Friday, May 1, 2015

Newly Home

I have to tell you something that makes me so excited and happy--- many more teens are being adopted!

I have helped a lot of new parents in the adjustment phase, newly home. And there's some very typical behaviors that you see and have to work through how to handle that I've never really written in "one place." What it's like right at the beginning and how we got through those tough first weeks/months of adjustment.

Mostly because it's a lot of info but I'm going to address as much as I can here:)

You get home.  You are jet lagged, worried about getting your house back in order, giving the other kiddos attention because they missed you, trying to resume your "normal routine." The whole adrenaline rush of your adoption trip is swallowed up by JET LAG.  It's NOT pretty.

And in the midst of all this you have a new teen. Who is basically a stranger.  Firstly,  it's awkward. Very awkward. Usually you aren't quite sure what to DO with your new kiddo.

And even when you send kiddo to do something (anything) they do it and come right back to you ready for you to tell them the next thing to do. Yep, they are not able to easily entertain themselves, they are used to being with lots of people, thus, lots of things to do and usually declare pretty fast they are "BORED."

Really, it's OK.  You do not need to plan their every minute. It is good to sit down and do a puzzle, play a game with them for bonding but you are NOT required to plan their every minute. My kids had to learn that they did not need to be "doing something" constantly. They could sit and watch a movie, paint their nails, draw, read, do any quiet, solo activity and they weren't "missing" anything.

Your new teen may be "hypervigilant."  This comes in the form of staring at you. Noticing everything you do.  Sometimes this is cool, my kids learned how I did chores and how I liked my tea made really fast and I was the blessed recipient of enough cups of tea I could have "floated" most days:))) It was sweet.

Something not sweet. The lack of personal space. They are "up your butt" as we call it, which was bad enough that I literally bought furniture in our new house with great big, huge armrests. Just so the kids could have a place to sit BESIDE me, not practically ON me.  They would even be right behind me when I would turn in the kitchen and bump in to them.  They don't realize this drives us batty:)  It's something that I worked on slowly as to not make them feel rejected. 

Clothes, hygiene are another issue. Showering daily or every other day and daily clothes changed are NOT (gonna repeat this) ARE NOT done in China. That's completely an American thing.  And YES, they are now here in America. Yes, they are.

This does not mean they are comfortable changing clothes (most are not even used to HAVING more than 2-3 outfits) or showering often. Can you imagine how intimidating shampoo, conditioner, body wash (which all look alike!!) are in our showers?

My kids only had soap to shower in China. No shampoo. They didn't understand shampoo verses conditioner verses body wash or what to do with any of them. Mine took deodorant in to the shower? (I never did learn what exactly they did with that and probably do not want to know)

They may have beliefs that showering that often will ruin their skin, or been told things like our girl was -- that she should not put her hands in any cold water during her monthly time?  Yes, our guide, while asking for me if she had monthly periods yet, told her this. I was puzzled and told the guide that-- she said "You not do that in America?"  Uh, no, we do not. Or they may have been told it's bad to wash their hair during that time.

MANY, MANY cultural differences that you need to give GRACE AND TIME to work on. because you did chose to adopt a child from another culture/country.  No duh, huh? 

Which brings me to another point.... Teaching.  That's what you are doing no matter if you are not trying to do any English lessons (which I strongly feel you should not be pushing English lessons when you are first home because total immersion is an AMAZING thing)  you ARE teaching your new teens how things work in your household. 

One thing about this-- you ARE going to feel like all you do is correct this child.(We felt this way every time, with every child!)  Do this, don't do this, this is the way we prefer this, etc. Please understand this is TEACHING. I call it GUIDING.  You NEED to do it.  Do not be afraid to do it. Do not classify it as "discipline" or "yelling" or even "correcting."  Because your new teen DOESN'T KNOW how things work/ how to do things in your household (and their new household) unless you TEACH them.

