What To Do With Friends Who Are Adopting

July 29, 2008 at 5:48 pm (International Adoption)

As you may or may not know, we have four children.  The two girls are domestic models, biologically bred, carried by me, delivered to us in a hospital as infants, etc.  The two boys are twin imports, conceived by someone else, prayed for by my husband and I, and delivered to us via international adoption at 7 years of age by God himself.


Now that I am several months into this experience, I have collected thoughts to share on ways to support a newly adoptive family.  Of course, not everyone is the same, there may be needs I haven’t experienced, or things I’ve suggested that are inapplicable.  Either way, I hope this is a nice springboard of ideas for anyone interested.


While the family is away:  Send cards to the house and emails to the family.  Even if the cards are not received until they get home, they will know you were thinking about them.  Later these cards will fill the pages of a ‘baby’ book, encouraging the child and showing him just how many people were anticipating and praying for their arrival home.  Emails are priceless, as they are the only connection the travelling family has with their life back home.  They are in a strange place, surrounded by a strange language, in a strange situation.  They need to hear from you, all of you.


What can you do to help:  Coming home after weeks away, a 12 hour flight with new children, and returning to a dusty house and three feet of grass in the back yard would be very discouraging.  Have a team keep the yard in check and another to blow through the house with cleaning supplies so the family doesn’t come home with even more that needs immediate attention.  Stock the fridge and pantry with some basics to get them through the first 48 hours home.


When the family arrives at the airport:  What do they want?  A large party with signs and cheers?  A silent welcome?  (Some newly adopted children are overwhelmed and may not fare well with a cacophony of excitement.  Would the parents appreciate familiar faces quietly and discreetly waving and encouraging, blending in with the crowd to the eyes of the new children?)  Or would a few friends/family coming to get every one home be a better route?


The first few weeks home:  Stopping by unannounced is a BAD idea.  Even if you are close family or friends, still call first and get some guidelines.  Other than that, NO popping in!  The family is adjusting to being back at home, the children are wired and off schedule, the house is a wreck of suitcases and laundry, and they are all several hours ahead or behind the local time zone.  You may be dressed and ready to visit at 2:00 in the afternoon, but the family will be very likely stumble to the door in their pj’s after having just been jolted awake by your unexpected ring of the doorbell, because they are still on Russia/Guatemala/Wherever time.


But you want to help:  Gather the friends and/or church and arrange for people to sign up to bring meals and/or groceries.  Find out if the children have special needs – they may have food allergies or emotional baggage that relates to certain foods.  If you don’t have any information to go with, keep things simple, chicken noodle soup, rolls, fruit salad, etc.  Easy on the sugar and artificial ingredients!  When it’s your day to deliver dinner, call early in the day to find out when is a good time.


A group wants to pull together for a gift:  No one ever really knows the size of the adoptive children, or whether or not the parents feel they need clothing, toys, etc.  If you shower them with stuff, that’s more the parents have to deal with.  AND – the children don’t need to be seeing a river of toys steadily flowing into the house, AND they will probably come home with things that fit but gain substantial weight and height in the first few weeks home.


Consider organizing a gift card shower.  Cards to stores like Target, Payless Shoes, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, gas cards, cards to the family’s favorite take-out places, etc.  Those cards will provide exactly what the family needs, exactly when they need it. The size and color will always be right, and you don’t have to wrap it!  One of my favorite gifts received (that I never would have thought of) was groceries delivered to my home.  Cards for this are so appreciated by the mother whose new children are overwhelmed with the visual and audio input we easily block out in a grocery store.  And if her new children are flight risks – grocery delivery is even more so appreciated!


The church or a group wants to do something seriously substantial:  The newly adoptive family has just blown through anywhere between $20,000 to $50,000.  Unless one of the parents has great adoption benefits from work (slim chance), or they are extremely wealthy, they are footing this cost themselves and most likely with a loan of some sort.  If you are thinking big, then go big.  Gather funds to help the family put a nice dent or even pay off whatever loan funded the adoption.  Work with a tax advisor to distribute funds in a way that will not cause them to loose tax benefits or having to claim the income.  Even better – arrange this ahead of time, pooling together to sponsor different costs – passports, fingerprinting, home study, travel, lawyer fees, visas, orphanage donation, etc.  Would your church considering tackling this as part of their missions or ministry outreach?


