Grandparents and Other People

The role of a Grandparent is usually seen as a simple one. Spoil them rotten, shower them with love and let them do what they want. 

Actually, I’ve never agreed with that but that’s a whole other entry right there and I want to talk, solely, about how Grandparents, and all other people, should try and behave when there is an adopted child coming in to their lives.

A few days ago (seems like a lifetime ago now!) we spent a lovely afternoon with our Mum’s and Dad’s having a celebratory afternoon tea before we met our daughter for the first time. The conversation headed in the direction of a Grandparents role, specifically how they should behave (now, when the child arrives and in the future). My Mother-in-Law told us that she’d even Googled to see if she could find anything to help her know what to say, what to do and how to behave and act with us and with, eventually, our daughter. It got me thinking and I decided to add an entry in to my blog solely to help new grandparents, other family members and friends of new adopters understand what to do in this very strange and unknown territory.


Listen: Adopters learn a LOT through the adoption process. They know a lot so listen to their advice and follow their lead. They know more about adoption and adopted children that anyone who hasn’t been through the process so respect that and respect their needs and the advice they give you.

It doesn’t help to have anyone laughing at them when they’re trying to explain the complex issues of attachment and how they may have to deal with that. Or how they’re going to deal with discipline because their child was beaten, or how they’ll deal with nappy changing because their child was abused. None of these things happened to our child but I have heard too many stories where other people have dismissed an adopters advice about how to deal with their children and simply laughed and overruled them. We do not say these things lightly and we say them for the sake of our children, not for ourselves.


Hold back: As hard as this one is you just have to hold back. Although it is seen as an exciting time the adopters really only have space in their heads for themselves to take on their own feelings. In fact, as we are 5 days in to our introductions as I type, I can honestly say that it’s most definitely NOT an “exciting time”. Sounds shocking doesn’t it? We’ve waited all this time for a child to come in to our lives and now we’ve got that chance how could we possibly not be excited. But there are too many other emotions flying around our heads to have any room at all for excitement. In this short amount of time I’ve been scared, had a panic attack, couldn’t stop crying, petrified of the future, anxiety levels have reached an all time high, I’ve felt low, depressed, bleak (that one’s for you L & M ;) )
I haven’t felt excited, happy, relaxed, calm or content in the last 5 days. It’s been really hard, emotionally draining and we’re exhausted by it. By all means get excited but don’t bombard the adopters with loads of messages, excitement and questions. Give the adopters space.


Try and get the balance right: A bit contradictory to the above statement….but send messages of support at crucial times. For example, the approval panel date, the matching panel date,  meeting the child for the first time. Just a little message of acknowledgment without any hint of needing a reply goes a long way, trust me. And reply to the adopters, pick the phone up if they call, respond to texts, emails and all other forms of contact which they initiate. I know this helps because this is what our families and friends have been doing. It really does go a long way to making the adopters feel there are people there at this utterly petrifying time. In fact, one really good friend actually phoned me after I sent a particularly distressing text to her as they (her and her husband) adopted 2 years ago and knew exactly what I was feeling so she managed to calm me down. That helped so much.


Don’t add more stress: It’s very hard, we understand, as someone close to us who wants to get involved and get stuck in there. There’s no point in you worrying about something and letting the adopters know you’re worried. Not in the early stages anyway. Talk amongst each other and realise this is a worrying time for everyone, not least the adopters.


Be selfless: This is about the adopters and the child alone. SW said to us we had to be “mindful of the grandparents feelings”! We have no room to consider other peoples feelings at such a crucial time. This sounds utterly selfish when said out loud but it’s really not. Why anyone else would want to be thought about by the adopters at this time must be mad.


