Growing up in the 1960s the only adoptions I had heard of were people who attempted to “match” their own ethnicity with that of a potential adoptive child. I knew of no one who had adopted internationally. Yet for some reason the only desire in my little-girl-go-against-the-flow heart was to one day adopt from both Asia and Africa.
I can remember one specific time strolling through the mall with my mom when I spotted an Asian man walking out of a store near us. Tugging my mom’s arm while pulling her close I whispered, “Isn’t he soooo handsome?” Not really sure what my mom thought of my question but definitely wasn’t something you would expect a seven-year-old to even think about.
A few years earlier my grandma, who lived in Canada, had mailed a doll to me for my second birthday and it was the only doll I ever had growing up. My dolly was perfectly gorgeous, snuggly, the best secret-keeper ever – and she was black! I played with her day and night.
So my best guess is God used my beautiful black dolly and a natural God-given love for Asian people to stir my heart to adoption because other than that there really is no other explanation.
As the years passed I would dream of my first Asian baby – it would be a little boy and I would dress him in red OshKosh overalls… and then one day my dream came true. In April of 1986 my husband, our oldest daughter Abigail and I walked into JFK airport in New York City as a family of three and walked out the door a couple of hours later a family of four. In a side room at the enormous airport we had been handed the most beautiful little boy – our son.
Countless years of praying, longing, waiting, and finally – just like that – he was ours. We were elated with our most handsome gift!
Yet with all the blissful dreaming I had done from the time I was a little girl, the joy of finally holding my Asian son was interrupted a day or two later with the reality that our little long-awaited, dream-come-true four-month-old baby boy was in trauma. No, we didn’t know the word “trauma” back then being connected to adoption. The only thing we knew was that he was not happy and little did we know it was about to get much harder.
Truthfully, we were completely unprepared.
In 1986 there were zero adoption courses required in the adoption process. Personal computers had not yet been invented, meaning there was no internet to “Google” articles, and trips to the local library would yield nothing to help with adoption struggles. I was at a complete loss. Somehow I guess I felt that because I had dreamed of this moment my whole life, it would be a natural and-they-lived-happily-ever-after time. Boy oh boy was I ever wrong!
Our son was in shock and trauma. By God’s grace we at least understood that every smell, sound, sight, the daily routines, the language spoken – everything was completely different but what could we seriously do? We felt helpless and so desperately heart broken for him. How could we explain to a four-month-old that this was all “good”, that he would have a beautiful life full of love and that he was a dream-come-true? To top it off he was not a fan of me and I was his primary caregiver. He loved my husband who would carry him around when he was home but cried for hours and hours while daddy was gone to his law office.
I tried my best. I really did. I would spend the day moving him back and forth between the nip-n-nap (similar to a car seat) and in and out of the swing – after all, childrearing “experts” declared back in those days that if a parent held their baby too much they would spoil them and I sure didn’t want to do that! It was absolutely taboo to carry a baby around so I knew he would just have to get used to that part.
I was beyond brokenhearted. This adorable little guy who I had dreamed of my entire life didn’t even like me! To be quite honest, I remember feeling kinda ripped off.
By God’s divine intervention our very close friends, John and Sharon, had adopted from Korea the year before we brought our son home. One day I opened up to Sharon about how hard every single day was. Through tears I told her that I didn’t know what to do anymore, Tyler cried all day long and was only happy with daddy.
Pouring out my heart to my sweet friend proved to be one of the most life-changing moments of all. I will never forget where I was standing when over the phone I heard Sharon’s response. Honestly it was the one piece of advice that would forever shape our bonding in the ten future adoptions we would eventually pursue. Sharon spoke with God’s wisdom, “Linny, you need to do whatever it takes to make Tyler happy. If he likes to be carried, carry him. If Tyler is happy, you will be happy and you all will bond.” What a simple concept but full of such wisdom!
From that moment on, I chucked the entire “expert” parenting advice-thing and began to carry Tyler around all day. I baby wore before baby wearing was even a thing! It was then that it struck me – in Korea his foster mom had carried him on her back each day from morning till night because that’s what they do in Korea so that’s exactly what he was used to! To top it off, I eventually read The Five Love Languages and there is no doubt that Tyler is “physical touch”. Poor kid – I just didn’t have a clue!
Literally within days of beginning to baby wear Tyler had settled enormously. Before long he began to smile and my once-crying-all-day-long little guy was so easy to bond with. Within months he truly loved his mommy and she in turn loved him oh-so-much! Now looking back on those early days it’s hard to believe that one simple thought spoken by a treasured friend would influence our entire parenting years, but it’s true. I am so grateful for the wisdom God gave Sharon.
