I love the above quote by A.W. Pink. That really is where I have been lately.
We have been wonderfully blessed with the addition of our new daughter into our family. She is a beautiful, kind, gentle, affectionate girl who is aware of other's feelings and is sensitive to them. She is generous, funny, adaptable, helpful and has a strong desire to fit in and do well in her new life situation.
So it doesn't really make sense to me that this should be difficult.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to add to our family through the miracle of adoption. I know that this stirring is something placed there by the Lord. Although I am smitten by the sweet babies waiting for a mommy's arms to hold them, and often long for those arms to be mine, it is the older waiting child that has really grabbed my heart; the ones that watch babies and younger children go home to forever families, knowing that they have little chance of that happening for themselves.
Before bringing K home I did lots of reading and research. I followed other family's journeys as they brought their teens home. In my heart and mind I was prepared!!
And truthfully, I am surprised by how hard it is.
It's hard because even with all my preparation our reality does not really meet my expectations.
After meeting our daughter a year before bringing her home and receiving information about her from others who had met her, I had created an image of who I thought she was. Now that we have her home I realize that although my expectations were not unrealistic they did not do a good job of describing who our daughter is.
I expected that like other children I had read about she might have difficulty giving and receiving affection. I had imagined us cautiously showing her affection, starting with a small kiss on the head at bedtime and then marveling several months down the road when she had progressed to a place where we could give her a warm hug, a kiss on the cheek and tell her how much we love her.
Instead our daughter is very affectionate; sometimes indiscriminately so. She will hug most people she meets in a social setting, even if they are not people we know well. She seeks out physical affection throughout the day and often will compete with the younger children for mine or with me for my husband's. She wants tight embraces with full mouth kisses several times throughout the day. If my husband or I should sit on the sofa we are like a magnet. For me, who tends to be less physically affectionate, this has been hard. With three small children that require a lot of physical affection, K's neediness in this area, and my own deep rooted character traits, I find myself struggling to meet the demands. I am unsure of where the balance lies and if and where there is a line that should be drawn. I do not want our daughter to ever feel any rejection from us, but I also want this to be an area in her life where she recognizes what is appropriate and what is not. I am finding out that this is a lot more difficult when your child is 13 rather than 4.
I knew the language barrier would be hard. I knew that K would not learn as quickly as Levi did. I also knew that it would not be as easy to communicate through body language as it was with a smaller child. I expected that this would be quite frustrating to K.
What I didn't expect is how frustrating this would be to me. I didn't realize how much time it would require to stop and explain conversations to her in ways that she could understand. I didn't anticipate feeling so impatient when a concept that I think should be understood after a certain amount of time is not. I didn't think it would be necessary for me to remind myself so many times throughout the day to be patient, to be kind and to take the time to teach the idea or words again. I didn't realize how helpless I would feel, seeing certain behaviors that I would like to work on, knowing that we do not yet possess the language to do that in any kind of helpful or constructive way.
I knew that there would be learned orphanage behavior that we would not want introduced to our younger children. I imagined myself facing each one with the intense compassion that I felt toward my daughter in all of my imaginings of her. I pictured myself dealing with each one constructively with a strong desire to help her work her way out of learned behaviors that were in no way her fault for having developed.
What I didn't expect was to find myself feeling angry when those negative behaviors directly impact our younger children. I didn't anticipate myself taking up such a strong defense on behalf of the children that I have already had opportunity to attach and bond so strongly to. I didn't think that I would have to remind myself not to allow these feelings to show on the outside, that each child was mine, equally loved and committed to, and that my responses always need to reflect that. I never imagined myself having to be reminded to view my daughter with the compassion that I so strongly felt going into this.
I knew that adding to our family and especially through an out of birth order adoption would change the dynamics in our home, after all we had already done this once. When we brought our son home I loved watching our little girls adapt to this new situation. I loved watching them welcome L as their brother. I loved seeing the different character traits this brought out in each of them as they built their relationship with him.
I didn't expect that this new experience would be so unlike our first. Bringing K home has now changed these newly formed relationships between the three younger children. This is hard to watch. There is a new level of sibling rivalry that has been brought about as the little ones compete for K's attention. With K having a need to fit in and to be accepted, being the newest addition, these dynamics provide a perfect opportunity to bring out more negative character traits as she plays into this situation. As a mother with a strong sense of protectiveness for her little ones, it again brings about situations where I have to remind myself to not respond instinctively, but to be fair to each child, recognizing that there is a history of learned behaviors that contribute to the ones that I now must deal with.
I expected that K would have institutional delays and that she would probably act much different than her "real" age. I thought it would be endearing, and it was; for a while.
I wasn't prepared for how that would look on an emotional level or in social settings. Even though cognitively, I know that she is delayed, and that this is to be expected, I find myself often expecting more, thinking she should respond in situations as a 13 year old would or at least close to that. I didn't anticipate that the behaviors that we would be dealing with would be very much like the ones we are dealing with in the smaller children and just how frustrated this would make me "feel."
I do not share any of this to bring discouragement to anyone in the process or who might be considering the adoption of an older child. I also hope that I do not reflect a complaining attitude or any regrets. I do not have any. Our daughter is an incredible blessing to our family, who in spite of all of the challenges, adds joy to our lives.
Parenting is hard work. Parenting a child who has faced rejection and hurts that most of us are unable to comprehend is even harder. Each of these children is in need of a love that is often beyond what we are able to give. They need a level of commitment that is unbreakable and parents who are willing to work through the unique challenges that their adoptions will bring.
I have received an incredible amount of help on this journey through Karen Purvis' book "The Connected Child" and especially through the bible study guide available on their website. In the introduction to this study we are reminded that it is our strongest human desire to belong and that our goal as parents should not only be to bring about right behavioral responses, but to have our children involved in connected relationships. The goal of achieving desired behavior in our children, and particularly in K would not be so difficult. She really does have a strong desire to please us. A goal of achieving desired behavior, while developing in her a strong sense of connectedness and belonging is a much more lofty goal. It is one that requires a much more concentrated effort.
As her parents we must be willing and able to do that hard work. A lot of the time, I feel incredibly inadequate.
I was given a beautiful reminder the other day when a visiting pastor to our church spoke on Matthew 11:28-30. He first recounted to us how Jesus, as a carpenter, would have had the distinct job of fashioning farming implements, including yokes. He told us how each yoke would be fashioned to be a perfect fit for the oxen that it was designed for. If used properly this yoke would then make the work easier and the oxen would more effectively accomplish the task that was required of it. If the oxen chose to fight against the yoke, regardless of it's perfect design, it would cause chafing and discomfort.
What a beautiful picture of the perfect design of our own life experiences. If we will allow them to work in the way that they are intended, rather than struggling against them, the Lord can work more effectively in and through us to accomplish His purposes for our lives.
I needed this reminder last week as I struggled with guilt and condemnation at my own shortcomings. I needed to be reminded that the Lord is not surprised at any of the ugliness that remains deeply rooted in my own character, but rather that He has fashioned this current situation to help bring forth the fruit or godly character that he desires to see there in its stead. How I pray that I will learn to fully cooperate with Him, allowing Him to change me into the wife, mother and friend that He wants me to be.
Trying to do the Lord's work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.
Corrie Ten Boom