I’m reading Blessed Child and in the book something just jumped off the page last night.
In it Ted Dekker writes:
“Whoever said that a straightened [leg] is more dramatic than a healed heart??”
So which is better having straightened [legs] or a healed heart?
Because of course we want Josie’s legs to be as straight and strong as possible but her heart “health” is way more important.
And just in the last month we have sensed a difference in her heart.
She is truly happier.
The biggest change we have seen is that she is now praying at bedtime.
We knew she “did” that before she came to us and we were told she prayed wonderful sweet prayers. But we didn’t see or hear them.
But now she does. And she thanks God for her family.
There are times when I wonder why in the world I am called to parent a child with special needs?!?
I have zero qualifications.
(and just the other week I was telling a friend that if we would have known all of Josie’s “needs” I doubt we would have had the faith to adopt her….just being real.)
But as I sat at therapy on Tuesday and took in the sights and sounds of the PT room I was amazed and overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be a part of this awesome group of “normal” moms who happen to have special need kids.
There were 4 kiddos doing therapy, all at different levels, and one therapist was trying to bribe her “student” into taking steps in the gait trainer. Helen did NOT want take steps until Kristie told her she would do a cartwheel for her if she walked the length of the room. (Kristie is about 32ish and a “retired” gymnast.)
So of course we all start cheering for Helen to take steps and she does!
And the look on her face when she saw Kristie do the cartwheel was priceless.
I see some of the moms at therapy watch Josie and I. And I can almost read their minds as they watch and think to themselves …she chose a child with special needs?!?!!? She must be crazy!
And I guess in a sense we kinda did. We could have said NO! We could have kept running away from “Niveveh.”
(And honestly some days the thought of getting swallowed by a big fish sounds inviting and almost like a vacation!)
But if we would have kept running I wouldn’t be getting this front row seat into this special world called “special needs.”
These moms at therapy didn’t get to “chose” what needs they were comfortable “accepting” but they chose to parent and chose life.
And so I’m learning to be grateful for this unique window I get to look through and be a part of each week and I pray that I can be as much of an encouragement to them as they are to me. I hope my words and actions will be an encouragement to these precious moms. That we really CAN’T do it on our own strength. It is only by God’s grace and strength that I make it through the days.
I am finding out how h.a.r.d. it is parenting a child with special needs. It is time consuming, tiring and expensive!!
But as our eyes lock across the PT therapy room no words are needed as we celebrate the successes but also feel the pain and frustration when the therapy session isn’t going “as planned.”
Just relating to the fact that we really are just “normal” moms just trying our best and wanting the best for our kiddos. We aren’t “super heroes” nor we do have any “super powers.”
We just put one foot in front of the other and try and keep first things first.
Because it is way more about the heart issues then about having straight legs.
Lynnea is blessed to be a child of God and is also thankful to be able to stay at home to raise (and school) the children God has entrusted her with. She has been married to her best friend for 20 years and really enjoys just “doing life” with him by her side. The Hameloth’s have three (awesome and/or amazing) sons born the old fashioned way and three precious daughters, who just happen to have been born in China, but found their way into their lives and hearts through God’s awesome plan. This (sometimes) fun and wild ride has been full of many ups and downs but worth it all. He who calls is faithful. Find out more about their crazy but fulfilling lives at www.hamelothjourney.blogspot.com.
Sometimes as I rock Sunshine to bed at night, I think about her first mother. I mostly grieve for all that she will not have the privilege of experiencing with our special girl. I wonder what she is doing now and if she thinks of our daughter. I wonder if she knows how loved Sunshine is and what a true blessing she is to our family. I wonder if she knows how honored I am to be her mama. I wonder if she is curious about her personality, and the cool little person she is growing into.