Tyler turned out to be one of our easiest kids ever (aside from the start) in our pile of 14 treasures. Although he left our nest many years ago and his job requires him to live far away, he calls daddy or I usually multiple times a week just to check in. He and I are very close and every time my phone rings and his picture comes up on my caller ID my heart smiles. I value his wisdom and insight in my life not to mention his hysterical sense of humor. We have a family text chat that our six grown kids and most of their spouses are part of. Tyler and our son Graham make us laugh off and on all day long. Oh the joy of large families!
We went on to adopt ten more times. We birthed two more as well and they are mixed up in the pile. In fact I sorta can’t remember which are which. We have brought home infants, toddlers, preschoolers, an 8-year-old, a 9-year-old through a disruption, and an almost 14-year-old. Five of our kids have special needs and two are quadriplegics. Three are “lifers” – meaning we have the privilege and pleasure of keeping them for the rest of our lives!
With each of our adoptions Sharon’s words have echoed in my heart. When we bring a new treasure home, we do whatever it takes to make them happy because if they are happy, we will be happy – and we will all bond nicely. It’s worked!
Now that is not to say that it has always been easy. No, definitely no, not at all. Adoption is hard work! But oh the rewards! Each adoption is bathed in lots of prayer, every treasure is so unique and their background so incredibly painful. They’ve each experienced such tremendous, horrific loss and most have endured abuse in one form or another.
But seriously, how in the world could we expect them to “get with the program and do what our family is already doing” as if they’ve always been here? They haven’t! Their trauma is real. We have found that the only way to move forward with bonding is to “do whatever it takes” to make them happy (what they enjoy, what makes them comfortable, always helping them to feel safe), always giving his/her needs preference over the rest of the family’s needs.
Truthfully, when we bring a treasure home it’s a team “project”. We are all in this together. Most remember well their early days home and each are willing to help “do whatever it takes to make their new sibling happy”. And sometimes this takes many months, even a couple of years.
Two of our treasures we brought home have had RAD to one degree or another (Tyler did not). RAD has complicated life and the bonding process immensely. But now looking back from the other side I can say that Sharon’s words were key for our family in bonding and eventually attaching. Some took years of hard work but we saw God’s hand steadily providing for each of our family members’ needs throughout those difficult years.
To be perfectly clear, “Do what it takes to make them happy” does not mean letting them do whatever they want with no boundaries. Not at all. But it would be silly of us to think that our newest treasures need to “fit in and be like everyone else who is here”. That’s not possible for them. Each has been exposed to all kinds of things in their lives up until coming home to us.
Our responsibility is to accept their uniqueness, embrace their background and celebrate them being finally home. Bonding will eventually come.
Over the years I have met other adoptive families who are struggling to bond. I have shared Sharon’s advice freely and told our stories of bonding and attachment. Some have had “the light bulb light up” for them as I’ve explained our family’s stories. Others have questioned our way of doing things.
“But doesn’t ‘doing whatever it takes to make them happy’ take away from your other children?” – a valid question given today’s “me first” society. But friends, we contend that life is a beautiful gift and the most rewarding thing we can do is to love others. Loving others means just that – loving others and allowing others’ needs to supersede our own.
When our family brings home a child it’s “all hands on deck” for as long as it needs to be. Helping our children understand serving others is one of the greatest privileges of parenting. We want our children to love serving others so we attempt to model it daily.
I’ve always said adoption is a dance – sometimes we dance slow, now and then we step on toes, occasionally we dance by barely moving, a couple of times we’ve head-banged (haha!) and then, with practice, we fall into a rhythm as though we have been dancing together all our lives.
Now, we are 35 years into parenting. Our five oldest are married and we are expecting our 12th grandtreasure. Of the 12 grands, five are also adopted from around the world and one has just been approved for foster care. This makes our hearts sing for joy! Our kids love, love, love adoption as well! We celebrate their quiet stamp of approval on growing up in a large adoptive family by their enthusiastic embracing of adoption. This translates well that, while they were growing up, “serving their new siblings needs” was a beautiful privilege.
This past spring many of our grown treasures were home with their spouses and our grandtreasures for a beautiful full-of-fun visit. One day my big girls and I were sipping coffee and talking on the back veranda as several grands played around us. We were all sharing labor stories when I turned to our daughter Autumn who was sitting on the love seat right beside me and questioned, “I can’t think. How many hours was I in labor with you?” She laughed heartily, “Mom, I’m one of the adopted ones!”
We all enjoyed the comedy of the moment and I silently thanked the Lord for it. Her bonding had been difficult, actually taking years, yet now it was all a distant memory and I couldn’t even remember that she’d been adopted.
From the bottom of my heart, my treasures are mine and their stories have blended together with a distant recollection of how they each arrived here but notably all sharing the same thing: We are just an ordinary family who happens to have been lovingly gathered from around the world.