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Dr. Kris Kittle

What I wish I had known…in Older Child Adoption

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom | No Comments

When I talk to families who have chosen to adopt an older child, I often wonder what were things they wished they had known about before adopting their child.

Here are a few I hear most often:

“I wish families who have already adopted an older child would be honest with how hard it is.” So often parents talk about the joys (and there are many), but rarely do they share with raw honesty the intense difficulties. Many agencies have prospective parents talk to other parents who have already brought their child home (which is GREAT!). Except these parents minimize the challenges and emphasize the blessings. While admirable, it does an injustice to prospective parents. A family cannot truly determine whether older child adoption is a good fit for them if they only hear the good. So if you are considering older child adoption, search out those who have adopted an older child. In fact, I would suggest that you reach out those who have been home OVER two years. Why? I don’t know what it is about two years, but things shift. Truth surfaces. Eyes are opened. Patterns are identified. Things start clicking. This was true for the majority of the forty families we talked to and it was true for us.

“I wish I had realized how important finding a support group was before we adopted.” Find social media groups. Find area support groups. Get connected. This group will be your lifeline. Or maybe you will find one or two people who you reach out to when you are challenged. Or empty. Or need encouragement. Find them. Before you bring your child home (if possible).

“I wish I had realized how absolutely consuming this journey would be.” Yes. 100% yes. One mom advised that you plan to set everything else aside for the first year, perhaps two. Maybe giving up everything is not realistic for you, but please consider reducing your involvement. You truly cannot understand the demands your new child is going to place on you (some purposely, but a lot to simply meet needs). And you truly cannot anticipate the how one person’s trauma impacts an entire household. Everyone will be impacted. Expect to make your world small for you and your family. I would also follow that up with find coping strategies that work for you. And do not feel guilty about TAKING time for yourself doing something you enjoy.

“I wish I had known how much un-teaching would be necessary before I would re-teach appropriate behaviors.” One mom commented their household appeared to have absolutely no rules and completely out of control children that first year. Remember, you cannot focus on everything your child needs to work on from day one. It is not possible. Another mom suggested focusing on issues of safety at the beginning. Once those have been unlearned, then relearned, you can focus on other issues (such as manners, grooming, etc.). It is a long journey marked by small successes that lead to larger ones.

These are only a few of the things families wish they had known before they adopted their older child. But I hope these help you—if you are considering older child adoption—to make an informed decision on whether it is the best fit for you. For those of you already home, I hope these help you know what to share with other prospective adoptive families who ask you about your experiences.

Strengthening your Support System

By | Blog

Are you struggling to parent? Do you feel alone on your parenting journey? You are not alone! This may be one of the loneliest journeys you could walk. However, finding other families to walk beside you is vital.

But where can you find a support network?

Social Media. There are a number of groups on social media where you can connect with other families who are parenting adopted children. Groups on parenting with connection, older child adoption, parenting adopted teens, and adopting out of birth order are just a few groups you could search. Many other groups focus on families who adopted from a specific country. Get creative in coming up with key words that fit what you are looking for. Request to join a group, but if you find it is not what you expected or you find it bringing more heaviness instead of helping lift your heaviness, do not be afraid to exit the group. Thankfully, it does not have to be a long-term commitment if it is not a good fit!

Area Support Groups. While groups on social media can be fulfilling, there is NOTHING quite like meeting people in real life. (And it is possible to meet via social media yet become real life friends!) But people in your community you can meet one-on-one or as a small group can be helpful as well. Many churches have begun to create adoption support groups. Several larger churches have groups, but even some smaller churches have responded to the call to fill this void. Agencies often have support groups for their families as well so if your agency is local, get involved in their support group. If your agency is not local, contact some of the local agencies to inquire whether they have a support group you could join. Most agencies have a desire for ALL adoptive families to be successful (regardless of what agency helped you adopt) and would welcome families seeking to connect with others.

Adoption-educated Friends. Ok, so maybe social media isn’t your thing. And maybe you have tried to find a support group and have been unsuccessful. Create your own! Select friends (or find new ones) who are willing to become educated about the unique challenges of adoption. Those who are willing to not pass judgement when you share some of the hard aspects of your journey. They may be the people you least expect! However, they can serve as a great listener and a great encourager to you.

