10 ways to help an adoptive family

Are you an adoptive parent who is struggling to cope but doesn’t know quite how to ask friends and family for help? Or are you someone who wants to know how to support an adoptive family but isn’t sure quite what to say? Help is at hand. Ready? Here are 10 ways to help an adoptive family.

Hot To Help An Adoptive Family

This is another one of those embarrassing topics that make everyone feel a bit awkward. We live in a culture that encourages us to be self-sufficient and hate asking for help. We don’t want to look needy or grabby, and we don’t like admitting that we don’t have everything under control.

This is a bit bonkers. Of course we all need help sometimes. So I’m going to just dive straight in. Please ensure you are wearing your anti-embarrassment suit. Ready? Good.

The conversation: telling the truth

So. Every now and again I find myself in conversation with someone who knows the girls are adopted, asks ‘How’s it going?’, and actually wants to hear the truth.

Nuanced small-talk-type social skills not being my forté (I am an INTJ to the core), I often struggle to differentiate between these people and the ones who’d prefer to hear the sanitised rainbows-and-unicorns happily-ever-after adoption story that gives us all a permanent joyful radiance springing from the satisfaction of parenting our little cherubs.

Conversational tightropes

I forget that people generally just want to be lied to with a ‘Fine!’ and often only work this out a sentence or two too late when the unicorn people excuse themselves from the conversation in search of someone normal to talk to about their own little Delicate Daisy’s ballet/harp lessons, with a poorly-masked horror when I mention that I’ve been asked to pop in and see the head because Joanna threw a chair at her teacher again.

But once I’ve got that sorted, the good’uns sometimes ask ‘So, what can I do?’. Again, some say this and don’t want an honest answer. But those rare creatures who are genuinely asking are to be encouraged.

And then another problem: it’s difficult to gauge the level of commitment they’re offering. Do I ask for a home-cooked meal for four, or two minutes’ keeping an eye on them while I speak to a teacher? A coffee after the morning school run, or a weekend’s respite care?

Making a wishlist

Ever practical and resourceful (that INTJ thing again) I’d love to be able to have a wishlist handy to give to people so they can pick something appropriate. I have just about enough social nous, however, to know people would find that weird. So usually I just say, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s anything, thanks’, or I make a joke, such as ‘a clone’, ‘alcohol’ or ‘sedatives’ with a nod in the children’s direction. (I’ve already asked the GP for those. She said no. Worth a try.)

But I’ve written a wishlist anyway, in hopes that other adopters who wish for the same kinds of things can use my words to ask for help in a nice socially acceptable way (because we love a bit of indirectness, don’t we?). Some are things people can buy and leave on the doorstep and run away, if they struggle with knowing what to say (I know how this feels). Others are practical things that are more of a time commitment but make a massive difference. These things usually fall to my parents and one local friend, and I’d dearly love to share things out a bit more so I feel less guilt about relying on them so heavily.

Friends who help an adoptive family from afar

I have some lovely friends who live too far away to see often, and when I share our latest tribulations on Facebook, chocolates, cakes and biscuits start to appear in the post. This is kind and wonderful and I am very grateful (especially for the liqueur chocolates – they will always be welcome). But our friends-who-send-comestibles often say these things come from feeling too far away to help ‘properly’, and not knowing what else they can do.

So, if you’re offering, here are some ideas – a mix of things to suit those far and near. These aren’t one-size-fits-all – it’s always good to check with a family directly about their own needs – but it’s a good starting place for a conversation.

How to help an adoptive family: 10 ideas

1. Childcare.

Pick the girls up after school and take them out for a drink and a biscuit so I can have an extra hour’s peace. They’re likely to behave beautifully for you.

Starbucks Coffee Cups2. Coffee.

Take me out for a drink and a biscuit and listen without judgement while I tell you how hard it is to live with children who won’t let us parent them. Or if you’re sick of hearing about it, a Starbucks gift card (so I can treat myself after a horrendous school run) also works.

3. Ironing.

I always have a mountain of it and am always too tired to do it.

4. Gardening

Again, time prevents us keeping the garden under control. Any help there would be amazing.

5. DIY.

Specifically, one or two of the little mending jobs we have on a rolling list. The bedroom door that sticks because it’s been slammed too often. The new toilet seat that needs fitting because the girls broke the hinges of the old one. The repainting where they’ve scratched their way up the stairs.

6. Amazon vouchers/book tokens.

Because adoptive parents do a huge amount of reading to research how to help their children. Our library service can get hold of some books for us, but not all of the specialist stuff, and often we get them in Kindle form because then we can afford twice as many. Amazon vouchers
are a great present.

7. Printer ink cartridges.

Because of the printing and photocopying of endless forms and letters to try and get help for the children.

