Avoiding the New Adoptive Parent Burn-Out
All Adoption Stories
Foster to Adopt in Ethiopia
I've always felt the need to be honest and forthright about our adoptions. But there are times I feel like I walk a line between encouraging others to adopt, and downright scaring them away from adoption.
Today I want to be absolutely transparent about how I feel, but preface this post with the knowledge that I would absolutely do this all over again. So I want to be honest without fear, because I believe that wisdom is only found in truth. Because the very last thing I want, is anyone to walk into an adoption thinking it's cupcakes and rainbows.
I want everyone to understand that adoption comes at a great cost and is absolutely born from loss. It must be said that when you adopt a child, they are not necessarily grateful, happy, or even cognizant of your intentions. They will fight you and hurt you in an attempt to preserve every security they have ever known.
How can an orphan understand family or love when it's never been experienced? You are not their savior, rescuer, or even their family until time has passed and you have not quit. God can restore, you cannot. And that is where I have to rest each moment. Because I am thick-headed and want to fix the broken, even when I'm not capable.
There are definitely days I'm not okay. You can ask me, and I'll smile and use humor or self-deprecation to deflect, but really things are hard. When I say things are great, sometimes I'm lying. When I look you in the eye and say he's wonderful, I'm lying. I do this because I think you don't need me to unleash the sadness and fatigue. I don't think you want to hear about the grief he bears or the physical scars he carries. He has been home 3 months and I'm parenting in the weeds. I have no map, no compass and basically no idea from day to day what I'm doing.
In some ways I can see the humor. I am absolutely drowning in poop as we try and manage bowels that don't work, and then manage the blowouts from days the bowels work too well. I can laugh at the complete idiot I make of myself as I try and learn all the new terms and needs that come with his complex medical needs. You'll find it humorous to know that there are times I completely forget that he has no feeling from the waist down. I will be carrying him and I'll be transferring him to the floor. In my mind he is going to stand, so I don't have far to descend to put him down. This of course is not the reality. Picture me as I realize I still have several feet to go and I'm off kilter and the whole thing is an ungraceful. plummet to the floor. So I hold onto this humor to deflect from the post-adoption avalanche of fears. I laugh through tears as I worry about the child I've brought home who calculates every move and smile. I live with a 4 year old who assesses and dissects every social situation to maneuver favor. I sit with a child and I'm trying to plant the seeds of hope and love in soil that is dry and barren. And I sometimes cry in the shower because I'm scared to death they'll never take root and I'm tired.
After the adoption homecoming, I find I'm grieving the old normal, the life where I knew what I was doing. I look around and I'm maybe a little lonely and afraid. And my thoughts say "Stacey, you asked for this." I know I asked for this, but it doesn't make it easy. I am wading through the weeds and hoping that we are enough. So scared that love cannot always fix broken. We are his forever family and this will never change, but here my faith is tested.
I know that my God is the Father to the Fatherless and he specializes in healing the broken. I have to believe in the unseen and unknown. Me, the biggest control freak, overachiever is holding onto his promises because I'm drowning. I thought the process of bringing him home was where my faith would be most tested. However, I know now that it did not end when we were completely funded to adopt him, or when we walked out of the orphanage, or when we stepped off the plane. Nope, now that the plane has landed and the crowds have left, and the daily minutiae sets in, now is when I must deal in my own brokenness and fears. It is now, that I am left to look at myself and see over the years how little I have needed God. I'm such a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" and "get stuff done", that most times, I just handle the hard stuff. I have lived a comfortable life and there's the rub. When we don't need God, we tend to drift. We tend to fill the empty with more empty.
I've learned this last week that being present for our son is not enough. You know how so much of parenting is being present for your kids? You show up at their events, you are there to remind them of homework, you tuck them at night and spend quality time. All the moments in a day that you show up to be their parent is what helps our children feel loved and secure.
With our son this is not enough. I cannot just show up for him. I must force him to be present. I must make him be present with me or he is just an orphan that is living in another place. When he's uncomfortable, he incessantly demands headphones and music. He carries his spoon like Gollum and the precious in Lord of the Rings. If I engage him on the surface level, he will carry a smile and be compliant. However, the moment we demand he be present and engaged, is when he struggles. The little seed of hope and love we have so carefully planted scares him. How can he dare to hope that we would find favor with him? That for the first time in his life he is wanted and there is no performance needed. He can rage and scream at us, he can ignore us, he can wish for the security of his old life, but no matter we will never leave.
As we have demanded more from him, he has struggled, but I see the seed may actually take root. That sometimes he lets down his guard and he lives in the moment. I guess the healing is in moments, that someday will add up to hours and days. Maybe we can look back on this and say, look what God did!
But deep inside, I am absolutely scared to death that the seeds will lie fallow and he will grow up never letting go and letting us in. This week I've reached out to friends and have asked for help. Yes, I have been prideful and have not allowed myself to let the community step in and continue to help. This beautiful community of people who have brought him home have asked me how I am, and I've said "everything's great". And I've posted the "everything is cupcakes and rainbow" photos, and I haven't allowed my friends and community to encourage me.
So, I am asking for prayers for our son and our family. Please pray that the seeds of hope and love grow. Pray that God will repair the broken and replace his fear with hope. Pray for renewed strength as we daily keep up with six kids. I also ask that you continue to only engage with our newest child on a superficial level. He will try and hug and kiss you, he should not hug and kiss people that aren't family. I need each of you to help us, because we cannot do this alone. So, I am reaching out for encouragement and prayers.
As a last thought, I'd like to ask each of you to do something really hard.
Who might you know that is sitting tired and afraid? Reach out to that person and make your heart hospitable and open up your vulnerable places. By being vulnerable and sharing, we allow others to share without condemnation or weakness. This post was hard for me to write, but so often we are lacking in authenticity. I read a quote today and I'll end with it. "Authenticity in the church is the quality of our exposure of brokenness and adornment in God's grace". In short, I am absolutely a work in progress and in my brokenness I can be used and shaped by my Savior. In sharing our vulnerabilities we establish a community that can love and trust. Do you see the parallel with our son? My son is such a perfect picture of this. Luckily, God does not wait on us to show grace.
There is more to that child than the special needs glaring at you from the page
It is important that you find a professional who has specific training, continuing education and experience in the areas of childhood trauma and attachment
In an advocate's words
Lessons learned through a personal journey to grow his family through adoption
Only two US adoption agencies are accredited to provide adoption services in South Africa
Family dynamics shift when a new family member is added