Anyone who will be involved in your post-adoption life must be a fully enrolled part of your team. (This does NOT mean they are entitled to the details of your childrens' stories. It DOES mean that they must have a commitment of the heart that becomes their admission ticket to your family's post-adoption life.)
When a garden is planned, preparation must occur before the harvest. This is true a hundred-fold when you decide to become an adoptive family. Not only must you prepare and educate yourselves, but also, extended family, friends, community, etc. This task is the most critical thing you do to ready your lives for your child/ren. Think "nesting" on an epic scale!
Adoption Is A Family Affair by Patricia Irwin Johnston is an excellent resource for this job, particularly for extended family but also for yourselves. (My Amazon review) Just as it took time for you to embrace the idea of adoption, it will probably take time for your family to become fully on board. There is a difference between steady progress, however, and an inhospitable heart.
Occasionally, extended families will appear to accept your child --but only on the surface. In the unfortunate circumstances where extended family hold themselves emotionally aloof, you have important work to do. Your child deserves a family that is fully committed.
If this task has not been fully accomplished before they join your family, you must protect your children from additional hurt. They've already experienced the loss of one family and should not be subjected to feeling less than by their adopted family. Time to pull out the Tiger Heart and insist that your children be treated and welcomed the way they deserve.
Most painful of all, some families will overtly reject your child. Your first loyalty must be with your child/ren; they did not ask to join your family. If you cannot succeed in opening your extended family's hearts, you face difficult decisions on how to remove relationships that are damaging or toxic to your children. It is particularly unhealthy to white-wash or make excuses for poor behavior or ill-treatment delivered by callous family or friends. This lack of honesty adds insult to the original pain and undermines a child's natural intuition about people. It adds another layer of hurt and rejection on an already wounded heart.
Adult adoptees repeatedly inform us that this invalidation is especially hurtful--emotionally, spiritually and even physically. As parents we seek to help our children grow to be happy, healthy and to come to terms with the realities of their lives' challenges. Living in Truth is a key element to success, the foundation to healthy, authentic relationships. The Holy Grail of family life is to nurture a tapestry of emotional attachment that can weather all of the storms of life. Truth is essential. And respect. And joy...liberal amounts of joy.
My sister understood joy. Monday would have been her birthday, which is what made me think of her and what a comforting presence she was to me and my children. After an eight-year struggle with early-onset Alzheimer's, she died in 2008; She was sixty-five. I still miss her dearly as do my children. They remember her as the legendary "Auntie Mame," whose zest for life was equaled by the ferocity of her love for them. They never once doubted her acceptance of them. She fully embraced her role as their aunt. Adoption did not weaken her feelings of attachment to them. They knew she loved them/
The kids considered sleeping over at Auntie's house a huge treat, not because they were "Disney-esque," or involved spending a lot of money. Nancy treated them to her undivided attention and time, not her cash. They knew they were important to her. She understood and taught them that real value in life lies in creating connection and appreciating the magic in an ordinary day--simple things... having dessert first, staying in your pjs all day...transforming the family room furniture into a fort... piling whipped cream, marshmallow and hot fudge sauce on ice cream... playing pretend...spending undistracted time...simply BEing together. The kids intuitively recognized, this was the stuff that counted in life.
My children were blessed with extended family relationships which reassured, accepted and nourished them. Our extended families were "all in" on the grafted family tree of adoption.
How are you ensuring that your children feel welcome, secure, accepted and loved by their extended adoptive family? What might you do differently, to improve these relationships?