I hope that you will commit to strengthening your support system to help you through the bumps guaranteed to occur in parenting.

Overcoming Exhaustion

By | Blog, Parenting

Are you exhausted? Maybe the holidays have taken what little bit you had left right out of you. Perhaps spending time with extended family was simply too much. Or maybe your children’s behavior over the holidays simply drained your last drop of strength.

If you are experiencing parenting challenges, it is easy to fall into the mindset of “I just need to get through today.” You wake up the next day with the same thought on your mind. I have been there. Sometimes I still struggle to think that way.

How can you get off the hamster wheel of exhaustion? Purposefulness.

There really is no other way to do it than to be purposeful. We often tell our kids to make good choices even when it is hard. Yet, we often forget that sometimes we also need to make the hard choice to get rest despite the many demands on us.

What are some ways that you can purposefully rest without spending several thousand dollars on a vacation? Here are a few ideas you could implement today!

Have “Must-Go” dinner night. What is that, you ask? Whatever-in-the-fridge-that-must-go is for dinner! When I was growing up, every Sunday night was must-go. You could also serve cereal (if your family will go for that, but mine won’t). Pick up a ready-made meal that could easily been cooked in the oven. Make it a night with little work or preparation for you.

Leave the mess. Let go of the need to have your house looking perfect. The toys can be picked up tomorrow morning (with your kids help!). The messy kitchen and dirty dishes can be washed tomorrow. Just leave it and go to bed early. There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow and maybe you can garner help to wash them.

Is that hard? YES! Who wants to wake up to a messy house? But, getting more sleep will help change your outlook on your circumstances so you can face the mess.

Call for an “early” night. If you have older kids, give them the option to read, listen to soft music, or work on a quiet activity in their room until lights out. Then you do the same. Avoid blue light (light from electronics). Instead chose to participate in relaxing activities such as taking a bath or hot shower, reading a fun book, listening to calming music, or practicing mindfulness activities. If you enjoy essential oils, select one a calming one (like lavender, a relaxing blend, or a grounding blend) and put it in a diffuser or place a small amount in your palms and breathe it deeply. You may also want to safely apply it to your neck and shoulders or to the bottoms of your feet.

Maybe you want to do all of these on the same night or maybe you want to pick just one. Perhaps consider working on your personal bedtime routine to incorporate more relaxing activities that promote restful sleep.

It is easy to keep pushing when you are exhausted. However, being exhausted can diminish your immune system and lead to illness. Be purposeful in finding ways to rest even when it is hard.

Adopting Out of Birth Order

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

No matter how you grow your family, your family experiences many changes. Of course, it changes in number, but the atmosphere also changes. The dynamics are different. Everyone is finding their place in the new normal. When you add a child younger than any existing children, every family member adjusts to cater to the youngest member of the family. And the family finds their new rhythm.

However, when the new child who joins the family changes the birth order, finding the rhythm is often more difficult. Not only does your new child have to figure out their place in their new family, but the existing children whose placement in the family changed also have to find their place.

For some children, a birth order displacement is minor. They may have a more flexible personality and can easily go with the flow of life. They will still have to learn how to respond or act to their newest sibling. They may need to figure out how to respond to a child who is chronologically older but acts younger than them. The parents may also need to figure out how to navigate that as well.

For other children, a change in birth order causes them to feel “demoted” in family “rank” which can incredibly difficult for some to accept. These children tend to be more competitive or often are identified as “natural leaders.” They may feel resentment toward the new child. They also may be confused on how to respond to a child chronologically older who acts younger than them. It can be especially difficult if the new child is now the oldest but is unable to fulfill the required responsibilities.

Before you decide to adopt out of birth order, consider these questions:

  • How will your existing child respond to a child who is chronologically older, but acts younger than they do?
  • How will your existing child handle the change of their place in the family?
  • How does your child handle change?
  • Will they struggle no longer being the oldest boy or oldest girl?

Perhaps ask others who know your child well for their thoughts as well.