A few nights ago as we rocked and I was singing You Are My Sunshine, Sunshine started singing along. She’s been singing with me off-and-on for several months now, and it is just the sweetest thing a mama could hear from her speech-delayed baby! But it got me wondering about her first mother a little bit more. Did she like to sing? Does Sunshine sing along with me because her first mother was musically inclined? Or is it simply because I’ve been singing to her for almost two years? Is Sunshine’s feisty, sugar and spice personality a product of her environment or is her first mother the same way? Is she silly because she learned from her older brother or was her first mother also silly? Do they have the same desire to help others? The same keep-trying-till-I-get-it attitude? Are they both observant and careful or did Sunshine learn to be that way because of her life experiences? Is Sunshine loving and affectionate and sweet because we love her in a similar way? Or is it because her first mother was sweet and loving and caring as well? Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s nurture. I can’t help but wonder what parts of her personality were decided while still in her first mother’s belly. It’s a part of my daughter’s history that I just don’t know, and is unfortunately unknown in many adoptions.
Oftentimes, I take it for granted that Sunshine just is who she is. I don’t think about the parts of her that her first mother gave her. She is just “Sunshine” to me on most days. There are sometimes when I see her do something that I know, without a doubt, she learned from our family … things she does that have her big brother or big sister written all over them. It’s undeniable. “Oh, she got that from Lovebug,” I can easily say. But I just don’t know about many of the other traits. I’ll probably never have answers to these questions, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering. And it shouldn’t stop me from celebrating what may have come from her first mother. Even though I may not know the exact traits that she gave Sunshine, they are no less important. And I love her first mother for giving them to her. Sunshine is growing into a miraculous, inspiring little girl partly because of “nature” and partly because of “nurture.” What a beautiful thing that is to witness.
Nicole is a child of God and a wife to an amazing man. She is a classical homeschooling mama to three (two homegrown, one who came to them through the beautiful gift of international adoption). She is also a part-time newborn photographer, founder and adoption photographer at Red Thread Sessions, a contributing blogger at No Hands But Ours and an advocate of orphan care and adoption. She loves to blog and learn new things. She strives to live her life to glorify our Heavenly Father. With His love, all things are possible.
If you’ve ever been in a car accident or other traumatic event, you know that for a while your blood pressure goes up every time you experience something that triggers those memories. These reactions (and even memories) are largely subconscious. How your body responds is a survival technique.
For better or worse, our brains are wired to survive. Without much thought from us, they will produce automatic behaviors that are protective.
Kids who have not had a secure, safe place (emotionally or physically) in which to grow and learn, develop behaviors that are for one thing…survival.
The part of the brain that dictates survival is different than the part of the brain that thinks logically and rationally.
Are you connecting the dots?
This means that kids from hard places have little to no experience using the part of their brain that thinks rationally. They are too busy trying to survive.
What does this look like?
In our house, it means every “No, you may not” and “Please wait a minute” is translated by our children as a threat to their survival. Those negative responses from people prove to them that people are not to be trusted at any cost. If they sense someone getting too close, they will behave in such a way to sabotage the relationship. They can’t rationalize that an activity may not be safe or emphathize that others may have a need ahead of them.
It means every raised voice (whether in play or anger) causes high anxiety and fear that their very life may be in jeopardy. In the unlikely case their rational brain was engaged, they immediately switch to the part that will guarantee survival. Some kids flee, some freeze, some fight. None think. In these moments, their behavior is as instinctual as blinking. They have no control over it.
Logic-based, high-reasoning consequences? Completely out of the question. Any consequence is viewed as an attack. It is never connected to their behavior.
In some incidences, they truly do not remember the behavior (even if it happened just moments ago) since it happened in such a high state of stress. It’s kind of how our brain blocks out pain. I know I don’t remember much about my experiences going through unmedicated labor and delivery.
As we’ve traveled through weeks of sinking or swimming (mostly sinking) through behavior, we’ve been clinging to Dr. Purvis’ observation that “angry kids are sad and kids that look crazy are scared.” Putting into perspective what our kids have internalized and how it’s leaking out in behavior and examining how our reactions can either diffuse or escalate their behavior is keeping our heads barely above water. We sink often. We’re mentally and emotionally exhausted.
That reminds me; please excuse the unedited, haphazard rambling posts such as this one.
I know it may sound like we’re making excuses for our kids. We’re not. We’d be the first ones on the bandwagon if we knew traditional parenting techniques worked on kids from hard places. We actually keep trying to jump on that bandwagon only to find ourselves banging our proverbial heads against a wall as our situation deteriorates in front of our very eyes. I won’t lie. I want a much quicker fix for their behavior. You know the kind that includes lost privileges, timeouts, and extra chores. This whole heal the root cause, instead of slapping a band aid on a gaping wound thing, is not for the faint of heart.
