Joining a New Family at 16 [and Realistic Expectations]

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Last month I shared a Tuesday Topic titled, “What Can You do When You Don’t Love Your Child?” The question was sensitive, and the responses were, for the most part, kind and encouraging. One comment was posted anonymously by an adoptive mom who lost her own parents as a teenager and was adopted. I loved what she wrote and posted a request that she email me. Thankfully she did, and today I have the honor of sharing Rebecca’s words with you. I hope this impacts you the way it has me.

My most sincere thanks to Rebecca.

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Several weeks ago I posted a comment on a discussion about a mom struggling to love her older adopted child. Lisa asked me to share more, so here goes.

I changed homes at the age of 16. After months of family turmoil, my mom died suddenly and my siblings and I (four altogether) entered into the best possible U.S. foster care scenario: the home of our aunt, uncle, and cousin. We remained in the same school, in the same small town, with the same people and the same friends. We didn’t change countries or cultures or languages, just homes.

There’s nothing quite like being a foreigner, though, and life is foreign in a house that isn’t yours. The food is different. The rules and expectations are different, and whatever circumstances brought you to a new home make life all the more complex.

We call our adopted kids “kids from hard places,” and it is a fair description. But they are also kids who have survived hard places, kids who have learned to cope in difficult circumstances and (for many) to parent themselves. The mechanisms of survival these older children bring into adoptive or foster families aren’t conducive to easy adjustment to life with parents who take care of all your basic needs and feel like they know what is best for you.

As parents, we want so badly to give older adoptees a childhood. We want them to let go of their need to be in control and allow us to help them navigate life. When you parent an older child from a hard place, though, that child has in many cases been the adult. She has learned coping skills and survival skills you may have never had to use. She may have parented a dying parent herself or parented other children in an orphanage. She has learned some means of self-sufficiency. Her brain isn’t wired to forget having to care for a dying parent or beg for food at a young age. Our brains aren’t designed to discard the hard stuff when easier days appear to be ahead. We are creatures of survival, and once childhood is gone, through whatever means it is lost, it is gone. With it, the dependence of a newborn baby is gone, too, making it really hard for an older adoptee to attach to a new family and just as hard for a new parent to attach to an older child.

Recognizing the challenges, though, I argue that adoption and foster care of older children is absolutely positively worth it IF you can manage your expectations. Your expectations must be set very low. It may feel like that child is yours after only a short time. However, you may never feel like that child is yours. In the same way, children who come to you with a decade-long history somewhere else may never feel emotionally “attached” to you, either. That doesn’t rule out a relationship with an older adoptee that is just as good as any other relationship as long as you don’t impose your relationships with your other kids onto your expectations for your relationship with an older adoptee.

There is a very sad (and lopsided) article circulating among the adoption community that talks about adoption from the perspective of older children adopted internationally to the United States who still don’t feel connected to their families for various reasons. Reading the article made me feel even more strongly about what you must do when you adopt an older child. As a parent, you must provide a safe place for all of your children. This is your primary responsibility. This comes before making them productive citizens, helping them to adjust to your expectations, or feeling the same way about them that you feel about other children. It is not an option to hurt them, and it is not an option to allow them to hurt the other children in your care. You must give them room to breathe and to grieve. If you need to grieve the loss of your own dream of how that relationship was going to look, give yourself room to do that, too. It is okay to be sad that adoption isn’t easy. You must give your older adoptee clear boundaries and expectations. You must give them a predictable schedule and household. You must give them a home base. In this environment and with any professional support needed, I believe any child can build relationships as long as we don’t expect those relationships to be perfect.

Several years ago, a mom on an adoption forum who had adopted one or two older children said something like, “I have determined that my daughter and I may never have the relationship of a mother and daughter. I have begun looking at myself as a sort of benevolent aunt, one who cares for her but with different expectations.” I have never forgotten that statement. Sometimes, we settle for “benevolent aunt” status because it gives everyone in the relationship permission to enjoy a close relationship without the pressure of making it look the same as that of a newborn baby and admiring new mother.

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I am so thankful to hear Rebecca’s perspective, please let her know how much you appreciate her willingness to share. Feel free to ask gentle questions as well.

