Just like the word “dog” can refer to anything from a shaggy-coated, 100-pound bruiser of a mutt to a delicately-bred lapdog, the word “family” can refer to two people in an apartment, or two hundred people spread out across two hundred miles. When you welcomed your little one into your home and into your family, there’s a good chance that that family came with some extended relatives who your child might not have encountered yet.
Getting your new child ready to meet your family
If your little one is old enough to start to remember the stories you tell, you can help with preparations to meet the extended family by throwing some family stories into the mix. Some families make picture books of family members so that the faces a new child meets will already be somewhat familiar. Mostly, though, the best way to prepare your little one for the big event is just to keep spending time together, to make sure that your child feels as secure as possible in their relationship with you, and feels as comfortable as possible talking to you about their feelings – including feeling overwhelmed.
When you do introduce your little one to your extended family, be thoughtful about making sure the situation doesn’t turn into too much all at once. Making your first visit a relatively short one might be one way to accomplish this, and so might taking your child for a walk around the block every now and then, to give everyone a little space to process all the new information and relationships, before heading back in to whatever gathering you’re attending. And if you notice your child starting to look overwhelmed, that’s your cue.
Getting your family ready to meet your child
As your little one’s parent, it’s your job to communicate their boundaries to your family. This is especially true if your child is younger, and is still working on their self-expression, but is still true if they’re older and verbal. Your family is probably full of plenty of people who are older and bigger than your child, and there are almost certainly more of them than your child, so if you know that Aunt Mabel is a hugger, but your little one needs a little time to warm up to people before they get cuddly, part of introducing them might be encouraging Mabel to be friendly from a few feet away at first.
Knowing what your child needs is just one part of the way you’ll need to assess whether you need to prepare your family to welcome your little one into the family in a positive way. The other thing to keep in mind is your family’s thoughts, personalities, and potential limitations. You and your partner, if you’re parenting with a partner, and any other members of your immediate family, have been educated about adoption as you’ve gone through the process of adopting your child. However, your extended family may not have done all of the research or be as informed as you are about the adoption process. In some rare cases, extended family members may not even be excited to welcome a newly adopted child into the family.
In the lead-up to this meeting, it will be helpful for you to check in with your family members, have a few preliminary conversations about the adoption process to try to get ahead of any uncomfortable questions they might ask in front of your child, and to make sure everyone is on the same page about being as friendly and welcoming as possible.
It can also be useful to talk to your partner ahead of time about what parts of the adoption process, and your child’s story, you’re going to share with friends and family. It’s your child’s story, after all, and it’s hard to know what parts of it your child will eventually feel comfortable sharing, and with who. More than that, if there are parts of your child’s story that you haven’t told them, or they don’t understand yet, it’s key to make sure your child doesn’t find out about those things at the wrong time or from the wrong people.
More than anything, introducing a new child to your extended family is and should be a joyous occasion. Walking into that joyous occasion prepared can be a great way to make sure your family doesn’t run into any trouble along the way.