AND they really DO want to learn.  They WANT to fit in.  BADLY.  And the more you can show them how to do things to help out, even folding clothes, helping you cut up veggies for supper, sweeping a floor, etc. The more this helps them find their way within the family.
 This does NOT mean send them in the bathroom and expect them to clean the whole thing.  I'm not talking CHORES here. I'm talking "busy" work that shows them they can help out and be a part of the family. I don't recommend chores (like a total bathroom cleaning) right away because they may have been told they are coming here to be your maid. This is not true or what you want to "confirm" to them if they were told that!

Because they are trying to find their place, the pecking order, if you will, of this new thing they have called A FAMILY. Yes, all new to them. And by now they are starting to realize this "family thing" isn't what they expected, were told, and they are feeling as lost as you are. Add on a HUGE dose of homesickness for the food, the smells, their language, all things familiar and YES, you could see crying ,meltdowns, frustration.  ALSO normal. OR they might be happy, easy going, seemingly doing almost "too well."  There's NO right or wrong in how they adjust at these early days/stages home.

Please understand too-- based on our personal experience there's only 1 thing I can think of that you really, really shouldn't do during these first few weeks while trying to let new teen feel special and what LOVE means. Do not (MOMS) let new child "take over" your place. Meaning  they may sit in your seat at the table. And you think, "Oh, she doesn't know any better, it's okay."  Don't want to be petty, RIGHT?

Kindly (No reason to be mean) make teen move out of your seat, return your shoes she likes and has put on, give back your tea she has taken.  Do not give them "status" over you.  WHY?  Because they are looking to be "top dog."  Top dog got the most at the orphanage. "Top dog"-- is there anyone who doesn't want to be that? Of course not.  But usually the person running this smooth household is MOM.  And why this is soooo very important?

If child is given right to over take mom's things/ place , down the road you will have problems because your new teen will be expecting this to be the norm, his/ her status comes BEFORE YOU.  Because that is what you have taught them.  And 6 months down the road when they refuse to listen to you because they have formed a disrespect of you/ feel you are lower on the "food chain" than them, this isn't going to be so cool:( 

It's very, very hard to overcome this attitude/issue if you start out this way and then later are realizing your new teen isn't repecting you in the way they should. Know this--- they do not KNOW how to have parents. We, again, MUST teach them.

And use any of these "incidents" to further your bond to teen. What do I mean?  If they like your shoes and want to wear them....make them give back to you, but it's perfectly okay to go find a pair just like them and buy for them.  Showing them you noticed something they like and cared enough to get  them:)  OR, say they are looking at your snack and obviously wanting some.  Make same snack for them. It doesn't HAVE TO BE buying them something.  Paying attention to little things, a drink they like, making sure to have it for them. Make THEM a cup of tea while making yours. Try a recipe of Chinese food together, a favorite of ours is dumpling making.

Also they probably won't tell you they don't like the food. But often, they really don't. Or they struggle with hoarding/ stealing/ gorging themselves on food. Try to pay attention to things they eat a lot of and cook it often.

 I made Ramen noodles for breakfast with egg, meat, for at least a few weeks for each of our new teens, knowing they certainly COULD eat fruit, yogurt, bread with hot sauce, toast, etc. But they really appreciated that "extra effort" I made for them. It's tough to find things they like to eat so just cook as you normally do for main meals. They will find their way with the foods. I did cook a lot of rice dishes, noodles, meats.  And bought tons of fruits.

And understand a lot of the kids come HUNGRY. Not having gotten enough to eat. My food bill was up to 50% higher for up to 6 MONTHS after our kids came home. It takes time for them to realize they will get "another meal" and another and another. If they seem anxious about food/ are hoarding PLEASE don't get upset, be understanding. Give them a baggie of food to carry around that always has a healthy snack in it or keep a basket of fruit filled at all times with them knowing they can go get as much as they want anytime as long as they have no health issues that don't allow this.

We also saw gorging on food till they got sick. We found a few things that helped. We have set food times. Breakfast, lunch, snack, supper, snack.  Therefore they were never going long till it was time to eat again.  And when we have meals, all food is at counter and stove. I still put NOTHING on the table. They have to GET UP to get another serving. Because ours would feel they had to eat it if any was left in front of them.  They also did not understand saving any at first for someone else to have a portion.