Adopting out of birth order can work, but it does not always work. The unknown variable is how your new child is going to respond to their place in the family. Some adjust well while others want to be in charge of every family member. Some struggle to simply fit. Most will feel sad about family experiences they missed before joining the family. Often, this sadness is expressed as jealousy toward existing children. Then parents need to determine the best way to address that jealousy.

The Role of Parents

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

One area of research that I cover in the college course I teach is the study of Information Processing. Information Processing looks at how people process information and experiences which determines behavior. In my class, we discuss the implications on leader behavior. If you are unfamiliar with the concept (especially if you are an information junkie like me), I encourage you to research it.

I remember teaching a class several years ago when the implication on older child adoption hit me in middle of my lecture. I view one aspect of information processing as a mental box where we store information in our mind based on research or personal experience. In my class, we talk about the impact on leadership. The type of leader you are depends upon things you have learned, read, and experienced. If you have only experienced a leader who “hides” in the office while leaving the team to do whatever they think is best, then chances are when it is your turn to lead, you will lead in a similar manner. However, perhaps you have studied about leaders who gather input from their followers. What you learn will also go you’re your mental leadership “box.” When it is your turn to lead or manage, you will look into the leadership box, reflect on the contents, and lead from your knowledge and experience.

So what was my lightbulb parenting moment? At that time, our daughter had not been home for very long and we were struggling with her accepting our role as parent. It was in that moment I realized the application of this theory in our life. She had no frame of reference for the concept of “parent” since she had never truly had a parent before. Her “box” marked parent was empty. Since she hadn’t experienced having a parent before, she did not know how to respond. And she did not know what role parents play in their child’s life. Further, her “box” for “teacher” was distorted. The teachers she had experienced before coming home acted in many ways like a parent by teaching things parents generally taught and providing care and concern. In those first few years, she would say she did not want us to teach her various life skills, she wanted her teachers to do that. It did finally click that teachers taught academics, not necessarily relationship or various life skills.

Since becoming an adult, she has had to readjust her expectations of parents. We do not live close to our extended family, so she had limited opportunities to see me interact with my parents. Consequently, she has had to learn what role parents play in the lives of their independent, adult children. And to be honest, so have I.

How do you think your child views parents based on their past experiences? What information do they have in their mental “parenting box”? How can you contribute positive things to their perspective? And further, how can you not take their inappropriate responses to you (as their parent) personally? Really, that may be the most important question to ask yourself.

Education Challenges

By | Blog, Challenges, Wisdom

In our research, the majority of older adopted children struggle in some area of education regardless of their home country. Honestly, this finding was surprising. I assumed those children adopted from other countries would struggle due to the language and educational differences. And they do. However, we found kids adopted through foster care struggled as well. Many experienced a variety of moves and school changes. Since every school tailors their curriculum to their school (within state and federal requirements), kids may have missed concepts when they change schools. Perhaps one school introduces multiplication in second grade while another waits until third grade. If a child changes schools between these years, they miss out on vital teaching.

In no way am I advocating that every school teach exactly the same curriculum at the same time, each school has its unique culture. They should have the freedom and flexibility to reflect their school’s community. However, changing schools can bring interruptions in learning for kids.

Kids in care tend to have holes in their education. It may be in social studies, math, science, reading, or writing. Really, it can be in more areas than academics. My daughter had been home almost two years and in high school when I discovered she had never been taught the order of the months of the year. She knew the month names, but she never knew what order they came in. I assumed she knew since it was something often taught in preschool or kindergarten, but she had never been exposed to it before.

Often kids in care “slip through the cracks.” Perhaps the child never had appropriate educational support at home and entered care at an older age. Maybe the child was not at one school long enough (or often enough) for teachers to discover a learning disability. Consequently, the child can go years without diagnosis and intervention causing further educational delays.

Difficulty or lack of understanding can often lead to lack of interest in learning. Some kids refuse to learn because they are embarrassed they do not understand. No one likes to feel dumb and sometimes a refusal has more to do with feeling inadequate than being unwilling.

How can parents help their kids?