Blessings to all of you parenting children who joined your family at older ages and who are (like me) navigating these complex and tender relationships.

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.

61 Comments

  1. Karen NumberTwo Hannaford
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this. Rebecca. I'm so sorry that you had to go through this for yourself, it must have been a horribly sad time. I am thankful though that you are someone who can understand what it might be like for other kids. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, you have no idea how many kids out there (and parents for that matter) might benefit from your insight!
    You made me think. We have not adopted an older child, but my sister's son (now 21) stayed with us for 3 months when he was 13, and 8 months when he was 16. I remember being very aware how it must have felt for him living in a different house and with different rules and of course having my two sons here (6 and 8 years younger than him).
    I also remember what it was like when I was a kid. In the holidays we used to often go stay with family members just for the fun of it. Even though they were nice and we were well looked after, I was always glad to go home. I started thinking about what it would feel like to not be able to go home at all. Wow that would be hard. I can't quite imagine what it would be like to eat different food, go to a different school, have different people around, even speak a different language. It must be so hard for these kids to even imagine that they could feel at home again. No wonder it's hard to adapt.
    I think I've learned a lot this morning.

    Reply
    1. sarahmbwali
      November 22, 2013

      I agree that I've definitely learned a lot this morning! Making the comparison with staying at relatives but looking forward to going home is so revealing – my brother and I used to stay at our Grandparents' every summer and though we adored them and they us, going home was always so welcome. The realisation that you can't go home must be so painful. Thankyou Rebecca and Lisa for this, and thankyou everyone for your thoughtful comments!

      Reply
  2. Roxanne Palmer
    November 18, 2013

    How insightful! Thank you for both for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Bev
    November 18, 2013

    Rebecca, I wish I'd read this before we started with foster care and adoption. Our children are now all adults. I have realized that trying to be the mom, in the ordinary sense of the word, was unrealistic. I love the term 'benevolent aunt'. I'd settled on 'substitute mom', which isn't as good.

    But what I meant is that they already have a mom. They wish they had been able to grow up safe and happy with their first mom. Since that couldn't happen, they came to me.

    I wish so much I'd known this before I tried so hard to force attachment and bonding. I've apologized to them so many times for the difficulties and pain I caused them with the things we did to push them into attachment. It was a mistake to believe that attachment was essential to their ability to become healthy adults—and to believe that healthy attachment meant the kind of attachment I had with my birth children.

    I'd like to send your words to them, but I'll ask them if they are interested first.
    Thank you again.
    Bev

    Reply
    1. Rebecca
      November 18, 2013

      Bev, I believe there is so much grace in adoption if you let it in. I appreciate your honesty about your own regrets. We all have regrets about how we handled situations in our lives, especially those who wade into the already-messy worlds of foster care and adoption. We do the best we can and pray that grace covers what is left. Having hard conversations about relationship realities everyone knows exist is scary, but that is usually just what they are — hard conversations about things everyone knows exist. One of the most gracious things my aunt has ever done for me is acknowledge the person my mom was. In doing so, I know she is saying, "I get it. I mourn with you." Sometimes it's hard to find something to say about birthmothers, but I think it's enough to say, "I wish, for you, that situation would have been better so you wouldn't have had to come to us at all." Those words, in whatever form you choose, are abundant grace.

      Reply
    2. Tisha
      November 18, 2013

      There is so much to learn from these words of yours. I am especially moved by this part, "It was a mistake to believe that attachment was essential to their ability to become healthy adults—and to believe that healthy attachment meant the kind of attachment I had with my birth children." Thank you!! For those of us still in the thick of it, this can be critically helpful insight. I too fear I push too hard thinking not "properly" attaching will be harmful, when what may actually prove more harmful is my damaging the relationship we can have because I forced too much on them and expected too much from them.

      Reply
  4. Traci
    November 18, 2013

    Wow. Just wow. I brought one of my girls home at thirteen. I so appreciate this insight so very much.

    Thank you!!!

    Blessings,
    Traci

    Reply
  5. Barb
    November 18, 2013

    Wow, this is absolutely profound. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing so clearly, so helpfully, these wise words.

