"How’s Your Heart?"

Our first reports of Kalkidan used words such as “active” and “energetic”. We chuckled a little, knowing that those presumably understated words could describe some of our other children. Then my friend went to visit Kalkidan and wrote to me. Here are a few excerpts:

“She is absolutely the most outgoing child there…she sings, she dances, she does tumbles, all to show off and get your attention and praise.”

“She is also quite the daredevil…she was doing tumbles on the cement and jumping off of steps. She was a big show off. She sings the loudest, runs the fastest, smiles the biggest…she is happy and sweet and really, an amazingly wonderful little girl.”

 “I think she is just going to thrive in your family…she so very much wants love and attention.”

We read this and smiled, then paused as we realized that Kalkidan was going to bring a huge amount of energy to our family. She was going to shake things up more than we might have anticipated.

Later we traveled to Ethiopia. She was as beautiful and sweet as we had imagined, but wow, she was incredibly demanding. We were seasoned parents, but we hadn’t experienced a child quite like our new daughter.

Two months later we brought her home. The honeymoon was short and sweet, but soon we were in the midst of grief and anger like nothing we had ever seen. We read books, we prayed, we struggled. We had a daughter whose early life had prepared her to be a survivor. Under her incredible strength was deep, deep fear of rejection and suffering.

The reason she jumped the highest, ran the fastest, and sang the loudest was she had learned she had to make herself stand out in order to survive.

I have seen video clips from her early days at her orphanage, and what appears as darling and extroverted behavior now seems to me to be a desperate cry for attention and love, and extreme need to get whatever gifts the visitors were bringing. She learned the candy might run out, so she had to be sure to get some first. She learned balls might be thrown, so she prepared herself to run the fastest to get one. The good clothes were snatched up each morning, so she had to be sure to be right by the nanny’s side when the clothing cupboard was opened.

At the age of five, she was a survivor and the only person she knew to rely on was herself.

Now imagine Kalkidan lifted out of orphanage life and set down in our family. Imagine her little heart so filled with fear and a desperate need for love. But the behaviors she learned as a child on the streets of Ethiopia and later in an orphanage, didn’t translate well to family life.

No amount of reading, going to seminars, or talking with other parents could have fully prepared us for this. We prayed, I cried, we talked, we had family meetings with our older children, and we wondered if we would ever be the same.

As I grew to understand Kalkidan, I recognized in her a deep, deep need for love from me. I wrote a post about, what I call, “Mother Hunger” I also began to view her behavior as coming from a place of fear, not naughtiness or resistance. We made progress, lots of progress…. and then we brought Beza home.

Kalkidan was excited to have another sister, especially a sister from her orphanage, and we were thrilled to have Beza home. I should have been prepared for the upcoming tumult, but we were all enjoying our new child and I was naive.

It started slowly, but soon I could see the desperate, grasping behaviors bubbling up in Kalkidan. If she could have put it into words, I think she would have said, “What happens now? Where do I fit? Am I still loved? Am I still loved as much as I was? Do you love Beza more?” Fear, deep fear, had surfaced again.

You would think that I would have been smarter by now and figured it out more quickly, but life was sweeping me along and I was just trying to get the laundry done, make dinner, and teach the kids. I was thinking more about getting Beza settled than I was about Kalkidan’s hungry heart.

The controlling behavior and tantrums increased until one day I realized more clearly how unsettled Kalkidan was – she had lost her way again and I needed to help her find it. We rocked, we hugged, she slept by my side more often, and I told her I loved her many times every day. But still, some days I was blindsided by her wailing tears. I will be honest, I was tired and was frustrated; I wanted her to stop. She was demanding more than I had to give and I was spent.

Then one day I was holding her and I said, “Kalkidan, when you are being unkind, and when you are disobeying me, I think you are feeling scared. Your heart is feeling empty and you are trying to fill it up. So now, I am going to fill your heart up for you. When you feel that emptiness in your heart, you come to me and we’ll fill it up.”

I put my hand over her heart and I told her that we were going to fill it up. We rocked for a bit with her face pressed tightly into my neck. I told her how much I loved her, how much Jesus loved her, how precious she was to me. She relaxed against me.