If you’re in our shoes (or similar ones), don’t ever let anyone tell you that trust-based parenting is the easy way out or lets the kids off the hook.
If you’re on the outside looking in, don’t judge us based on our children’s behavior or how we handle it. I’d ask you to try to see the world through their eyes, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
Melissa, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, have two biological children, a son adopted at age 2 1/2 from Korea, and 3 big kids from Ethiopia (adopted at 12 to 14 years of age). She residse in Maryland where they started a ministry called The Grafted. The Grafted exists to help the local Body of Christ connect to information, resources, and organizations in order to develop a compassionate culture that cares for orphans, vulnerable children, and widows. Melissa also has a photography business that specializes in adoption homecoming and foster family photography. You can get to know Melissa better on her personal blog.
I wanted to share about one thing I learned in helping our kids transition into our care… and how fear plays a part in those transitions. And as part of my theme for this blog is “perspective” I want to share how I experienced a huge perspective change in the reality and nature of fear.
I wrote about all the ways I tried to help our big boy transition into our care… and really I think we did a knock out job of helping him feel safe, secure and that we love him and he could trust us. In some ways, his transition was far more easy for me to understand and feel compassion for than it was for me to understand with Thea. I think I saw the physical fear in his face and eyes when I met him. He really did wonderful and had very little problems adjusting to us and our new role in his life.
That brings me to where fear took hold of me. We were always really uncertain if adding 2 new kids was a “good idea”… it was a subject of months of weighing and wrestling with… there were so many up sides for our kids (the new ones), a few downsides, and we knew a bigger and heavier commitment and responsibility on our shoulders and parents. Then there was always the thought, “What if we get a child that needs more than we are able (or feel capable) of giving them?” It was not an easy choice. But at some point early last summer we realized that there was a series of events that had lead us to both of our kids, and we had tried to find other alternatives (particularly for our daughter) but all fell through nearly immediately. We were certain she was meant to be our daughter.
But, then again, after meeting our sweet girl in September I had a bunch of doubts all over again if we could be the kind of parents and family that *she* needed. It was as if all those fears and uncertainty returned to me with a vengeance. It was almost like drowning in fear! For one, I had gone home with a sweet little boy who really made our life easy… we enjoyed, for those 3+ weeks, a family-life that was almost simple. And I liked it. We knew that we’d most likely return for Thea in January… when we were ready and able to give her the time and attention we thought she would need… but then almost immediately we had another court date for her! I was immobilized in this fear that “I didn’t have what it took” to be a mom of 5 or to be her mom!
I was also worried about getting on the plane to go back because I thought that we’d lose our court date again, for legitimate reasons due to circumstances that were taking place in country at that time. I was so worried and not wanting to go back that Tim had to make a deal with me like you would an 8 year old going to camp, his “deal” was if after one week things had not worked out I could come home, and he had already booked that ticket so I knew he was telling the truth. I feared the unknown, all the hard things I had to do on my own and I felt completely unable to skillfully take care of the possible problems that I could potentially come up while I was there! Then there was Thea and all of the hard things we had dealt with when I had cared for her the first time.
Now I feel really silly about it all… silly, that I should have known God would work it all out and that this was never up to us, but on His timing and in His will!… but all I could feel was that overwhelming dread and fear!
But… the fear was real, even if the circumstances were just possibilities.
Walking through that fog of fear I some how found my way back to her and “just did the next thing” for about 5 days. After those days I realized that instead of a screaming terrified baby, I had a really sweet, and happy baby that wanted me… as her mom. All of the logistics and issues in court worked themselves out… perfectly. Amazingly. I was humbled.
For three days after that I felt like I had been hit by a truck… it might have been jet lag, a baby that was up a few times at night or something else, but I really just had to lay around and rest because I felt so depleted! I even worried that maybe I had gotten a “bug” or was beginning to get malaria… but I didn’t. I was just wiped out… I now think it was from all the stress and fear that I had surrounding me that week or two prior.