    Reply
  6. Sadee
    November 18, 2013

    Tears in my eyes….so grateful to learn from you, Rebecca. Thank you. I'm sorry your mom died when you were so young. My heart aches thinking of your loss. My mom died when I was eight years old. Even though our stories are different, what you wrote resonated with me. Thank you for your courage to share.
    And Lisa, I appreciate you sharing your journey with us so very much. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Christina
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you Rebecca, for sharing, and thank you Lisa for passing this along.

    I recently married for the first time, but my Husband was divorced and we have 4 beautiful children from his first marriage (10, 14, 16, & 18.) I was first drawn to your blog a few days ago while reading about Dimples' visit. Our 14 year old is currently living with friends due to her inability to live peacefully with her siblings and her professed hatred of me.

    So, this post was helpful to me. I am sure that when their father remarried it felt like being transferred to a different world. Gone was the chaotic free for all; enter the two working parents scenario where there is the expectation of each family member participating and being responsible for themselves (and not ruling over everyone else.). I have cried over not being "mom" – I have all the "duties" of mom. I put all the "mom" effort in… but I am not loved as "mom". It has been a slow surrendering of my selfishness to God to learn that I am not entitled to that relationship. I may never be received emotionally in that role. Backing off and learning that being a parent doesn't mean being a 'mom' is hard, but I can see more and more that it is best.

    Adoption was something I had been planning on since my 20's. By my mid 30's I was certain I would remain single and adopt. I had no idea that God's plan for me would not be that cut and dry. Life is messy. Adoption (whether internationally, legally or circumstantially) is beautiful and difficult. I am blessed by people sharing their journeys without giving into despair. It is worth it… and it hurts. Both.

    Christina

    Reply
    1. Emily
      November 19, 2013

      Christina, I am praying for you and your family right now. Thanks for sharing and thanks for loving your kids.

      Reply
      1. Christina
        November 20, 2013

        Thanks Emily! 🙂

        Reply
  8. Kimberly
    November 18, 2013

    As a parent, you must provide a safe place for all of your children. This is your primary responsibility. This comes before making them productive citizens, helping them to adjust to your expectations, or feeling the same way about them that you feel about other children. It is not an option to hurt them, and it is not an option to allow them to hurt the other children in your care. You must give them room to breathe and to grieve. -AWESOME! Thank you for writing!!!! Sometimes out kids can't talk and it is good to hear how they are feeling and what we can do that will actually help.

    Reply
  9. Luann Yarrow Doman
    November 18, 2013

    So many wise words here. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca.

    Reply
  10. Donna
    November 18, 2013

    Wonderful, wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing Rebecca and Lisa for giving her a forum!

    This is going to help so many people. Thankfully we have started into the process of adjusting expectations, but it still felt somewhat wrong to maybe settle for 'less'. But now I see it as giving more, to allow the relationship to form as it needs to be healthy for all. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  11. Krista
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you! We are about to bring home 13 and 15 year old brothers and it is so good to get perspective and expectations out there before they come.

    Reply
  12. Katie Szotkiewicz Patel
    November 18, 2013

    Wow Rebecca….can I just thank you so much for sharing your wisdom abd experience with us? Here is my question: My daughter ( 6 when she came home internationally, had been primary caretaker of lil sis for a long time) and I struggle with our relationship. Its like two ships passing in the night….we both want it at different times, then at others we are just 'done' or trying to wade through all those emotions you talked about. Including my deep desire to love her JUSTLIKE my bio kids ( who are very close in age to her). My greatest fear is that she'll always sense that our relationship is different than the one I have with her sisters…..and that knowledge will add to the hurt and rejection she's already experienced way too much for her young life. Yet when you ' give permission' so to speak, that I don't have to keep demanding/hoping/feeling guilty about having a different relationship with her, it is soooo freeing to me ( does that all make sense?) How can I let us have a different relationship without her feeling rejected or less than her sisters? She's already been hurt so much! Thank you for any thoughts you have for me!

