Friday, November 22, 2013

Once & Done

Convenience is something we value in our culture today.




Rapid release


These are all words you will find on many, if not all, of the cleaning products today.  All terms we like to apply to the messy areas of our lives.  My girl friend used to use a floor product called "Once & Done".

Once & Done.  Wouldn't that be fantastic?

But even with floors, it's not really true.  You've washed it once and you are done…for now.  The truth is we all know we are going to have to wash that floor again.

It is the same with adoption grief.  It is not a "Once & Done" proposition.  I will never forget the most impactful sentence I ever read during the exhaustive adoption reading I did before my first child came home at 10 months in 1998.

"With age comes understanding."

This is a heavy concept.  Just what does that mean?
She was a baby when she came home.
We've always talked about her adoption and what a blessing is has been to us.
He has always known he was adopted and he has always been such a happy and content child.

What are you saying?  Are you saying that there is no formula to apply for a rapid release of grief?
Shouldn't all the love they have received for all of these years cancel out those beginning moments of pain?


It does not work that way.  With age comes understanding.  It is a great foundation that your child has growing up loved and invested in, and it will ultimately allow that when the storms come, they will be battle worn and weary, but they will stand and you will be the rock they stand on.

Think about your child's story.  How have you presented it to them?  How you talk about it to a 2 year old about how they came home is not how you talk about it to an 8 year old, or a 10 year old, or a 12 year old, and by the time they are 15, they know the how and are figuring out the WHY.

It is the WHY that hurts them.

It is the WHY that is NEVER "Once & Done".

If you are the newly adoptive parent of an infant, you MUST recognize that grief is not a disposable feeling.  It has no rapid release formula.  It is the gift that keeps giving.  Forever.  It never goes away.


Understand this.
Embrace it.
Prepare for it.

If they were adopted as infants, theirs is a pain that was forged deep in their hearts before they were even born.  It is our duty and honor to carry them through it when it finally comes to the surface, and it WILL come.

If there was ever a time that you need to understand that "It's not about me", this is the time.

It will feel like they are rejecting you.
They are not.

It will feel like they do not love you and never did.
They do.

It will make you think that none of the love and attention and effort and blood and sweat and tears you have poured out for them matters.
It does.

This is what an adoptive parent does.
It's what a PARENT does.
We bear the pain with our children.
Because we love them.

This is when we begin to understand just how perfectly God loves us.

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a
Love BEARS all things, BELIEVES all things, HOPES all things, ENDURES all things.  LOVE NEVER ENDS.

love is not "once & done".

 It endures forever.

Please be prepared to love your children by BEARING, BELIEVING, HOPING, ENDURING, AND NEVER ENDING.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On restraint and redemption

Vika has had her share of tantrums.  While I don’t always share the specifics of issues my children are dealing with, the tantrums are no secret.  If you have been to our house, or church, or a restaurant, or any public place really, you likely have been party to at least some portion of her tantrums, so I feel they are a safe topic to be open about.  (She certainly has no qualms about being public with them)

So here are some thoughts as we navigate through this behavior.

Ephesians 6:4b
… but bring the up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Two words stand out to me there.  They are nurture and admonition.

Dictionary definition:
Nurture: The care and attention given to someone or something that is growing or developing. 

Admonition: gentle or friendly reproof.  Council or warning against fault.  

Traci’s definition:
Nurture: loving care and attention

Admonition: teaching the how and the why behavior is important; Actual training about how to behave. 

Those are two extremely important actions in a child’s development.  Neither she nor children like her are receiving any of these two vital actions that every child needs in order to survive and thrive.

For nearly seven years Vika experienced nothing even closely resembling nurture and admonition.  What she experienced, at both most basic and extreme, was containment.  She had been contained.  Her physical self had been contained.  Her emotional self had been contained.  Her behavior had been contained.  At the very least, ignored, at the most, punished, but never given any loving care or teaching about how behave in order to thrive.

So what triggers such wild tantrums in a child who had not been exhibiting behaviors like that while in the orphanage?

