Let me tell you the honest truth. Adoption can be hard. Adopting a child who has been repeatedly hurt is hard. There is hope for these children, but it is not instantaneous. You can't bring a child who has experienced trauma into your home and expect after a few months that this child will be grateful and love you as your biological children do. We are talking years here. Years of learning to trust and to love. Years of learning to parent a child whose brain has been significantly altered by the deficits of the past. Years of three steps forward, two steps back progress. Years of slowly working to erase bad habits and replace them with good ones.... habits that make you think a nail through the head would be pleasant in comparison.
Can you tell it's been a difficult set of days around here? We still battle occasional rages. We still battle behavior which can send us over the edge. We still have a child who was so hurt that he is afraid of letting himself love again. Did you know you can smell fear? It is not just a turn of phrase. I can tell you exactly what it smells like. It is sour and unpleasant. (It is the smell that K. had about him for the first year of his life. I now know, looking back, he was terrified that first year even though he didn't show it.) It is not pleasant to be around. I know we are all about to plummet over the edge of the abyss because I can smell the fear emitting from my child. He has been home nearly 6 years. Healing doesn't happen in an instant. Sometimes we are so discouraged the only thing we can do is cling to Jesus. Other times we rejoice because we see something positive that we've never seen before. It is slow going and and the going can be difficult. Parenting this child is the most terrifying, difficult, faith building, frustrating, and satisfying thing I have ever done... all at the same time.
So forgive me if I can't drum up a lot of sympathy for people looking to 're-home' their children with comments of "I didn't think it would be this way" or "I just never bonded with him" or "It's been a whole year and he just doesn't fit in our family". Cue violins.
Here is what every person who thinks they wants to adopt should know.
- It is not easy. It might be, but don't expect it to be. These children have been hurt by the very people that were supposed to take care of them. They have learned to survive in ways that are not compatible with pleasant family life. They have lost so much that we can't even imagine the extent. Some of these things can be made up, others can never be replaced and ways have to be found to cope. Do not assume that this child will be just like your biological children. That might not be possible.
- Be the grown-up. This child did not ask for you to rescue them. This is something you are doing to (and for) the child. You brought them here; you turned their life upside-down. They didn't even have a choice in choosing you as their new parents. Do not expect them to agree to fit into all your plans and dreams. That was an imaginary child that existed in your own head, not a flesh-and-blood real child with a distinct personality. You will need to learn to love this child, this real child, long before this child can see something in you to love.
- Have a long view. Healing takes a long time. Years. You cannot come home with a child and after a few months expect things to go back to normal. That normal you had before can never be again. Get over it. Go ahead and grieve for the life you were expecting to live, but then work on embracing the life you have. It might well turn out to be better than the original dream... but only if you let it.
- It's not about you. It's not about your dreams or what you thought it would be like or how you thought the child would be. It is about showing love to a child and making them your own. WHETHER OR NOT THE CHILD IS ON BOARD WITH THIS. You love the child because that is what you are called to do. (I say this because sometimes Christians are some of the worst offenders of the "it's not what I expected" syndrome.) You love the child because you agreed to be their parent. You love the child even if they are not loving you back. I'll tell you, you can't do this on your own. Only God can give you that kind of love, but you have to be open to allowing Him to work through you. And because it's not about you, don't fall into the trap of thinking the child is doing things just to make your life miserable or make you angry. Most children want to please the adults around them. But children who are hurt, don't function like most children. They function on the level of instinct and survival. It's not about you, but about how this child has learned to function to survive. It's not about you.
I do not parent my child perfectly. It is still difficult sometimes. God is gracious and we see progress. I study and learn to continue to help my child heal. I have discovered God's love in palpable ways. No, it is not easy. No, it is not what I thought it would be. No, I do not always feel able. But God knows and God is able.
Go into adoption with eyes wide open. Talk to other adoptive parents and ask for the unfiltered version of life. Make no assumptions. And remember it's not about you.