* Wondering what’s up with the sign? See # 5.
So there’s a new family- or family member- in your life, and you want to be really helpful. And I want you, as a family member or friend, to be able to be really helpful, too– no matter what kind of new family they are (adoptive, not adoptive, step, etc) so here are some tips that might help you be the asset you want to be…
Before the new arrival arrives
1. Drop by a few meals that can be frozen before the arrival date or adoption date. It’s in their best interest as a nuclear family to have their first weeks at home evolve in a way that they define and that may not include visitors on day one at home. By dropping off a meal (or three) before they ever depart, they are given a little breathing room to seek only what they need in those first precious days home.
2. Offer to go grocery shopping for them on the day that they will arrive back home. Ask for a list and a key and have those groceries in the fridge or in the cabinets well before they are scheduled to be home. Our dear neighbor, Carly, did this for us and bought all organic. It was the sweetest thing ever; we felt so loved by her careful attention.
3. Offer to coordinate meal delivery, and don’t be shy. Carly made this offer to me and I was so shy to share names with her. She wasn’t the least bit shy and teamed up with my mother-in-law to get a group of women together to provide meals a few times a week for a month. Another friend, Lisa, coordinated people dropping by frozen meals for us before we left (see #1) so we had six total weeks of meals provided to us. It was the most perfect of gifts– one of the loveliest ways to be loved.
4. Offer to come over for a day (or seven) of putting things together. There is so much gear and stuff that goes with bringing home a new family member of any age. Bunk bed building help, car seat installing help, wall painting help is all so very welcome.
5. Do something sweet and welcoming. It might be making sure that you mail a card that says Congratulations or Welcome to the new family member. It may be painting a sign or hanging a welcome flag at the house for their arrival home. It may be sending them off on their adoption trip to Ethiopia or China or New Mexico with a little bit of spending money to help the local economy or treat themselves to something. We received so many cards in the first weeks we were home, and it was just so touching.
6. Say prayers, hold them in your thoughts, send them good wishes– however it is you express joy, appreciation, hope to the world, do that for this family before they are together and once they are home.
Once they are home
7. At first, resist calling too much. It’s stressful to have to remember to return phone calls in the midst of everything else, and it is hard to even put a thought together. Know that if your loved one needs to talk to you, he or she will call or email or send out smoke signals or something. Just for right then, give them permission to do whatever they most need to do.
8. And then, once the phone bubble has been broken (by their reaching out to you or a few weeks passing), always, always call before you stop by. It helps them plan for the visit. It helps them strategize around nap time, etc. It helps them graciously turn down the visit if it’s not a good time. And always ask “is this a good time? We can plan for a different time if that’s better.” Your visit might seem really necessary to you. It might not be so necessary right at that moment, though, for what they have going on in their lives. So give them the option, give them the out, and when you do get to visit, stay less time than you’d really like.
9. Do think outside the dinner box when you think about putting together a little care package. Muffins and other easy to grab breakfast food (we had scones– thank you, AB) are decadent. Our neighbor, Mary Wilson, brought by cut up orange slices, and we devoured them like we had scurvy or something. We had cupcakes (you know that was okay with me), chocolate ice box pie, and brownies, a beautiful jar of chicken noodle soup for easy lunches, and decadent loaves of bread delivered. It was wonderful to not only have meals covered but to also have easy to grab food on the fly as we ran through the kitchen.
10. Help your loved ones observe the limits they need to set. A few weeks ago, we went to visit my family, and I had told my mamacita that we would need to leave no later than 2:30 pm to come back home. She didn’t want us to leave; she was enjoying our visit, but as soon as 2 pm rolled around, she started watching the clock for us— getting water bottles ready for our ride home, instructing my dad to help BF carry the goodies they had for us out to the car, etc. It was just so nice that she made it so easy for us. Even though I know she would have loved for us to stay a few more hours, she trusted that we knew best when we said what time we needed to leave and that what we thought was best was indeed best for her grandson. It was such a loving and helpful gesture, and it made me think, “I always want to make it that easy for someone else to mind the limits they need to set.” So the new family in your life will have limits– as well they should. As their ally, respect their limits, pay attention to their limits, and help them mind their limits, even when you really want that baby or adorable six year old to hang around a little longer. There will be other get togethers. Push a child past the point where they can control their state (and, trust me, you are not the one who will see the state control melt down. His or her parents will be the lucky and full recipients of that breakdown), and you’ve asked far too much.
11. Ask first about everything. It may not be a good time for the child to be held by someone else or to be given a cookie. Show the parents that you respect their right and ability to make the best decisions for their child and show the child that you understand who their parents are and who should be making the decisions for them. It may not be a good time for the baby to held. It may not be a good time to run outside. Whatever it is you want to do, remember that what you do could undo something the parents have been working towards for a long time. Asking first is a gift to everyone involved.
12. Accept the answer. So, if you ask, you might get an answer you didn’t really want to hear. Just remember that it’s not about you. It’s about a specific child and his or her specific parents who have a specific goal and objective in mind that really isn’t about you. So give grace abundantly.
13. And don’t give advice abundantly unless you are asked. One of my dearest girl friends is a doctor. She knows a thing or 87. She always, always waits for me to ask a direct question before giving me advice. I love that she trusts me to make good decisions and to know what I need to ask. And she’s the first to say she hasn’t been in an adoptive situation. She fully gets and respects that adoptive parenting has its own unique nuances, and she knows that we are students of the process so she even couches everything she says to me (that I ask about and when appropriate) with observations that show there are caveats for our unique situation. I love how she demonstates her trust and respect.
14. While resisting the urge to give unsolicited advice, also resist the urge to make pithy statements (when are you going to let me see that baby, he’s spoiled already, etc). It might seem like a joke, but it really does sting.
15. Call when you are going by the grocery store or the dry cleaners or the pharmacy or post office to see if you can pick something up or drop something off. Several people did this for us, and it allowed us to nest a little longer at home. Who knew the gift of time could really be given?
16. Offer to come over and give support to the parent– washing and folding laundry, ironing, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, etc. The dailiness of maintaining a household can be really overwhelming when you are adjusting to a new family member, and it’s hard to let yourself off the hook for doing the dishes or the laundry. So you do it and miss valuable, precious moments with your new loved one or valuable, precious moments where you could be sleeping. Having someone say, “I’ll come do that crappy chore for you” is like being asked out by George Clooney. You think you are dreaming, and it’s the best dream you’ve ever had.
17. Give your loved ones an out when it comes to thank you notes. You know that they are grateful so let them know that you know that and tell them that you don’t want them to write a note. Insist really. It’s one less thing on a list that has become endless.
18. Ask questions. How are you doing? What can I do? What is going well? What’s hard? How can I be more helpful? What do you need? How was the journey, experience, etc? What have you learned? What helps? It is so nice to share this journey with people that you love and that love you.