8. Bubbles and other small, portable activities

Small (A5ish) colouring books/sticker books/bubble pots/I-Spy books/fidget toys that the children can use in waiting rooms/at church/on the train/etc. Stuff I can have in my handbag to deploy easily to prevent meltdowns (see this post about the contents of my handbag). Blowing bubbles in particular helps them regulate their breathing and calm down when they’re getting overwhelmed/stressed out/stroppy – great on the way home from school if they’ve had a hard day.

9. Water bottles

These are a great idea for the girls’ birthday/Christmas presents because they are always losing them/throwing and breaking them/chewing them to pieces. We get through a set every term or so, so they are always welcome.

10. Nametapes

The sew-in kind and the sticker kind. Because everything gets left behind regularly, no matter how much we ask ‘have you got everything?’ These just help save a bit of stress.

Supporting an adoptive family? You are appreciated. A lot.

Please know that I hate asking – both out of pride (because I like to think that I am superwoman even when the evidence suggests otherwise) and out of a fear of seeming demanding and grabby and whiny and a hundred other unpleasant adjectives. And that if you do any of these things I will be more grateful than I can express. And that if you’ve read this far I love you already. Thank you.

Adoption And Fostering Guide For ChurchesAn extra message for churches

Please get hold of the free booklet ‘Supporting those who adopt or foster’. Give it to everyone who is willing to read it, and certainly all the leaders and pastoral care people. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Details are on my resources page.

Fellow adoptive parents: what else would you put on your wishlist? I’d love it if you shared your ideas in the comments.



My post was inspired by Pamela Wendel’s ‘Learning to accept help when your child is ill’.

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  1. Diego
    21 September 2016 / 8:25 am

    You’re right, it’s difficult to ask for help, as if being able to manage on your own as a parent was part of the job description.

    Asking someone for their time is the ultimate tabu, it’s not the proper thing to do, but it’s still the best present anyone can offer.

  2. 21 September 2016 / 9:37 am

    This made me chuckle in parts! Our VAA does an attachment style interview as part of assessment for adopters and I came out as not securely attached as although I have good relationships with people I don’t let them help me!? I have always been self sufficient and thought it was a good thing but in adoption terms it really isn’t. Since then I have very consciously made myself ask for help when I’ve needed it… You’re right though, it can be pretty uncomfortable! I like your list 😊

  3. 1 October 2016 / 5:24 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who struggles to answer this question and for the same reasons. When people offer to help, I often have no idea what their commitment level is. And you know, especially with childcare, it can’t be a one-time thing with our families. And in order to offer a weekend of respite, you basically have to build a true relationship with our family over a long period of time. Thank you for posting this.

    By the way, I might have pondered if it would have been better to purchase packages of bottled water because it would have been more environmental than my norm (purchasing new water bottles, weekly).

    Finally, I told teachers/camps that if my child lost his water bottle, I would be sending him with a tumbler to fill at the fountain. That is something I only had to do once, and miraculously, my kids are able to keep tabs on their water bottles now.

  4. Mummy Dibling
    30 October 2016 / 11:06 pm

    What a great blog and I loved the ‘help’ list. I too have struggled with asking, being extremely independent I have realised.
    Suggestions might be:-
    Someone to regularly talk to, someone to have one of my kids so I can give the other extra attention needed. Regular babysitter for me and my husband so we can actually talk when not exhausted!

  5. 14 April 2017 / 10:27 pm

    Great ideas! What about a gift certificate of maid service? I know that’s a bit expensive, but this is my DREAM gift. Maybe soothing an older relative could give?

    • Hannah Meadows
      14 April 2017 / 10:38 pm

      YES. Love it. We have occasionally paid for someone to clean our house and it is lovely to come home to that without having to do it yourself! Great suggestion! 🙂

  6. 20 April 2017 / 4:54 pm

    I have a newly adopted niece so this is really helpful – thank you! #thelistlinky

    • Hannah Meadows
      20 April 2017 / 5:24 pm

      Brilliant – I’m sure your family will appreciate your help! 😊

  7. Mairi-Claire
    20 July 2017 / 9:59 am

    This is a great article. I would say that my number one piece of advice would be to remember NOT to say “Ah, all children are the same”. That would do wonders for my blood pressure if people would stop saying that and stop trying to minimise our family issues.

    • 20 July 2017 / 10:06 am

      Thanks, Mairi-Claire. And yes – that would be great advice! Argh!

    31 May 2018 / 6:33 pm

    There is wisdom here which extends beyond the needs of adoptive parents. It can be so helpful when those with particular needs indicate what they might be and what sort of questions can be asked of them without offence. Otherwise people without those needs may pass by in ignorance or fear of asking lest they put their foot wrong.

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