Monday, January 19, 2009

My Boundary Letter

We couldn't find any type of example letter about setting boundaries before a child comes home. So, we wrote our own. I've removed all of the personal information. Feel free to use it to establish boundaries within your relationships or find wording to share with those that want to help your kids and family through this challenging time.

Dear loved ones,
If you can believe it, the time is finally here!! The precious children God has chosen before the beginning of time to be in our family are finally coming home. We know that each of you receiving this letter have in some way supported, loved or prayed for us. Because we know your care for our children and our family, we want to share with you some information that we hope will best equip those that will be around them to assist them in laying the strongest and healthiest foundation emotionally, physically and spiritually.

In many ways, we will be just like families created biologically, and we will parent like other families as we bring our children up in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. But in many ways we will need to parent them unlike what you may have seen or experienced. For years now, we have studied bonding and attachment in children, especially those coming home through adoption.

Attachment between a parent and child occurs over time when a child has a physical or emotional need, communicates that need, the primary caretaker (usually mom) meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats between a biological mother and child over and over to create trust within a child for that caretaker. (Baby is hungry, baby screams in distress, mom comes, meets the need, calms the child, baby learns that mom is safe and can be trusted) If you are a parent, you do not realize you are doing this special dance…. it is innate in a mother’s heart. But when this happens naturally, you are actually beginning, even with a tiny baby, to lay an emotional foundation in her heart that will affect her learning, conscience, growth and future relationships. A child that comes home through adoption (or a biological child that has experienced trauma) may have experienced interruptions to attachment. Each loss (of a birthmother, long hospital stays, death of a parent, divorce, abuse, leaving homes, changes in orphanage/foster homes, culture, language, etc) is a trauma on their little hearts. Many things affect the degree to which these traumas affect a child and not all children will have attachment issues. But it is best to be prepared as though they do.

The good news is that we can now as their parents and forever family, rebuild attachment and help them heal from these traumas. When the kids come home, they will be disoriented. Everything around them will be new, and they will need to learn not just about their new environment but also about what love and family are. The best way is for us, as their parents, to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed them. As this repeats between us, they are able to learn that parents are safe to love and to love deeply. The foundation like that of an infant will begin to form. Once they start to establish this long process, they will then be able to branch out to other relationships.

They will have what may seem like a lot of structure, boundaries and proximity to us. Please know that our decisions and parenting motivations are not fear-based parenting or a desire to overly control our children. They are prayerfully and thoughtfully made choices based out of lots of research. We will be doing what we know is the best way to help them heal from those interruptions in attachment as rapidly as possible. Our hope is that our hard work will allow for us to reduce the amount of structure they need soon.

Why are we telling you all of this? Because you will actually play an awesome and vital role in helping our children settle in, heal and lay a foundation for the future. There are three main areas in which you can help us. The first is to set boundaries. It will help us immensely, if you do not initiate physical contact with them. This would include things like hugging, kissing, lap sitting, holding, touching of hair and long eye gazes. If you feel led to welcome us home at the airport, for instance, waving, blowing kisses or high fives would be appropriate. Such boundaries will help them understand that we are their interpreters of loss and providers of a stable, consistent environment worthy of being trusted.

The second area is redirecting their desire to have their emotional and physical needs met by anyone (including strangers) to having (my husband) or me meet them. A child struggling to learn to attach, may exhibit indiscriminate affection or what can be perceived as charming behavior to adults outside of their family unit. It may appear harmless and as if they are “very friendly” but that is actually dangerous for the child. The following is difficult for me because I have snuggled, cared for and loved so many of your children. Please understand that if we have to tell them something like. "Honey, you may not hug Mrs. Smith" or "I am your Mommy, come sit on my lap." That it is not anything personal against you, it is just us teaching them about family, appropriate boundaries and behavior. Until they have that understanding, if the children approach you, please redirect them back to us. You can say things like,

Oh, there’s your mom right there (and point them to us) or
Your daddy is ready to snuggle you or
You are a nice child and you are my friend, but I am not your mommy. Your mommy is over there or
You are my friend, so you may sit next to me, but not on my lap or
Your Daddy can help you wind that toy.

The last area is language. Our conspicuous family will be uncommon in our geographical area and has already been challenged by well-intentioned strangers. We absolutely understand that most of what we are asked or receive comments on is not a deliberate lack of sensitivity. It is usually more often than not a lack of familiarity with adoption. It will be great for the girls to have as many people around them as possible that are using appropriate adoption/family language!! You may be surprised by some of the questions below, but they are things we have actually been asked or friends that have adopted have been asked. We are sharing our “answers” so that you will know the words we use in our family and for you to help us educate people around us.

Hurtful Questions vs. Helpful Terminology
How did you get them?? They came home through adoption
What happened to their real parents?/Are they really yours? /You must be the nanny. Etc.? We are their real mom, dad, parents as chosen before time by our Sovereign God. (We will not be sharing their history with others)
Using words like trans- or Bi-racial.  Instead we use Multiethnic or multi cultural Family (we are all from the same race of Adam and Eve. The expression of skin pigment does not separate our heritage)
Are they real siblings?? They are siblings. (think of the last time you had to answer that question about your biological children)
Why were they put up for adoption?? Birth parents chose an adoption plan for their children for various reasons
Will you have your own children?? These children are our real/own children
How much did she cost? A child is precious and priceless. Legal fees and paperwork costs are incurred in adoption
Where did you get her from? Are you wondering what her heritage is? She came home from (country/state)

We are so blessed to have so many supporters around us. Thank you for all you have done and will do to help our children be all God has created them to be. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. We are full of grace, happy to explain and will be quick to forgive. If you are uncomfortable asking us anything directly, please feel free to contact (our friend/therapist, if available) well versed in attachment or Google attachment in adoption online.

In Christ’s Love,

P.S. For those of you that have asked what you can get for the children, no home coming gifts are necessary. But if you can’t help yourselves (as we know some of you will not accept this ☺ ) We would like to have the children be a part of building their new wardrobe. If you would like, gift cards to the Mall are great.

The following hand-me-downs would be so appreciated, too!


Chuck and Juli said...

thank you, dawn and cate, for sharing your insight and especially for the gentle reminder to ask God for direction. ~juli