On July 29th of this year, my husband and I took our 3 year old little girl to the court house and finalized her adoption! It was a wonderful, memorable time. We will cherish that day forever. Our day went smoothly, our celebration that night was fabulous and our little one was able to take it all in without being too thrown off.
The success of our day had several sources. First, we had lots of coaching from our play therapist ahead of time. We were reminded that finalization can trigger a child’s most broken place of all — their shame. Children who are adopted, especially from foster care, have trouble overcoming the sense of shame that comes from having been abused, abandoned or neglected. Finding out that her adoptive parents want to keep her forever can cause a head-on collision with the child’s worldview — a worldview of worthlessness.
For this reason, it is wise to celebrate the child and the day in ways you know the child will enjoy, but that are not too far out of the child’s normal routine. It’s great to tell your child how much you love her, how special she is, etc., but it’s also good not to over-do it! The child can only handle so much extra attention or moments of intimacy.
Another factor in celebrating the big day is to keep the child’s physical needs in mind. Help her keep her eating and sleeping schedule intact. If she still naps, make sure she gets one. Have one special dessert at the party (if you plan one), but don’t make it a whole day of unhealthy treats, which can throw off both the child’s digestion and her mood. Also remember to celebrate your child in ways that will connect with her: who are her favorite people to be around? What are her favorite foods? What is her favorite thing to do? Focus on your child’s favorites and have fun with her.
As we approached finalization day, we did our best to help our daughter grasp what was going on at her own level. She is three—too young to understand the concept of “forever.” So, we gave her some concrete ideas to hold on to: “This is the day when your name will change! We will all have the same last name now.” And also: “We won’t ever have to have any social workers come to our house ever again!” Both of those things meant something to our little girl, and helped her get excited about this day we were so excited about. For a week straight she told everyone she saw about her new name and gave them a big smile.
Finally, commemorate the big day with a gift your child will love. Our little one had been asking for a small guitar of her very own for several months. This was the perfect time to treat her. We gave her the guitar at her small adoption party, and she has been a little rock star ever since! As a result of the guitar, we experienced one of our most precious moments yet; she said to my husband the next day, “Daddy, this is my very special guitar because I am a very special girl.” His eyes lit up and he nodded, “Yes. That’s exactly right.” And that, of course, is what finalization is all about.