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March/April 2006

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Sibling prep in a domestic adoption

Q: What should we tell our two-year-old as we begin a second domestic adoption process? He's very comfortable with his own adoption story, but we are worried about his getting attached to the concept of a sibling when a birthmother still could change her mind.

A: A two-year-old can't really understand the concept of "expecting a sibling" any more than he can really understand reproduction or what it means to be adopted—but you should still discuss these matters. Start by retelling his adoption story: Say that "adoption" means he grew in another lady's womb. When he was born, you and daddy adopted him and became his mommy and daddy forever. (Or use whatever words you've gotten comfortable with.) Then, tell him that you hope to adopt another baby some day. As you begin to set up the new baby's things, allow your son to watch and be involved in the process. After the new baby comes home, tell him you will be taking care of the new baby while his birthmom decides whether she is able to be his mommy. You might want to hold off throwing a shower or otherwise celebrating your new baby—and a little brother or sister—until after finalizing the adoption.

—Ronny Diamond
Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City

Keeping attachment strong after returning to work

Q: My 20-month-old daughter (adopted 10 months ago) seems more attached to our babysitter than to me. We bonded quickly, but, since my going back to work, she basically ignores me as I leave in the morning. Work is a necessity, and I know it's not the babysitter's fault, but this feels devastating. What can I do?

A: When young children have a history of several caregivers, they learn to attach quickly to each new adult they meet, as a survival mechanism. Thus, she bonded quickly with the babysitter, as she did with you. But there are ways to reinforce your existing bond verbally or sensually throughout the day, despite your absence, and remind your daughter that your relationship is primary:

  1. Call home and speak briefly to your daughter every couple of hours.
  2. Prepare snacks for your daughter. Ask the babysitter to say, "Your Mommy made this for you," as she offers the food.
  3. Tape-record yourself as you cuddle with your daughter and read her a story. When the babysitter plays it for her, it will evoke the warm memory of being held by you.
  4. Develop a special hug or bedtime ritual that only you share with your daughter. Ask the babysitter never to share that same kind of hug or ritual.
  5. Leave a transitional object, such as a stuffed animal that you both hug at bedtime, with your daughter. Ask the babysitter to remind your daughter that Mommy loves her when she gives her the object to play with.

—Holly van Gulden and Claude Reidel
Adoptive Families Counseling Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Recommended travel documents

Q: None of the members of my large, multiracial family look at all biologically related. Should we bring any documents besides passports and copies of our birth certificates when we travel out of the country this summer?

A: Yes, you should bring copies of your children's adoption documents. It's unlikely that you'll be asked for them, but not impossible.

—The editors of Adoptive Families magazine

On terminating parental rights

Q: I've been trying to adopt the child I've been foster parenting for three years, but her birthparent never shows up in court. We've been through several adjournments, so the birthmother is clearly not in the picture. What does the law say about this, and what should we do?

A: There is no federal law regarding adjournments when parents fail to appear for a hearing to terminate parental rights. Instead, each state has its own judicial rules and procedures. It is also at the discretion of the judge to decide how many adjournments to grant. You might want to contact a local children's attorney to ask about your state's rules. You can also ask the attorney for his or her experiences with particular judges on similar cases. If it's clear that the birthparents have been served with notice of the proceeding, it generally would not be considered good practice or in the child's best interest to continue to grant adjournments.

—Madelyn Freundlich
Independent child welfare consultant, New York City

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