Older Child Adoption: Teaching My Child What a Parent Is

May 19, 2018 0 Comments

It was just about a year ago when our family needed to seek out respite. Our teenage son had been home a year, and emotions were at an all time high – for everyone. On many occasions, we’d reached out to those who could help us or him, but it was time to really take a deliberate break and recalibrate. The respite was set up for six days, Sunday to Saturday.

For the first two and a half days, all I did was try to rest. There had been so much turmoil that I had to will myself to settle down and just stop. It was a hard thing to do! But after those couple of days, I realized I would not really be able to truly rest and let go of the feeling of constant intensity unless I knew what the plan was for bringing our son back home a few days later. Something was going to have to change, but what?
What was even the problem?
Why did he resist me so much?
Why did he hate my help so much?
Why did he take all his anger out on me, but was so kind, polite, and gentle to everyone else?

By Tuesday, it was clear this break needed some intentionality. So, that night, my husband and I went out on a date. I took a notebook.

One thing that I try and do regularly is to put myself in someone else’s shoes. So for our teenaged son, why would I have a problem being teachable if I were in his shoes? Of course, many adoption-related reasons came to mind, but one very distinct reason stood out that evening: he needed to understand what we were doing.

What was our job as parents? What was our goal?

The more we mulled over this thought, the more it made sense. How could he have any desire to trust us and be teachable when he had no perspective of what a parent’s job is?

For all intents and purposes, it looked like we were on some power trip trying to control his every move. I imagine that most of his life had been controlled before, but when it’s done in such an institutionalized setting, how could he come to understand that rules and boundaries developed by a parent are done so out of love and protection? It was like a light bulb was turning on for us. He resented me because all he felt was my control without having any of the perspective or foresight of the end game. There was no groundwork, no foundation to our relationship yet. Basically, I had no credibility. My husband and I hashed out a plan over our burgers, and once I felt like we had a strategy, the rest of the week felt productively restful. I was no longer anxious.

As soon as we brought our son back home and put the other kids to bed, the three of us sat down together to talk. As the three of us talked, I scratched out three quick posters. Ian needed to better understand our mission as his parents – what was our job and responsibility and Who is our boss. I drew out an X-Y axis with a parent-sized person on the Y line. On the X line, I drew several stick figures growing in size from a baby all the way to an adult size on the far right. We explained that when a baby was born, a parent had to control everything for that baby.

We listed out all the things that the baby needs and how the mom and dad care for him. At that time in a person’s life, the parents have complete control and the child is completely dependant on the parent, so we put a dot at the highest point on the parent line. But then we drew a diagonal line sloping down from that point to represent that as the child grows into an adult, the parents’ control diminishes. The child learns to take care of his own needs. At adulthood, the child takes full responsibility and control of his own life. We pointed to where our son was on this grid. With only four years left until he is considered an adult, we had minimal time to teach him how to fully function and responsibly care for himself.

Then we started a second poster. Since he isn’t a baby, it was important for him to be responsible for many things himself with only a few years until adulthood started. We “brainstormed” two lists with him on this poster. (On the Tuesday night date, my husband and I had already figured out some ideas for both sides of this T chart and were prepared for how we’d help the brainstorm session.) The first list was what he controls at his age and the second list was what his parents should still control. On our side, we had Education, Health, Character Development. On his side, we discussed Personal Hygiene, His Bedroom, His Clothes, His Homework, etc. We explained that there were lots of things within his control including his responses, habits, his choice to obey us, etc. If the things that he controls are poorly managed and start to become educational, medical, or character issues then we can still step in and adjust accordingly.

But for the most part, we wanted him to see that we are not being puppet masters. We are setting him up so that he can be a healthy responsible man. The more we talked, the lighter his load visibly became. Not only did he appear to feel empowered, but I would venture to guess that he started to understand a bit more about how our parenting was being done out of love and with wisdom.

Eventually, I drew a final poster for him. I drew slowly so he could continue to process the first two posters. I drew a huge umbrella with six people standing underneath it. There were lots of raindrops, but none were falling under the umbrella.

I asked him who was standing under the umbrella. Clearly thinking this was another lovey illustration, he rolled his eyes and suggested that it was his family. I asked him who specifically. He figured it was us with him. I counted the people out loud and said that there were only six people. He then realized it was just him and his siblings. Dad and Mom weren’t in this picture. I told him that for now, we are the umbrella. It is our job to protect him as much as we can. That if we had known and had God designed it differently, we’d have been that umbrella from the very beginning.

We told him that our rules are for his sake and for the sake of his siblings. We said that we want him to learn the purposes of the rules so that he can take the principles with him when he leaves home. He will always have to answer to someone.

