Last Thursday I was invited to speak at local adoption support group’s meeting about our adoption journey. It ended up being a wonderful experience. As I prepared my thoughts for the evening, and reflected back on the last three years and the adoption of two sons, it gave me an opportunity to ponder the lessons we have learned along the way.
When we first felt God calling us to adopt,
our vision of what they journey would look like was far different from the reality that was ahead of us.
Not better, not worse, just different.
We thought we had a handle on things. We had parenting experience and felt we were pretty competent at it, so this adoption thing was bound to be a breeze, right?
Through this process we quickly learned how little we actually knew. We discovered that there are lessons that can’t be learned ahead of time. Some things must be learned in the trenches.
With that being said, here are some of the lessons we have learned
as we have navigated the road of adoption:
#1: Adoption is HARD!
I remember attending an adoption prep class prior to having Tyler move in with us in which the speaker compared adoption to giving birth. She made the profound comparison that growing your family requires labor. For a woman giving birth that is a physical labor that stretches over the course of hours or days as you brace yourself to bear each painful contraction. Adoption labor is also a necessity. It may not cause the same physical pain, but it is a labor of love none the less
that hurts your heart and tires your spirit. It requires that same commitment as birthing labor
to keep pushing through the pain to enjoy the reward that comes after the pain.
#2: If God calls you to it, He will qualify you for it.
This has been, by far, the sweetest blessing of our adoption journey. We have witnessed the Lord’s hand in powerful ways, as a result of our complete dependence on Him, as we have traveled these uncharted waters. We quickly learned how ill-equipped we were to do this alone. That humbling realization led to a deeper relationship with the ONE who can do it all…
and can equip us to do it all.
Through this process I have discovered that, with the Lord’s help, I can do hard things. Things I never felt I could manage…
– Driving through crazy, scary, Pittsburgh traffic by myself to get to a court hearing.
– Battle epic temper tantrums that would last for hours
– Dodge sharp flying projectiles with the greatest of ease.
God truly gives you superhero powers when you are fighting for a noble cause…
the life of a child.
# 3: Sometimes this journey is about embracing Plan B:
As I observe the adoption journey of many friends and acquaintances, I am struck by how many have been placed on this road as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Many of them had a different vision for how this journey would play out. Perhaps they assumed they would grow their family through birth. Perhaps they signed up for adoption with a certain type of child in mind. Perhaps it is the timing of the process that is different from expected. I have come to realize, through our own journey toward adoption, that what you think the path will look like is often very different from reality.
We began considering adoption 10 years ago with domestic infant adoption in mind. When we felt God calling us to foster child adoption we thought it would be a child under 5 or a young sibling group. We began with a list of non-negotiables…things we didn’t want in our home. Then we witnessed the truth in that old adage, “When we make plans, God laughs.”
Everything we thought we didn’t want is exactly what we recieved and we gained a testimony of the importance of embracing Plan B
because our Plan B is quite often God’s Plan A…
If we would trust the Lord when the road bends in an unexpected way we would see the great blessing of His plan…
the BEST plan.
#4: Glean all the wisdom you can from the experiences of others.
It is humbling when you have to face the reality of your own inadequacies. We were flabbergasted when we applied all our “tried and true” parenting tools to our adopted treasures and discovered they were ineffective. We quickly leaned that parenting a child who had experienced trauma was far different that parenting a child whose early years had been filled with love and security. We needed a new play book. After depleting our “tried and true” parenting tool box we began seeking out support.
We discovered the gems of wisdom that could be found in others’ experiences. Tapping into the lessons learned by those who walked before us turned out to be our greatest asset. We felt like we had finally been given a code book to the behaviors we were seeing.
It was therapeutic to talk to others who “got it.” We discovered the great blessing of adoption books, great social workers, support groups and a good therapist.
# 5: Self care is essential!
Toby and I have an ongoing joke in our family about a little idiosyncrasy of mine that drives him CRAZY. It is my tendency to allow my gas tank to run down to EMPTY. He doesn’t get it. He is of the mind-set that you should always have a half a tank of gas in your car. When his truck’s gas gauge drops below the 1/2 mark he stops at a gas station to fill it up. This is very different from how I work. There have been many times in our marriage that Toby has had to come and rescue me by the side of the road because I had run out of gas. He lovingly arrives with a container of gas, shaking his head, just not getting it. I try to explain,
when he asks, “How does someone run out of gas?? The gauge tells you that you are almost out?”
that I just hate stopping for gas. I am busy and it always seems like a waste of time. Instead I push my car to the limit to see how far I can go before I have to stop for gas.