    Reply
    1. Bev
      November 19, 2013

      Hi Katie,
      I'm not Rebecca, but I have a few thoughts to offer. I don't know how old your daughter is now or if she would be ready for a conversation that includes these ideas. You are the best judge of that.

      I wonder if it might be a relief to everyone if the truth is named.

      First of all the truth that you desire to love her JUSTLIKE your other kids.

      Second, that your relationship IS different, for so many real and understandable reasons, and that it is OK.

      Third, that your commitment to her is every bit as strong as your commitment to her sisters, no matter how you or she feels.

      Fourth, that it is OK that she doesn't feel as loving to you as her sisters do, because it makes sense that the things that have happened to her have changed the way things feel in so many ways. This is not bad. It is important to honor the pain, and also the strength that she has shown in order to survive the thing that all children fear more than any other thing…the loss of their parents.

      I think it's possible that when everyone lets each other off the hook about how they 'should' feel the relationship may enter a new honesty and openness that will be welcome. I don't know that this will happen, but I just wonder. Then your daughter will have the opportunity to speak the truth about your relationship without worrying about causing you to live through your greatest fear.

      Because, the truth is that she already does sense the relationship is different. It IS different. That is not your fault, or hers, or anyone else's. And if it's OK to talk about it, and how sad it makes everyone, the power can leave that fear and you can go on to build the relationship that you have, instead of the one you dreamed about. Maybe the one that you have will become more than you dreamed. Maybe not. But it has more potential if you and she are both free to speak your truths and empathize with each other.

      I think one of my most honest moments with one of my sons was the day I sat on the floor in front of his raging young self and told him his story…especially about how much I wished I could have been the mom he was born to, the mom he wanted so badly, so that he would not have to go through so much. I sat and cried, there on the floor, about how I wished his life could have been and how I wished that I could make it so he would have been able to stay with a safe and healthy family instead of having to move so many times. But I was not that mom. We were stuck with this reality that wasn't easy or comfortable, and we had to figure it out.

      I love your heart for your daughter. It is a gift. Hold on to it. Someday I hope she will understand in her deepest places how much you care for her even when your emotions don't cooperate with your heart.

      Reply
      1. Rebecca
        November 19, 2013

        Bev,
        I could not add anything to your recommendations. I love how you said, "let everyone off the hook" and let her know you want to love her just like everyone else. You are so right. Sometimes we feel we need to keep pretending these relationships are the same as all others for the sake of the child, but the child already knows the relationship is different. It isn't a secret to be kept.
        Excellent advice from someone who has clearly been there!
        Rebecca

        Reply
        1. Katie
          December 5, 2013

          Thank you again Rebecca for your insight. What a gift to have your willingness to share with us and answer questions! Just…thank you…

          Reply
      2. Katie
        December 5, 2013

        Thank you so much!! What you said resonates deeply with me…there jhave been other things where we've just acknowledged reality to one another, instead of dancing around the issue, and it has helped tremendously. My dd is 8 now, 6 when she came home, but I think she would so " get" it if we had this type of conversation…..such great words of wisdom from you…thank you for replying!

        Reply
    2. Kim Pate
      December 8, 2013

      I am right here with you Katie. The guilt, O the guilt.

      Reply
  13. Sally
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Expectations. You hit the mark. It is all about expectations and setting the bar low so we can all be successful as a family. With our first foster to adopt child , our expectations were way too high and it caused a lot of discontentment. Now with our second try (God's plan, not ours!) the challenge for me is balancing two unique relationships with my bio daughter and my adoptive daughter who are relatively the same age. So thankful for your wise insight and advise.

    Reply
  14. Christi Green
    November 18, 2013

    I, too, am so grateful for this. It was very insightful and helped me work through some of my own feelings on this. We've adopted two children at the age of 2, one at 4, one at 6, one at 9, one at 12, and soon one at 13. The best way I can describe this article is "soothing" to me. (:

    Reply
  15. Ellen
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your time, your words, your insights. The Lord be with you and your family!

    Reply
  16. Jeremy
    November 18, 2013

    Dad to 3 bio kids, 6 adopted kids and another adoption in the works. We've adopted kids at all different ages, from 2 to 13. I love this letter. Thank you, Rebecca, for articulating how appropriate and good it can be to have different types of relationships with different kids!

