Once it begins to sink in that you will actually be bringing a new person into your home and family, you'll start to think about just how much there is to do to prepare for him or her. I'll walk you through some of the physical and emotional preparations you'll need to make.
The Name Game
People preparing for adoption can spend countless hours choosing a name for their new child, particularly if they're adopting a baby or toddler. (If you don't know whether the child will be a boy or a girl, then choose names for both genders.) Here are a few issues to consider in naming a child—or changing names:
- The age of the child. If the child is two or over, her name is part of her identity, and many experts recommend that the name not be changed. (Some adopters give the child a new first name and they make the child's former first name her middle name, so it's not lost altogether. For example, if the child's birth name was Marie, they may change her name to Jenny Marie. They may also call her both names for a while, until she gets used to the “Jenny.”) My view is that if the name of the child would cause embarrassment or taunting, perhaps it should be modified. Otherwise, don't take the child's name away unless there are compelling reasons to do so.
- Naming the child after someone in the family. This is one way of showing a connection of the child to the family.
Sometimes when adoptive parents adopt an abused child, they want to wipe out all the pain of the past and give the child a “clean slate.” To do so, they decide to change the child's first and middle names. They see it as a claiming tactic and as a loving act. The problem is that the child may come to the family with nothing but himself and his identity—a part of which is his name. If the child is old enough, consider allowing her to have a say in what her name will be.
Real Life Snapshot
Timmy, a very smart newly adopted child, told his new mom that he wanted to change her name. What did she say? She told him that by adopting him, she'd gained the best name possible: Mommy.
- To an older child you adopt, taking your last name is a very big deal. Danny, age 8, pleaded with his new family and even with his social worker to hurry up and finalize his adoption before September. Why? Because he wanted to go back to school as a “Smith.” It was very important to him. The day that the judge congratulated persistent little “Mr. Smith” on the finalization of his adoption was a very happy day. (Danny's parents have the photos to prove it.) As was the day that he proudly registered for school as Daniel Smith.
A Room of One's Own
Getting the child's room ready can involve a fresh paint job and new furniture or simply cleaning an existing room and supplying it with a few toys and decorations. In my family's case, we built an addition to our house so we could have an extra bedroom. At this point (before the child arrives), your child's room should be clean and safe and pleasant. And don't forget the childproofing, for infants and toddlers who'll be adopted. (Covering wall sockets, removing dangerous or breakable objects, and so forth.)
Have Health Insurance
Children sometimes get sick, so it's important to look into health insurance for your child before you bring him or her home. Federal laws now require most companies that offer health insurance to cover employees' adopted children right away, regardless of any “pre-existing conditions” they have. Be sure to enroll your child for your insurance within 30 days of placement in your home or, if you've adopted the child in another country, within 30 days from the day of the adoption. You don't have to wait until you finalize the adoption.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is a federal law that states that “pre-existing” conditions (health problems a child had before entering your family) cannot be excluded from insurance coverage that your employer offers.
If your employer doesn't offer health insurance, consider the feasibility of purchasing private or individual health insurance for your family before you adopt, and be sure to check into the provisions the company has for new family members. Ask your doctor or the business office in the local hospital for information on private health coverage and how you can find more information locally.
Consider Child Care
Before the child comes home, you'll need to decide whether you or your partner will stay home with the child and, if so, for how long. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers of more than 50 people to allow workers to take off up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Of course, you don't have to take the whole 12 weeks—a few weeks may be sufficient for you, depending on your situation. If both partners work outside the home, each person may take up to 12 separate weeks off, thus postponing the need for child care for 6 months. In addition, some states and some companies allow for paid time off. Check with your adoption agency and your employer's human resources department to see what's available to you.)
When your child first arrives, try to budget at least a few weeks off to spend time with him or her. Also remember that if you are adopting a child from another country, the cultural transition can be very shocking and upsetting for a while—you may need to allow more time.
If both you and your partner will be returning to work, you will also need to arrange a workable child-care plan.