Momma said it….or at least somebody’s momma did. There will be days like this.
We haven’t had a bad day or anything. I would say our day today was pretty normal. We are continuing to learn what challenges we will face both with the children as we work to instill in them spiritual things, values, morality, right thinking/acting, & so much more, and with our new family dynamics. We are doing the best we can and know how to do with our limited experience. Amy and I often think of how grateful we are for the friends in our lives who have blazed the trail of adoption ahead of us and the wisdom, encouragement, and love they continue to show.
One funny dynamic happens with our youngest (A). Well, it’s funny from an interesting perspective, not an LOL perspective. In one moment she will be very affectionate and engaging – at least for her. She’s definitely an introvert and takes a while to warm up to people (All my friends/family at home, please remember this when you meet her!). She has a cute laugh and is very loving when she is comfortable….but she’s got a major stubborn streak. So, one moment or day she’ll be very engaged and loving, and then the next she will scowl at you as if you are the last person on earth she wants to be around. Last night momma was the best thing in the history of her young life. Then this morning she refused to give momma a hug and would barely even look at her! Then, a while later, she crawled in her lap and hugged on her for five minutes.
Curiouser and curiouser.
This is VERY minor (I just heard all the adoption folks who have dealt with much worse roll their eyes!) and we understand this. But it got me thinking about some things. We have read stories like this before we came to Poland, as we prepared for this process. Many of the stories we read were tragic and much more traumatic on both the child and the parents. We are well aware we have very limited knowledge at this stage of our new life. I do not want you to think I believe we have it all figured out or know exactly what we’re doing. We certainly don’t. But there are a few things, seven to be exact, I’ve really been thinking about and Amy and I have been talking about, as this process has unfolded before us. I thought I’d share them with you.
1. Check Your Expectations At the Airport
Everyone wants the fairy-tale adoption story. You know the one where the child(ren) see you pull up to the foster house and begin jumping up and down with excitement. The car stops and you begin to get out. They run to you, throw their arms around you and profusely thank you for coming to change their life! I’m sure this has happened somewhere, but I seriously doubt it’s the norm.
Or the one where the family instantly gels as a cohesive unit. All the children get along and have all kinds of things in common. No one gets on each others nerves; no one has dysfunction evident in their lives; no one experiences withdrawal, grief, or culture shock; everyone believes in what your’e doing….etc, etc, etc. Oh, and the unicorn is tied to the rainbow in the back yard.
The best thing you can do as an adoptive family, is check your expectations at the airport. The expectations of what will happen those first few weeks will most likely not happen. You will have challenges AND victories you never thought of before. You’ll have things thrown your way for which you were not looking. NOTHING in life ever happens the exact way we have planned it out in our head, so check your expectations at airport.
Instead, take it day by day, as it comes. Don’t get thrown off course by the hard or scary or frustrating things. Trust God through the things which happen exactly like you pictured and the things which don’t. You’ll have many more of those, so learning how to trust God through the unexpected is best discovered in the early stages of adoption, long before your feet reach the soil of the adoptive country.
2. Round & Round & Round
What I described above about our youngest is much more the norm. There will be days you feel like you made huge progress. The kids show affection. They listen. They obey. They take a bath. They are just kids and you breathe a sigh of relief. But then you take a few steps back. They wet the bed, they can’t tell you what’s wrong because they don’t even know, major tantrum eruption, you have a day or two where you just can’t get on the same page. Everything feels like it’s falling apart. Then, it all changes again and things begin to look up. I’m no expert, but I think this is normal.
I mean, think about it. Their entire world has just been flipped upside down. All of the sudden these strangers show up, hug and kiss them, tell them they love them, and they’re supposed to call them “mommy” & “daddy.” Then, they’re uprooted from whatever “normal” has been and whatever routine they have established and are asked to learn brand new things very quickly. This is hard on any child.
Our best defense for this is patience and grace. It’s easy to get frustrated or angry because you’ve shown them sixty-three times where to put their laundry, but it won’t help. They need grace. You need to maintain your sanity. I say choose both!
3. Your Child(rens) EMOTIONAL Age Probably Doesn’t Match Their CHRONOLOGICAL AGE
I think it was in our Hague adoption training where the facilitators mentioned the statistic orphans are one month behind for every three months they’ve spent in less than optimal care. This means if your child is three years old and has been in an orphanage their entire life, they’re not three years old. More like two years old, and they act like it! Doesn’t that explain A LOT??