Toby always points out the obvious, “You just wasted A LOT more time waiting for me to bring gas than the time it would have taken you to just stop and fill up.”
I realize this. I don’t know why I do it. But I find it is an accurate reflection on how we both manage self-care. When he is running low on gas he makes sure to address the issue before he runs out of gas. I, on the other hand, run on fumes and push myself to the brink of exhaustion, and then discover that I am stuck.
This last year has taught me a lot about the importance of self-care. If you are raising a child who has been a victim of trauma, you are walking a hard road. You must fill your tank regularly or you WILL run out of gas…
and then you are no help to anyone.
For each of us that “fill up” will look a little different. You must make sure you are carving out some time for yourself…
Get adequate sleep, feed your body regularly, take time to do something that makes you happy….
It is so important!
# 6: Take care and nurture the primary relationships in your life.
The road to adoption can be all-consuming. I had no idea how it would consume my time, my energy, my creativity, my whole self. Because it is so consuming it is very easy to let the primary relationships in your life get pushed to the back burner. We found that during the hardest times of our journey we would collapse in bed at the end of the day with nothing else left to give. It is tiring and it is very easy to put off the things that are most important for those things that are most urgent…
in essence, those “fires” you are putting out all day.
But it is when things are toughest that we most need the strength we gain from our deepest relationships…
The relationships we have with our Lord, with our spouse, with our other children…
This sometimes requires digging deep and engaging when all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.
This also requires planning and effort.
It means waking early to have quiet time with the Lord and filling your spiritual bucket when all you want to do is sleep another 30 minutes.
It means carving out a date night with your spouse, even if all that date night can be (in this season of life) is pizza and a movie in bed.
It means staying up a little later, after the little boys are tucked into bed, to have heart-felt talks with your teenagers.
Making the effort, even when you feel you have nothing left to give, pays back a hundred fold…
# 7: Let go of the guilt.
I know no other way to say this than to be blunt:
You are doing the best you can.
Give yourself a break.
Let go of the guilt.
Do the best that you can and then give the rest to God.
# 8: Embrace the Ridiculousness.
Sometimes it feels like we are living in an alternate reality. Sometimes Toby and I will catch each others’ eye across the chaos filled room and we just smile. “We just can’t make this stuff up,” we say to each other. We find ourselves saying things to our children that we never thought would come out of our mouth like,
“Get the cat out of the toilet.”
We find ourselves parenting behaviors that border on the absurd.
There are days so filled with CRAZY that we learned early on that the only choice to be made in the midst of them is whether to laugh or to cry…
As Marjorie Hinckley said:
“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”
# 9: Adoption is not about changing a child’s life.
We entered into the adoption journey with the belief that we were being altruistic.
We thought we would bless the life of a child…
we would save the unfortunate.
That was not the reality.
While, yes, their lives may have been changed, it was us whose life was most blessed. It was our lessons that needed to be learned, it was our spiritual and emotional growth that needed to happen, it was us that God was working on.
Through this journey we have all been blessed with increased patience, deeper empathy, a greater realization of our own weaknesses and a deeper testimony of God’s ability to heal. We have learned lessons that we may never had fully understood if not for the struggles we had to overcome along the way. While this road has been challenging at times, I have watched my children rise to the challenge and all of us blossom as a result of the struggle.
And we are a better family for it.
# 10: It is worth it.
For those who are still in the darkest part of the journey I speak to you about hope. In the midst of the storms it can be hard to see the end from the beginning. It can feel hopeless, and scary, and you question whether it was the right decision. It can be hard to look forward to the future when you are drowning today. But I am here to tell you that it will be worth it. The hard times are building a foundation for a bright future. And as you struggle through day after day of tantrums and worries you will eventually find yourself on the other side.
One morning, not too far in the future, you will take a deep breath and exhale. You will realize that you are no longer holding your breath and things are ok.
It was a long road…
but it was worth it!