    Reply
  17. Nancy
    November 18, 2013

    Yes! This is wonderful and a must read for all adoptive parents. Thank you Rebecca!!!!

    Reply
  18. Bramfam
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you so much. Your voice is so helpful as we all navigate these waters… So appreciated!

    Reply
  19. Christine N.
    November 18, 2013

    This even spoke to me in how to relate to my foster six year old. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  20. kathy
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you Rebecca for trusting us with your message. My adopted kiddos were 15, 16 & 17 and so much of this resonates with me. They are now 20, 21, & 22 . I am "mom" by a different definition and we all embrace their biological moms with love and grace. I loved hearing your thoughts. Some things my daughter and I were just discussing yesterday 🙂 God Bless You!

    Reply
  21. Laura
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you!!

    Reply
  22. Courtney
    November 18, 2013

    i needed these grace-filled, wise words today. thank you, rebecca!

    Reply
  23. barbershoppe
    November 18, 2013

    Brilliant perspective. Thanks so much for taking the time to think about this and write it.

    Reply
  24. Lori
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you for sharing Rebecca. It does put a different spin on things if you can just put aside the attachment piece – by that I mean not to feel that is our only measure of success. It gives me a lot to think about because that is easier said than done!

    I always counsel people who are thinking about adopting to have realistic expectations. I guess I don't always have them either!

    Reply
  25. Vertical Mom
    November 18, 2013

    This perspective is so insightful and more helpful than I can express. I am forwarding this to my caseworker. She manages the foster care training for our agency and I think this will be an invaluable resource for many future adoptive families. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  26. Sarah
    November 18, 2013

    Wisdom gained from hard places, brings understanding and healing to many. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Emily
      November 19, 2013

      Mm, a good word.

      Reply
  27. Mary
    November 18, 2013

    While we adopted a baby, after serving as his foster family, this reflection resonated with me. Just recently, several factors compelled me to open up our life to his birth mom, something very hard for me to do. I realized what was holding me back was fear, AND, my expectations. It was as if I wanted my adopted son to be just like my biological children, not realizing that this will never be the case. I could either destroy my relationship with him (and the heart of his birthmom) by holding on to my expectation. Or, I could open my hand and let the whole relationship be less about me and my expectations and my fears. What is profound to me is that after opening my hand I realized that it is much easier to have an open hand than a closed fist. Even though the relationships are complicated and will in all likelyhood remain so, I celebrate our family and the differences and complexities brought on by adoption. This is a miraculous journey for me, because my heart had been very closed. Thank you for sharing your wise words and reminding me again that my adopted son needs me to love and nurture and serve him, which includes loving his whole story, his whole past and not shutting the door just because it makes my relationship feel less than I expected.

    Reply
    1. Bev
      November 19, 2013

      "Or, I could open my hand and let the whole relationship be less about me and my expectations and my fears. What is profound to me is that after opening my hand I realized that it is much easier to have an open hand than a closed fist."

      Such wisdom here. Thank you.

      Reply
  28. Kaaren
    November 18, 2013

    Thanks to both Rebecca and Lisa. Very insightful. We brought one of our daughters home at age four. I imagine her significant struggles would be exponentially harder had she spent 10 more years in "hard places."

    Reply
  29. Tisha
    November 18, 2013

    I read this this morning and have been thinking it over all day. Thank you so much for your transparency and for giving us parents a perspective that may help those of us that need it to lighten up just a bit. Great, great thoughts shared here.

    Reply
  30. Laine
    November 18, 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights. They have given me things to think about and help me look at things from a different perspective. We need all the help we can get as we navigate this difficult path. Thank you again.

    Reply
  31. Sami
    November 18, 2013

    So many thoughts. We are fostering a sweet little newborn, so this doesn't really apply to her, but I lost my parents 5 years ago when I was 27, and this really makes a LOT of sense to me!

