Tag Archives: TBRI

Disney World or Bust!

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And we are off…

And boy, was it a journey getting to this point!

Despite being well informed about trauma and its effects, it still is fascinating (and often FRUSTRATING) to watch the effect of trauma play out in our home. In so many ways it is illogical and nonsensical to untrained eyes. For this reason, behaviors triggered by past trauma can’t be addressed in traditional ways. Cause and effect logic is moot and rewards are as powerless to bring about change as punishments. This is because the root of the behaviors that might read as defiance are actuality fear, frustration, guilt and grief. Because the root emotion contradicts the perceived behavior, the behavior must be parented with heightened levels of compassion and connection. Much like a growling or snapping dog might get labeled as aggressive or ferocious by someone who isn’t looking beyond the behavior to the cause beneath the behavior (i.e.: the dog is cornered and feeling threatened because of a history of abuse and neglect), the same is true of my sons who come from hard places.

So often my adopted sons don’t respond with the same expected responses and behaviors as my biological children who have never know the darker side of life. I have to continually remind myself of what I have learned about trauma and its residual effects, so that I can react appropriately. It can be extremely challenging and hurtful when those behavior seem targeted and personal or when those challenging behaviors result in attempted sabotage of special family moments.

The reality is…

Birthdays, holidays and vacations are often a living hell in our home. The happier a moment is the more my traumatized treasures react out of fear, guilt or grief, in explosive and challenging ways.

And nothing invokes those feelings more than two weeks of family togetherness at the “happiest place on Earth.”

The anxiety in our home is palpable. Over the last two weeks we have had children run away from home, verbally attack family members, declare hatred of our family, insisting they are leaving us as soon as they turn 18, destroying other family members’ possessions, breaking a school computer with a punch of frustration to the screen of the laptop, and the addition of a few new holes in the drywall.  

The very human part of me struggles to continue planning this magical family trip in the midst of screams of hatred and efforts to destroy their chance of coming. (This is especially true for one boy in particular.)

 I’m sure there are some who in reading this account are thinking, “No way would that child be going if it was my kid. I don’t reward bad behaviors.”

 And I get it.

I was there 6 years ago.

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 Had it been Grace, Molly or Rusty acting out in these ways, we probably would have canceled the trip, but things are different now. The past 6 years have been a humbling journey of learning how to parent kids from hard places. I better understand the “why” behind the outbursts and as a result am able to come from a place of compassion rather than judgement. The Lord has taken me on a  journey of discovery as I recognize my complete dependence of Him.

The reality is we are headed to Disney World not because their behaviors make them worthy of reward, but because they are worthy of good things and happy moments and unconditional love simply because of their divine worth as children of God!~

 Much of the increase in negative behaviors are rooted in feelings of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness. There are feelings of guilt about feeling happiness away from their birth family. There is fear that if they mess up, all of this will be stolen away, so rather than live in dread of that happening, they will simply hit us with the ugliest behaviors they have in their arsenal so we will send them away and they can get the disappointment over with. There is fear that we will fail them like everyone else in their life has. And the very root of the behaviors is the reality that those warm, fuzzy moments that bring feelings of joy for most, feel downright prickly and uncomfortable for a child whose “normal” in early childhood was fraught with screaming, hitting and hurting, rather than laughing, playing, and connecting in loving ways.

Some might ask why we even bother trying to do fun things. I certainly have had those moments this month when I looked at the chaos reigning supreme and I asked myself, “Why the heck do we even bother trying to have special moments?”

But then I remind myself:

1.       I won’t let the ugly choices made by selfish adults in the past steal the present joy of childhood from my children.

2.      It isn’t about “deserving.” That is the root of my Christian walk. I am infinitely unworthy of any of the good things my Heavenly Father has blessed me with. My life is fraught with mistakes and He is infinitely merciful…therefore, I will choose to show mercy.

3.      I look into the dilated pupils of my child in crisis and know that this behavior isn’t coming from a place of “I won’t” but rather a place of “I can’t.” This is survival.

4.      I won’t reinforce the lie “I am not worthy of happiness” by stealing happy moments from my child as a means of consequence.

5.      I will challenge the lie they believe to be infallible truth by pulling my child closer when they try to push me away with anger and hateful words, rather than push them away.

6.      And finally, I will come by my child and ask them to lean into the discomfort of connection, to whatever degree they are capable of, rather than giving them the “out” of leaving them home from vacation (as long as the behaviors are not unsafe) because the only way to help them be comfortable with family connection is to expose them in a loving way to the thing they fear most: attachment.

