assessment of families, and providing the Central Authority with recommendations for placement; the process that JCW has established is about as seamless as it gets.

 

The care of the children is another area where this program differentiates itself.  JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. While many orphanages around the world struggle to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, the orphanages we visited in SoutSpence-Chapin South African Adoption Programh Africa were able to go above and beyond.  Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, in 2011 Spence-Chapin established its first Granny Program in Africa at the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years.  Through this program, children are paired with experienced women in these communities, who spend special, one-on-one time with each of them. During our visit in July 2012 we witnessed the commitment of the staff and Grannies, and the genuine concern for the children.  Additionally, JCW has contracted with outside organizations including The Big Shoes Foundation and Thusanani Children’s Foundation who provide medical and developmental servicesJCW provides the children in their care with a solid foundation which inevitably makes the transition into their forever family that much smoother.

In short, when examining international adoption options, need and infrastructure often do not go hand in hand.  However, South Africa proves that it can be done and as a result children receive the critical love and care they need until they join their forever family.

 Gina Pariani, Spence-Chapin
 

Visit our Flickr set to see more pictures from this trip.

 

“I Feel Like I’m Waiting to Love My Son”

I love the show “Parenthood”.  I love the characters, the family dynamics, the twists and turns of inter-weaving inter-generational lives playing out themes of marriage, raising kids, inter-racial families, and more recently, the adoption of a school-aged child.

Julia and Joel, after experiencing a heart wrenching loss when their domestic infant adoption falls through, decide to approach their local social services agency and open their home to any child that may need one.  Seemingly a day later, with no preparation, a social worker rings their doorbell in the dead of night and brings them Victor, a cute, quite, and mysterious 8 year old boy.

Two episodes into the season, we see Joel and Julia, with no visible assistance from any social worker, trying to integrate their new son into their lives.  Or, rather, walking on eggshells around him while trying to act like everything is normal.  Julia alludes to some reading that she’s doing (good) and that they have to establish trust and help him feel like part of the family (also good), but we also see Victor spending entire days lying on the couch, shooting whipped cream into his mouth straight from the can, and watching violent reality TV shows (not so good), all while ignoring the family activities going on around him.  Finally, after a series of upsetting events, Joel and Julia argue about how best to manage Victor, to which Julia, defeated, finally states “I feel like I’m waiting to love my son”.adotive parents, tv show, partenhood

FINALLY, a genuine moment in this story – for many adoptive parents, and certainly for those adopting school-aged children, this is such a common feeling.  However, the guilt and fear of judgment prevents many families from sharing these feelings with their social workers and support systems.  While it is understandable that this is a scary thing to approach (“If I don’t love him now, will I EVER love him?” is a common thought that families struggle with), it is essentially important, when bonding and attaching with a new child, to keep a few key things in mind:

  •  Love takes time.  Everyone needs time to get to know each other and build genuine emotional bonds that will last a lifetime.  If you don’t feel “in love” it does not mean that you or the child are doing something wrong.  In fact, this can be looked at as a good thing – if a child has had multiple placements and many disappointments, she has built healthy defenses by learning to distance herself until she feels secure.  Use that time to show her that you are trustworthy – providing consistent, kind, and thoughtful parenting with healthy limits, expecting nothing in return, is the clearest way to tell a child that you will be there forever, no matter what.
  • Affection takes time.  Those first days, weeks, or even months, it may not yet feel right to have a hug or a snuggle on the couch.  Instead, a quick pat on the head might do, or kicking around a soccer ball in the yard can be a shared physical activity without the intensity of physical contact.   Find that balance between smothering and distancing – maybe insist on holding hands to cross the street (appropriate for any child under 5), braid their hair, or play Twister. Be creative and don’t forget to have some fun – it’s hard for a child to want to snuggle with you if you look angry or tired!
  • Talk about it to the right people.  Find your right outlet – other adoptive parents, your social worker, a supportive therapist, your spouse, partner, or best friend.  Use good judgment; if an acquaintance has given you the message that she thinks the adoption of your child was a bad idea, that’s probably not the person to share your feelings with.

At the end of episode 2, Julia and Victor have a little breakthrough – he is emotionally vulnerable, she promises help, follows through on it, and is rewarded with a conversation and an awkward hug.  Not monumental when it comes to raising an 8 year old boy, but I was sitting on my couch, excited for these characters and all the adoptive families I have worked with, for that one moment, where even in its tiny doses, they can start to feel the love they’ve been waiting for.

Stella Gilgur-Cook, LCSW, Assistant Director of Outreach, Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children