Fear is such a weird thing.
It is an emotion, but it has physical, mental and even the ability to change how you view people and circumstances. I physically felt different during that week, my stomach in constant knots, feeling hyper, unable to sleep and unable to relax and even slightly suspicious and paranoid.
I have never ever felt those things before in my life… or at least to that degree and in that overwhelming of a way! There were times I had to say, “Marci, this just doesn’t make sense what you are feeling! You need to think other thoughts…” and I would pray.
And you know, eventually, I realized that must be exactly how sweet Thea felt for sometime (if not much longer). When I realized that that is what she was going through I immediately felt so so broken at my inability to have understanding for her! I feel so glad I had that horrible week of fear just to understand how she must have felt too!
I understood her restlessness at night, her fits of screaming, her drowsiness all day long and her desire just to “shut off” and zone out. She was afraid! She was dreading the unknown, she felt suspicious and untrusting of me and others, she felt wiped out and even potentially sick feeling. And when we moved rooms it was highly scary and alarming to her because she didn’t know what that would mean for her!
Again, I am so so thankful that I went through that horrible week… it wasn’t the week that was really horrible, but my fear in the unknown of what that week might hold.
In one of the books that we read on adoption that seemed to have the most “sense” and logic to it, the author talks about how it is one of the most important tasks for parents of adopted kids to help them have “felt safety”, it isn’t that it is truly unsafe around them, but that they perceive more fear in situations, more insecurity and that our job is to help them understand and feel safe in our care!
That is what God did for me. While I was in the airport, half way there, I sort of had a breakdown… I just didn’t want to get on that last plane to UG… I wanted to run home! I was internally wrestling with God saying, “God, I want to go home! I know (because that was what fear was telling me) I will get to UG and be told the judge will not show up, I’ll wait for weeks all alone and I am not even sure we should be bringing Thea home… I am so afraid… I can’t do this on my own! Why does your Word not tell me what I should do?” I felt this voice say, “David… David was afraid… look to his words.”
I opened Psalm 1
“1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. judgment,
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
Every word was like cool water to me, it calmed me, gave me perspective and peace. Every day of my 26 day trip I read the next Psalm in order… every day it addressed the need or fear I had for that day! It was “felt safety” for me. It reminded me I have a Father who cares, provides, is trust-worthy and in control… and I need not fear.
The last verse I read on concluding my 26 day second trip was Psalm 26:12,
“My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the LORD.”
That is what our God does for us. He helps us overcome fears and to stand on the level ground of Him… so that we can give Him glory! That is also what we are to do for our kids.
How can we be that kind of parent for our kids?
Do we brush off their fears as silly or do we help address their fears as something real, but help them see the situation through that new perspective?
Marci Miller and her husband Tim live and work at a camp for socially and economically disadvantaged youth, many of whom are foster or former foster children. This is their 8th summer at CBX and their 11th summer in camp ministry.They currently have 5 children, ages 7, 6, 5, 4 and 2 years old. The 6 and 2 year olds came home through the miracle of adoption late in 2011. Marci blogs about their adventures in parenting, ministry, homeschooling and adoption at She Can Laugh…
Zoe’s our daughter. I don’t think of her as a former orphan, though she is. We’ve settled into life with her, and it feels like it’s been far more than eight weeks since we brought her home.
Today has been bittersweet. Precious, but only made so by the difficult realities of adoption.
First, a bittersweet and wonderful word…
She’s been saying it occasionally, but we haven’t been sure if it had meaning or not. Today, she was fussing on the floor with Jocelyn, and I scooped her up from behind. When she saw who it was who had her, our eyes locked and her mostly gummy grin let out a beautiful “Mama.”
This moment with each of my other two was just sweet. No bitter in sight.
But the reality is that adoption only exists due to brokenness, be it poverty or death or sin or some other circumstance that won’t exist in heaven and didn’t exist in the Garden of Eden. In the absence of brokenness, Zoe wouldn’t be ours. She would be saying “mama” to the one who gave birth to her.
The sweetness, though, is in redemption. Just as God’s redemption of me transformed me from a sinner to His child, the beauty of redemption in earthly adoption takes an orphan and makes her a loved daughter.