We talked about jobs and being accountable to the boss. We explained that as parents, our authority is God and likewise, our son will always have an authority. He will always have choices to make and we want to equip him as best as we can to act wisely and seek the Holy Spirit, ask for help and be teachable, think of the impact his decisions have on others, and to be able to hold his own umbrella in a few years. He will still need to protect himself (and have a family of his own, too). Just because one becomes an adult does not mean he steps into the rain. It means he’ll need to proactively protect his mind and heart and body.

We have rules about electronics, bikes, food, running into the street after a ball, safe touch, and so on. Now, when he hears us say that he needs to keep his electronics in the main living space and not a bedroom, he knows it’s because we love him – his heart, soul, body, and mind – and want him to stay safe.

When we take him to the eye doctor, he can see that we are providing like good parents do. When I tell him he should limit how much cheese he is eating that day because that’s what is causing his stomach ache, he trusts me that I’m wise enough to know. We haven’t given away all our parenting secrets to him, but we’ve tried to catch him up so that he can start learning from us instead of resenting us as parents.

We’ve also adjusted our parenting so that if he does choose poorly in areas he controls, he can feel the natural consequences. I explain my reasoning, like for too much cheese for example, and then I back off. I often remind him that I’m a good mom to him and that he can trust me. And I ask him to forgive me if I mess up and lose my patience. I’m gaining the credibility not only through explaining our rational and where we get the wisdom from, but also by letting go more and more so that freedom can prove me right.

Teaching our teenage son what parents do and why improved our relationship drastically. But it not only impacted how he sees us. It impacted how we see him. Going through that time of respite and brainstorming, followed by the reunion and dialogue, I became more grounded in the post-adoption attachment and parenting journey. I became more excited for the job I have as his mom. I felt more excited about the road ahead of us – preparing him for his future.

A wise person once told me, “The best parenting is done in the repair work,” and there’s a lot of that! I was able to see more clearly the forest through the trees. And ultimately, God gave me a new joy, a new understanding of our purpose in His calling to teenage adoption.

– guest post by Bethany

A Particularly Bad Day

May 17, 2018 0 Comments

There is a constant editing process that goes on when your adoption isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It is a dance between saying enough and not saying too much. Between protecting his privacy and helping others by sharing our experiences.

We’ve just celebrated Abe’s three year Family Day this week and it’s triggered stuff in him. This event going hand in hand with medical tests probably was fuel for the fodder, but that’s how it worked out and so we marched through it.

And there was a particularly bad day last week when I was biting my tongue to keep hard words in and clenching my fists and thinking I’d rather be anywhere than where I was, with this set of struggles. So I did what any healthy mom would do and sat down with some chocolate and my journal.

You have a journal, right? If you don’t, march yourself to Target tomorrow and get you one. It’s cheaper than therapy and nearly as effective. I use it to write to God. Sometimes pleas, sometimes worship, usually a verbose mix of the two, always a brutal and honest account of what is in my heart and on my mind.

So I sat, that one hard day, with my chocolate covered raisins in one hand and my pen in the other and poured myself out, cried out to the One who created this boy and ordained he be a Vos. And he impressed upon me certain memories of Abe’s Family Day. Like how he lived in the same orphanage for four years and yet on May 4, 2015, a worker from the only home he’s ever known walked him into the lobby of the Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Sheraton and dropped him with complete strangers and walked away.

The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.

Four years of the only semblance of family he’s known is severed in less time than it takes to fill my car with gas. I remembered this and was reminded of the nearly two years he cried for me at night, certain that he’d wake up in the morning and find me gone. Of the months and months when I could not walk out of the room without him falling to pieces, sure I was leaving. Of course he thought that.

And I remembered that afternoon and how every time he showed fear or sadness, the worker would bend down and stuff a piece of candy into his mouth. I remembered this and was reminded of how he spent months hoarding food and how to this day he freaks out if you take a bite of his stuff and how miserable, how completely shattered he is whenever I have to deny him food because of anesthesia, how he can wake up a cranky cuss until he gets breakfast and then he can be sweet as the bee’s knees once his tummy is full. I was reminded that to him food is love and that his default coping mechanism is eating. Of course it is.

I remembered that afternoon and how it all must have seemed chaotic to him; us speaking gibberish and the lights and everything new. And then I thought about how to this very day, busy places trigger fear in him and I’m sure he goes back there in his head without even knowing it. Goes back there and feels terrified and unsure and unsafe. Of course he does.

And so I wrote these things down. Wrote them down next to a picture of me and Dan and a clearly traumatized little boy who walked in an orphan and walked out a son and knew no difference between the two for months and years.