Wanting to see your friends:  Since an impromptu visit is not suggested, try calling and arranging to pick your newly adoptive girlfriend up and treating her for pie and coffee, or chips and a margarita.  Would the new father appreciate a game of racquetball or a pizza and a beer?  Get that outing on the calendar and pick him up!  Two things to remember:  First – if the family has just returned from an international adoption, the family has just blown through thousands of dollars, and they may have lost further income due to time away from work.  Also their budget has been severely disrupted; it will be a few weeks before their finances can be balanced.  Don’t expect them to have discretionary funds available to cover even these simple outings.  Second – the new children could very likely be worried about their new mom or dad leaving and not coming back.  Keep your visit short and have your friend home within two hours or so.


Your children want to meet the new children:  Have them draw pictures for the new children, welcome home signs and the like.  They can make a card and put their own photo on it so the new children can review the names of their new acquaintances.  You could call ahead and arrange a time to stop by to deliver the offerings in person.  Keep it short and simple.  Leave your car running, jump out, deliver, chat for a moment, and head home.  If things are going well for the family, they can invite you to stay.  If not, you know you’ve loved on them without completely disrupting the children.


Your curiosity:  You know it killed the cat, right?  Don’t ask personal questions about the children right in front of them.  Even when they don’t yet speak English, your expressions, the change in tone and key words they may have learned alert them to the fact that you are talking about them.  Save it for when it’s just you and the adult family member or friend.


They are the family you go to in a crisis:  Please consider that their newly adoptive status puts them in ‘crisis’ mode upon arrival home, and ‘high-alert’ for the next several months.  There are language barriers, sleep problems, behavioral issues, poor character traits coming out, feeing and disciplinary battles, not to mention bonding and attachment being pursued 24 hours a day.  Your friends are pouring every ounce of energy they can muster into their family.  There is next to nothing left in reserve, and won’t be for a long time.  They are happy, but still in crisis/high-alert.  This is a good time to find some other means of support for whatever you are struggling with.


They used to be so friendly and hospitable:  They haven’t changed, but they have permanent house guests they need to concentrate on at the moment.  They may not be able to have people over for dinner every week, or even every month for a long time.  It may even be several weeks or months before they can accept an invitation with the new children.  Don’t keep tabs; they’ll have you over when they get a grip on all the crisis issues I talked about above!


Your Two Cents:  Your friends/family are doing some strange things with their newly adopted children.  The 6 year old is in diapers, the 4 year old gets a bottle, the 3 year old doesn’t have to eat her veggies, and why in the world is the 8 year old in a pack ‘n play?  Unless you are asking with the sincerest interest in learning and being supporting with no opinions dying to come out, keep quiet.  The family has most likely read and researched to the nth degree, spoken with all kinds of families that have gone before, sought help of professionals, and really probably have a clue as to what they are doing.  Their children, no matter how cute, seemingly well adjusted, or intelligent, have come home with baggage, and it has to be managed in ways you’re not used to.


General thoughts:  Your friends/family has adopted a child.  This event should be treated no differently than the birth of a baby, regardless of the age of the new child/ren.  What would you do for friends or family who just delivered a baby?  Do the same for the newly adoptive family/children.  These children are blessings, no different than the home-grown kind, and the road the family has travelled to get them was very likely bumpier and more complicated than even a difficult pregnancy.  These children have even more reason to be welcomed and celebrated, and the family needs all the support they can get.



  1. Nerida said,

    This is wonderful advice. I can see you’ve really been through this. Good on you for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Robyn said,

    Right on, girlfriend!!! I have a girlfriend that just adopted 3 months ago. He’s 11 and certainly comes with baggage. The steps to having him open up have been baby ones, but they’re there!! He just accepted Christ two weeks ago at camp!! Hallelujah!!!

    This is info I’ll definitely hold onto. I have a few other friends taking the steps to adopt!!

    Some of these things I hadn’t even considered!!

    Thanks for sharing,

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