I adopted my son when he was 8 years old. Those first weeks we felt tossed around as if we were inside a washing machine -- it was exciting, and emotional, and difficult and challenging, and so amazing.
In those first days and weeks, we had a small number of friends show up, with gift cards, who came to meet my “new arrival.” I found that most of those folks were foster and adoptive parents who knew first-hand how badly I needed the help during that adjustment period.
I found that other friends and family stayed at arm's length -- unsure of how to help.
After all, we didn't need traditional "new arrival" gifts like diapers and crib sheets. So, many of them stayed away during that time, in an effort to give us some room as we adjusted to our new family dynamic.
But I wished they had come to visit -- and celebrate -- my growing family.
I wish they'd done that not just for me, but for my son.
Our experience isn't unusual. That's why I'd like to encourage you to reach out to someone you know who is adopting or fostering an older child. After all, children adopted later in life often come from foster care or a difficult situation. Their lives have been turned upside down. They're probably acting out in various ways. They are likely desperately in need of positive attention and role models.
Here are five ideas for how to help:
Make a meal or help around the house.
Just like with parents of newborns, parents who adopt an older child are exhausted during those first weeks and months as they work to integrate their new arrival into their family. Bringing by a meal, doing yard work, or cleaning their house can go a long way to reducing stress during this period of adjustment.
When my son came to my home, I reached out to close friends and asked for meals -- that meant one less thing for me to worry about those first few weeks.
Plan a playdate.
Embrace the newly-adopted child into your child's playgroup. It'll mean so much to both the child and the new parents!
Email a gift card.
Don't know what to get? A gift card is always welcome as budgets adjust to include new members of the family.
Drop a gift by!
It's a great excuse to stop and welcome the newest member of the family in person. Plus, most foster kids arrive with meager items in disposable trash bags. They often need everything from toys and clothes to vitamins, drawing supplies, and books.
Stay in touch.
Don't disappear just because the new parent isn't reaching out to you so often anymore. Calling, texting, or sending an email just to check in will let them know they are not in this alone. Don't know what to say? Feel awkward? That's okay. Just by reaching out, you let them know that you care. I often talk with foster and adoptive families who feel invisible because others don’t know what they are going through or understand why they do what they do.
Even the family that seems to have it all together needs help. So look around your community, your church, or at work and pay attention to the families who are adding a member -- however unconventional -- and reach out to offer help and support. Let them know you see them.
Cecil Stokes is a single dad. His son Boone is now 12. Boone had been in foster care for 3 years after being taken from his birth family. Though he would have preferred to be married first, Cecil wanted to be a dad while he was young enough to do all the things he dreamed of doing with his son. Boone has blossomed with structure, consistency, and unconditional love. Now, both father and son travel the country to tell their story to any group or church that will have them. They know the brutal, and the beautiful, things about adopting from foster care and want to educate and encourage others to follow that same path.
Want to know more about Cecil and Boone? Visit booneandme.org.