After a bit, she hopped up with a smile and ran off to play. Throughout the day I stopped, put my hand over her heart, and asked her, “How’s your heart?” Sometimes she would smile and say, “Filled!” Other times she looked down and said, “Not filled,” and I would scoop her up in my arms, hug her tight, tell her I loved her and before long she would smile, say “Filled” and wriggle down.

That was a few weeks ago and I am happy to say that most days this is a useful tool in my “mommy toolbox.” I’m no expert, but by giving her the vocabulary to describe how she feels followed by something we can actually do to meet her need, she is happier and more settled.

As I was writing this I paused to watch Kalkidan do a headstand. After she toppled over, I asked her the question, “How’s your heart?” She smiled impishly and said, “Not filled,” so I turned and lifted her onto my lap. I put my hand over her heart and told her we were going to fill it up. She held me tightly around my neck and we talked for a moment about the day, then she was off my lap and running into the living room. We’ll probably repeat this several times today, but if we can keep her heart filled with love, it doesn’t allow room for as much fear, and that makes for a happier little girl and a more peaceful family.

We are learning and growing every day – sometimes it is very, very painful, but we keep asking God for wisdom, and He is kind enough to give it to us. We turn to each other, to God, and to experienced friends; we could not do this alone.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. Stacey
    November 9, 2008

    Lisa,
    Thank you so much for being so honest and transparent. Parenting is definitely a hard job, and when others share things that work, it just encourages others. I am definitely going to try this with my 4 year old. I'll let you know how it goes.
    Thanks,
    <><

    Reply
  2. Audrey
    November 9, 2008

    Thank you so much for writing this post. As I try to prepare myself and my family for the adoption of an older child, I find that there seem to be two extremes in blog world – total disaster and sublime happiness. I know in my heart that can’t really be true, but it seems that, understandably, moms are reluctant to be real with their ‘stuff’. I totally understand your being protective of your kids but I am also so encouraged by your honesty.

    It is obvious how much joy and laughter Dimples brings to your household. My goodness, every time I see a picture of her, I can’t help but smile!

    Thank you so much for sharing. I will be trying out this ‘heart check’ idea myself.

    Reply
  3. Eileen
    November 9, 2008

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for your honesty. I just recently wrote a post that I too felt reluctant to share, maybe it was TOO much honesty. But in the end I knew it was a testament to my daughter’s strength and to her Heavenly Father’s love for her. I also knew it might prove helpful to someone else.

    Sometimes the terminology is the sticking point. HOW do I say something in the right way so my daughter understands and feels comforted? It’s so helpful to hear how other mothers tackle these difficult conversations.

    Thank you for sharing,

    Eileen
    http://scravings.blogspot.com/2008/10/lets-start-at-very-beginning.html

    Reply
  4. Farmboy and Buttercup
    November 9, 2008

    I am so glad that you posted this. I understand the need to carefully consider what we post from the heart and totally respect that, but I think you did this beautifully.

    I often say that there are times I think our adopted twins are trying to get their love tanks filled, especially on the extra-clingy days. I love your example of the heart that is full, or not full and I hope to use that kind of vocabulary with my twins tomorrow, as I am sure there will be applicable moments. This is especially useful as we, too, begin another adoption, and I have wondered how our adopted twins will handle the adjustment.

    So nice to meet you,
    Sharon

    Reply
  5. Anonymous
    November 9, 2008

    I have been following your blog for a couple of months now and want to thank you for sharing. My whole family (husband and 4 kids) are now fans of your family and we pray for all of you. I am so encouraged by all of your entries and am cheering for you and remember…”since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…” How awesome to know that you have a cheering section in heaven as you raise your children up knowing who they are in Christ. I will be praying for you and for your lovely daughter. You are all an inspiration.

    Virginia

    Reply
  6. Signe
    November 9, 2008

    What a great post. I think Dimples will probably appreciate it someday. She may need the same tools herself.

    Keep up the good, and difficult work.

    Signe

    Reply
  7. Adrielle
    November 9, 2008

    Thank you for sharing your stories! I think I will recall things you have shared for years to come as I am raising my own family.
    This doesn’t make Dimples look like a naughty child at all but makes me want to reach right through the computer screen and scoop her into my arms and hold her close. Instead I gave ALyce a good hug! 🙂

    Reply
  8. ManyBlessings
    November 9, 2008

    Wow.

    This post drove me out of lurkdom.