Meeting the child for the first time: This is the most crucial piece of information I can give you if you know someone who is adopting……………It’s going to be a little while before you get to meet their child.
This is where adoption is so different to having a birth child. Apart from stressing out the parents, a crowd of people visiting a new born is going to have no impact on the baby at all (apart from picking up on the stress of the parents…..which is, I might add, a good enough reason not to have loads of people around anyway!)
With an older child, who is more than aware of their situation (whether they understand it or not) this is going to have a huge impact on them. The most important thing is that the child and the adopters settle in to their new life together, alone. This is crucial to forming those attachments and bonds. So you can imagine if anyone else starts coming around within those first few days it’s going to get very confusing for the child.
Depending on how old a child is the adopters will make the decisions on when people are able to meet their child. With our child being 15 months we’ve decided on a (flexible) plan of 4 days on our own, seeing nobody at all. We will go for walks but we won’t have anyone actually meet her. On the 5th day we’re then having the first set of grandparents round and on the 6th day the second set will come round. This will be for an hour at the most, for a cup of tea, relaxed chat, nothing over the top or exciting. Just nice and easy.
We are then planning to have 3 weeks where we don’t introduce her to anyone else and the only people we will see are her grandparents. On the 4th week we will then start introducing other family and friends. This may change but only if we feel our daughter will cope with other people visiting (all down to how we feel she’s attaching to us)
It seems such a long time to make people wait and we are as desperate for everyone to meet her as they are to meet her, but we just have to be patient for her. The wait will all be worth it in the end.


Gifts: Go for it! If you want to shower the adopters and/or the child gifts go for your life! There are no rules here…..apart from one; When the child moves in don’t be offended if we don’t open the gifts right away. One thing we have learned about this is that we don’t want a child thinking every time someone turns up there will be a present! We acknowledge that such a lovely gesture can have such negative connotations but, as mentioned before, we’ve learned a lot and we need to use that knowledge for the benefit of our daughter. Don’t worry, she will always know who her presents have come from. And of course, this is where the grandparents will differ…..she will be opening your presents while you’re there :)


How to behave around the child: The simple answer to this is ‘normally’. Behave how you would with a birth child but always be mindful of what an adopter has told you. If you’ve been told not to rush in and be loud then don’t do it. If you’ve been told not to give a child sweets, don’t bring any. Remember the first point I made about listening….this is where you use it.


Don’t turn up uninvited: Although we’ve never had an issue with this anyway I thought it worth mentioning after reading and hearing horror stories about how Grandparents have been waiting on the driveways and doorsteps of newly adoptive parents as they bring their child home for the first time. Please, please don’t do this. As lovely an idea as it might be at the time to surprise the new family with banners and balloons and yourselves it will just add misery, bitterness and resentment as well as stress, anxiety and (later) guilt. There would be nothing worse than having to tell your nearest and dearest to go away while you’re trying to deal with moving your child in for the first time. As I mentioned, I know this won’t happen to us personally, our parents, family and friends have all been incredibly supportive and brilliant. But I DO know it’s happened to other people and it makes me shudder.


Don’t interfere with the attachment: I thought this might be worth adding as a little extra. I thought about this the other day and I think it makes a lot of sense but might not be as obvious as we imagine. If a child is crying or distressed and the Mum and Dad are in another room, what would yo do? I know what I would do. I’d comfort that child immediately. Not necessarily any child but a friends children or my sisters child I would not hesitate to comfort. But , while we are trying to attach to our daughter, if we are in another room or, in fact, there but our daughter is just closer to the other person in the room, she may very well reach up for you for comfort. That is going to feel so lovely for you because it’s going to feel like she needs you and wants you. But it is absolutely imperative that you do not react. We have to be the ones to comfort her for those first few weeks and months. If anyone else does this it may damage that bonding and attachment to us that we’re working so hard to achieve. To see this happen is going to be just as hard for us as it will be for the other person to not be able to comfort, which is such a natural thing to do. But you must try, as hard as that will be, to hold back and let the adopters do it.


The future: At the end of the day, even after everything else I’ve mentioned, our daughter is, quite simply, that! She’s our daughter, she’s your granddaughter, she’s your niece and she’s your friends child. Treat her as such. She’s no more special, or important, or different to any child on this planet.

Although, to us, she is! 




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