Meeting Your Adoptive Child for the First Time


meeting your adoptive childMeeting your adoptive child for the first time is no doubt a moment which you have been imagining for a long time. The thought of this first meeting may be both exciting and intimidating. To make this first meeting as positive as is possible, set your expectations low.

What to expect from your child

It is difficult to know how your child will react. In mentally preparing for this meeting, it’s a good idea to think about both extremes. The child may be extremely apprehensive and skittish or they may be overly affectionate – running to hug you. You may experience one extreme or the other, or your meeting may fall somewhere in the middle. All of these possibilities are normal. There are so many factors that contribute to how a child might react to a meeting – (Did they just wake up? Are they hungry? Do they have to go to the bathroom? Are they tired?). It is impossible to predict.

While you have seen photos of the child and have known of this child for a while, this is the first time the child is meeting you. It may be that the caregiver prepared the child for this meeting, explaining adoption and family, but for some children this is a difficult concept to grasp. It’s best to expect that the child does not fully understand the purpose of the meeting. If your child is skittish or even scared at first and does not immediately hug you or find comfort in your arms, this is normal, this is okay and this may actually be positive. It is normal for the child to be a bit timid or apprehensive at first, if this is the case, the child is showing a healthy fear of “strangers.” While the child is not a stranger to you, you will be a stranger to the child at first. If they cling to the caregiver, that is okay too, it shows that the child has already attached to a care-giving adult. This is great news for future attachment to you. It is important that we are patient with these children and meet them where they are, giving them time to learn that you are a trustworthy adult.

Conversely, it could also be that the child runs and jumps in your arms immediately excited to meet you. This is also a normal behavior for a child. Clingy behaviors are often seen from children residing in orphanages and sometimes from foster homes as well. The child may also appear hyperactive and maybe even destructive, throwing toys and running around. This may be the child’s way of showing off for you because they are nervous. All of this is normal, all of this can be expected.

You may also find that the child has a clear preference for mom or dad, this is also normal and to be expected. It could be that the child is interested in dad, as there have been few adult male figures around and the child is curious about him. It could also be that the child prefers mom because they are more accustomed to female caretakers. The child’s interactions during the first meeting and even the first few meetings are not necessarily indicative of your child’s behavior once they are home and settled.

What to expect from yourself

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself! It is also important to prepare yourself for how you may feel at this initial meeting. Often families expect to feel an instant affection and instant bond. While this is wonderful if you are one of the parents that experience this, you may not feel this way at all and that is okay! That is normal. You may feel awkward and question how to act and how to try to show affection, especially as you may be being watched by others. Those around you that have experienced a first meetings before understand that this can be initially awkward and confusing. No one expects you to fall into the role or trusted parent upon your first meeting. This will come in time.

It is often helpful to think about this new relationship in terms of marriage or dating, odd as that may be. Most couples did not fall in love at first sight. While this may happen, this is not the norm. We learn to love our significant others over time, as we have gotten to know them. For some spouses this took one date for others it took a good bit longer. Give yourself grace and give yourself time.

What to expect from the meeting?

Much about the first meeting will be dictated by where your child resides. In Bulgaria, you will most likely meet the caregiver first, though that is not always the case. The meeting may occur in the presence of other children and other caregivers, or it may occur in private with one other adult. You may have a formal introduction or you may introduce yourself to the child. The caregivers may not regard this meeting with the reverence that you hoped, this is okay too, just don’t focus on it because it is not important. Focus on the now, not on how you expected or wished it would be, this is the best way to enjoy the present –  experience it and try not to judge it too much. Staying present will help you remember the moments. These are important moments that are worth remembering to tell your child later and will be an important part of their story, whether the story told later is moving (because it was so beautiful) or funny (because it was awkward or nothing went as planned!).

Enjoy this time and maybe even write about it later that evening so that you can remember all of the beautiful, awkward and perhaps comical details!

For more information about adopting from Bulgaria, please contact us.

Nicole Skellenger works as MLJ Adoptions’ Chief Executive Officer and Adoption Attorney. Nicole has spent time in orphanages with children who have nothing and are desperate for affection and has committed herself to using her skills to create better futures for these deserving children.