Friday, March 30, 2012

An Instruction Manual for Understanding the Harder Family

Our family is going to look a little different in the upcoming months.  I'm not just talking about how there will be three of us instead of two, I'm talking about what our life will look like at first with three.  Here's a quick instruction manual to help you figure out the new, improved Harder Family.

1.) You won't be seeing us for awhile.

After we return from Ethiopia, you won't see us for a few months.  We're going to hunker down and spend time just the three of us, learning how to be a family.  This is a common process in adoption, sometimes referred to as "cocooning."  It has been shown to provide lifelong benefits to the child, specifically in the areas of relationships, identity, and development.

Our little Feven has been a blessed little girl.  So far, she has been given very good care by every adult in her life.  However, her little brain is learning that EVERY adult person in her life will take care of her.  For her safety and also her ability to form good relationships later in life, we need to teach her to trust a few people, and then slowly let others into her life.  We want her to know that we are "It" for her.  She is not going to be passed off to any other care givers; we are her everything and will be there for her forever.

To help her learn this, we are going to hibernate for 4-6 weeks.  No trips with Feven to the grocery store or Target.  No visitors to our house, no visits to friends' houses, and no commitments.  Our priority is loving her and connecting with her, and that will be the only item on the To-Do list for every day of that period.

After about 4 weeks, we plan to take her to a therapist in the cities who specializes in adoption.  We will share with her about what we've noticed with Feven, and the therapist will observe Feven interacting with us.  Hopefully we'll get some tips to strengthen our bonds with Feven, and then proceed accordingly.

When our period of intense hibernation is complete, based on Feven's signals, we will begin opening her world up to our immediate family members.  Feven's grandparents, aunts, and uncles will be invited in for brief visits so she can begin forming relationships with them.

Our immediate family members will get the monopoly on Feven for about a month, and then we will introduce Feven slowly to our friends, church family, and community.

By doing this, we hope to show her who she can trust the most in her life; first us as her parents, then her extended family, and then friends and community members.   

2.) There are two ways to look at child's age: Chronological Age and Family Age.

As I write this post, Feven is 10 months old.  This is her Chronological Age.  However, when we bring her to our house for the first time, she will be only one day old in Family Age.  Because of the discrepancy between Chronological Age and Family Age, our activities and routines might look different than other families who have been parenting their children since birth.

One example of this is when it's time for Feven to eat.  She is capable of feeding herself because she is 10 months old in Chronological Age, but because she is a newborn in Family Age, we will be feeding her all her meals.  We want her to know we will be there to provide for her, and we want to go back and make up some of that special eye contact and touching that we missed while she was apart from us.  We will feed her all her bottles, and work hard to make eye contact with her during those times and talk and coo to her.  There are some magnificent things that go on in a child's brain when they are making eye contact with their care-giver during feeding times, and we want to recreate that for Feven in case she never got that.

Another thing that might seem silly for a 10 month old in Chronological Age is that we plan to hold Feven.  A lot.  She will be crawling and perhaps toddling when she first enters our home, but we will spend many hours with her in a baby carrier on us.  We will be "wearing" her so that we can have that physical closeness.  She will be able to hear our hearts beating when her head is near our chest, and she will feel our stomachs moving in and out as we are breathing.  This happens naturally with newborns, and since Feven is a newborn in Family Age, we want to give her this experience.

3.) We will be the ones to meet Feven's care needs.

Zac and I will be changing every diaper.  Every. Diaper.  We will be giving her every bottle and spoonful of food.  We will be the ones to pick her up after she has fallen or put a band-aid on her scraped knee.  We want her to see that we will be meeting her every need.  She no longer needs to approach any adult and trust that she will be cared for; we want her to look for us and seek us out when she has an unmet need.

This isn't so we can feel good about ourselves and how "needed" we are.  This is so our daughter can know who her go-to people are - who her number one fans are, and who will be there for her no matter what.  If you are around her when she falls off the swing at the park or if you see the diaper bag nearby and think you could help us by changing her blow-out diaper,  please hold yourself back and refrain from meeting her needs for the first year. Instead, please redirect her to us for comfort and care. We want to ingrain in her that we are her people.  So far in life, she has learned that every adult will meet her needs, and it will take some time to teach her otherwise.

4.) We are weak and need your help to stay strong.

Both Zac and I are people pleasers.  Now that you know our plan, please don't ask us to break this plan.  If you are at our house, please don't say, "Oh, can I just peek in on her?  She's sleeping, she won't even know I'm there."  We are weak and may give in to you.

On the other hand, we are going to be so excited to share our bundle of joy!  You might come by some night to talk with us on our front step and we might try to persuade you to come in and see her.  We might say to you, "She's won't be a problem!  You have to see her, she's just so beautiful!"  Stay strong and hold us accountable too.  Ask us if that's what we really want, and remind us of why we're doing what we're doing.  We need your help to stick to the plan!

5.) You might not hear too much from us for the next few months.

During our time of hibernation, we will not be returning phone calls, checking emails, or updating Facebook regularly.  We want Feven to know that she is our focus.  The next few months are going to be loaded with songs, giggles, activities, learning, and bonding.  We have a lot of missed time to make up, and that takes precedence now.

We still welcome communication from you - please keep us informed as to what's going on in your lives, but also understand that you will likely not get a response from us.  She needs us now, and this is our family's time to bond.

6.) There are specific ways we could use your support.

Meals - if you would like to cook a meal for our family, we welcome it.  We're going to have a grueling journey back home with an infant who is taking her first plane ride with (virtually) complete strangers who don't speak her language. God help us and all the passengers on those flights home!  We will likely come back exhausted and jet-lagged and our little angel will be on a timezone 8 hours ahead of us.  I imagine the first week that we'll all pretty much be in a fog.  A friend of mine offered to coordinate meals, and if that's something you're interested in, please contact me privately and I will connect you with my friend.

Companionship - Zac and I might go crazy trying to lay low and stay near home so much.  We might feel isolated and out of the loop with our friends.  We might feel tired and overwhelmed and in need of distraction.  If you would like to come over sometime and sip cold drinks on our fronts steps and keep us company as Feven sleeps, please let me know.  We can take in the quiet summer nights from the front porch and Zac and I can feel like people again.

Prayer - We need you to be praying for us and Feven in this time.  This transition is critical in her development as a person, and the things we do with her as she enters our family will lay the groundwork for relationships for her for the rest of her life.  No pressure there!  We need prayers for wisdom, patience, and selflessness.

Laughter - If you have funny stories or YouTube videos, please email them to us throughout the upcoming months.  I'm sure there will be times when we just need a good laugh!

Check-ins - Please leave us voicemails and emails just to let us know you're thinking of us, praying for us, or available to help.  Even if we don't respond to your messages, we will receive them and they will be a comfort to us. 

For further reading, check out these links:

Very well-articulated plan and reasons from Amanda of Walk by Faith
Letter to Family and Friends

An Open Letter to Family and Friends by Abby of finally.

A great, three-part blog series by Tiffany of A Moment Cherished
Planning for Attachment, Bonding, and Cocooning, Part 1
Planning for Attachment, Bonding, and Cocooning, Part 2
Planning for Attachment, Bonding, and Cocooning, Part 3

Nurturing Your Adopted Child to Grow on the Inside - Triangle Psychological Services
An Adopted Child's View of a Typical Gotcha Homecoming Day - Dr. Patti Zordich
Integrating Adopted Children into the Family - Corrie Lynne Player
Bringing Home a New Child - Cocoon

No comments:

Post a Comment