Now, back to the "guiding/ teaching" again.  Another tip--- have them say "Yes, Mama." when answering you. Teach this right off the bat.  Because it will help them learn to call you mama (some have issues with this) and acknowledge that you have spoken to them. Even if they do not like this.

DO NOT stress eye contact right away. This is another cultural thing. Eye contact doesn't mean the same thing here as in China. There it is considered rude/ dominate.  So your new teen will not " look you in the eye" right away and this is not child being "shady, lying" dishonest, disrespectful."  And yes, I'm aware we feel differently here in AMERICA, but your new child does NOT know this. It is something that takes a lot of time to change and it's very hard to try to push the change of this at the beginning. You gotta give grace on this.

Speaking of China, get ready to hear lots about it.  China this, China that, China, China, CHINA. This is where they came from. Might as well get used to that. It IS okay to say "In America we"  It's really okay, because we are teaching them the culture HERE. Get used to saying it a lot. It takes a long time to get enough communication and understanding that they can feel okay to be Chinese Americans and they have a place in BOTH of these countries. There is good/ bad in BOTH countries. They do not have to hate America to keep China alive to them. As well, they don't have to hate China to do well HERE. 

You will most likely be somewhat proficient at demonstrating things by the time you have arrived home from China with your teen. This will come in handy now.  You will probably be teaching things like--- not slamming doors, talking quieter, not stomping through the house, not squatting over the toilet instead of sitting on toilet,  not throwing toilet paper in garbage, not eating with mouth hanging open and slurping. (Bring in the "IN AMERICA we do/do not" Again, do not think we don't all feel exactly the same when we have to do this-- we feel like ALL WE DO IS CORRECT THIS KID. AGAIN-- it's not correction, it TEACHING/ GUIDING and they NEED you to do it.

Even when they don't LIKE it. They ARE NOT going to HATE YOU. Because this should all be done kindly. I've demonstrated while smiling... nothing wrong with being pleasant about it. EVEN if you are repeating it over and over.  You need to look at this as "You care enough to teach them" and they will appreciate that.... later. Even if they don't like it now.  You will be able to (and can have a translator tell your child) let your child know you wanted to HELP THEM MAKE IT HERE. I told our teens, "I CARE and don't want you to  be offending people and not know it, not be able to make/keep friends, be made fun of."  Because they meant too much to me for me not to help them. 

And in here I will mention translation. What we have experienced with having an actual person translate.... adult Chinese people will add their own spin on things you want translated. Unless you are very direct with them they will often question you why you are doing something the way you are doing it with new teen.  They may make comments about your being " too harsh" or that it's not the "Chinese way." 

 Um, that would correct. This is AMERICA.  We did not use actual person to translate often for those exact reasons. Yes, for important stuff-- doctor appts, dentist, to introduce/ explain school. But not for daily stuff. We muddled through and having to do so caused a greater bond because we got through it TOGETHER. We rejoiced when we figured something out together. Some days we cried together when we couldn't (if we were to this point I tried to reach translator but they weren't always available.) Both ways caused us to bond as our teens realized how much effort we would make to understand/ cared about their needs/ wants.

Some other things you may deal with-- stealing. Taking things because they liked it and wanted it. A HUGE issue we found with our teens, they did NOT know they needed to ASK  for things. They weren't used to having to ASK anyone to do stuff. "Stay out of Aunties way and do whatever you want." That's orphanage living. So it was really new to them and hard at times to grasp that they needed to ASK to do things. Ask to take things they see that they like. They may feel if they like something they can take it because they want it.

Lying. They may lie to you.  Please understand this is NOT defiance when you have just come home. They really don't trust you any more than you trust them. This is survival instinct. They are trying to protect themselves which is exactly what they learned to help them survive. So do not take this personally. They aren't secretly doing this because they hate you. They aren't a "bad kid" that has ruined your life and is headed to jail.