    I have a benevolent aunt. She texts me, prays for me, loves my kids. She's not my mom (she's actually my dad's sister and reminds me so much of him it is very comforting), she's not my kid's grandma, but she partially fills in the hole. I also have a very hip grandma who calls, texts and sends care packages full of thoughtful things for me. When I open them up, a wave of "you are known, and you are loved" sweeps over me. I realize that that is what I really need, for people to know, accept and love me. I am an adult. I have 4 kids. I don't need someone to help me balance my checkbook. I need someone who loves me and knows me. The days after I lost my parents were very lonely and I worried I would never feel "known" again.

    Since my parents died I have collected people who can take over a pieces of who they were in my life. I realized today I've never found anyone that even a little fills my dad's place. But I have a mentor at church, my aunt, my grandma, many friends, and I have google (for the "how do I get the stain out of this?" kind of questions). God has been very kind in blessing me with so many loving people, and granting much healing along the way.

    We have talked about fostering teens when our children are out of the house (although, now, my 4 kids are 5 and under, so this will be a while!). I was surprised at how much this post affected me, though! 🙂 Many thanks for your thoughtful insights.

    Reply
    1. sarahmbwali
      November 22, 2013

      Thankyou for sharing your experience Sami, it was beautiful and very powerful to read!

      Reply
  32. Becky
    November 18, 2013

    Loved this post! I have felt more like that aunt or mentor or friend so much of the time. I love that I can be content with all of that and we are all still okay. Thanks for this encouragement!!

    Reply
  33. Michelle Larsen
    November 18, 2013

    Really insightful and full of wisdom. I was also confused when adopting 4 children all different ages because all the literature and training about bonding is mostly for little ones. Two years later after adopting I've learned that while love is love, we cannot weigh love for newborn type of relationship to a love a new adolescent child relationship–they are both loving but not comparable. They are both rewarding and wonderful, but also are both difficult and challenging. Older children come to us already grown out of their "cuteness" but still require the same patience and adoring eyes as our little ones. There really is no point in comparing. I feel my biggest gift being an older kid adoptive mom is the "practice" of loving differently. Thanks Rebecca.

    Reply
  34. Anita
    November 18, 2013

    This is a must read and a keeper for those of us who have adopted older children. Rebecca, your words validate so many relationships with a a clear word…expectations. That's what it's all about…adjusting our expectations so we celebrate what we have after we've moved on from what we thought we wanted. Lisa, I think you've also done a great job of talking about this when you talk about surrendering yourself to God's will. We all need to turn over what we want so we can enjoy what we have…in whatever form it takes..

    Reply
  35. L.M.W.
    November 18, 2013

    Your words are a gift to me….I am so needy of your words that helped me understand how to be a mom to my 2 older adopted Ukrainian 17 year olds, adopted at 14….now home nearly 3 years. It has been harder than easier. More tears than smiles and mega frustration! My famous words are that I live my daughter and son……but I don't luke them more often than I do. This breaks my heart……Especially after raising 2 children adopted as newborns, and one bioligical child with no "snags." ………difficulties. Your article has made me look through clearer eyes……..

    Reply
  36. Chris
    November 18, 2013

    we are soooo in the midst of pain and turmoil, yet, this helps clarify, it's really many expectations that haven't been met that causes a lot of the pain on MY end.
    So much to think about, and try to rethink what we mean by family.
    Blessings to both of you
    Chris

    Reply
  37. Michelle S.
    November 18, 2013

    Rebecca is one of the most amazing people I have had the fortune of knowing. Her wisdom is always insightful. I appreciate the openness and willingness to talk about a tough subject. Thank you, friend.

    Reply
  38. laurajonesjournal
    November 18, 2013

    thank you!

    Reply
  39. Nikki
    November 18, 2013

    I'm so happy my friend shared this with me! It's something that I think people don't understand when I say we want to adopt an older child. The child we are interested in is 14, I am 26, and my husband will be 29 by the time we are able to bring him home. We may be his "mom" and "dad" on paper but we aren't looking at it that way or trying to force it since it isn't like a traditional family (unless I had him at 12, and that would just be weird lol). We just want him to know that he has people who love him no matter what. Having people think of it more like a benevolent aunt may help them in understanding! 🙂

    Reply
  40. Evonne
    November 18, 2013

    I appreciate this very much. I have formed strong bonds with our two sons, adopted at ages 7 and 10. But it took nearly five years before I felt the depth of emotional connection that I do now. Now I love them as deeply as our four biological children. Much in me had to change too. One thing I did when they came home was to make their world very small knowing that they had trauma to heal and the family was now their big adventure. What tender times we now have nearly nine years later!