 None of this is easy in application, but it is so important.

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I have cried in the shower and punched many a pillow in the last few weeks as I drown under the frustration of not being able to “fix” the hurts my children carry so that we can just have a normal, happy vacation once and for all.

But the growth doesn’t come when the winds are still. Deep roots form under the strain of high winds and dry soil. And loving these three has created a family tree with strong, deep roots…

And from those deep roots will come a tree that will bear fruit. If not today, if not tomorrow, then someday down the road. I know this to be true.

So, the holes in the drywall will wait to be patched by our personal Mike Tyson after we return home from Disney, and the list of chores to be done to earn the money to replace the computer has been created, but it too can wait.

Today we leave for Disney World,

Because building a family is more important than fixing a house.

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And then there were TWO!

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On Friday I found myself down to two children…something that almost never happens. Grace was working at the Philly Pretzel Factory and Ozzie is currently inpatient at Mercy Hospital right now receiving more intensive trauma therapy.

Rusty was also gone for the week.

On Sunday night, as we were driving home from the Homestead (following Gracie’s graduation celebration with Mimi and Pop Pop) we received a phone call from friends asking us if Rusty would be interested in attending Boy Scout camp with their son up in New York. Their troop had a few last-minute drop outs and Rusty was invited to join them in place of one of the missing boys. The cost was already covered which meant Rusty could attend for free. It was an awesome opportunity to earn 6 more merit badges and enjoy another week at Boy Scout Camp, and all the fun it entails.

He was a bit nervous leaving for New York with a group of leaders and boys he didn’t know well, but he said, “yes.” We were very proud of him. A few years ago I don’t know that he could have pushed through his anxiety to go, but this week he pushed himself out of his comfort zone and decided to join this other troop.

We arrived home from the Homestead around 8:00 pm and began washing all our gear from the Trek camping experience (that we got home from the day before) and packed Rusty up to head out again for a week in New York, which  he will return home from with just enough time for another load of laundry before we leave for Texas.

From Virginia to New York to Texas in a week’s time. Russ has become quite the world traveler!

He had a good time. His favorite merit badge class he attended was Basketry, where he learned to weave baskets. He brought home these two completed projects.

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We had a lot of excitement in his absence…more negative than positive, but we ended the week on a high note when I found myself home with just Tyler and Molly.

The day started out hard for Tyler. He has been struggling with debilitating fears that cause him to shut down and push him into the “freeze” fear response. This is very concerning for us and we are trying to work through what is triggering this new, more primitive, fear response.

On Friday we had a doctor’s appointment. Before we could get ready to go, however, Tyler went into freeze mode, triggered (I believe) by the arrival of two therapists from Glade Run Family Based Services that came out to talk to me about whether their services would be a good fit for Ozzie and our family, upon his release from the hospital. While they were there Tyler shut down and remained in shut down mode for the next 5 hours. We missed our doctor’s appointment and all the packing and preparations I had planned for the trip were placed on hold as I worked to help Tyler regulate.

It was at that point I set aside all my plans for the day and declared it a play day (aka: mental health day!)

 After a hard, high-stress week my two most emotionally sensitive kids needed to enjoy some light hearted, happy fun, so that is what we did.

We started with a trip to the Dollar Tree so I could get some treats and games to make fun travel bags for our 46-hour road trip. While there Tyler spotted a combination lock that he desperately wanted. I saw in it an awesome new fidget toy, so I bought it for him. As I taught him how to unlock it (spinning it right, left, right) I was transported back to my high school hallway locker.

He has loved this silly, $1.oo gadget. So much so that I keep finding everyday items locked up around the house.

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No one will be stealing his shorts!

The day got better for Tyler but the evidence of his heighted level of anxiety was present even in the midst of our evening fun.

We started by heading to the pool for “Flick and Float.”

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Toby was working late trying to finish up the job he was on before we left for Texas the next day, so I headed to the pool with just Molly and Tyler. When we arrived, I scoped out a seat by the pool while Molly headed into the girls’ locker room to change and Tyler headed to the boys’ locker room. Molly came out minutes later and then we waited for Tyler…

And waited and waited and waited.

Finally, we walked over to the door of the locker room to check on him. From the door, we could see him balled up and hiding in the corner. He had stepped out of the locker room and hadn’t spotted us in the crowd of swimmers. He panicked, thinking we had left him.

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It breaks my heart to see my boy, who has always been so fearless, fearful of everything…

He finally made it into the pool and had a wonderful time playing water volleyball with Molly.

