There’s No Book For This
Our boys have been home for 5 months now. That doesn’t sound like very long, does it? But it feels like we’ve had them forever. It’s hard to remember life before they came.
Since starting the journey in January of 2010, I’ve had many people contact me asking about the process, lawyers, where to find a referral, etc, etc.
And after the boys came home, I’ve had even more people contact me about their struggles since coming home with their new children. Having the boys home for just 5 months doesn’t make me an expert on the subject, but these struggles are still fresh on my brain and I can relate to them and hopefully offer some encouragement.
(and let me state for the record, I’m just speaking of this particular stage of our experience…I have no idea what’s ahead of us in the teenage years…)
I’ve had several phone conversations and email correspondence with moms who say, “When does this get better??!?!?!” and “My child seems pretty emotionally healthy and is attaching to us nicely, but I’m just not feelin’ it.”
And I know exactly what they’re talkin’ about.
All the scary adoption books that you read when researching adoption almost always cover extreme behaviors and major disorders, like Radical Attachment Disorder and smearing feces on the walls. So you brace yourself for the worst (especially if it’s your first adoption) and hope for the best.
But there’s no book out there that covers what to do when you’re in country, overwhelmed with jet lag and you meet your toddler for the first time…and you’re scared to death. Those books don’t cover how to parent your child when he acts up in front of the people who have been caring for him since coming to the orphanage. Nor do they talk about the dark places you find yourself in when things are all falling apart and you’re exhausted and angry and slowly slipping into a scary place where you begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
And then there’s the whole issue of, “What if I don’t ever love my child like I love my other children? I’m worried that I’ll never feel that way.”
Nope. Not in the book.
Because here’s the thing…most (not all) of the children who come from Uganda are relatively healthy in the emotional department. These kids don’t come action-packed with sensory issues due to neglect and lack of touch. If they’ve spent any time at all in a babies home or decent orphanage (and by decent, I mean ‘loving’, not ‘wealthy’), these children are well loved. They are held, cared for, played with, fed and nurtured. I realize that it’s not the end-all-be-all for completely healthy children, but it sure does help.
So from what I’m hearing and reading, these newly adopted children aren’t having difficulty attaching to their parents. What’s happening is that the parents are having difficulty attaching to their new child.
And it’s almost impossible to prepare for that.
I’ve written before that it’s extremely hard to not dream about what that first meeting with your new child will be like. It’s crazy tough not to imagine how wonderful life will be when you’re finally one big happy family. You try and try to keep expectations at a minimum.
But then you read a book or someone’s blog who just had their Gotcha Day, and they’re gushing and beaming and going on and on about their beautiful moment. And I’m sure it was…I don’t want to take anything away from that, because those moments do happen. But then your overactive, mama’s imagination gets to churnin’ and there’s no stopping it.
I can see how easy it would be to instantly love an infant. And maybe that’s why there’s such a high demand for them. Their personalities aren’t yet very vivid. They can’t talk back or throw things at you. They don’t have hour-long temper tantrums. There’s not much of a language barrier because they’re not communicating anyway. Infants, for the most part, are sweet and cuddly and well…obedient. Toddlers, however, are not.
Suddenly you have this wee person, who is a total stranger, and he’s all yours…with all the good and the bad that comes with him. And we expect ourselves to be overcome with emotion and feeling for this child.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work that way in most cases. Just like with any relationship, it’s gonna take time to grow. Love is rarely instantaneous. I know we want it to be, because it’s our child, for crying out loud. But the reality is, you’ve just gotta give it time.
And a lot of energy.
And a lot of love (aka, serving, doing, etc.).
And you’ve gotta be on your knees, asking God to love this child through you, because our love is flawed and skewed. And His love isn’t.
And as tired as you are, you’ve gotta be waking up early, reading your Bible, talking to God, memorizing scripture for those moments when you think you’re gonna lose it.
And eventually (and hopefully) those feelings will come.
If it’s any encouragement, I can honestly say that my love for our boys has grown exponentially. They have somehow weaseled their way into my heart, and there’s no looking back. My love for them is fierce.
Now, don’t go looking thinking to yourself…”Uh-oh. She’s feeling this way at 5 months. We’ve had ours home for 7 months and I’m so not there yet. I must be doing something wrong!”
Every child is different. Every family dynamic and situation is different…so don’t start comparing and get discouraged.
Also, this isn’t a guarantee that you’ll ever feel fully connected to your child. You may not. I know people who still struggle several years down the road. And since I have no experience in this department, I don’t have any words of wisdom.
What I do know is that God doesn’t always make it easy on us (because he wants us to GROW), and He tells us to love the unlovely.
And aren’t we all unlovely at one time or another?
So, I say all of this so that you don’t give up hope. God did not make a mistake when He gave you your new child (or children). He knew exactly how this would all go down. He sees every tear you shed in frustration and every moment of exasperation. He knows every detail of loss and hurt that your child has suffered. He knows all the “why’s” and the “when’s”.
His plan is perfect. His love is infinite. And His grace is sufficient.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
Colleen and Lucas are parents of four children – two girls by birth and two boys who were adopted independently from Uganda. The boys are unrelated (by birth) and are virtual twins. Lucas is in the Air Force and Colleen is a stay-at-home mom who also has the privilege of being a partner at Wild Olive, a Christian t-shirt company for women. Colleen’s adoption ramblings can be read on her blog.