A daughter whose Mama’s heart fills with joy when she uses her first word to call me by name.
Second, a bittersweet and wonderful moment…
Lee went on a week-long business trip, returning today. Zoe has been a little cranky all week.
I thought it was teething, but she hasn’t acted this way with other teeth. It could be that she has been carted around more, with school registration and carpools and a developmental evaluation. It could have been any of those realities. But I realized today that she might not know that Daddy – her favorite parent by far, which I love – was coming back.
With Jocelyn and Robbie, I could say, “We’ve always come back.” And “Mommy and Daddy have always been here for you.” And “Do you have any reason to doubt us?”
For Zoe, we haven’t always been there. She’s learning to trust us. It’s different.
For Zoe, I don’t think she knew that Daddy was coming back. She is more tentative with him this evening than she has been since our first days in Taiwan. In time, she’ll trust him again, but we’re not quite sure she does right now.
That’s the bitter.
The sweet? It’s this.
Shannon and her husband Lee have been married for 7 years, with three children Jocelyn (5), Robbie (3), and Zoe (9 mo). The oldest two are homegrown, and Zoe joined the family via adoption from Taiwan in July 2012. Shannon is a stay-at-home mom, writing about family and faith and whatnot at Dinglefest, who also serves as her church’s special needs ministry coordinator, blogging about that to equip and encourage other churches at The Works of God Displayed. Their adoption of Zoe – including the picture to the left – was documented by The Archibald Project; all the pictures are on Facebook here. The Dingles love to call Raleigh home, and they hope to adopt again in a few years.
No related posts.
Adoption is a picture of redemption. True.
And adoption puts children into forever families. True.
And for us, as the adoptive parents, I think the picture of the journey to our children is often filled with waiting, pursuit, longing, waiting, paperwork, waiting lists, more paperwork and more waiting.
And there comes a point when, after all that anguish, we are able to put the journey behind us and declare it all worth it in the end. True.
But there is more to the story. There is so much more to the process and to the journey than our “yes”.
There is hard, too.
Because while we were journeying and paperchasing and waiting and waiting and waiting,
Our children were walking through rejection, abandonment, shame, loss, hurt, longing, relinquishment, lonliness, abuse, trauma, neglect, malnourishment, sadness and grief.
Yes. Adoption is restoration, and it is redemptive, and it can bring beauty to brokenness.
But. BUT. It is also hurt. and loss. and more loss…..
It can be too easy, in my experience, to see the finish line and declare ourselves victorious without considering the hidden things. the broken things. the layers upon layers of hurt that we must carefully help our children peel back to bring true and complete healing.
We must be willing to walk through the hard, too, as parents. We must be willing to acknowledge that those early hurts deeply affected our children. And we must be ready to grieve with them. To talk about the hard things. To be honest and trustworthy with our childrens stories. To love them through the anger–which will undoubtedly be directed at us– and to sit and wait as our children examine deeper and deeper inside their protected little hearts for the things they most want to be rid of….
We must understand that that finish line we celebrated. Was the starting line. We had simply arrived at the race.
And intentionally. purposefully. honestly. We must walk through the hard stuff with our children. We must cover shame with His grace and love. We must acknowledge unfairness and grieve hurts and losses and unanswered questions. We must be fully present. constant. never failing in our love and consistency.
Never forgetting that for us to be their forever family…
they have to have lost their first family.
“Adoptive parents and families are not always aware of how being relinquished has deeply impacted their adopted child. They are just so thankful to have that child in their life. But, all the while adoptive parents are rejoicing and celebrating, their adopted child is grieving the missing parts of his or her life before living with their family. Their adopted child has lost a part of his or her history, his or her DNA, his or her life –- and no one is available to talk about it.”
Ashley Smith is a passionate and enthusiastic Blogger, Mother, Christian and Adoption Advocate. She often writes to release true stories and emotions about International Adoption, Faith and The Everyday Life over at In My Own Words and prays that her words would bring hope and life to readers. She is the analytical left-brained wife of a creative worship-leading right-brained (and yet still amazing) man and Mom to a 5 year old superhero-loving boy, Marvel, who joined their family in the summer of 2012 from Ethiopia!
