Meeting foster families and other caregivers is often one of the most meaningful parts of your birth country journey. It is often a time filled with both anxiety and excitement. What will you say? What will you learn? What if there are awkward silences? Will she remember me? I want to tell her about my life and show her some pictures, but how will she understand? I’m not sure I want to do this, but at the same time, I REALLY want to do this! All common thoughts and emotions.
If you are a parent, it is a good idea to make sure your child understands the role of a caregivers, and who they is compared to a birth parent. Perhaps you have pictures you can share, or, if you traveled to pick up your child, you may have memories of meeting caregivers that can help your child get a feel for personalities. It would be a good idea as well to help your child understand that his/her caregiver may be different than you remember, or different in this setting. Time and age will have changed caregivers.
It would also be good to talk about the fact that a caregiver may agree to seeing you, but be unable to meet with you on the intended day. Or the opposite. You may be told the caregiver is not available, only to have the person be there after all. It is also possible that a caregiver cannot be located at all. Lots of unknowns as you make this journey.
We find that the people who have the most meaningful experiences are those who arrive with an open mind and heart, and enjoy each moment as it unfolds.
Here are some things to consider when meeting caregivers:
- Most discussion is done via a translator, which has pros and cons. On one hand, the conversation is slowed by translation, but it often gives you more of a chance to think. Having a translator also sometimes helps with the cultural differences, and can smooth out a conversation. On the flip side, the translator may not translate everything, or may not translate the intended emotion, which can be frustrating.
- Some caregivers you meet are VERY emotional, want to stroke your child’s hair, hold your child’s hand, are tearful, or tearfully joyous. Some people you meet are the EXACT opposite —and not always because they are not feeling the emotion, but because they believe strong emotions would be too difficult for themselves or for you.
- Many caregivers remember feeding infants and children with great joy, and they may want to hand feed the adoptee, showing him or her the depth of their love.
- For adoptees who had medical issues or particular body “markings,” do not be surprised if a caregiver wants to check on the condition. For example, she may want to check on a scar she recalls, regardless of where the scar is. This too is an act of love.
- Caregivers sometimes bring adoptees gifts, but not always. Be sure to be prepared either way. It would be very appropriate for you to have a gift for the caregiver, regardless of whether she can afford one for you.
- It is almost always appropriate for you to bring a lightweight photo album showing pictures of your (or your child’s) life, along with translated captions, if possible. Remember this album is not about all your “stuff” but rather about your family, extended family, friends and pets.
- Pictures also make great conversation starters, so always good to have some along. It would also help if you had a map showing where you live.
- Spend some time learning about courtesy and culture in the country you are visiting. Do people open gifts when given or open them later? Are there any rules about giving even or odd numbers of things? Is one color ok and another not? Can you give the gift with one hand, or do you need to give with two hands? If one hand, which one? Who do you give gifts to first? Is there an order? Who do you thank and how? There are lots and lots of cultural issues around gift giving.
- Once the conversation gets going, you are likely to be very overwhelmed. For that reason, we suggest you consider having someone designated as the note taker, picture taker, and/or videographer, so that you can relax and enjoy the time.
- You may have lots of questions. It is best to write them down, and try to weave them into the conversation naturally rather than going down your list.
- We suggest you consider working out a private signal your adoptee can give you to let you know they are uncomfortable, and also one that tells you, “This is great. Let’s spend more time here if we can!”
- Give some thought to whether you’d like to maintain contact. If you would, how could that work? Email, social media, apps like What’sApp, phone? Are these practical ideas that you and the caregiver are comfortable with?
Yes, lots to consider, but most importantly, we encourage you to remember this is a conversation between people who have a history together, who join together out of love for an adoptee who was once an infant or child in care. Let the things that may not be “quite right” go, and hold on to all the wonderful moments you are creating together.
If you would like to see what is possible in your (or your child’s) birth country in terms of meeting people related to your adoption, find your country, then scroll down to find the Possibilities for Adoption Visits link.