  • Ask yourself if this is “can’t” or “won’t”. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between (and do not be surprised if it is a little of both). Assuming “can’t” will help you have more understanding and patience for your child. Then remind yourself often that they cannot.
  • Talk with their teachers. Ask if they suspect learning challenges. Ask what areas where they believe your child needs the most help. Select a place to begin. Do not try to address everything at once. It will simply overwhelm you and your child which can lead to more frustration for everyone.
  • Encourage your child. They are probably as frustrated with their educational experience as you are. If they put forth the best effort they can do right now, celebrate that. Tell them you notice they are trying. Acknowledge the extra time they spent studying whether the grade reflects it or not. Encourage even small progress.
  • Breathe deep. Probably the best advice shared with me was from a mom who had adopted several older children. She learned early on in older child adoption to repeat: “my child’s behavior is not a reflection of me.” When we do not take on our child’s behavior as ours, we do not respond in embarrassment and frustration. We can want the very best for our kids, but they still have to do their part. And sometimes we need to adjust our expectations for ourselves and our kids.

Staying calm is key to helping our kids push through educational challenges to find a solution.

Kids Parenting Kids

By | Blog, Challenges, Wisdom

Sometimes when you read an article or a book, it changes your life. Maybe the reading speaks in a spiritual way that brings about change. Other times, it brings enlightenment about something unexplained. This article (When Kids Have to Act Like Parents) brought enlightenment for me.

I absolutely realize that early trauma changes the formation of the brain. However, I think many social workers and parents have always lumped a child having to parent other children (whether siblings or younger children at an orphanage) as early trauma. I know that I have. And it is. However, researching it in isolation can be beneficial as well. This article solely looks at parentified kids (kids with the responsibility to parent someone else) and the effects into adulthood.

The article has caused to me to rethink the long-term impact of kids parenting others. Take a few minutes to read it. You may find it help clarify one aspect of “why” behind behaviors you have seen in yourself or your child.

Loving your Child

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

This blog post was originally published as a guest blog post on WACAP Now Blog

Those who choose older child adoption face many unique challenges.  Many of the challenges are openly discussed in an attempt to obtain wisdom in how to address them. However, one of the most common challenges is not feeling love for your child, yet it is a topic rarely discussed. Few parents willingly admit they do not feel love for their child; those who do often receive judgment from others.

Admitting you do not feel love for your child is perceived as unacceptable because it runs counter to human nature so why do so many experience it? There are likely a variety of reasons; but consider this: when an infant or young toddler joins your family, you see the sweet smile that melts your heart. You hear the contagious baby giggle. You know how much this treasured baby depends on you for care and comfort. When that cherished baby becomes a preteen, who begins to exude an attitude, you know that sweet, precious baby you remember is tucked behind the challenging exterior. However, when you bring your child home as a preteen (or older), you do not have memories of the sweet, precious baby. You see only the tough exterior and you are not sure what is underneath. Often, it is difficult to look past the exterior to that hurt child hiding deep inside.

How can parents love their child when they lack the gushy loving feelings?

1. Set Realistic Expectations.

    Would you marry a complete stranger and expect to feel immediately emotionally connected to that person? No, of course not. Yet, older child adoption is similar: you are coming to a relationship with a complete stranger who has their own experiences, personality, and likes and dislikes. Yet as their parent, you are expected to feel emotional love for them from the start. It can come, but it often takes time to feel that love. It will take time for your child to feel love for you, too. And they may never feel love for you. You have to accept that loving your child is not about what they do (or don’t do), but who they are as your child.

2. Love is an Action, not a Feeling.

    One dad I interviewed shared, “Love is what you do, what you say, and how you interact with your child.” You can express love to them by meeting their needs. You can show love by giving sincere, authentic praise every day (even if you have to look really hard to find something praise worthy). You can show love through service such as teaching them skills like how to cook, how to sort laundry, how to manage money, etc. You can show affectionate touch by giving hugs, pats on the back, fist bumps, and high fives. Or spend quality time with your child listening to them and doing activities together that your child enjoys.

