I've been doing a whole lot of soul searching these last few months. I know first hand that adoption can be hard. Do I still support it? Do I still encourage others to bring hurting children into their homes? Is it right? Is it good? How do I make sense of all the tough stuff we've been though? Is God there when we are finding life incredibly hard? See what I mean? Lots and lots of questions.
But back to the original question of what do prospective adoptive parents need to know? There so much that is of value to know before jumping into this crazy venture... the effects of trauma on a child, the different way a child can grieve, that time for adjustment is measured in years and not days or even months, that your new normal will look very different from your old one and that different isn't necessarily bad. So much.
But you know I like to share about the things that few people talk about... and there are quite a few things that qualify as great big elephants in the adoption room. I think all of these things can be summed up in that adoptive parents need to prepare to be humbled. If I could say God is doing one single thing in my life it is that He has been humbling me, over and over and over again. For someone who likes to be right, who likes to feel self-sufficient, who likes to feel in control, this is an incredibly painful process.
It's not enough, though, just to say that adoptive parenting is humbling without sharing some of the ways it is. So here's my short list of things that I have discovered along our adoption path.
- I thought I knew how to parent well. Just because I have successfully raised healthy biological children, does not mean that I had any clue at all about how to raise and help heal an extremely hurt child. And make no mistake, the severing of biological bonds always has the capacity for extreme hurt. That doesn't mean it absolutely will, but the potential is there. I really thought that I had it all figured out. I had five very well behaved, polite children. I must know a thing or two about parenting. This new child couldn't be all that different. Maybe he would have a few more tears or even a meltdown or two, but I'd parented children, I could handle some screaming. Yeah. Right. I had no idea. I knew nothing. I think back to all those times I would mentally tsk, tsk another parent inside my head and I now cringe. I have no idea what daily life looks like for that parent I was mentally taking to task. Because you see, I'm no longer the 'good parent'. My formula has stopped working and I have to admit that there is an awful lot I just don't know. It is difficult enough to admit you don't know what you're doing, but even more so to admit that you once acted as though you did. Humbling.
- I thought I was a really loving parent, and I was to those five well-behaved biological children. When faced with a raging child who is actively and openly hating you and would like nothing more than for you to disappear, and you deal with this over a long period of time, you learn something about yourself. You learn there are dark, dark depths down inside that you perhaps didn't know even existed. While you never harmed your child, you see the very scary place inside that suddenly understands the potential. And you run, run, run somewhere, anywhere, because you are so horrified by the brief thought that flitted through your head. You realize that pushed far enough, just about anyone harbors within themselves the potential for abuse. It doesn't excuse the behavior, it is still terribly and horribly wrong. But you realize that no one is ever really safe from the potential. We all harbor a monster inside of us, some people just don't know it. Humbling.
- I thought I had the adoption-thing all figured out. Our first adoption was hard. Really hard and still is sometimes. We have been working through it, changing our parenting style in the meantime, and the majority of our days are peaceful. I have learned to love this child as much as I love my biological children. Our second adoption brought other unknowns. Delays and questions about development that we didn't know the answer to. And it brought a surprise for me. I learned that I don't attach quickly and that it takes a while... even if the child is cute and loving and easy. I have learned so much over the past 6 years that I thought I was set with this new game plan. I had it figured out again, just differently this time. But really, it was time to be humbled again. I realize that I'm pretty short of compassion, and have more than enough irritation and unrealistic expectations. Adopting an older child is a whole different thing, and in talking with other parents in the same boat, what we are experiencing is actually more common than I realized. Parenting a child who is chronologically older yet emotionally is extremely young is hard. Intellectually, I know these children need to work through each stage, regardless of what age they are. But, what is cute in an 18 month old, can be irritating in a 9 year old. It is a constant battle to remind myself that all the small annoying behaviors are not solely to irritate me. Our emotions are not always under our control and though we can know with our brains that behavior is understandable, our visceral reactions pay no attention. This time around I have a constant battle to act as I should regardless of how I'm feeling inside. It is still a struggle and there is a huge element of shame involved because it is not how mothers are supposed to feel for their children. It is not a really nice feeling to realize one is so emotionally shallow. Humbling.
How does all this relate to my soul searching questions of the past few months? Well, Isaiah comes through again. (You'll remember that in the girls' Bible study I lead has been we have been slowly working our way through Isaiah. We've been at it for two years and we have four chapters left.) There are some pretty clear themes throughout the whole book and one of them is that God hates pride. If we have pride, then we have not aligned ourselves with God correctly. It is only God who saves; our feeble efforts can do nothing. And not only can we do nothing, we set up idols in place of God who can do nothing, either. But God loves His people and He is constantly acting on our behalf to show us our failings so that He can come in and redeem us. If we can't figure out where our pride and idols lie, then God will show us.
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." Heb. 12:5b-6 (ESV)
Just because things do not go easily or everything seems wrong does not make a decision bad or wrong. There can be so much more going on. God has it all under control and can use everything to His glory. He desires to make us into something greater than we were, but it is not an easy or painless process. And how can I question the validity of adoption when God Himself says He has adopted us? We humans, who all come from hard places, who are damaged, hurt, and afraid. Who rage against the God who loves us and calls Himself our father. Who hurt the things and people we care about most in our fear and anger. It is human adoption that gives us the clearest picture of what God's adoption of us costs. We adoptive parents do it very, very imperfectly. We are only a pale shadow of God's divine adoption.
So yes, God wants the lonely set in families, and He knows perfectly well the cost involved. He desires his people to be humble and to acknowledge Him as the source of all good. He often uses adoption to those means. It will all be redeemed. And He is with us through it. But it will require a humbleness to let go of our idols of how life should work.
Adoption requires nothing less than a willingness to let go of everything you thought you knew and allow God total control. It means that you will have to admit you're wrong, that you don't know a whole lot, to ask for help, and acknowledge your imperfections. It requires a whole lot of humbleness.