Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reality

It's been four years since Barry and I brought Julia home and fifteen months since Amie and I came home with JT. The other day we realized that we're right on the cusp of saying that life is starting to feel a little more normal/smooth/relaxed.

Why am I sharing this thought? Well, in the spirit of full disclosure these are the realities of adoption. We often post about the accomplishments and the tender moments that warm our hearts. We don't neglect to show the struggles out of dishonesty or hypocrisy. We just hold the "real" close to our hearts, sometimes out of respect for the children who are trying so hard to escape the demons of their past, and sometimes out of shame because we lie awake at night regretting harsh words, worrying about each child's adjustment to this new dynamic, and second-guessing the way we handled things that day. But there is a time when it's important to share the reality so that those who come behind us are not disillusioned or blindsided once they bring their children home. 


 When you add a four and a six year old to a family, there are a lot of variables to consider. The behaviors that served a child well in an orphanage/foster care setting (lying, manipulation, helplessness) really don't work well in family life. It takes much time and patience to build character and a sense of secure belonging in a child, and equal amounts of time to knit a family together.


 Older siblings have a huge adjustment when their parents' time and energy gets divided to include other children who more than likely take a bigger portion than seems fair. Parental guilt runs HIGH. There were many mornings this school year that tears streamed down my face as I dropped my oldest off at high school knowing how few drop-offs I had left, and grieving the one that was sabotaged by a younger sibling's emotional outbursts and difficulties. Those times are hard! But God is molding and shaping our older children and forcing them to live outside of themselves, even if it is uncomfortable and frustrating at times. We've watched our older two go through various stages as they acclimate to life with each new sibling- initial acceptance/novelty, irritation, bitterness, seclusion, gradual inclusion, intentional seeking out, genuine acceptance, and true sibling bond. It takes time! As much as I would have loved for them to be instant siblings as if they were biologically related, that's not how it has been for our family.




Our son recently got braces. We were told that the normal time frame to keep them on was anywhere from 18 months to 3 years. In our case, we were probably looking at 2 1/2 years. That sounds like a long time, especially to a boy who is already missing being able to chew gum and eat popcorn! But the work of straightening teeth is not a fast work. It happens gradually over time. As slight pressure is applied to the teeth, they move into the positions that the orthodontist intends for them to take. About the time they've moved a bit and are starting to feel comfortable, it is time for more adjustments and discomfort. At the end of the process, the result is a new look and a beautiful smile.


Adoption is similar to this. A family adds a new child, and while the look is immediately different, over time the shape of the family begins to change ever so slightly. There are times of pressure and pain and times when things seem surprisingly normal. Gradually, the initial bonding turns into secure attachment, and one day you realize that the child that was grafted in has changed the shape of your family. Normal takes on a whole new appearance. This beautiful new look didn't happen overnight but changed over time.
 

"Virtual twinning" like we did (adding a six year old when we already had a six year old) makes for some mighty cute pictures, but the "what about me's?" and "me too's!" can be overwhelming as you navigate making one child feel like he's a part of things while making sure the other doesn't feel replaced. Parenting two children coming from two different backgrounds with several years of either abuse and neglect or indulgence and favor can make your head spin. Realizing that these two did not have the benefits of character development from the time they were babies and adjusting our expectations of them has been key. How can we expect them to have a conscience or a sense of right and wrong when it's never been ingrained in them? God's mercy is new every morning! We cling to this promise as we adjust our parenting style from expectation to gentle instruction. Over time, these children are feeling safe enough to tell the truth the first time (or maybe the second or third). They're feeling secure enough to put the needs of others before their own with the knowledge that their needs will be met, too. They're learning what it really means to be part of a family.


Raising a bio child is like building a bridge out of popsicle sticks, taking one stick at a time and securing it to another with glue until you build a work of art.  When you adopt a 4 or 6 year old, rather than starting one stick at a time, you start with a pile of sticks loosely formed into a bridge, and the goal is to hold it together while you go back and glue each piece, making adjustments without completely destroying the framework of what is inherently there, to form an equally beautiful work of art.  A daunting task, but a worthy challenge.


Creating a family through adoption takes time- not just the time of the lengthy process to bring them home, but the time required to knit hearts together in a sense of family. Our family is still a major work in progress! To those who might be in some stage of the adoption process, please know that the first six months (or maybe longer) could be just survival and acclimation. It might be love at first sight and it might not. We had about a year-long honeymoon period with Julia, and then the hard stuff came along. With JT, it's been a different roller coaster from the beginning. The bottom line, and why I feel compelled to share, is this- adoption comes from brokenness. We live in a broken world. There is a lot of HARD involved. There's also a lot of WONDERFUL and AMAZING! You can't go into it with too many expectations. Everyone's story is different. God's grace is sufficient.


Adoption is like taking random puzzle pieces and trying to fit them into the empty spots in your own completely different puzzle. Sometimes it's a perfect fit, but those pieces still change the look of the overall picture. Sometimes it's not a great fit no matter how much you cram. Those are the times when God has to restructure the puzzle in order for the new pieces to fit as if they've always belonged there. (Ouch!)  Either way, at the end of the day, the puzzle does not look like the one on the front of the box. Sometimes you think about that original picture, and the image might fill you with a twinge of nostalgia. But then you realize the uniqueness of the new picture, and the old one seems to be missing something. What seemed to be a forced merging of two different puzzles has actually created an amazing work of art through the handiwork of God.


Would we change a thing? Absolutely not!




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