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AF answers your parenting questions. March/April 2007



Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.

When “crying it out” is not the answer

Q:When our one-year-old son came home, we began rocking him to sleep with a bottle at naptimes and bedtime. He has been home for four months, and he still can’t fall asleep unless he’s rocked. We hesitate to let him “cry it out,” because we don’t want to lose his trust or any attachment that’s been formed.

A:Before changing your child’s sleep rituals, wait until you see signs that he’s attaching to your family. Look for spontaneous shows of affection and frequent “mutual” moments—when he looks for you to share excitement or happiness. You’ll also recognize your own deepening attachment through your feeling of having “fallen in love.” Until then, keep rocking.

When you are ready to begin weaning him away from being rocked to sleep, don’t forget that there are middle-of-the-road solutions between rocking and letting him cry it out. You can offer a pat on the back, a lullaby, some soothing words, or you can sit next to his crib. In the meantime, start tuning in to your child’s cries at night with the goal of learning which ones say “I’m mad” or “I’m scared” vs. “I’m exhausted” or “I need your help.”
—Diana Schwab
International Health Services of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh

Adopting a “matching” sibling

Q:My husband and I have a five-year-old daughter, adopted transracially. After spending time with families who “match,” as my daughter puts it, she wants to know why her mommy and daddy can’t match her. We have the opportunity to adopt another African-American child, who would be a lovely addition to our family. Do you think this might strengthen our little girl’s racial identity and help her feel she’s not “going it alone”?

A: I don’t advise families to adopt any child because of the benefits he or she may bring to children already in the family. The best, and really the only, reason to adopt another child is because you and your husband very much want to add a child to your family.

Helping a child with racial identity (as well as adoption identity) is an ongoing, lifelong process that involves a commitment to embracing the way your family was formed, as well as its unique racial and/or ethnic composition. Your daughter is at the age when she’s just beginning to consider important questions about families, race, adoption, culture, and values, and it’s understandable that one of her first thoughts about this is wanting to be part of a family that “matches.” Many transracially adopted children, at some point in their lives, wish they matched their parents.

Talk with your daughter about the benefits (and drawbacks) of being in a family that matches and one that doesn’t. Help her figure out how she feels about it, and what she can do to be comfortable with looking different from other members of her family.
—Ronny Diamond
International Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City

When cuddling is appropriate

Q:Our four-year-old daughter, adopted at 10 months of age, loves to snuggle with me whenever she can, including when we’re waiting to be served at a restaurant. My husband says that it’s inappropriate because she’s too old, but I disagree.

A:It seems that your lap is a comfort zone for your daughter. I wouldn’t expect her to sit there without any adult support, so I would ask her if there is another way Mom and/or Dad could help her feel comfortable while waiting for her food (or in similar situations). Develop ways she can feel connected to you without sitting on your lap—for instance, when you go out, take along a piece of yarn that’s long enough for your daughter to hold one end of while you hold the other; touch your legs together under the table; or drink from two straws in the same water glass. Tell her that, while you know it’s hard to wait, you are going to do it differently now.

There are lots of situations in which parents have different opinions about how manners and behaviors should be managed. Parents should discuss their differences (but not at the moment of conflict) to determine what’s negotiable and what’s not. Sometimes just talking about a problem or explaining why it is important can ease the tension a bit.
—Diana Schwab

Sudden secrecy about adoption

Q:My 11-year-old son has known about his adoption his entire life and we’ve always been open about his birth story. Lately, he’s been telling friends that his seven-year-old sister was adopted, but goes to great lengths to avoid talking about his own adoption. This is very difficult for me because I feel positively about both his adoption and his birthparents. Is this an age thing?

A:Denying one’s adoption can definitely be age-related. At 11 years of age, children recognize that most kids were not adopted—and they don’t like being different in any way!

Find out more about your son’s feelings by asking him whether he’s had any negative experiences that make him uncomfortable telling people that he was adopted. The fact that he’s willing to discuss his sister’s adoption may give you an opening to learn about his feelings, as well.

Although it would be nice for your son to feel the way you do about adoption, as long as he knows his own story, there may not be a problem. The way he feels about adoption will probably change again over time, so if your son is otherwise well-adjusted and happy, relax and enjoy him.
—Ronny Diamond

Country options for singles

Q:Now that China is closing to single adopters, I’m looking for a starting point for researching international adoption. Which countries currently allow single women to adopt?

A:Ten of the top 12 countries of origin allow single women to adopt. Those without restrictions are Guatemala, Russia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Haiti. Ukraine will likely permit singles to adopt when it reopens this year.

Colombia allows single women to adopt school-age children (about age five or older); India allows adoption by single women under age 45 on a case-by-case basis; and Philippines allows single women to adopt children age four or older.
—Vicki Peterson
Wide Horizons for Children, Waltham, Massachusetts

Uncomfortable level of contact

Q:Ten months ago, we adopted a baby girl in a semi-open adoption. Our agreement with the birthparents is to provide periodic updates via e-mail, and to visit once or twice a year. Subsequently, the birth-grandparents have asked to see our daughter weekly and to be called “grandma” and “grandpa.” We did not agree to this, but they’ve found out where we live and have begun attending our church. How should we cope with this situation?

A:You were straightforward with the birthparents and birth-grandparents about the level of contact and openness with which you are comfortable. It’s clear that the birth-grandparents are inappropriately crossing the boundaries you set. I suspect that this is because they have not come to terms with the birthparents’ decision to place their child for adoption.

If an agency or counselor was involved in your adoption, ask for her help in suggesting counseling to the birth-grandparents.
—Kathleen Silber
AF’s open adoption expert and co-author of Dear Birthmother

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