Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Was I Thinking? Is Adoption of an Older Child Always Hard?

I recently posted in an adoption group on Facebook that I was experiencing a hard week and kept asking myself, "What was I thinking when I adopted this child?" 

The hard week, and even the question about what I was thinking do not surprise me.  This is our third adoption of an older child.  I know there will be hard days.  I know I will have days when I feel resentment, and confusion, and frustration.  I know there will be days when I wish we had chosen an easier path.

The key is that these are FEELINGS.  Feelings change day to day, sometimes minute to minute.  The reality is that God called us to this adoption.  Our response was a step of obedience and faith.  We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God who called us will also equip us to complete this good work.  Feelings must always give way to faith in the God who is writing our story.  His grace is sufficient.

When I posted about my difficult week, a mom about to adopt a 9-year-old girl asked the question, "Is adoption of an older child always hard?"

I absolutely must answer this with a solid, "YES." 

It might seem that there is evidence to refute this conclusion for sure.  There are plenty of blogs about people who have adopted older children and they post about how amazingly well it is going at 4 months or 6 months.  Praise God for the joy they are experiencing!  But, it isn't the whole story. For people in the midst of a difficult season these blogs can be a little disconcerting, if not downright discouraging.  They make us wonder what we are doing wrong.  We wonder if we aren't cut out for this adoption thing and if we have ruined our lives by choosing the wrong child, or misunderstanding God's direction. When we read a blog about people having a delightful transition and they credit it to diligent prayer and fasting before the adoption, it can feel like an accusation.  Did I not pray enough?  Should I have fasted more days?  If my walk with Jesus was stronger, would my child be fitting in to our family easier?

I'm not an expert after just three older child adoptions, but I've also spoken with many families who have adopted older kids.  I conclude that it is ALWAYS hard.

It isn't necessarily always hard in the same way.  Each child is different.  Each family is different.  Things that nearly push one mom over the edge might not even phase a different mama—but something else will. 

We are all sinful and all human relationships can have periods of difficulty.  But, older adopted kids have additional struggles that other children don't have.  They have been wounded by huge losses.  Important needs have not been met.  They have had to learn to depend on themselves.  Trust is fragile if it exists at all. They have had experiences that their young minds didn't know how to process, so feelings have been incorporated deep into the child's mind, without a good way to interpret them and reconcile them with the rest of life.

Part of what makes adopting an older child so difficult is that healing isn't a one-time event.  We may think we have dealt with a particular issue, only to find it surfacing again at a different time, in different circumstances. We may feel like everything is good, and our child is forming a secure attachment and then we overhear them tell a stranger that we aren't really his/her parents and she will get away from us and do just what she wants as soon as she is old enough.  We thought that issue had been laid to rest, but it is still comes back when our best parenting judgment has to deny our child something they want.

Milestones in life can bring hard things to light.  Deaths, graduations, moving, advancing to a new grade in school, taking a vacation, a birth, a marriage, a school assignment: all these normal life events can trigger hard days for an older adopted child.

My oldest adopted daughters recently entered motherhood.  One just gave birth.  The other just found out she is pregnant.  There are so many thoughts about what it means to be family.  Is blood relationship the most important part?  Why isn't her birth mother here to see the new baby?  Do I get to be the "grandma," or will I be shut out because I'm not "really related to her?"  Will she keep the baby?  Will she give the baby up for adoption?  Will she repeat the abuse and abandonment cycle, or learn to parent?  Yes, eleven years into our adoption story, there are still very hard days related to adoption issues.

Another thing that makes adopting an older child so difficult is expectations.  Of course, we all fall in love with an "imaginary" child.  Not that we haven't studied and read and prepared and prayed, but we still have an "idea" of a child in our heads during the adoption process.  It can sometimes rattle us as our real child pushes out our imaginary one.

Passing time can also be difficult.  I always tend to expect that things will get better much faster than they really do.  Real attachment and bonding take a really long time.  The older our child, the longer it can take.  In early days, our child may seem to be attaching rapidly.  They work hard to please us. They may fear making us angry enough to send them away.  They may feel like they are earning every good thing that comes their way.  We work hard to do everything just right.  After all, we are so well trained through all our adoption classes, and all the books we read.  But, we eventually get tired.  We get sick.  We can't do fake perfection anymore.  We all just want thing to be normal.  But nothing is "normal" anymore.  We have to create a new normal.  With older kids, that takes much longer than we expect.

Passing time can also be discouraging.  We thought our child would understand English better by now.   They seem to do so well most of the time, but then we encounter a situation that reveals how fragile their comprehension really is.  Maybe we thought that our 9 year old would be able to use the bathroom independently by now.  Sure she wasn't potty trained when we got her, but we truly thought she would figure it out after 10 months.  But she hasn't.  Maybe our struggle relates to sleep, or eating, or learning, or respect, or handling a "no."  Whatever it is, we often feel discouraged when we realize that we are still working on it long after we thought it would fade into a non-issue. 

None of this is to say that there are not days of tremendous joy.  There are many rewarding moments to savor if we pay attention.  That first hug that isn't stiff and forced, or the first time our child says, "I like you," can feel wonderful.  There is tremendous joy in watching our child reach milestones in health or learning.  It is a delight to watch them experience new things when we know they would have never had that opportunity if they had stayed in the orphanage.  There is joy in hearing a daughter say that she will not abort her baby no matter how difficult things might appear in the present circumstance.  There is joy in hearing our little girl singing "Jesus Loves Me" while sitting on the floor putting her puzzle together. 

Adoption is wonderful.

Adoption is hard.

Rather than pretend it won't be difficult, we must prepare ourselves by putting on the armor of God, and walking in faith.  We must trust that the one who has called us will empower us to do even the hard things.

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