In just a few weeks, we will celebrate two years since our 3-year-old daughter’s Gotcha Day. In almost every way, it feels like Grace has been in our family since the very beginning of her life. She is not only fluent in English but has an advanced vocabulary (which she shows off in her Southern drawl). Since we met her, she has grown over 5 inches and gained 12 pounds. Our little munchkin is incredibly bonded to our entire family, even our tiny “lap dog” whom she once feared. Grace is independent, social, nurturing, affectionate, funny, and well-adjusted.
Recently, a dear friend came home from China with her 20-month-old baby girl. And as I’ve walked with her through the first few weeks home, I’ve recalled how challenging and difficult those initial days can be. The sleepless nights, the night terrors, the hoarding of food, the constant holding, the inability to escape for some “me” time because I couldn’t leave my little girl with anyone else, even my husband, without potentially reversing the attachment. I wondered if I’d ever return to bible studies, book club, social gatherings, romantic dates with my hubby… heck, I didn’t know if I’d ever again be able to use the bathroom by myself!
At the time, I thought I was stuck in a pattern that would shape my life and our family for years to come. But in reality, those trials were short-lived. Within a month, Grace could soothe herself to sleep without me lying beside her. Before I knew it, she was waving goodbye to me and blowing kisses as I left the house for a few errands. Just four months later, I enrolled her in Mother’s Day Out for one day a week because she wanted to “go to school like guh guh” (big brother). Even in China, I can look back and see how quickly we went from this…
In the moment, it’s hard to measure progress. It’s difficult to see how far you’ve come and how many strides your newly adopted child has made in the midst of their grief and overwhelming changes. Even with the experience of our first adoption, I’ve still found myself discouraged after being home 8 months with our 13-year-old, Caroline. I fret about whether she’s advancing in her reading level quickly enough. I tear up wondering if she’ll ever drop her emotional guard with us and let me comfort her. I cringe when she exemplifies her lack of compassion and charity (and then have to remind myself that no one taught her these traits in China). Some days, I feel frustrated and ill-equipped to parent this beautiful but broken teenager.
And then I remember…. I remember the days of using an electronic translator or Google Translate for every single conversation. We now go days without needing to translate! I recall Caroline’s stiffness when I reached out to hug her. She now initiates a goodnight hug. I look back on her struggles with adjusting to American food and now smile when she eats a slice of pizza or goes back for second helpings of my cooking.
What I’ve realized is that I need frequent reminders of the progress we’ve made. And to do that, it’s helpful to document the journey. Whether you keep up a family blog with updates or you record little victories in a journal, the benefit of being able to review the past (because let’s face it, your memory is pretty hazy those first weeks from jet lag) and celebrating progress is one of the greatest joys and privileges of parenting.
Even the slightest evidence of progress can be motivating and reassuring that all will be okay.
There are hard days ahead for sure, and some much more difficult for one family than another. But we’re on the path to healing. Even on the hard days, we can give these kids what they’ve lacked and so desperately needed: unconditional love and a place to belong.
I am so honored and thrilled to join the team of contributors at NHBO! I am a mother of three with our fourth child due this June. My husband, Scott, and I have a biological son, Carter (4), and two adopted daughters from China: Grace (2, Kunming) and Caroline (13, Nanning). My passions include writing, reading, adoption, orphan care, and following Jesus Christ. I look forward to sharing our lives with you. You are welcome to visit our family blog, Gazing Upward.