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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home

Managing Everyday Life When Your Family Is Struggling

In my latest posts, I've been discussing the need for adoptive parents to find a balance between maintaining privacy for their children and reaching out for help when the family is struggling. Thanks to adoption, my husband and I went from zero to three kids under the age of five in a span of 13 months. I tend to be private about the specific challenges our family has faced, but let's just say we aren't strangers to chaos, stress, tantrums, or sprints to the ER. Lately I've heard or read about so many adoptive families in crisis that I wanted to share some basic coping strategies here that have worked for us.
Time and experience have taught me a valuable lesson: keep things as simple as possible, and save your energy for nurturing your child. Easier said than done, I know, and yet it needs to be said. I see so many moms online who are trying to homeschool, make injera from scratch, run an Etsy shop, raise money for charity, and, yes, deal with an adopted child's special challenges. I see myself trying to do too much, too. It's OK to slow down. In fact, it's critical that we:
  1. Get some sleep.  I know this is so simple it borders on ridiculous, but I feel it's the single most important thing a parent can do – and I have to remind myself of this constantly. We all want to grab alone time once the kids are in bed, but, eventually, lack of sleep will make you sick, crazy, and unable to cope with normal or challenging child behavior. When you feel stressed, it's tempting to zone out in front of a screen, but don't. Don't stay up watching Law and Order reruns. Don't spend hours on Pinterest hating the crafty, organized moms who have time to build a pink lemonade stand. Staring at a screen for hours through blurred eyes will depress you. Opt for a soak in the tub or reading a fun magazine. Then go to sleep.
  2. Keep life predictable in your household. I got this advice from Dr. Nancy Curtis at the International Adoption Clinic at Oakland Children's Hospital when my children arrived. Internationally adopted kids have gone through a tremendous upheaval, she said; it helps them feel safe if they can predict what's coming next. Try to keep mealtimes and bedtimes consistent. If you go out to eat, stick to the same restaurants. If you go to the park, go to the same one every time. Following the doctor's approach made our lives downright boring when the kids were small, but I know consistency helped them adjust.

    Routine can be harder to pull off when you've got older kids involved in sports and activities. A regular schedule also may not be practical for parents who work odd hours. But trust me: predictability is worth shooting for. Kids who've experienced instability in the past will feel more secure with a routine, and you'll enjoy happier, more cooperative children. Now that my kids are fourth- and fifth-graders, they are able tolerate a lot more variety and spontaneity, but I still try to keep things as boring as possible. Finally, if you know you're going to have to deviate from the usual, brief your kids in advance about the alternate plan. Try not to catch them off guard.
  3. Hire as much household help as you can afford. An adoptive mom of rambunctious Ethiopian twin boys gave me this warning before my kids arrived. I didn't want to hire anyone –- I wanted to save money and be Supermom -- but after I had three rambunctious preschoolers of my own speaking two different languages under my roof, I got the point.

    I found a homeschooled teenager to be a mother's helper a few mornings a week so that I could take the kids to the park and avoid a nervous breakdown when one child climbed a tree, one bolted for the bathroom, and the third threw a tantrum at the top of the slide. I also found a house cleaner willing to run to the grocery and make an occasional meal. Even with help and a great husband, my first year as a mom was exhausting and teary, but at least I didn't have to clean the toilets.

    Of course, not everyone can afford to hire regular help. Thankfully, there are lots of low cost options out there to relieve some pressure. Many grocery chains offer online ordering and home delivery. Safeway's delivery fee is just $3.95 – a small price to pay to avoid dragging a bunch of kids to the store when you're frazzled.  If you've hit a rough patch and the laundry is overflowing (or if, hypothetically speaking, everything in your house needs to be washed because you have three kids with lice), find a local laundromat that provides drop off, fluff ‘n fold service.

    Another resource I love is Taskrabbit, which operates in nine large metro areas around the country. The site allows you to post a job you need done and what you're willing to pay. Vetted "taskrabbits" in your local area then submit competitive bids, which makes this a really affordable service. Payment goes through the Taskrabbit site after the job is complete. You can hire someone for a big job, like organizing your closet, or something as small as returning your library books. I've used taskrabbits to organize my kids' art supplies, clean my garage, and create an Excel spreadsheet.
Like I said, these are really basic strategies appropriate for any family. In my next post, I'll share some ideas for finding support when your family is dealing with more significant issues of adoption adjustment, grief, loss, or trauma.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Amazon prime!  I order everything from diapers to canned peas, toilet paper to birthday presents!

By Kennedy on Monday, January 07, 2013 at 6:04 pm.

Great idea, Kennedy! These are little things, but they help. And sometimes when you feel stressed, it’s hard to think of the little things that can help

By Sharon Van Epps on Tuesday, January 08, 2013 at 3:16 am.

I completely agree. I remind myself not to waste time feeling guilty about it - I don’t HAVE time for that!

By Kennedy on Tuesday, January 08, 2013 at 12:32 pm.

These are really helpful - thanks!

By CaliMama on Wednesday, January 09, 2013 at 6:57 pm.

I live in NYC and have used TaskRabbit once - it was great.  Otherwise, I rely on which has same-day delivery, and we also have someone clean our apartment once a month (we’d do it more often if we could afford it).

By heathermac on Wednesday, January 09, 2013 at 9:34 pm.

Nice to hear that people found this helpful—and I love folks sharing their tips as well!

By Sharon Van Epps on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 3:45 am.

Living self life is not difficult…but difficult is when we try to live for our family and child ..........when we adjust our self according to them…but what make us happy is happiness on their face…information shared by you is great and very helpful…thanks and keep helping like this…

By Judith Bell on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 6:06 am.

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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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