When you adopt a child internationally, so much of their previous life is a mystery. Thus far, William has been unable or unwilling to share any but the tiniest and most mundane details of his time in the orphanage. Because of this, every scrap of information I can glean from other children who lived with him is a treasure. We keep in contact with the other families, and as different children begin to share we are able to fill in a few gaps and gain a better understanding of their journey.
The things we learn are both amusing and heartbreaking.
Hunger before they came into care. We knew this was the main reason children are relinquished for adoption. There simply is Not. Enough. Food. Family members must make difficult decisions in order to ensure survival: adoption or starvation. I knew this was their reality, but to hear it from the mouth of a child that I know and care about is unbearable.
Fear and mourning after relinquishment. These are real children who are separated from the only life they have ever known. Their loved ones decided to place them in an orphanage so they will have a chance at a better life; so they will survive long enough to have a better life. Unfortunately the children don’t understand that. All they know is that yesterday they were home with mommy, and now they are in a strange building with strange people and mommy isn’t coming back. How would your preschooler react in that situation? Our babies reacted the same way: crying, screaming, clinging on for dear life. I wish I could erase those memories and heal that hurt, but I can’t.
Making the best of things. We heard about how Will would get out of bed at night and start dancing to make his friends laugh (totally sounds like him, by the way), and then the nannies would get on to them. We also heard about haircuts, games of tag, and the pandemonium that a little mouse can cause (imagine boys chasing the mouse while the girls scream their heads off!). For the most part, the orphanage was a happy place. The nannies love those children fiercely and although it’s not the same as a family, they do the best they can to make it a home.
Grief shared by close friends. The children were able to laugh and play during the day, but when nighttime came, sometimes the weight of grief was too much to bear. It was at those times that William and his friend would climb in the same bed and cry together. I can’t even type that without tearing up. There is only so much that this momma’s heart can take. I’m thankful that he had friends to walk through that time with. I’m grateful to the older children who helped care for the younger ones, both physically and emotionally.
These kids have been through things that would make a grown man crumble, and yet they are willing to love, trust, and start over.
Just this afternoon William was talking about Ethiopia which, as I said, is rare.
He was talking about the day we came to get him (in the cutest accent you have EVER heard).
“I was far away in Ethiopia, and Mommy and Daddy drive car (vroom, vroom noises), and the car go ‘beep! beep!’ and the thing go bzzzzzzz (we honked the horn for the guard to open the gate). And they say ‘watch out’ and we move and the car come in. And you get out and…..”
(Huge grin and twinkling eyes)
“…You hold me!”
Yes, baby, we sure did. And we will never let you go.
Tiffany lives near Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her high-school-sweetheart husband and five fantastic kids, four by birth and one from Ethiopia. Her passions include Bible study, adoption, writing, and homeschooling. When she isn’t doing laundry or driving to her children’s activities, you can find her blogging at Stuff and Things.
This special season of adjustment for our family, a birthday was kind of a big deal to get through. For Keturah, it probably held some special challenges, but nothing that she didn’t make it through with grace. She’s adjusted to the big sister role beautifully.
It’s the mama in this equation that’s struggling.
Patrick’s presence at Urbana undoubtedly added to how difficult the day was for me in degree, but I somehow think that what I found hard would have been hard had he been here too.
“Hard?” you ask, “how was celebrating Keturah’s birthday hard, exactly?”
Now before I go on to tell you exactly what I mean by hard, let me first state that I share this side of my story not only to acknowledge the less-than-picture-perfect moments of our lives, but more specifically to share some of those moments of our lives post-adoption. I’ve been honest about adoption issues here before. It’s not easy.
I also desire to make perfectly clear that most of the ‘issues’ I speak of lie with me and not Marilla. She’s got her own issues, to be sure, but what I’m writing about today concerns my personal response to the reality of parenting an adopted toddler at this stage in the game.
Please do not mistake my self-disclosure as anti-adoption sentiment. It’s not. I’m being honest too, when I say that I love Marilla, and would absolutely adopt her all over again.