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The “flick” part of “Flick and Float” never happened. There were technical difficulties with the projector, so we floated without flicking.

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Toby arrived home around 8:00pm so we headed back home to change into dry clothes and the four of us headed over to our local fireman’s fair to let Molly and Tyler ride some rides.

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Tyler’s anxiety level decreased significantly with Toby’s arrival home. Toby really is Tyler’s greatest source of security and felt safety.

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We had a fun evening soaking up the festive atmosphere of the summer carnival.

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There is something magical about the glow of neon lights, the sound of carnival barkers, and smell of funnel cakes.

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We ended the night with sweet carnival treats. Cotton Candy for the kids and I and a funnel cake for Toby.

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It has been a hard, heart-breaking week at Patchwork Farm. I have felt so sad. This special time with Tyler and Molly was just what I needed, and just what they needed.

Tomorrow we leave for Fredericksburg, Texas, with stops in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Ft. Worth and San Antonio.

I pray things only get better from here.

Travis and Krista, here we come!

Moments of Summer

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I was going through my photos the other day and realized how many captured moments of our life have been missed as I blog the big events. It was time for another “catch up” recording of the little moments that make up the molecules of this beautiful life we are living.

Grace is a seminary graduate! In our church the high school students have the opportunity to participate in a daily scripture study course that takes place for an hour, before school each day. This is a huge commitment for the students that choose to participate, but also a magnificent blessing in the lives of these youth. Grace, Molly and Rusty were all seminary students this past year, and Grace completed her fourth and final year. We were attending her high school graduation on the weekend of her seminary graduation so we were unable to attend but she received her diploma and congratulatory poster after arriving back home. Congratulations, Grace! We are so proud of you!

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Around here we have been anxiously engaged in preparing for Trek. Next week my three oldest kids will be joining other youth from our area on a three day adventure in Virginia. Dressed in pioneer clothing they will have the chance to experience the joys and hardships of our pioneer ancestors as they trek across the rolling hills of the Marriott Ranch, pulling handcarts. Grace had the opportunity to participate in Trek 4 years ago and can’t wait to go again. This time the three oldest kids get to share the experience.

In preparation for their days of hiking and handcart pulling, we have been conditioning with daily walks.

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We have also been getting their pioneer clothing ready. The girls opted to sew their skirts and aprons and spent this last week completing their outfits. They can’t wait. It promises to be a life changing experience and a grand adventure!

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In between appointments and extra therapy sessions we have managed to fit in some visits to the pool. We are members of Ellwood City pool and have begun packing a lunch and spending the afternoons there following our daily trek-prep walks on non-therapy/tutoring days.

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It has been lovely to lay out in the sun, read a book, and swim in the pool…fully embracing the lazy days of summer.

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A few nights ago we had an unexpected power outage, following a summer storm. Luckily it happened just as I finished dishing up dinner so we enjoyed a romantic supper and family game night by candlelight. The kids found it to be a fun adventure.

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This summer’s primary focus has been on doing attachment and therapy work with both boys. Summer offers the perfect opportunity to really invest ourselves in a way that can be more challenging during the school year when schoolwork fills our schedules.

One way we have incorporated more intentional therapy efforts is through daily one on one sessions with the two little boys. We have always done weekly one on one sessions with the kids since my big kids were little. During their weekly one on one time they pick an activity they want to do with mom while the other kids play in their rooms. It has been a heart connecting and relationship strengthening tool that has greatly blessed me in my relationship with my kids.

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Tyler playing with edible Play-Doh that we made during his one on one time.

With the three oldest I am still doing a weekly one hour date (like this one with Grace when we made chocolate dipped frozen bananas this week,)

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But with the little boys we have started having shorter, daily one on one times. This comes from education we received at the Empowered to Connect conference this past spring. One of the three principles of Trust Based Relational Intervention is Connecting,

And one of the strategies for connecting in a very structured way is through daily 15 minute one on one time sessions with your child…a strategy I have been using this summer with Tyler and Ozzie. Much of what I was doing with the older kids was exactly what I needed to be doing with the boys, my engagement just needed to be tweaked a bit. Here are the guidelines (from TBRI principles) that I have been following as we have our daily one on one time.

