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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.

Using Props:

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 new family/home.

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.



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