How to Use At Home in This World
by Jean MacLeod
There are a few things
you can do to prepare your child for adoption literature like “At Home
in This World”, and for future adoption-conversations of consequence.
Think about the prep as pulling together a production, and move in steps toward
a well-planned out reading:
Setting the Stage:
1) Unlike my 9 year old, my 5 year old is not especially driven to ask me about
her birthparents, and only takes in small bits at a time before she changes
the subject. Holly Van Gulden (Real Parents, Real Children) suggests using the
Pebbles technique where you occasionally tie everyday life back to the birthmother/adoption
subject, make a comment or question, then let it drop (and wait for the ripple
effect to occur later). For example, when brushing your daughter's hair you
might say "You have such beautiful, black hair. I wonder if you got your
hair from your birthmother in China?" Your daughter is free to continue
the thread, or let it drop. Over time, you build normalcy, and you also make
it evident to your child that you have no difficulties talking about sensitive
topics or her inner thoughts.
2) One important thing you can do (even with very young children) is to teach
your child the "four feelings", so that she can begin to identify
some of the emotions that the book might surface. Mad, sad, scared, and happy are at the root of all the
others, and it's very freeing for a kid to be able to pin down a sensation and
figure out (with your help) why they might be feeling the way they do.
3) A "Baby Lifebook" is another easy way to step into a book like
At Home in This World. I created one by simply putting photos in an album chronologically,
beginning in China with the earliest photos I have of my daughter with her caretaker.
No writing required! I also used the internet, friends and Asia Threads (www.asiathreads.com)
to obtain photos of her city, the local people and rural countryside. We periodically
flip through her album and discuss each photo very normally, which automatically
and regularly makes us use words like birthmother, orphanage, etc. ALSO, the
photos give us a chance to talk about how she must have felt at the time of
each photo, judging by her expressions in the pictures (knowing her now and
looking back, my daughter was so sad!). The four feelings come in very handy
to help categorize her experience, and to help my daughter think a little more
deeply about what we are looking at. I used copies of the original photos for
her Baby Lifebook, so that she can keep it on her own shelf. Also, I ended the
album at her first birthday at home, but it doesn't really matter- I just wanted
the focus to be mostly on her life pre-adoption, and on her transition to her
4 ) You can leave At Home in This World out on a coffee table for several weeks
and not mention it. If she picks it up to look at the pictures, have the book
mysteriously end up on her bedside table.
Reading & Writing the Script:
5) You can begin to read the book, while stressing At Home in This World is
a story about another little girl (definitely not your daughter). Some kids
prefer to experience tough topics third-person, while some identify strongly
and personally first-person. Instead of asking how she feels about the story
after reading, share your own feelings about the parents in the book and if
you and your circumstances relate.
6) Are you acquainted with the Seven Core Issues in Adoption? They are good
to be aware of and how they manifest (I have to scramble to stay one step ahead
of my children- nobody trained us to adoption-parent!) I wrote a parent guide
called Adoption's Lifetime Issues: what parents need to know based on the work
of Silverstein & Kaplan and Doris Landry, and it is a free
download from here. Us knowing and utilizing the Seven Issues is a little
like our children knowing the Four Feelings... it is helpful to understand where
their "stuff" is coming from, and what we can do to help.
7) You can help your daughter create (or co-create, depending on her age) a
story about her birth and adoption to make into a book, or to include as pages
in her Lifebook. You can use the framework (and even the words) from books like
At Home in This World or We See the Moon as a starting point, if you're stuck
for a beginning. The book can be illustrated with pictures she has drawn, photos
from her life, or both. Desktop publishing makes a "book" easy to
produce, and easy to change. Remember, the therapeutic benefit is in the PROCESS,
not the end product.
So much of internationally adopted children's grief, anger and anxiety is based
in loss. Quiet, serious children need release as much as their outspoken, expressive
peers, and those that clamp down tight on their emotions may be afraid of their
own, enormous “sad or mad”. Understanding and communicating is key:
when using books to begin a dialogue you will know while reading if you have
tapped into a source of pain, and if you are prepared, you will be able to empathize
with your child’s feelings, validate her experience, and help her to move
forward. Hopefully, some of the examples above will give you a few ideas on
how to help your child integrate her past history and present story. There is
power in language, and a life narrative can empower a child to find ways to
co-exist peaceably with her big-girl emotions and the shadows of her babyhood.
Jean MacLeod, author
© 2004 Jean MacLeod
Please contact Carrie
Kitze for information on obtaining reprints of this article
for pre and post adoption kits and seminars.