Moving out of
an orphanage is something not to be underestimated
The child sits quietly
staring at the airplanes, having very little idea that soon he will
lose everything what was familiar, including most of his history. Later,
much later when he speaks English, he may be able to share some memories,
but knowing what is real, fantasy or half-truth is difficult.
One boy who called an orphanage
I'll tell you my story of bringing home a
little boy from Bulgaria less than 4 weeks before his 6th birthday.
Visiting and removing a child from the only place they have ever known,
their home - an orphanage - is exciting for the new parents, but it
is an overwhelming experience for the child.
Moving out of an orphanage is something not
to be underestimated. Just take a moment to think how many changes the
child will face. The child's adoptive parents speak another language
and communication is difficult. He will wear new clothes that smells
differently and he will eat food never tried before. For the first time
they sleep in a hotel or apartment, eat in restaurants, are taken into
shops, etc. Then traveling in a car and in an airplane, having to wait
in line with hundreds of people around, changing planes, traveling to
the new home, maybe meeting new people, first time sleeping in his new
bed, maybe alone. The list of new and first experiences is endless and
will be all cramped into a few days. This is not really preventable,
of course, but there are little things you can do to make it a bit easier
for the child.
They are likely to miss their caretakers,
the routine of the orphanage, the other children, and even the man who
did maintenance and always gave a wink when walking by; they will miss
the smells, the sounds of the building and certain privileges or status
they had gained.
Orphanages are bad places for children to
grow up, but they do not know it; orphanage life is all they know, often
with no other experiences outside to compare. International adoption
is about gains for the child and for their new parents, but it's also
about loss, especially the first year when all the changes and losses
are recent, but this is a theme that will come back time and time again
when the child matures. It might not seem important and you forget about
it, but earlier or later children will ask questions about their culture,
their ethnic heritage, their country, their birth families, their abandonment
or removal, and much more. Some questions you may be able to answer,
others will stay unanswered forever, but it is important that we, as
adopters, realize that there are huge losses involved, even when it
appears to us that everything will be 10 times better than the child
was used to.
Everyone is your best friend and how to avoid this
It is good to be aware that when your child is in transition from orphanage
to home, the behaviours you observe might not be the entire picture.
The child can appear to be up to anything, smiling golden smiles at
you, be comfortable receiving care from you, and cuddle and hug, but
their real acceptance of the new situation may amaze you. I was surprised
how easily my son let me touch him, how often he smiled, how 'happy'
he appeared. Only to realize that he had no interest in me as soon as
other people were around, that he stared and stared at strangers, trying
to get eye contact and then smiled intensely at them.
I remember my mother asking if he was attaching
to me, letting me hug him, if he would give kisses, etc. My answer was
"yes", but the only problem was that he attached to everyone, smiled
to everyone, touched everyone, and was happy to be cuddled by everyone,
if I let him. You too might feel uncomfortable when you realize that
everybody, even a stranger at a supermarket gets those golden smiles,
that your child has no preference when it comes to who does the caring.
These are post-orphanage behaviours, there is nothing personal: the
child has learned that he would gain the most by smiling and being super
friendly. It's likely during the first weeks and months when the new
parent is just another caretaker for them, as these children often have
no frame of reference about what parents are, what families are.
My son thought that every child lives in
an orphanage, and he was asking where the children lived if we visited
friends with children in their own homes. He assumed they were there
to visit too and would return 'home' to their orphanage in the evening.
From the outside it looked good, and though
it 'did not matter' for others that he was indiscriminate with affection,
I knew he needed to understand boundaries. As a 6-year-old still has
a 'cuteness' factor, it does not look totally inappropriate for the
outside world if the child wants physical contact. My child is a magnet
to any adult who is a bit 'needy' , any adult who wants to be 'liked
by a child' and any adult who wears their emotions on the sleeve. These
people would feel sorry for him, and even if I told them why, they still
would ask why he was not allowed to hug them or sit in their lap.
What helped my child to understand the rules
of social interaction a little better was a paper with everyone we knew
being placed in a special circle. Start with the child and parents in
the inner circle, then the next outer circle is for close family members
like grandfather and grandmother, close aunts and uncles, may be also
for close friends. Then the next circle is for friends and 'further
away' family, maybe doctors and therapists, teachers, children in school.
The outer circle is for strangers.