I realize I have never written about this before, but it has been on my mind recently. Actually, it's always on my mind, but just not in a very coherent way. Adoption has been a part of our family's life for 6 years now. M. was 13 when TM came home, B. was 11, A. was 8, P. was 5, and D. was 3. For many of them, this has been their reality for a good chunk of their lives. And there are times when I wonder how my children are different because of it. Because, frankly, life isn't always easy. There are some days we have bigger issues than just your average annoying little brother or sister moments. There have been moments where I have felt I wasn't raising my children in a home, but a war zone. And I worried a bit that I was creating trauma in some children while helping to heal trauma in another.
These days I'm feeling a bit better about the whole thing. I would like to say it's because our lives are pretty peaceful compared to those early days, but this would be an outright lie. In some ways, things are immeasurably better, but in others it all feels pretty much the same. What I can say has changed has been my reaction to it all (mostly... I still have my not-so-stellar moments as well).
Much of this change in myself has come about from two different sources. The first is education. Parenting a child with a difficult past is just very different from parenting a healthy child. Parenting healthy children is intuitive to me, parenting hard children is not. In fact, it is very counter-intuitive. It has taken a lot of trial and error and reading and listening to others to help me change how I react to certain children. Being able to do this has helped to create a much more peaceful home because while we still deal with trauma's after-effects, I am not pushing my child into corners and thereby forcing some of the chaos.
The other thing I try to remember is to not forget to focus on my other children. It doesn't matter how many children are in your home, one child with a hard background can (and will) command every ounce of your attention and energy if allowed. Because they are miserable on the inside, they will try their darndest to make everyone else miserable as well. Sabotage is an effective weapon. At one point Lisa Qualls at One Thankful Mom wrote about needing to comfort her injured children first instead of immediately confronting the perpetrator. This was a wake-up call for me. I realized that I had allowed my needy child to siphon off all my attention (even if most of it was negative) leaving me with little energy left for all my other children.
Now, I focus on not giving more attention to a situation than it truly deserves and I end up ignoring a lot. Ignoring behavior that in another of my children would be unthinkable. But I have found that when I thought I was being a corrective force (as I would be with a healthy child), instead I was just confirming what that hurt child already knew to be true... that he was not really any good. I do have to explain to my other children that I parent them each very differently, based on what they each need. That while it all seems terribly unfair on the surface, what would be truly unfair would be for me to treat them all exactly the same regardless of what they each needed. This ignoring also means I make an effort to be pleasant and enjoy the moments with my other children even if we have unhappiness (in whatever form) in the background. For the sake of the rest of my children, I cannot let one child hold the rest of us emotionally hostage. That is not good for anyone, and it is not good for the hurt child to feel he has that much power. I wish I could say I was 100% successful at this, but it is something I am continually working on. I don't want my other children to wish they had the mother they had before we started adopting.
The other thing that has helped me to let go of the worry of having hurt my children is that in reality, the opposite seems to have come true. I have watched my children grow into very compassionate and patient people, even with people who may seem difficult on the surface. We have always been up front with all of our children about the losses and hurts their adopted brothers and sister have experienced. And we have tried to educate them as we have become educated about how these hurts can manifest themselves and what we can do to help them. At the very beginning, during the height of the raging, I purposefully always let it happen in the open areas of the house. I figured it would be far worse for my children to imagine what was going on than to see what was happening. We have urged them to pray for their brother when upset and supported them as they processed things. We have been vigilant to not make one child the scapegoat for anything bad that happened in the family and worked to encourage positive sibling interactions.
I know we have not done things perfectly, nor are we done with the process, but I have had enough people comment on my older children this summer to give me hope. All the comments have had to do with my children's ability to work with difficult people, with their patience and caring, with their maturity. Boy, I wish I could take credit for this, but I think the only credit I can take is that I put them in a situation where they learned caring and compassion in the crucible of the refiner's fire.
I have always loved Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'" (NIV) But, rarely do I see it put into its context. This is God's promise to the people who will be in exile. It is given to Israel as a promise which we be fulfilled AFTER Israel completes the 70 years in exile. The exile comes first. God doesn't just give us the good stuff, it usually comes after we've been through the tough stuff. Without the tough stuff, we might fall into the mistaken assumption that we had something to do with the good. The tough stuff brings us closer to God, because He is the only way we will get through it. I continually remind myself that the best is yet to come.