  1. Start the time together by connecting. We do this through touch (taking their hands) and making eye contact.
  2. Use your voice to regulate them. If their energy is extra high use softer voice and slower cadence to bring down the energy level. If they are lethargic use a high energy voice to bring them up.
  3. Play together. This isn’t a time to instruct, teach, or question them. Just play.
  4. Copy or follow what they are doing. If you are painting together and they paint a tree, follow their lead and paint the same thing. This tells them that their ideas are worthwhile, building esteem and attachment.
  5. Praise their character. (Not what they do.) Tell them what a good kid they are, how much you love them, etc.
  6. Be close enough to touch. You want to sit in close enough proximity that you can reach out and pat their back or squeeze their arm as you praise them.
  7. At the end of your play time connect again with touch and eye contact. “Thanks for playing with me today. I love spending time with you!”

It has proven to be a powerful and effective tool to foster greater connection and stronger attachment between me and my boys.

During one of their “special times” this week each boy asked if we could print out pictures of sports cars from the computer and sketch/color our versions of them.

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It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see them both so engaged in such creative pursuits.

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Tyler even went one step further and asked me to print out a photo of him that he could cut out and glue into the drivers seat. The completed picture now hangs on his door. 🙂

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Moments like these are my greatest blessings!

 

Therapeutic Thursdays: The Power of “Yes”

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For this weeks installment of Therapeutic Thursday I want to begin with one of the three cornerstones of Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI), developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, for parents raising children from hard places. The three cornerstones of TBRI are Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting. I thought I’d begin with one particular tool we have been applying to promote Connection with our two adopted sons.

There is an unrealistic expectation I have seen when it comes to adoption, that love is enough to solve any problem or issue that arises after adoption. That is an unfair expectation place on the adopted child and on parents raising kids who come from a life of early childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse, because those early life experiences taught them that “love” is scary, unpredictable, untrustworthy, and even painful. These kids have a very different set of experiences with love then you might have  which can result in a “Clash of the Titans” showdowns.

This is especially true when you have adopted a child with attachment issues or a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

When the first behaviors arise, there is an arrogant ideology that you can love the pain away. With that unrealistic expectation comes feelings of resentment when that child rejects your love and responds to each effort to get closer with behaviors designed to push you away. The more you try to love their past out of them the more they rebel in word and action.

Over time this takes its toll on a family. You morn the loss of the family you thought you’d be after adoption and the loss of who you once were. You find yourself evolving from loving mother to a Marine Drill Sergeant. Since loving acts are reciprocated with destroyed property, physical aggression. and hurtful manipulation we desperately find ourselves moving into the camp of stricter consequences and the tactic of,  “punish the behavior out of them.”

We soon discover this to be an equally ineffective tool as these behaviors are not defiance behaviors, rather they are survival behaviors. These hurt kids can no more accept our love or be moved by our consequences than I can fly to the moon. They are prisoners of their past trauma and are driven solely by the fight, flight, or freeze response of their brains.

Much like a cornered dog who has spent years chained up and kicked, these kids from hard places don’t “growl” out of aggression, but out of fear and a need to survive.

They are terrified by the love we offer. They have been burned before by the very adults that were supposed to love, nurture, and meet their most basic needs, and as a result learned early on that adults are untrustworthy, attachment results in pain, and that they can only depend on themselves to get their needs met.

This survival mindset is the foundation for the most difficult behaviors associated with RAD kids.

So, while our instinct might be to first address the behaviors that are causing havoc in our homes, we must first address the cornerstone of connection, because as Dr. Karyn Purvis always said,

“Connection must come before correction.”

So, for the next few weeks I will be talking about some of the strategies we are using in our home to foster connection.

In an effort at transparency I will admit this is by far the most challenging aspect of the program for me. Connection is easy with people who treat you kindly, but requires intentional, Christ-like effort when trying to connect with someone who wakes up daily with the sole goal of hurting you and pushing you away with their behaviors.

Loving a child from trauma can be likened to hugging a porcupine, the closer you pull them to you the more you get poked.

It requires consciously and deliberately letting go of years of hurt and the mountain of resentment and say, “I am stepping back into the minefield, for the sake of my child’s heart and healing.” It requires humility. It requires the ability to forgive (and forget) 20 times a day. It requires looking at your child through the eyes of trauma and seeing those hurtful behaviors as survival behaviors. And it requires getting closer, when all you want to do is step away. It is an exhausting test of devotion. And it starts with Connecting…reaching out and reacquainting yourself with the child you have been holding at arm’s length as a means of self-preservation.

And it isn’t easy,

But it works.

For the next few weeks I am going to share some of the strategies I have been applying in an effort to connect with my adopted son. And the first strategy I’d like to introduce is giving your child the gift of “Yes.”