    I am working through attachment issues on my blog and have never heard things put in quite these terms. I LOVE the idea of the constant daily check and I think it would help me SO much with my daughter. She also is a survivor and manifests her needs in controlling behavior. I’ve talked and talked with her, but this is the first practical idea I’ve ever heard to address this particular issue! THANK-YOU!!

    May I please link your post on a post in my blog? I would really appreciate it if I could!

    dawn

    Reply
  9. Thankfulmom
    November 9, 2008

    Dawn and everyone else who has commented,

    Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement.

    Please feel free to link my post to your blog. I would be honored.

    We’re all in this together!

    Lisa

    Reply
  10. Heather Mitchell
    November 9, 2008

    Lisa, you are so wise. I absolutely love reading your blog. You are the kind of mom I strive to be. I appreciate this post so much. I have a bio child right now that will benefit from this tool. He says thank you. 😉

    Reply
  11. Kathrin
    November 9, 2008

    That is so sweet. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  12. lorismusings
    November 9, 2008

    I so appreciated your post. Adopting older children isn’t easy, but it sure is rewarding! I love the way you worded things with Dimples – it gives me an idea to use with our 10 year old recently adopted daughter. It is so hard when our kids come to us with a past that we don’t even know. Our 10 year old’s younger sister knows how to ask for assurance and love. The 10 year old kind of backs off and I have to remind myself that she wants it, but is afraid to ask. It breaks my heart that she has had to deal with rejection (they were abandoned) and fear that she would never have a family (3 1/2 years in orphanage).

    Thank you for what you shared.

    Lori S.

    Reply
  13. Kristi J
    November 10, 2008

    Wow..that is so awesome!!! We’re going through our first adoption from Ethiopian and have 4 bio kids already…We’re #13 on the wait list…I think it is so funny that you didn’ know farm boy and butter cup..I have you both listed on my blog because I love following both of your blogs..I just always assume you really large families know each other..too funny. Loved your ideas and I’m going to try it with my middle two tomorrow that are the closest in age and always fight for my attention the most…Thanks sooooo much for sharing such a great part of your life…My sister just came home with a 4 yr. old about a month ago…This made her 6th child..he’s doing great so far…kristi

    Reply
  14. Laurel
    November 10, 2008

    What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing from your heart.

    My 3 children from Ghana were always the ones at the orphanage that drew the most attention. All we heard was how “wonderful” they were. And, yes, they are wonderful … but their big bright smiles were craving for attention. When they came home to 10 siblings, they found very quickly that they weren’t the center of attention all the time. It was certainly an adjustment.

    I love your idea with Dimples. I think that is exactly what my little 7 year old (youngest of the 3 siblings from Ghana) might need.

    Blessings,

    Laurel

    PS: LOVE the new family photo and blog style.

    Reply
  15. Caroline
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you for sharing. Today we needed that! We had a hard weekend and one of my little boys just need his heart filled wth mummy love. Thank you so much!!!

    Reply
  16. Leslie
    November 10, 2008

    I love this, Lisa. I can see this coming with G. Thanks for sharing this helpful way of responding to your daughter and the reality of what the children need from us.

    Reply
  17. KT
    November 10, 2008

    You are an AMAZING MOTHER!!!!
    KT

    Reply
  18. Nicole Anderson
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing. What an excellent tool that you have discovered, and wonderful language! I am so glad that it is working and know that you sharing will help lots of families!

    Reply
  19. bethr
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you for a practical and loving way to handle the very common issue of “am I loved?” I anticipate facing this issue when we bring our daughters (2 and 4) home. I have thought a lot about what to say and do. What you have done is amazing in it’s simplicity and encouraging to me. Thank you!!
    Beth
    walkinginhisways.blogspot

    Reply
  20. Jen
    November 10, 2008

    Not knowing what the landscape of our adoption journey will look like, this is a post that I will print and save. It is honest, realistic, and insightful. Thank you. And thank Dimples for allowing you to share.

    Reply
  21. darci
    November 10, 2008

    thanks for sharing your heart lisa.It is a blessing to read and learn and be encouraged by your writings..thanks for building others up by sharing your life. I think God has given you much wisdom as you parent your children, each of them in a different way, different needs. It is beautiful to read of Dimples and her heart, and how she can trust mommy to ‘fill it up’ when it is hurting. God bless. darci

    Reply
  22. Cat and Mark
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing … this really spoke to me this morning, although in a slightly different context. It was the not-so-subtle reminder that I needed that I need to make sure ALL my kids are running on full tanks.