Even if your child is in foster care….is that “optimal”? Well, it’s probably better than an orphanage (depending on the foster home), but I’m not sure we could qualify that as 100% optimal. Please, if you’re a foster parent, take no offense to that statement. I’m just saying living in a foster home isn’t the same as living in a forever home. That is hardly debatable.
So, chronologically our children are 9, 6, 5, and 3. But much more likely (and we think their behavior, emotional capacity, etc lends enormous credibility to this) they are 7, 5, 4, and 2. The younger aren’t quite as far behind as they’ve had less time in less than optimal care.
The good news is you WILL catch them up. But it will take time. I can’t remember the exact statistics on this, but it’s something like the same amount of time in reverse. So it takes three months in optimal care to make up one month of less than. I’m not 100% on these numbers as I’m going from memory. Bottom line, keep in mind the children’s chronological age likely doesn’t match the age at which they are processing life. This is an important fact for family and friends of adoptive kiddos to remember when they return home.
4. Less Than Optimal
It’s called this for a reason. Minimally, orphans were given up by their birth parents for a myriad of reasons we shall never know. In the worse case, the children lived with their parent(s) for a while but then at some point removed from the home. In this case, the trauma is two fold. First, what was happening at that home which caused it to be a dangerous environment for the children to be removed? Secondly, regardless of the answer to the first question, the child will be traumatized because of being removed from the only family they’ve ever known – even if that family was destructive. Every orphan has wounds….even if they cannot articulate what those wounds may be. This issue is what makes caring for orphans both difficult and critical. Less than optimal means exactly what it says and it needs to be kept in mind. They’ve spent a lot more time in this kind of care than the excellent care you’re providing. They neither know how to process this nor even exist within it. Don’t let this throw you….just stay the course.
5. It Won’t Always Be This Way
Oh, for the love of all things that are Polish keep this in mind!! While you’re in the adoptive country everything seems to compound into frustration. I’ve written before about all the conveniences we American’s take for granted often absent while in country. Couple this with the two-steps forward and three-steps back scenario, and you have a recipe for explosiveness. If you’re not careful, these little frustrations become major issues and can drive wedges between you and the people you care most in the world about. I know this seems crazy, but after doing marriage counseling for fifteen years, I can tell you it’s rarely the major issue providing the wedge in a marriage, but the compounding of small, insignificant annoyances.
IT WON’T ALWAYS BE THIS WAY!
You will go home.
You will again sleep in your bed.
You will get to eat at Taco Bell again (though today our craving was Five Guys)
You will help facilitate the healing of your children’s lives. Scars will remain, but healing will come.
You will get to (or have to) go back to work, life, friends & family.
You will settle in to a new normal and full bonding will happen.
There will be fewer and fewer days of regression.
I was texting with my mom tonight. She texted essentially what sums this section up: “It will be interesting to look back a year from now and see what God and consistent love will do!”
So true, mother….so true.
6. Resist the Temptation to Compare
I think this one is huge. There are always people who seem to have had an easier time OR people who are having a much harder time. One of the most detrimental things you can do is compare your experience with someone else’s. Gleaning insight from those who’ve gone before you is a worthwhile and important thing to do. But comparing your experience to theirs is not helpful.
Instead, embrace what God has put before you….including the warts, lice, lack of clothing, scabies, fear, and whatever else the children may bring with them.
Remember, they also come with beauty, innocence, curiosity, wonder, and hope.
Embracing the children and whatever they bring is key to living in faith and trusting God. If you’re always comparing your situation to what He has done in/through others, you will have a miserable existence. Trust God is giving you exactly what He’s appointed for you and your family….and for that child. He most assuredly chose you for them….but He also, just as much, chose them for you. Embrace it.
7. Today is NOT Tomorrow
His MERCIES are NEW EVERY morning! Whatever today has been – good and bad – leave it in today. He will give you the mercy and grace you need to face tomorrow, whatever it may bring. It may be harder than today. It may be more joyful than today. It may be lavished with victory or burning with setback. Regardless, His mercy is apportioned for you to face whatever may come. So rest easy…..Jesus said not to worry about it. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.
This time you spend early in the adoption process called “bonding” has one purpose as far as I can tell: Trust. We want to build solid lines of trust. Why? Because in a couple short weeks, we get to go home. And while the part of our family who made the first jump across the pond is looking forward to familiar and comfortable things, for our newest additions, this will just be another season of turmoil as we start over finding our new normal. Hopefully, we will have built enough trust and will be able to keep these thoughts in mind to have good days…..lots and lots of good days.