Not every family starts with a trip to labor and delivery. Some families begin with the far longer labor of love otherwise known as adoption. It can take anywhere from six months to seven years to adopt a child. The timing depends on a wide range of factors such as the age of the baby, whether the child is in foster care and the legal system in your area. All this means that the child may or may not be a baby when he joins the family. In addition, he might have been part of the family for months or years before the adoption is final.This can make it difficult to have a traditional party designed to “shower” the parents with the things they need for the new baby. But, the child may have lived with the parents for months or even years. He may not be a baby. He may be a toddler, an older child or even a teenager. But that doesn’t mean that the new family should not be celebrated. In fact, showing the child that he doesn’t just have a new family, but a whole new community to care and love him might be very important. With a few changes, you can turn a “baby” shower into a “family” shower with meaningful activities and gifts. In fact, many new families celebrate their “Gotcha” day, not just when the child’s adoption becomes final, but turn it into a yearly celebration.
Obviously, it is important to invite the child’s family. But don’t just focus on the parents and siblings. Include extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. While traveling to the party may not be possible, it doesn’t mean that long-distance relatives can’t welcome the new child. Include everyone by giving the child a tablet with a digital chat app. Make sure that the app includes the phone numbers or other id’s of distant family members. Then, set up a digital chat during the party so that everyone can send their greetings face to face. But don’t limit yourself to family members. In adoption, there are generally many people who play a vital role in creating the new family. Consider inviting some of the professionals that have worked so hard for this day such as social workers, lawyers or even counselors. You might also want to include those people that have become important in the child’s new life such as teachers, coaches or clergy that play a role in the family’s life.
Nothing says “family” like pictures. If the child was older, the parents may or may not have baby or toddler pictures. While no one can go back in time, you can create new memories by starting a brand-new photo album. This works especially well if the child has been living with the family for a time. Invite family and friends to print out and bring some of their favorite shots. Place the album in a special location at the party and invite people to add their photos with a short description of the event pictured. Another variation is to lay out a group of coordinating scrapbook sheets. Add stickers, markers and other embellishments to the table. Then, ask guests to make a scrapbook page with their pictures and whatever story they want to tell about the new child. After the party, add the pages into a scrapbook that will become a keepsake for the rest of the child’s life. If the child hasn’t been with the family long, or friends just don’t have that many pictures, then it’s time to make new memories. Set up a photo booth in one corner of the party. Add family-themed photo props along with a variety of fun frames. Take pictures of the child with new family members and friends. You don’t need an elaborate set-up. A smart phone and a wireless photo printer works beautifully. Print off two copies. One that you can place in a photo frame card that each guest can take home. You can then add the second picture to an album for the child.
You can rarely go wrong giving children and families books to celebrate any special life change. Thankfully, there are many lovely books available that explore the beauty of adoption. For little ones, look at I’ve Loved You Since Forever. In the book, Hoda Kotb explores the experience of adopting her own daughter through a lyrical picture book. Todd Parr explores the adoption process from a kids point of view in his book We Belong Together. But don’t forget older adopted children. Far From The Tree, explores a teenager’s quest to reach out to her own birth family. Consider getting two copies, so that the parents can read the novel along with their child and talk about the issues it raises.
This is a wonderful time in our culture to explore special jewelry that celebrates adoption. “Gotcha” necklaces, rings and bracelets are available from virtually any outlet. Many express sentiments such as “I did not give you the gift of life, Life gave me the gift of you,” or “Parenthood requires love, not DNA.” But you don’t have to be limited by “adoption jewelry.” Instead, look for something that expresses the child’s, or the parent’s culture. Choose a locket that fits the child’s personality. Add pictures that are meaningful to the child. In some cases, it might be the new parents or grandparents. In other cases, especially when the child’s birth parents are deceased, you may want to include pictures of the birth parents. In this way, parents can show their appreciation to the birth parents and the child knows that they will never be far from their heart.