This one seems so backwards and counterproductive when viewed through the lens of parenting a child who hasn’t experienced trauma. In fact it goes against everything I did as a parent to my older kids. In an effort to raise humble, grateful children that didn’t carry the “entitled child” stigma of their peers, we made every effort to say “No” more than “Yes.” I saw the effect of too much indulgence in the children of friends who parented differently than we did and was determined to not have our kids grow up believing the world owed them something. We consciously made an effort to say “No” more often than “Yes”, so that the yesses were appreciated more and so our children saw every small blessing as the gift it was.

This idea of intentionally saying “Yes” more than “No” goes against everything I believe. But this is what I needed to understand about the difference in my older children’s upbringing and my two little boys’ upbringing. The older three were given a million “yesses” in their early years, while the two younger boys were told “no” time and time again…and I am not talking about verbally “yesses” to what they wanted at Dollar Tree. I am talking about every “Yes” I gave them as infants when I came to their cry. I am talking about every feeding and changing, and snuggle I said “yes” to when I met their most basic needs. I am talking about the thousands of times I said “yes” to their need for comfort after a nightmare, or “yes” to their request for help when they couldn’t do something on their own. I think about the millions of “yesses” they received for every time they were hungry and asked for food, or thirsty and received a drink. When reflecting back on my bio kids early years, I would not consider myself a permissive parent, but when I consider the many ways they were told “yes” by simply nurturing and caring for their basic physical and emotional needs I can see clearly the millions of “yes” answers that were invested into their trust bank which is what they are healthy, attached children.

I wish I could say the same for Ozzie and Tyler, but their starts were much different and those basic needs were not met regularly or consistently. Their parents said “No” to their requests when they didn’t meet their most basic needs as infants and toddlers. Because of that they learned quickly that adults won’t take care of you and can’t be trusted. They became their own keepers and continue to apply those survival strategies today.

Our goal is to balance those early years filled with “No” with an abundance of “Yes.” They more we can say “Yes” and meet their needs they more they will trust us to meet those needs, thus feeling safe enough to abandon those survival strategies they depend on.

Saying “yes” builds trust.

Saying “yes” leads to attachment.

Here is a great video about the power of “yes” from a TBRI parent:

http://empoweredtoconnect.org/building-trust-by-saying-yes/

I urge you to pick a day and give it a try. When your child asks for something, bite back the impulse to answer with the automatic “NO,” and consider whether this is a request you can say “yes” to. See how many “yeses” you can log in a day, and watch your relationship with your child transform and you feed his/her trust tank with each yes…

And with each met need.

That is how connections grow.

This is how our children heal.

This is how attachment forms.

Next week we will delve into another connection strategy we have had tremendous success with: “One on One Time.”

 

Therapeutic Thursdays: Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way

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At Patchwork Farm we are on a journey of discovery and healing. 6 weeks ago I attended a two day Empowered to Connect simulcast conference, at a local church near us. It was my first exposure to a parenting technique developed by the late Karyn Purvis and her co-author, Dr. Davis Cross, for kids from hard places. This therapeutic parenting approach is called TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention,) and it is the revolutionary parenting program that has saved our family and turned our lives back around.

Those who have been following this blog since the start know the unique challenges we have navigated in our adoption of two older, foster child placements. They both have a history of early neglect and abuse. That early history has affected them in so many ways like physical development, sensory processing issues, learning disabilities, relationship struggles, and has resulted in their development of “survival behaviors.”

        At the Empowered to Connect conference I learned the “whys” behind the behaviors we deal with, and the “hows” of what to do to address the needs behind the behaviors. As a result of that education, and applying the strategies we have learned, healing is happening. Praise God!

I have felt called to share some of these strategies with other families that might find themselves engulfed in that same hopelessness we felt as parents of two boys with Reactive Attachment Disorder. These techniques are incredibly affective for RAD kids and kids from hard places, but can be equally affectively applied to our children who don’t come from trauma. TBRI is just good, healthy, Christ-like parenting that works!

I look forward to sharing our life changing journey with you as we focus on one applicable technique of TBRI with you every Therapeutic Thursday. These will be fed to you a bite at the time so that you have the opportunity to put a piece of the program into practice, try it out, and see how it works before I introduce another piece of the TBRI puzzle.

We will kick off this new segment with a throwback blog about some of the lessons we have learned so far, on this crazy journey we call adoption.

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?

Ummm…nope. 🙂

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 received 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 is a long road…

but it is worth it!

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