Okay, now to spell it out. Celebrating Keturah’s birthday was:
H. AR. D.
H — Harried, but Holding it together.
I started off the day just feeling pulled in too many directions.
My desire was to celebrate Keturah’s birthday by making her the center of attention. To date in our family life, it has proven to be a reasonable expectation that the birthday girl or boy gets mom and dad’s attention, and is generally given preferential treatment. Because that is our custom, the non-birthday child has enjoyed taking part in this celebration, knowing that his or her day is coming.
Marilla, being new to our family, and over the last four months being the primary recipient of most preferential treatment, has no concept of what it means to celebrate a sibling. Why didn’t she get to blow out the candles? She doesn’t know that she’s got a day of her own marked on a different month of the calendar, and doesn’t realize that there is no injustice, and no threat to her position in preferring jiejie for a day.
Marilla needed explanation and guidance through every element of Keturah’s party. This kind of teaching opportunity I would have been glad to seize during another friend’s birthday celebration—staying close by, whispering instructions and affirmations into her ear as we navigated new territory together—but on Keturah’s birthday, Marilla’s needs just served to make me feel pulled in the wrong direction . . . away from my birthday girl.
I ended up with Marilla on my hip or at my side for the majority of the morning (while administrating party games, and barking all kinds of orders at my poor sister), when I would have preferred to draw Keturah in under my arm. The presence of other moms and my sister’s help (she cleaned up at least one accident while I got a wet little girl to the potty), allowed things to go as smoothly as they could given my own internal tug-of-war, and I managed to keep these growing emotions under control for the morning.
By Marilla’s naptime, though, as my sister manned the older two over lunch, I continued to struggle.
AR — Angry & Resentful.
With the party behind us, I thought that I’d be able to have some quiet moments with Keturah—maybe talking about her party, maybe playing with a few of her presents. An over-tired Marilla required a nap time bottle from me, while my sister manned lunch and party-clean-up for the older two.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did not do well with Marilla’s nap time needs. I felt she’d robbed me of special time with Keturah, and I took it out on her. I was impatient as she took her bottle. When she had trouble settling (and remember, she’d spent the morning being overstimulated) I just felt angry. I demanded that she “relax” and “stop moving around,” and “go to sleep”. I resented her presence and her needs because they seemed maliciously in direct opposition to my own desires.
I did eventually get to leave a sleeping Marilla’s side, but I must have carried that anger and resentment along with me. It only escalated when a premature wake up dictated that I excuse myself from listening to Keturah’s pretend play with her stuffed animals in her kitty-cat box to tend to Marilla.
D — Desperate.
I don’t like to admit to anger or resentment. Or desperation. But I’m glad that the range of intense emotions that I felt on that afternoon lead me to that place of admitting that it was so hard that it hurt, and that I just couldn’t hold it together on my own.
As I rocked an unhappy and over-tired two-year-old in my arms and desperately prayed aloud over her, she finally settled again. At the end of all of my own resources, I crawled to the opposite side of our bed, and just cried my heart out to heaven. No words. Just tears.
It’s uncomfortable to be desperate. And I loathe the process of getting there. I hate that I don’t learn enough from these cycles: holding-it-together –> anger & resentment. I want to be living there in that final place of desperation that’s so inevitable at this particularly challenging stage of life.
It’s in the desperate moments that I realize how high and unreasonable my own expectations are, and how it’s not my job to meet every need of each my children all of the time—however much I’d like to.
So, yes, Keturah’s birthday was really, really hard. That’s the rest of the story. The honest truth.
Funny how that stuff doesn’t end up in the birthday pictures, somehow, but I would hate to forget it.
Kim met and married her husband Patrick while living and working in Asia in 2004. Their first two children, a son and a daughter, both born in Beijing, came along shortly after. Their adopted daughter, Marilla, was born in Henan province in 2010, then joined their family through the China adoption program as a two-year-old this past fall. You can catch snippets of the Smiths’ day-to-day lives at home in China, on their family blog, Asiaramblin.
Children from hard places who have experienced trauma
(and I would argue that losing your birth family is always traumatic)
are going to have attachment issues.
Their trust has been broken
by the very people who were
supposed to be the most trustworthy.