    🙂

    Reply
  23. So Blessed
    November 10, 2008

    Lisa,
    My wife and I have been reading your blog for a few months now. It is a source of great encouragement for us as we are in the early stages of our Ethiopian adoption. I know you didn’t write this to get all of the praise you are receiving for being a great mom. We do want you to know that you are blazing a trail for us. Thank you for the dose of reality and genuine joy.

    Reply
  24. Toiling Ant
    November 10, 2008

    This post brings tears to my eyes as I realize how often *my own* ornery behavior is motivated by a heart in search of love and acceptance… thank you for putting a difficult concept into words (for Dimples, and for me!).

    Reply
  25. Anonymous
    November 10, 2008

    Hi Lisa!

    What an awesome piece of parenting advice! I’m due with our 2nd child next month and often wonder how our 2 year old will handle the transition to being a big sister. Having some practical hands-on advice will certainly be useful for us! THANK YOU for being so open and honest about your family! I am truly blessed by your blog and have seen you around our area, but was unable each time to say, “Hello.” I hope to run into you again some time at Walmart!

    Brandi

    Reply
  26. Anonymous
    November 10, 2008

    Loved the “realness” and vulnerability of this post, Lisa! :o) I’ve tried exactly this sort of thing with one of my little girlies and I could tell I was close to the mark.. .. The tool you’ve given me, that I hadn’t thought to do, was to take the initiative myself to check with my daughter throughout the day, instead of telling my daughter that she should come and tell me when she’s wanting to be naughty because she needs love….

    Thank you!

    Lisa H.

    Reply
  27. Shonni
    November 10, 2008

    Lisa, I had been wanting to ask you to please share some more of your mother “wisdom”…the things you have learned…especially with the adoption of your older children. I think there are many families like ours that are looking for other familes that will share those ups and downs of parenting our precious ones, especially those children who have come through trama, pain, fear, etc. I have an African daughter that we were really struggling to help…your post adoption blogs have been so helpful to me…I want to love her and yet sometimes, her “demands” and constant need for attention was wearing our whole family out. I appreciate also the way you help us all “remember” where these precious children have come from and empathize and then love them the same way I would want to be loved. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  28. Kathy Garrison
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you for your honest and transparent comments – as a future adoptive mom, I want to hear it all….the good and the difficult It is naive to think it will all be easy….thank you for being vulnerable with us.

    Reply
  29. Michelle Riggs
    November 10, 2008

    Great post Thank you so much for being “real”. I love reading your blog and always learn from your writing.

    Dimples is beautiful.

    Reply
  30. Anonymous
    November 10, 2008

    I so appreciated this post! I’ve been (daily) reading your blog for a few months and even though I do not personally know you I can tell that you and your family are people of great faith in God. Thank you for that and I just pray God’s greatest blessings on your family!

    Reply
  31. Andrea
    November 10, 2008

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. And thank you for being honest. There are days that I wish I knew what to say or do to make my boys realize how very much mommy loves them, without the constant striving for attention.
    Thank you again. I am in prayer with you!

    Reply
  32. Andrea
    November 10, 2008

    Wow, wow, wow, you have truly spoken to my heart today on you know who. You have no idea how much this meant without us having to catch up on the phone. It was like the holy spirit telling me through you! I love you sister!.

    Reply
  33. Stacey
    November 10, 2008

    OK Lisa, I tried this with my 4 year old. I talked to her about her heart and explained that when her heart if full she is happy and fulfilled. And sometimes her heart might not be as full as she'd like to it be. So I asked her if her heart is a little sad and she needs it to be filled, what could we do. I am thinking she'll say snuggle or read a book or play a game or do something special. But NO, without skipping a beat she said, "Put some chocolate milk in it." So clearly this idea was too complex for a 4 year old.
    Thanks for the idea though, I'll keep it on hand.
    <><

    Reply
  34. Anonymous
    November 11, 2008

    Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    As we wait for our court date for our 5 and 7 yr olds we enjoy reading your blog.

    thanks again,
    K

    Reply
  35. PastorMac's Ann
    November 11, 2008

    Lisa, this is an amazing post and so helpful. I am so glad you decided to post it!

