Endless patience over the months and years of waiting, an ability to give up the illusion of control, and enough seat belts – these are just a few things foster and adoptive parents need.
Far beyond these, three core essentials stand out to me:
Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance
Eleven years ago, Russ and I began the process of adopting two little boys from Ethiopia. We were hope-filled and a little nervous too.
We had no idea how our lives were about to change.
What we did have was experience.
With nineteen years of parenting under our belts and seven reasonably well-adjusted kids, we felt we had something to offer children needing a family.
I believed I was a good mom.
With a background in mental health and a particular love for the vulnerable and wounded, adopting orphans seemed in line with my life callings.
A few years later I wrote one of my most popular posts, I Used to Be a Good Mom, so that tells you a bit about how it all went down after we adopted.
I’m exploring more thoughts and writing about my process of being shaken to the core as a mother and then rebuilding again.
It may take time, therapy (or at least a long weekend away with insightful friends), and more conversation with moms like me before I have anything useful to say, but this is very present in my mind.
The good news is I believe we can be stronger and truer versions of ourselves than we were before. But I digress.
Back to 2006
Our family was busy and life was full. We weren’t without challenges, but we loved each other and felt we had more love to give.
In 2007, nine months after launching into our paperwork, we traveled to Ethiopia to meet not two, but our three new children.
While in the process of adopting our two little boys, we learned it was possible to adopt the little girl we were sponsoring at an orphanage for children living with HIV.
This came as a complete surprise and took us on a deep, soul-searching journey – one that changed our lives in ways far beyond the scope of this post.
The very short version is that God compelled us to move in a new direction, to step beyond our own plans and adopt Kalkidan. From the day she entered our lives and hearts, we were never the same.
I’ve written hundreds of posts about Kalkidan and the lessons we learned parenting her, seeking healing for and with her, and loving her.
Kalkidan taught me many lessons – she taught all of us. She changed me, and I know she changed many of you too.
She was a gift and we feel the loss of her deeply.
The day we met Kalkidan, Ebenezer, and Wogauyu, we met another little girl who captured our hearts. One year later we returned to Ethiopia and brought Beza home to join our family.
With four children added to our family in 16 months, life was a swirl of all things new. We pressed into the chaos with energy, hope, and optimism. I wrote, prayed, read books, searched the internet, and slept very little.
We tried to appear strong and confident, but as the effects of our children’s early trauma became clearer and behaviors became increasingly volatile and violent, our world began to crumble.
Our family’s story is particularly difficult; thankfully most families do not experience the degree of challenges we did, but while I am sorely tempted to gloss over the hard stuff, this is our reality.
We were exhausted, afraid, and ashamed of our inability to help our kids and stop the chaos in our home.
We weren’t prepared when our child raced out of a vacation house and ran down an unfamiliar road. Should we chase after her and risk her running into the road or wait for her to stop running?
Where would she end up? Would someone call CPS? Would they take away all of our children?
We had a split second to make this decision.
Rages lasting hours became a regular occurrence – one child’s trauma now traumatizing the other children in the family.
We became isolated.
I remember standing on my front porch weeping as I told a friend I had no idea what to do.
The darkness was thick around us. We didn’t sleep, but lay awake – hearts racing, afraid of what the next day would bring.
We wondered if we had destroyed our family.
As I write this ten years later, we have been on a long journey from the family we were then, to the family we are now.
We thought we were widening the circle of our family to embrace our new children and include them on our journey. Instead, we found to fully love them, our family’s path had to shift and change course.
We are not the same family with four more children, we are a new family altogether.
From Fear to Here
How did we get from fear to here?
Three essentials to our continuing journey are Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.
Each is worthy of its own post in this series.
Most adoptive families don’t experience the severe challenges we’ve faced – thank God (truly)!
But writers who gloss over the hard parts of adoption and foster care for fear of discouraging others are doing the children a disservice.
We must be honest because adoptive and foster parents need to go into this with our eyes wide open. When we essentially lie by making it all look pretty, parents are unprepared, and in the end, the children are the ones who suffer.
This is not an easy “love is all they need” journey. This may be the hardest work of your life – so learn all you can, get serious, be wise, and buckle up for whatever comes your way.
You will not be in control.
That being said, every adoption journey, smooth and easy or challenge-filled, requires Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.
Our details may be different from yours, but the principles remain the same.
Trauma rewires the brain, changing the way our children respond to the world. Thankfully, children’s brains can heal and we get to participate in that process. This requires a lot of work, patience, and often intense therapeutic parenting.
As for my kids, their stories are their own and as they’ve grown older I’m increasingly careful to respect their privacy.
Being an adoptee is a very difficult path. Being an adoptee with a traumatic history including life in an orphanage, adoption at an older age into a family of a different race in another country and culture, is uniquely difficult.
Being the sibling of an adoptee with a history of severe trauma is also uniquely difficult.
I believe Kalkidan would want her story shared in order to help other families. I’m profoundly thankful for the healing she worked so hard for in the last year of her life. God knew we needed this sweet gift.
More soon on Courage, Flexibility, and Endurance.
You’re not going to believe this BUT, I actually have a Tuesday Topic for you tomorrow! Yes, it’s true. I’m reviving the tradition because we all love it so much. Tomorrow’s question is particularly timely as it relates to back-to-school stresses and kids from “hard places.”
Also, if you would like a short, more personal email from me, delivered right to your inbox, you can sign up here. It only takes a moment to sign up, and I promise you can read it in a minute or so.
Thank you for reading, friend. Life is very full and I appreciate you letting me share a bit of yours.
With courage and love for the journey,