Your words mean nothing to them. They have no reason to trust what you say and they have every reason to doubt. They have been hurt, they have had to learn to protect themselves, they lack the ability to empathize, and they are scared to death, they are master manipulators and they want to be in control.
WARNING: Their behavior is going to reflect this.
And it is going to make you feel crazy.
And parenting them is hard CRAZY HARD.
Even if you fell in love with their referral pictures, chances are that once you enter this crazy hard world of loving a child with attachment issues, you are not going to FEEL like you love them. No, it does not FEEL the same as parenting a healthy attached child. Not the PC thing to say, but true. It’s hard to feel love for a child who tries to sabotage you at every turn.
But, you see, you DO love them:
You love them by doing the loving thing over and over and over.
You love them by parenting them in the way they need to be parented with high nurture and high structure (despite how you parented your other kids or how your church friends parent).
You love them by holding them when they are raging and telling them that you aren’t going anywhere.
You love them by praying for them and fighting the spiritual battle on their behalf.
You love them by not being easily offended.
You love them by not being easily manipulated.
You love them by not giving up, by not confirming their suspicions that you are just like all of the others who abandoned them and broke their trust.
You love them by laying down your life, picking up your cross, and dying to yourself
Yes, you love them. . . and by the grace of God, someday, yes someday, you will wake up and realize that they believe you and they trust you and both of you FEEL, truly feel that phileo (friendship) love that you have both been longing for.
Dear “trauma mama” if you are in the trenches today, lovingly parenting through the crazy-hard, please do not lose heart! Do not give up or be easily discouraged. Fight the battle by dying. Just for today, lay down your life and choose love.
Blessed beyond measure to be a child of God, wife of Disco Man, mother of ten awesome children (9 adopted from “hard places”), and friend of many. Messed up in most ways and so thankful for His saving grace in my life. Trying to be thankful for His refining fire as well. Desiring to live fully, every day, for His glory alone. You can follow their life at Grace and Glory.
With both biological and adopted children, the path to secure attachment is more like a cross-country road trip than a direct flight. Adoption and birth videos give us a glimpse of an incredible bonding moment, but not the behind-the-scenes, sometimes gritty work of attachment. This kind of work takes both time and effort. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. (This NIH article gives a fantastic summary of attachment research and theory.)
Children adopted from an orphanage setting often (always?) come to us hurting. We may have to work differently, more intentionally, with children whose earliest experiences in life have taught them that adults are neither trustworthy nor reliable. But the results are so worth it.
We have witnessed so much healing in our girl’s heart as she has moved from a state of insecure/avoidant attachment to secure attachment. For a long time, she preferred any warm-blooded woman to me. Now she’s my sidekick, pretty much (literally) always by my side.
There are times when I sneak away for a little alone time only to hear the pitter patter of her feet trailing behind me. She’ll ask to just sit by me as I read. And even though I was craving some time to myself, I do a mental fist pump, with a thankful heart that we’ve grown so close.
My prayer for Evie has always been that she would have shalom in her heart. Shalom is a Hebrew word that we often translate as “peace” but it means so much more. It also means wholeness, completeness, well-being. I’ve prayed that I would be attuned to her needs – the specific ways her heart needs healing. There was no magical cure. Healing came slowly, through hugs and kisses, games and books, morning juices and clinking glasses with an exuberant cheers! It came from loving when rejected, setting boundaries, and lots and lots of grace – for both of us.
Like any road trip, some moments are exciting and others are boring or frustrating. There
are times when you worry you’ve lost your way. (Oh yes there were many of those!) But right now, I feel like we’ve made it to the top of the mountain… and the views are spectacular.
My heart overflows with gratitude for the healing that has come to our girl, for the love she so freely gives me, and the gift of parenting our Ethiopian beauty, Tarikua Evangeline.
Dan and Rachel live in San Antonio, TX and have grown their family through birth and adoption (Ethiopia). Dan grew up in Liberia, West Africa where part of his heart still resides. Rachel is a doula and lactation counselor and is originally from northern WI. As transplants to South Central Texas, they appreciate the big skies and mild winters; the summers, however, are another story.
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