3. Take Care of Yourself.

    It is hard to help others when you have already given everything within you, and you feel dry. Parched. Out of energy. Done. As parents, it is so easy to get caught up in the needs of our children (or family in general) that we neglect taking care of us. However, you cannot pour from an empty cup; airline attendants tell us to put on our oxygen mask before assisting others. We need to change the narrative that taking time to care for our self is selfish (although too much of a good thing is not good either). Many parents struggle to find enjoyable things that help them feel refreshed. Consider different types of activities that you have tried or want to try; but if you are still unsure of what works for you, consider activities in these categories: reflective (i.e. meditation or positive self-talk), calming (i.e. reading or spending time in nature), physical (i.e. exercise), creative (i.e. hand crafts or coloring), and social (i.e. join a new group or go to a movie). There are many ideas within each category so search the internet for additional ideas. Do not be afraid to try new ideas. Keep track of what works for you as well as what does not. Make sure what you select is beneficial and not detrimental (i.e. over working, over eating, or drinking alcohol in excess). If taking time for yourself seems difficult, start with small increments of time and gradually increase it. Find what works best for you to take care of you.

Setting realistic expectations for yourself (and your child), acting out love by meeting your child’s needs (even when you do not feel like it), and making sure you have energy to give are vital for you and your child. If one day (or week) is really hard or unsuccessful, give yourself grace, recommit to showing love to your child, and purposefully act. It can be hard, but you, your child, and your family are worth the effort.

Ending an Adoption

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

Are you or someone you know needing to find a new home for an adopted child?  Perhaps they are considering disrupting their adoption (or ending their adoption) or “re-homing” their child. Re-homing refers to families finding new homes for their adoptive children often without the help of adoption agencies or some other child welfare organization authorized to ensure the new placement will be a healthy environment for the child (many states have laws against this practice). Yet another term is “second adoption” or “second chance adoption.”  These refer to finding new families to adopt the child after the first adoptive family decides they are unable to parent the child.

Of the families in our study, we had two families who had disrupted prior to talking with us and two who found new families for their children in the midst of the study.  Here is some advice from families who have been there:

  • Disrupting is a decision that should not be taken lightly. You may regret doing it when things settle down.
  • Try therapy before pursuing finding a new family. Look for a therapist who is familiar with adoption. You may have to try a couple before you find the right fit. Keep trying, don’t give up! You will find the best therapist for you and your family. Therapy is not going to bring change in just a few sessions, but it can provide glimmers of light in the darkness.
  • Do NOT find a new family for your child via social media groups or boards. Not only is this not helpful for you or your child, it is illegal in many states.
  • Contact your agency. If your agency cannot or will not help you, contact another agency that places older children to see if they can help you by either reaching out to your agency or potentially help you find a new family. Stay persistent. It may not be quick, but it will be the safest way to place your child in a new home.
  • If you need an immediately break, consider finding respite. Many adoption agencies have families who provide respite by individuals and couples who have been background checked, home study approved, and educated that you could consider.

You want the new environment to truly be better for your child and not another stop on the journey.  Working with an agency means the new family has been assessed by a professional to determine their ability to parent your child. These assessments may mean your child is in a safer environment than one you select yourself. An agency is going to help you find some relief so you can make the best decision for your child and your family after your emotions in the moment have diminished.

Finding a new home for your child should be considered only after all other resources have been exhausted. Find a therapist for yourself who can help you navigate your options and your emotions.

New Book Released!

By | Blog

We are excited to announce that our book, Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption was released a few days early!

Here are what some of the reviewers have said about Wisdom from Adoptive Families:

“This is a much needed resource! Anyone who has adopted an older child or is considering the possibility can learn from these insights and real-life examples. The authors understand the specific needs of older children and how their histories have impacted their current needs and behaviors. They grasp the relationship between trauma and brain chemistry while also conveying the hope that deep healing is possible when parents are both equipped and supported. Because attachment is developmental, this book offers practical ideas for connecting with older children with consideration to unique challenges that were learned survival skills. I admire Dr. Kittle and Dr. Reed for their own wisdom and compassion in tackling this subject. After reading this book, I hope parents are able to see beyond behaviors to their child’s needs and preciousness.” -Terri Coley, Post-Adoption Coordinator at Show Hope

“Wisdom from Adoptive Families is a ‘must read’ for anyone considering or currently parenting adopted youth as well as friends, family, counselors, and others in their support network. Parents who have experienced this journey share their stories with refreshingly raw honesty, and the authors’ practical tips will surely ease the transition of older children into their new families.” -Sheri Parris, PhD, Research Scientist with the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development
ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!