Also note, some kids have the habit of smiling when they are in trouble. This can be a nervous reaction and they can be taught not to do that, it's rude here.  We saw this and it can be quite infuriating to us. It is NOT what we take it to be.

So now that you are seeing your "rude-to-you" teen, catching them with a hidden stash of your stuff, seeing them laugh at someone who falls down, you are probably feeling some less-than-cool feelings and worrying about the future of your family since you are pretty sure you have adopted N*rman Bates cousin or something. You aren't bad/crazy/ a horrible parent for wondering this... All of us parents have wondered "What did we do?"  There's times you just want to cry. We've all been there. This is NOT easy. It can be very overwhelming the first few weeks home.  

But---- as a wise friend told me, IN 6 months things will be totally different. HANG IN THERE!!  Even WE are changing and have differences in ourselves in 6 months. I like to think of this but also tell folks that each and every day you are progressing. Your new teen is learning the way. They ARE learning English, even if they don't want to, don't like it, you do NOTHING to teach them.  Get that? NOTHING. Being immersed in English WILL teach them English.PERIOD. 

Please know this--- you will NEVER again be at this point, every single day you and your new teen are moving forward/progressing!! Your new teen isn't going to wake up tomorrow and have forgotten/lost every word of English they have learned.

Just also know they also aren't going to wake up tomorrow and totally understand THIS culture. They may not be respectful in church or during prayer.

You will have to decide if you have available to you if you want to attend Chinese church verses American.  You may have unpleasant or  non helpful encounters with Chinese people who live here:(

You will need to address contact, if they are wanting contact with foster families, friends, etc. back in China. They may come with a phone, if they do I suggest you take that as soon as you get home. Make it clear from the start you will be in control of contact as the parents.

And then if they had a foster family and want to contact every day, this is where each child individually has to be evaluated. If they do a 5 min conversation every day-- how is their demeanor after?  And adjust accordingly. They often will lose interest in the contact on their own.

As our teens did not have foster families our "take" on that was always to allow the teens doing well... making effort, decent behavior, respectful to have weekly to every other week contact with their friends. At ALL times, we evaluated any response to that contact.

If we saw negative behaviors, defiance, rudeness, the contact was lessened for the best interest of our new teen. This also has to apply to "screen time." Another very sticky issue.  They can indeed, connect with people on a Chinese site similar to FB here via computer. The problem we found is difficulty translating for us, connecting with people they do not even know and sharing personal info they shouldn't (they have no stranger danger sense at all) and the ads are not restricted and are very raunchy.

So for our kids they were not allowed on this site ( since I don't want this site linked back to my blog I'm gonna go cryptic on you here, it's the letter BEFORE "R" doubled twice) but your child may come with number to connect with people on there and do everything they can to get on that site, including sneaking at night to your computer.

We taught ours that for them to use any computers, anything with internet access they had to ASK.  And we keep tabs on what they do on them even still. Another parenting "job". Keeping them safe. We did allow Nintendo DS (Not internet access on) games, we had an old phone of dad's they played games on (again, no internet access) until they had learned they really did have to ask to get on the internet.

We did use computer programs (Starfall) to do a few fun English learning games DOWN THE ROAD. And they did fine being set up with lesson and us not standing right there. But NOT newly home. NOPE. What we did allow? A few of those (goofy to us) Chinese movies (yes, on internet) and Chinese music on MP3 players for "down time."

Because they DO get exhausted hearing English all day (remember when you were in Guangzhou and about 2 days from home thinking "All I want is to hear is ENGLISH, to order food and someone understand me!!")  Note your new teen feels EXACTLY like that.  Only they aren't 2 days from home:(

About now you need a boost.  Something to tell you this will be okay, you will make it. (YOU WILL!!)  First, take time to give yourself HUGE DOSES of GRACE. Realize it's OKAY for you and your teen to feel a bunch of feelings and lots of times all of them in the period a day, an hour even--- sadness, anger, fear, happiness, frustration, intolerant.