    I think you worded it very carefully and took care not to hurt Dimples with your words. She is such a lovely girl with a fierce determination to survive – God has big plans for her. How wonderful that He has brought you too together.

    As an adoptive mom, I need all the help I can get to travel this sometimes very bumpy road. Your experience is so valuable to me.

    Reply
  36. Flamingo Mama
    November 11, 2008

    wow! what a wonderful post and a wonderful idea! I am scared to death of this! We have an almost 3 year old waiting for us in China. I worry that I won’t have enough patience to give her for what she may need.
    It is such an encouragement to see other moms struggle with this and then incredible hope to read the healing happening.

    Your family is beautiful! God bless!

    Reply
  37. Robin
    November 11, 2008

    I ran across your blog from the Mestas’ blog. Wow…your post was awesome, inspiring, and encouraging. Sometimes I struggle with transparency, especially when it comes to the challenges we go through as moms. Bless you for your courage, your wisdom and your faithfulness!

    Robin

    Reply
  38. The Organic Nest
    November 11, 2008

    Wow! What a beautiful post. Thank you for revealing you precious family for the sake of helping others. We all need our “love tank” filled daily and understanding what it is that fills your child’s tank is
    priceless. Your mothering heart is an inspiration! 🙂 ~Jenny

    Reply
  39. Diane
    November 11, 2008

    Thank you for allowing the other side of adoption to be spoken. My 4 year old daughter has been home 9 months and is very similar to Dimples. It was a hard path and it is good to talk about the hard parts as well as the joy. And there is much joy.

    Reply
  40. Emily B.
    November 11, 2008

    Beautiful and well written. Thank you for sharing with us all so we can learn and improve our mothering (or in my case prepare for my upcoming mothering) too.
    hugs,
    Emily

    Reply
  41. oneblessedlife
    November 12, 2008

    Lisa,

    Dawn posted this on her website, and before that I had never seen your site. I REALLY just want to thank you for what you said — I even talked to my VERY “hyper/showoff/extrovert” chid about his heart feeling empty and us filling it up together last night. It seemed to make him happy. Thank you so much. Reading your post was like someone else (beautifully) describing what we have going on in our house and in my heart.
    Thank you for you honesty. I can’t wait to continue reading your site. I have a public site and a private one. If you want to see our private site, just let me know! I’ll be glad to invite you.
    Kelli
    oneblessedlife@gmail.com

    twomooreboys.blogspot.com
    littleboysandchocolate.blogspot.com

    Reply
  42. Sheryl
    November 12, 2008

    I do not know you but your blog post (I received the link from another adoptive mom’s blog that I follow) could have been my life to a T. To have someone express in words what we have gone through was humbling, amazing and refreshing. We too have an adoptive child who is “energetic”….he can command attention like no one else. His cuteness doesn’t hurt either. He knows how to work a crowd! Your words ministered to my heart in great ways. Thank you from the bottom of my soul for your courage.

    Reply
  43. Sandee
    November 12, 2008

    so helpful, as I look at my over the top 5 yr old and am planning on bringing my 7 yr old home in December.

    Reply
  44. Crystal
    November 12, 2008

    ooh Lisa –this is sooo soo good May I copy it and put it on my blog with a link to yours?–Thank you for writing this!!!!!!! 🙂

    Reply
  45. Jen
    November 12, 2008

    Wow, it took awhile to get to the comment form! You have a bit of a following!

    Thanks for writing. I need to hear and learn the realities of what can happen with any child, esp. adopted ones. We hope to bring our two “older” children home in a couple short months (OK, LONG months is a better description.

    But really, thanks for being real. It helps others.

    Reply
  46. Kresha
    November 13, 2008

    AWESOME Testimony, what a great behavior tool.

    Reply
  47. Anonymous
    November 23, 2008

    Thank you for sharing this intimate struggle with us. I too adopted last year and only read about the great things other families were experiencing. We have faced a year of bonding struggles and other things that I had read about, but did not know how to handle in the scheme of daily life. This is a wonderful opportunity for our family to grow- thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  48. Debbie
    November 26, 2008

    This post will be one I remember for a long time. We are adopting a 3 almost 4 yr old from Ethiopia. I will remember how you used this to help. Maybe it will be of use to me too!

    Thanks and God bless you!!!

    Debbie

    Reply

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