Everyone said the first year was the hardest. They said that attachment takes time; relationships would grow; I needed to be patient.
Year One passed, and I exhaled, a deep sigh, knowing that the worst was behind us.
Except it wasn’t.
Year Two progressed, and I became puzzled. Why wasn’t it getting better? Why were my children becoming even more antagonistic toward each other? I knew that it would get better, that it could get better, but I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how hard I peered into the future. I found myself becoming more short-tempered, more reactive versus proactive, more on edge. I found myself waiting for the shoe to drop versus working toward resolution. My ability to step outside of a situation and look at things more objectively was completely destroyed. My family was living in a bubble, trapped by the tension stemming from sibling rivalries, and I couldn’t see a way out.
Time heals all wounds. We’ve likely heard it our whole lives. And, many of us practically live that out, believing that some indiscriminate passing of time alone will somehow make hurts less hurtful, that progress will be made simply by passing days. Right or wrong, we may be able to get away with that in our own lives. But, when it comes to our kids, to our families, to our marriages, things are a lot more complicated.
Most of us enter into adoption expecting things to be hard at first. We read the books, read the blogs, finished the trainings. We’re all about hard things. I know mamas who have dug their heels in ready to face all those hard things head on. Those passionate mamas rock at it too. But, sometimes, they find themselves and their children and their marriages in a place they didn’t think they would – six months later, a year or two later, or years in when the hope they had that things would get better or the pain would somehow dull over time now seems more like defeat.
But, there is hope — not that time will do the healing but that there is healing. We just need to pause and take time to pursue it.
I made the call one windy afternoon in January. I paced outside as I dialed the number, my nerves on high alert, knowing that this was a bigger deal than I could imagine. I knew it was time. We needed help. The conflicts needed to be addressed, and it was something that couldn’t be helped by the passing of more time.
I had called our agency post-adoption department months earlier but left that conversation feeling discouraged; their suggestions for counselors were all far away. We’d have to travel to see them in an office. My heart knew that scenario wouldn’t be the best for our family. Our issues were in our house. We needed someone here. I felt alone. It just didn’t seem possible. Until, one day, I heard someone talking about her family’s therapy experience. A light went on in my heart, a flicker of hope, a feeling I wasn’t sure was possible any more. The nonprofit agency working with my friend also had a branch in my own city. My friend, knowing from our conversations how much we needed this, texted the contact information of a counselor near us, and I called.
That first conversation was a blur, but it was also an exhale. Unlike the passing of our first anniversary home, this exhale felt real. I knew that the person on the other end of the conversation was exactly who we needed to help our family.
An initial appointment really isn’t an initial; it’s just our first meeting. Each family’s start in receiving help for healing really is whatever first step they take — an email conversation that starts with asking a few questions about costs or availability, a phone call in a rare moment of quiet that may start all business and turn into tears.
Those intentional first steps — whatever they are — are powerful in and of themselves. It’s in that first step that you confess that you are not simply content with staying on the track you’re on, that you want something more for your family. And, that, dear sister, is no small thing. That simple act is no simple act. Writing that first email, making that first call, clicking “submit” on an online form takes a lot of courage, requiring not only a willingness to upset your daily routine and potentially your budget but also a great deal of humility. That first step in and of itself is a step toward healing.
Our first meeting was just my husband and me and our therapist. We planned it for a time when our children were in school so we could focus on what he had to say. Our therapist encouraged us to speak freely and asked us questions to find out what exactly we felt we needed. He listened to us, affirmed our emotions regarding the toughness of the situations we described, and encouraged us about the future. We left that first conversation confident that we knew which direction we were headed. We set goals we wanted to meet and planned our second session.
The key points we felt good about were:
1. Sessions would take place in our own home.
2. One or both parents would always be present.
3. Sessions would include general training, including videos for me and my husband to watch, but also be specifically catered toward our specific family needs.
4. We’d work out approaches congruent with those of TBRI. We’re familiar with these already and know these methods have been used successfully with many other adoptive families walking through trauma. We trust them.
We could speak freely about our religious beliefs and how our worldview affects how we parent. It was important to us to be able to feel like we could be open about sharing our personal histories as well as our faith with our therapist. Our faith, after all, is a defining factor in our family, and to leave it out of our healing process would have felt wrong.
Three hours. That’s how much time we allow for our first time together. It sounds daunting. Three hours? That’s a long time. We may not use it all, but we don’t want any time pressure. We don’t want a mom or dad to feel like they need to stop sharing because there’s someone waiting at the door.
This is your time. We invite parents to start wherever they want to start, and we ask a whole lot of questions about things we read on the forms they filled out ahead of time and about lots of other things. We aren’t trying to figure anything out; that’s not the point. We just want to hear you and give you permission and a safe place to be vulnerable and share what has led you to right now. We want you to have a chance to get to know us a little bit too and learn about what our process looks like because every practice does things a little differently. Having a plan spelled out helps in a lot of ways. You aren’t locked in; you can still decide that you want to go another route; that would be okay. And, if you decide you do want to go forward, you can have confidence that you know the direction we’re heading. And, that’s a good thing.
There’s a lot we do to come alongside families. As I explain all that, I always make sure to spell out a few hallmarks that may be different from others. We see a child with a parent or both parents present so that we use every opportunity to encourage relationship. After all, your child doesn’t want me; deep down, even if she isn’t sending you that message, she wants you to be her best resource. We will schedule times together for just the parents because your child’s history isn’t the only history that matters. We will go back together so that we can go forward, helping you to navigate and process hard stories with your child as well as hard todays. We talk about structure and nurture, how both are needed and how we will work out tools and strategies for your toolbox that address challenging behavior and communicate the messages to your child that you ultimately want to send. We always make sure we share that this isn’t a forever thing. It’ll be a lot of work, but the goal is to come alongside you until you are at a place you don’t feel like biweekly times together are needed and those times can become further and further apart until maybe you are just checking in every so often. We believe in you and want you to get to a place where you believe in you too.
We are now four sessions into our therapy, and the only regret I have is that we didn’t do this sooner. Therapy is something many families feel uncomfortable pursuing, almost as if it is admitting defeat. And you know what? It kind of is. We had to confess that alone, we could not do this. We had to admit that our village needed to include another person with the wisdom to look inside our bubble, see how we could make things work better, and help implement ways to do so. It’s a big step; a huge step, really.
If you are in this place, if you think you may need to find help for your family, find it. Reach out to those around you, call the post-adoption social worker at your adoption agency. Find a resource you trust who makes you feel somehow at peace in the midst of the chaos, and run with it. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Hope used to feel like something made of dreams I didn’t have the energy to pursue anymore. Now? Now, it’s concrete. Hope is knowing that we still have really tough moments, but we are doing something to help everyone in our family work through them with grace and understanding.