This post has been simmering in my heart for a few days, so I thought I’d take a little time to write about the hard parts of the journey related to adopting an older child. I think it's hard for someone, who's never walked in these shoes, to really get how hard it can be... We go to church, to school, to work, to a friends and we look pretty well put together, so I think sometimes it looks easier than it really is. But it’s a hard thing to balance…
Easy is NEVER a word I would use to describe this journey, but full of blessings, absolutely. So even though the journey is hard, it is an incredibly joyful journey also. I think sometimes it’s just hard to balance the idea of joy in the face of difficulties, so it comes off looking ‘easy.’
Now, my desire is NOT in any way to discourage anyone considering adoption, or those of you about to travel, but it is my desire to create a realistic expectation, and maybe even to give an honest inside perspective to anyone who has never adopted… So, please don’t be discouraged… The joy is unimaginable, the rewards greater than I could have ever imagined, but the journey is hard…it’s just so worth it!
And by the way, if any of you have adopted and want to add something to what I say, just leave it in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up post and consolidate them all into one post.
First, it is so hard not to take things personally. You dream about your child for so long and like any mom, you just want to take them in your arms and start to love them. Realistically, you know in your head that your child hasn’t been longing for you, so while you’re mentally prepared for it to take time, your heart isn’t always so quick to catch on. Rejection hurts…parent shopping hurts…you have to fight hard with yourself to keep your own emotions, and even your pride, out of it.
That brings me to the second thing… Adoption is even more about dying to self than biological children. There’s no room for selfishness with these precious children, these children have been victims of an incredibly selfish and heartless world, so they need someone who will lay down their lives for them. This has been one of the hardest parts for me, but when I see the light in her eyes and the smile on her face when I set aside something I’m doing to color with her, you really get it…they desperately need you to choose them over anything else.
In the beginning, moms, you will need to do everything for them, putting yourself at their beck and call. I had to tell our older children, who could have been a great help to me, “Don’t do anything for her, send her to me for EVERYTHING, even a drink of water.” You will feel like you’re being manipulated, controlled, you’ll get frustrated, BUT remember you’re not being any of those things I mentioned, you’re just being asked to love a child and meet their every need, like has never been done before. And hang in there (remember my point before this one, death to self)…this does wonders for the attachment process.
And let me just say this, having biological children does not prepare you to adopt an older child. Throw out everything you think you know and just be a clean slate. Things that you did with your biological children can be harmful to your adopted child (hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t have done those things with them either, a little more grace never hurt anyone). But your biological children came out of the womb knowing they were loved and wanted, your adopted older child has been abandoned by the very person she trusted, maybe she’s been neglected, gone hungry, been cold and felt unwanted and unloved (and that’s just the beginning)…you have to be so careful not to reinforce those feelings or experiences in anyway. It is such a fragile process and sometimes the fragility of it can be stressful and emotionally draining.
That brings me to the next thing…this process is emotionally draining. Expect it…prepare for it…and then don’t be surprised when it’s even more than what you thought. There have been many days when I was at the end of myself, convinced that I had not one ounce of anything left to give. But I’ve learned something in all of this, that’s where Jesus wants us all the time…at the end of ourselves, completely dependent on Him.
Go into this expecting for it to take a minimum of 6 months, and for many much longer, for your child, and yourself, to really begin to settle in. As we drove to church, for the first time in a long time, I felt like the sun was coming out… There are still so many behaviors that I’m watching, being so careful not to put her in situations that she’s not ready for, but many things are really turning around too. Last night, when she got out of the tub, I was waiting with her towel to dry her off and for the first time ever she snuggled in to me and let me cuddle her in the towel for a few minutes. It’s been almost 5 months and that’s the first time she’s really let me cuddle her. That’s a really long, hard time for a mom’s cuddle instinct to be denied!
And remember this, grief is not convenient…it doesn’t have a schedule. Your child will grieve at the most inopportune times, at least according to our schedules… Put down what you’re doing and comfort them. Don’t assume misbehavior…look behind the misbehavior to the heart! I can’t tell you how many times a thrown book, a stubborn ‘no’, a defiant attitude has led to tears and those tears have paved the way for stronger attachment!
Here’s one that might be shocking, not everyone is willing to admit this one… God gives you a special love for your children while you wait, His heart for the fatherless; but, then there’s the process of growing love also. Let’s get real about this for a minute, when you adopt older, you are bringing a child into your home, a little person, that already has a personality, a set of behaviors, years of a culture behind them that has shaped their attitudes, a lot of emotional burdens that affect their behaviors, and the language barrier compounds it all. To expect yourself to be head over heels in love with them from the start is just not realistic. You have to give yourself time to get to know them…you have to allow time for the healing process to begin so that their real personality, unburdened by so many emotional pains, really begins to emerge…you have to give yourself time to fall in love and like with them. For a while, you will feel like you are living with a stranger…it’s because you are!
You WILL find yourself in situations where you don’t have the first clue what to do next. Pray…try to understand where their coming from and then love them with grace and patience and kindness.
Give yourself lots of grace… You will mess up, there will be things that you don’t think of and you’re caught completely unprepared for, there will be times when you just don’t have the words to comfort them and more than once, or twice or 10 times, or even a hundred times, your heart will break for all that they’ve been through. Cry with them…step into their pain, their anger, their rejection and tell them over and over how you love them forever.
Well, this post is getting too long… I think those are the big things for now… Like I said, if you want to add anything from your experiences, please feel free to do so in the comments and I’ll do a follow up post with your thoughts. I’ll ask Scott for his thoughts also and include them in the follow-up.
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