    Reply
  41. Andrew Schlecht
    November 19, 2013

    Amazing insight to such a complex issue. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  42. Laura
    November 19, 2013

    I went into adopting a teenager with extremely low expectations. At least that is what I told myself. It's so much more difficult to actually live that way. I told myself she may never love me and that's ok. But now that she's been home almost 4 years, I find myself really longing for that kind of mother/daughter relationship I have with my 4 other children. It should be enough that she is thriving and healing and feels comfortable in our family. As thankful as I am for this, deep down I still long for that relationship with her. Your post reminded me to keep my expectations low. I needed that:)

    Reply
  43. Kerrie
    November 19, 2013

    Reading that made my shoulder relax to about six inches below my ears, instead of their usual two.

    Reply
  44. Sherri
    November 20, 2013

    This is awesome advice. So thankful you shared it here.

    Reply
  45. Kristin0521
    November 20, 2013

    Thank you. I am adopting our foster daughter and have been grieving so much for what I cannot be. I am not her mother, I do not possess that deep, fierce maternal attachment and I am powerless to fix her or change me. God is good and He can do all things and I am praying for that kind of deep love and for healing. It is liberating to re-cast my expectations to "benevolent aunt". I didn't know I was allowed 🙂 This is a perfect description of the love and care and devotion that I CAN provide and want to give her.

    Reply
  46. Lisa
    November 20, 2013

    Rebecca,

    I'm late commenting, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your experience and advice. You've put into words what my older adopted kids haven't, at least not to me. It's insight I desperately needed to hear.

    Prior to adopting a 15 and 10 year old, I knew I should set my expectations low. But initially things went well. So well, that I readjusted my expectations. In recent months I've had to readjust them once again. No doubt they've been making adjustments of their own. We've experienced so much of what you describe and it's been difficult for all of us. Just recently I was trying to describe how I felt and came to the uncomfortable realization that, to these two children, I am a mom in name only.

    Of late, I have struggled with having two vastly different mother-child relationships with the kids in my home. I am so much more intimately connected with my other kids (a mix of bio and adopted), that it's difficult for me to let go, to find balance, to know when to lean in and when to pull back.

    Hearing your words is tremendously helpful. I know this isn't the end, and I try to keep a long view, praying that we will be connected in some way, some day.

    Thanks, Rebecca.

    Reply
  47. Day
    January 1, 2014

    Bravo. Great post. A few thoughts from another grown-up "kid from a hard place."

    1) We can never have enough NMW (no matter what) people in our lives. Thinking of your relationship to us as kindly aunt/uncle, older sister/brother, cousins, ever-present neighbor, or even life-long mentor? It's ok if it's not a "typical" parent-child relationship. Typical is boring, anyway. We need you to play a special role in our lives.

    2) I've had people in my life who acted something like mothers to me: my friend's mother, a counselor, an older friend. It would have really meant a lot, though, if it was a permanent, legal relationship – something where they publicly pledged to love me forever come what may. If you can give a gift of forever, that would be awesome.

    3) There is no age when you stop needing your mother. So maybe at 18 we don't have the best relationship with you. But when that serious, almost a fiancé, boyfriend dumps us, when we're 22, we need you. When we do finally tie the knot at 28, we need you. When we have problems at work at 31, when we have our own children at 34, when hit our mid-life crisis at 46 – guess what? We still need you. I guess what I'm saying is that if you're really in this for life, we've got a long, long time for this relationship to deepen. So don't give up on us in the first five years. People like us have had 10-17 years of a really sucky life and it's going to take a long time for us to figure out how good relationships work.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca
      February 9, 2014

      Day, I couldn't agree with you more, and I love your highlighting of no matter what people (no matter the legal relationship or lack thereof).

      Reply

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