Then because we are the adults in this----- strap on the "big girl/boy pants" and find your tolerance. And even when you feel a day is a total bomb, remember you have another day tomorrow to try again.  Another "boost" to get you through?  Take ANYTHING you can and cherish/ enjoy about your new teen. Laugh as much as you can WITH (never at) your teen about your goofs.

Enjoy seeing their "firsts"--- first taste of peanut butter (probably won't like), first time they remember the word "door" or come down dressed in polka dots and stripes.

 The crazy fun of trying to translate something and GETTING IT!  Them realizing they can tell you if they hurt because you CARE. Seeing them thrilled with frozen califlower you are buying. The awe when they see the meat department of the grocery store. When they complain they aren't learning "fast enough" and you go down a list of all the English words they DO know, surprising them and usually you too:)  Them wanting to cook a dish for you. 

I've eaten more than my share of HOT spicy food till I could get across to my gems that I preferred non spicy food so they learned to take my portion out before they spiced it up. I did have to tolerate the HUGE, GREASY mess they made cooking those dishes, since they only knew "High level" and lots of oil... yikes. But they wanted to show me something they could cook, it was something that reminded them of China and they wanted to SHARE THAT with ME and DAD. And for that it was TOTALLY WORTH IT.

Please realize how AMAZING your new teen is.  For most of us, had we been taken from all we know and transported to a foreign country that we now are expected to eat the food, learn the language, accept someone else telling us what to do and when to do it, we would be a PUDDLE of tears. A MESS.... yet YOUR VERY OWN brave and amazing teen is doing that, without being a puddle. Many of these early days were filled with laughter and smiles, FUN with our teens. Some sadness, yes, or course!! But each day we learned about EACH OTHER and grew a child/parent bond that is nothing short of BEAUTIFUL now.

My best suggestion for you new parents if you don't already have this-- find a supportive parent (or support group) who has BTDT (been there done that) to bounce stuff off of, someone who "gets" how hard this is because it can really do wonders for you to know others have walked this road and it does come out better:))) Take care of YOURSELF too, don't neglect YOU because it will not help you be a better parent doing that!!

Also note here, although it seems insane to add a PET at this time-- some teens do really, really well with a new pet of their own. Again, another thing you will have to individually assess if YOUR TEEN would benefit from this, if this is something you are up for.

Our teen treasures are WONDERFUL, for sure. Precious kiddos that are great sons and daughters. Even having hard times at the beginning and feeling worried about where this is all going? It will get better. You WILL see the gem under the rough exterior begin to glow and shine in your love and life:)

God does NOT make mistakes. He will equip you for life with this precious teen and never, ever leave you. Not once. And treasure the very gift this child is  Yes, YOUR very own son/daughter who is brave, amazingly wonderful, annoying, a diamond in the rough:)  Worth it ALL.

Without any doubt!!  Again, 6 times, no regrets on our parts. NONE.  We are SIX TIMES more BLESSED!!


mom2three said...

Wow, did you nail that! Your post brought back such memories, and the sick feeling to my stomach that said "What in the world did I just do to our family!?!" We are almost 7 years home with our son, and Yes, Yes, Yes, it does get better. And Yes, Yes, Yes, he is worth it.

Kelly said...

What a wonderful resource! Thank you so much for writing this!

B/E Fletcher said...

Thank you so much. We are about 4-5 months away from bringing home a 6-year-old (our second adoption, but our last one was a toddler at the time). Many of your comments seem very relevant, even though she's not a teen. While we are seeking to trust God and not worry, reading your comments/reminders is a very tangible evidence of God's provision for our inexperience. Thank you!

Monkey Tales said...

Happy Mother's Day!!!!!!!

Sherri said...

Thank you for sharing this. So sweet and helpful!

The Grady Family said...

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon your blog but my cousins just adopted a precious 2 year old Chinese boy with Albinism. This post on teens is really great and could actually apply to anyone adopting ANY teen because other than the language and cultural barriers many of the tips apply. Thanks for taking the time for other parents. God Bless!