preparing for the unexpected as if expectedIf you are an adoptive parent, you have probably experienced many encounters with the unexpected. For most of us, a significant and painful unexpected “surprise” was infertility. We expected we would become pregnant fairly easily. But that is not what happened.

Instead, our children joined our families via adoption. We attune to and love the children whom we adopted and value the unique notes that they infuse into our family symphony.

When families are composed of so many different elements, the unexpected becomes the norm

Adoptive parents need to become pros at handling and preparing for the unexpected. Curveballs arrive from many sources. Sometimes the surprises unfold through our child’s unique interests and talents. A family who can’t carry a tune in a bucket finds delight in the talent of their musically gifted child. An athletic clan is stunned by the artistry of their child who builds with Lego, wood, or recycled materials skillfully and effortlessly.

The unexpected is not always fun or comfortable

Sometimes unexpected factors are more challenging, like a child’s medical issues that were unforeseen because of incomplete medical histories. Sometimes it is the world that delivers the unexpected, e.g., the pandemic that we faced in 2020. Sometimes it is Mother Nature who drops a fair share of the unexpected and unpleasant on our doorstep in the form of floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and tornados.

As an Intentional Parent you know it is imperative to plan ahead to predetermine your responses. You create a well-stocked Adoption Attuned emergency preparedness kit. This kit will include some atypical elements which I will list further in this blog post.

Being proactive about the unexpected telegraphs a message of preparation and safety

It makes visible and demonstrates your ability to meet any unexpected challenges. This reassures your children and helps reduce their anxiety and concerns. An additional bonus is that preparation will strengthen your ability to meet whatever comes your way. You will avoid the chaos that occurs when danger looms and everyone rushes to make last-minute preparations. This frees your time to reassure your kids that you have done your best to prepare the family to face and survive an impending danger. It also serves as a useful model for the value of intentional preparation.

Adopted children experienced the unexpected loss of family

So, it is understandable that they will be especially concerned about the safety and permanence of their adopted family. Family fracture is absolutely something that they do not want to experience again. This danger and the fear it evokes feels quite real to them. Completing observable preparations offers our children tangible and visible evidence that we are aware and that we have things in hand.

It is important that we commit to ensuring that we have prepared properly for the possibility that a disaster might strike. It could be a health crisis, a car accident, or extreme weather that might turn our lives suddenly upside down. A dire event could come out of the blue and cause a permanent disability or even death. Our home could be destroyed in a natural disaster.

In anticipation of unexpected possibilities

Write your wills, sign Advanced Directives, and create guardianship plans. Keep them on file and accessible. Ensure that the person you wish to name as guardian actually agrees to take on this immense responsibility. Don’t just assume that they would be willing. Be certain that they are educated on Adoption Complexity and Adoption Trauma, and know what it would mean to parent with an Adoption Attunement approach. As your children grow, periodically revisit this decision to verify that the named guardian is still willing and is still a good fit for your children.

Keep your Emergency Preparedness Plan with your wills. Clearly label it with the names of the people you have designated to care for your children. Inform the guardians where they will be able to find it if disaster should befall your family.

How might your family benefit from talking about disaster preparedness?

In my own family, my grandson has known since he was four who would care for him if anything ever happened to his mom and dad. We felt it was important to talk about this because he’d known several people who had unexpectedly died. He could recite the succession of caregivers. Periodically he would confirm with me the names of the people who would care for him if anything happened to his parents. Clearly, it provided him with a degree of comfort.

Like my grandson, all kids live in the world. They hear about unexpected tragedies happening all of the time–like car accidents, house fires, hurricanes, etc. Bringing the topic into the open creates the opportunity to reassure them. Letting them know that you’ve prepared and planned ahead will increase their sense of safety.

In summary, do plan for the unexpected. An Emergency Plan is something that you hope you never need to use. Yet, in the midst of disaster or tragedy, you don’t want to find yourself without an Emergency Plan.

Some of the things your Emergency Preparedness Plan should include:

  • Doctors’ names and contact information
  • List medications they are taking
  • Children’s schedules, activities, and hobbies
  • Describe your approach to discipline
  • If your child attends school,
    • a copy of the IEP or other education plan
    • One name of a supportive educator in your child’s life
    • Their teachers’ names
  • List the important people in your child’s life and their current contact information
  • List  support people you have used, e.g.,  therapists, coaches, and support groups
  • List other helpers or mentors who work with your child now or in the past.

  • List the skills and approaches that would help them find adoption-competent professional (refer to Adoption Attunement Quotient for help)
  • List websites relevant to any diagnoses or special characteristics your child has.
  • List the parameters and responsibilities of your Open Adoption agreement if you have one. Include contact information.
  • Any additional resources

(An earlier version of this blog appeared previously.)

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