In recent days, weather dominated the headlines. Freezing temperatures stranded travelers and left many struggling to get home. Tempers flared. Relationships were stressed. It can distress kids when a traveling parent is unexpectedly delayed. Some adopted kids—especially those with tough starts and/or trauma histories— can find these kind of unplanned changes and absences can trigger anxiety, memories of past loss and abandonment.
How can you plan ahead for the unexpected separations so you minimize the stress on your children? Before you leave, provide them with a simple itinerary/timeline that clearly marks where and when you will be each day. Highlight your return date on the family calendar. Create a “Together Forever Box.” Include items that reinforce your connection to one another. Not just for little kids, adjust the concept for older kids in a way that your child can feel supported without feeling babyish. Abandonment issues can be profound, often at an unconscious level. Older kids may be embarrassed or reluctant to admit it, but they too can be challenged by separations. As a parent, you know your child, her history and how strong a vulnerability she has.
Assemble a box personalized for each child. Consider doing it as a joint project and remember to utilize each of your senses.
Be fastidious about keeping promises or declarations. If you tell your child you will call at 5:00 p.m., move heaven and earth if necessary, but make sure you place that call. Kids with traumatic pasts tend to have an expectation that agreements will be forgotten. This belief grew, understandably, from their past history of broken promises and contributes to their uneasiness, anxiety, uncertainty and their fears of abandonment.
Your commitment to your word is an important part of rewriting this belief. It will begin a new pattern and is a powerful part of the process of reestablishing trust as well as serving as a model for your child. As an adult, you know that you will return home. But, to a child who has lost one family, this is a commitment that must be reinforced over and over. These new experiences will begin to rewrite his doubt and fear and replace them with confidence and trust. This Intentionality will benefit the entire family.
What will you include in your family’s “Together Forever Box?” To get you started, here are some things you might choose:
Picture of parent with child
Picture of the entire family together
Something that smells like the parent or conjures a sweet memory
Favorite food (that can be safely stored)
Article of parent’s clothing
Note or message, one for each day of separation (In parent’s handwriting, if child can read cursive)
Music you’ve enjoyed together
Voice message which they can replay when they "need" to hear your voice. Or, place the message on your home phone or the child's cell phone.
A “date” via Phone, Google Hang Out, Facebook Chat, etc.)
Have them “babysit” an item you value, keeping it safe until your return. (Think sentiment not cost.)