I wrote it all down so that the next time I find myself wanting to flee to my closet and breathe in the scent of anything but trauma, I would remember and have grace upon grace upon grace. Because he is nothing if he is not a product of his experiences, as we all are. And his experiences break me with their hurt and uncertainty and I need to be broken for this boy so that I never forget that loving him is worth the hard days.

And that his life has been a parade of people who came and left and that I am staying.

So that journal is my doormat to a relationship I knock on every minute and hope he opens the door. And when he does, only to try to slam it again with his anger or his fear or his driving me right up the wall, I stick my foot in so it can never fully close again. This hurts sometimes, but is the best work I’ve ever stuck my foot in. For a girl who spends a lot of time with her foot in her mouth, that is saying something.

And now I have that journal bearing witness to how far we’ve come. When the Evil One whispers that we are stuck in the same mire we’ve been in since day one, I can crack that sucker open and call it the lie it is.

The hard work of making an orphan a son goes on and will go on and there are parts of him I will probably never understand, no matter how deeply I mine him for answers. But there is always hope – and even if there weren’t, there is the certainty that he is ours forever and we are his forever. And that is truth I don’t need to write down to remember.

Bless you, mamas and babas.

Find My Family: Easton

May 15, 2018 0 Comments

Easton is a handsome little boy, born in October of 2011. Easton is deaf and was also born with a congenital heart defect. He had surgery for his heart defect in October of 2015 and at his follow-up appointment, it was noted that he was recovering well.

Easton’s gross and fine motor skills are on target. He understands basic concepts, recognizes colors, can trace objects, put together puzzles, and build with blocks.

Easton has good self-help skills and is toilet trained. He can wash his hands, feed himself, and brush his teeth independently. Easton is not a picky eater and really enjoys meat. He likes to dance, ride bikes, play games, go on the slide, and play with toys.

Easton is listed with Madison Adoption Associates and we hope a happy family who can teach Easton sign language sees him today… video of Easton can be found here!

There is a $500 agency grant for Easton’s adoption with Madison Adoption Associates. Other grants may be available based on the adoptive family’s circumstances. Agency grants are awarded as agency fee reductions. MAA also partners with the Brittany’s Hope Foundation for matching grants, which are given out twice a year January and July) and to families that are officially matched with a child.

Easton needs a family with an approved home study to be able to hold his file or move forward with adopting him. If you have an approved home study or a home study in process and are interested in adopting Easton, please fill out a free PAP Waiting Child Review Form, which can be found here.

Waiting to be Chosen: Oakley

May 14, 2018 0 Comments

Oakley, born in October of 2013, is the cutest little boy. Reported to be very happy and smart, Oakley is in the wonderful care of China Little Flower. He has no intellectual or physical disabilities. Oakley likes cartoons, musical toys, singing, dancing, and being cuddled. He likes eating chicken and noodles, but doesn’t like sweets. …Read More

When No Means No

May 12, 2018 1 Comments

July 6, 2017 will be forever imprinted on my heart. But let me take you back to August 2003… I was minding my own business, listening to a radio broadcast, which had been my habit since becoming a Christian just two years earlier. Little did I know that day would mark a change in the …Read More

Darling Addie!

May 12, 2018 0 Comments

Darling baby Addie just turned one year old! We hope that it is her only birthday that she spends alone and that next year she will be celebrating her birthday surrounded by a family of her own! Addie is listed with Agape Adoptions. Addie has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome and nystagmus. Sweet Addie was …Read More

Carrying Hope High

May 10, 2018 1 Comments

I recently reached out to my friend Emily to ask if she’d be willing share her story here on NHBO. Hers is a story that we – as the adoption community – need to hear… especially during this time of such significant and devastating changes in the China program. We need to cling to hope, …Read More

Fred Waits

May 10, 2018 0 Comments

Fred, male, born in March of 2008, was admitted to the social welfare institute in March of 2008. His special need is post-operative congenital cleft lip and palate and post-operative congenital heart disease (ASD). Fred is listed with BAAS. Fred was placed into a foster family when he was first admitted into the social welfare …Read More

China Adoption: A Season of Change

May 9, 2018 0 Comments

We started the process for our first China adoption in May of 2013. It’s crazy to me to think that five years have passed since we made our initial application to an agency for their China adoption program. We did hit some speed bumps and detours throughout our process: a move to another state, an …Read More

Waiting for You: Mia

May 8, 2018 0 Comments

This precious little girl is Mia and she is listed with BAAS! Mia was born in July 2014 and has Down Syndrome and congenital heart disease. Mia was found when she was a few weeks old and was in good health, she seldom gets sick, and she has a good appetite. She is deeply attached …Read More

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