At first I believe it was truly terror.  When she fell into a fit, her eyes, while terrified, were vacant.  I would describe it as “Vika has left the building”.  She would scream, thrash, scratch, pinch, bite, pull hair, kick, and flail until her little body was completely contained by mine.  I would wrap her arms across her chest and hold her hands tightly in mine while hugging her tightly and holding her legs clamped tightly between my tightly clenched thighs.  (yes, that tight) My cheek was often pressed against hers as it rested on the mattress of her bed so she could not head-butt me,  always careful that she could breath properly.  (I definitely succeeded as evidenced by the decibel heights of her incessant screaming.)  We would hold this pose for 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending upon how hard she felt compelled to fight.  In those first weeks, we might have 3-5 tantrums a day/week.  Her expression during these episodes was vacant.  She was incapable of behaving any other way.  Her mind had retreated and her reflexive response had taken over.
As time passed, her tantrums’ severity abated, and we were able to talk with her about her behavior.  We both agreed that we DID NOT like to do that.  She did not like being restrained like that, and I did not like doing it.  Neither of us wanted it to happen, and the frequency began to subside.  We began talking to her about making different choices regarding her behavior.  We would calmly ask her to join us in counting to 10, or 20, or 50 to see if we could avoid going down the tantrum/restraint path.  Sometimes we could avoid a tantrum in that moment, but later that day the tantrum would still come out.  Once awakened, that monster would not go away unless slayed.
A curious thing happened.  After her tantrums lessened and some months passed, all of a sudden her tantrums began ramping up again, but they were different.  Her eyes had lost that vacant look.  Even in the face of different, better options of behavior, she would actively choose the tantrum.  Her eyes were angry and hard and she defiantly refused the opportunity to choose a better path.
“I choose tantrum and outside physical restraint.” Her defiant actions said.
I responded with weary but determined actions, crossing her tiny arms and balled fists across her chest, embracing her tightly against my chest, resting my cheek again against hers to avoid impact, and holding on until it was over. 
In this last week we were back up to 3 or 4 in a row in a day.
We would discuss what was happening:
Vika, do you know why I hold you the way I do?
Yes, if you don’t, I will scratch you and pinch you and bite you and pull your hair.
Yes honey, that is what you do to me if I don’t hold you like that.
What is happening that causes us to fight like that?
I am being mean.
Do you want people to treat you mean?
Do I let people be mean to you?
Do I let you be mean to other people?
Is that a good thing?

But still the rage against the rules, until yesterday.

Yesterday she changed.
We went into her room with all the fight elements present: mean behavior, resistance to stopping, reluctance to remove herself, active fighting with me.
I gently murmured to her, “Vika, at the end of my count to ten, you know that I will have to hold you down.  Now would be a really good time to choose to count with me. One, two…”
By the time I got to two, she had stopped fighting, she had gone limp against my arms, and she began counting.  When we got to ten, I lifted her into my lap and told her what a wonderful job she had done making a wise choice. 
Her smile was so wide!  She hugged me so tightly.  We were both so excited at the turn of events and Vika understood that she could control what would happen.
Two more times that evening she started down the old road, and when reminded that she had the power to choose what would happen, she made the wise choice.

It. Was. Awesome.

Why the change?  Why did she ramp up the tantrums first?  I believe it took this long for her to understand the rules, and then to trust us she needed to be able to see that we were consistent.  Because we never deviated from the routine, because we didn’t react to her the way her behavior made us feel (like smashing something), but instead reacted in a way that would create structure, safety, and security, she could believe it.  She had been nurtured into choosing wisely.  She had been admonished enough to understand how to do it wisely and why it was important. 

Do I believe the tantrums are over? 
Not yet, but I believe they are on their way to becoming a distant memory. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Maximum Impact

I had an enjoyable conversation today with a new friend.  She was seeking adoption advice.  We talked about many things:

Different countries
sibling groups
special needs
adopting more than once
the state of adoption approval in Illinois...the list goes on.

The conversation kept returning to making the biggest difference.
We began discussing different special needs.  We mulled over both the short and long term issues presented by different physical and mental issues.  We discussed the journeys of families in other blogs who have adopted desperately neglected children.

If you have had this type of conversation before, you know how very overwhelming it can become.  A feeling of dread and despair begins to permeate your soul. 
How can we manage that over the long haul? 
Dear Lord, are we really equipped to do that?  
She just painted a picture of what transition is like for a "healthy" child, how can we possibly navigate through  all of that if we add these significant special needs?  

I hope if you have these desires and these questions that you explore deeply the answers.  She and I surely did.

As we spoke a very liberating thought occurred to me.


I believe the greatest need is love.
It is universal to every child who has no one to to call their own.
If you haven't got love, what does it matter if you can't walk?
If you haven't got love, what does it matter if you can't hear?
If there are no arms to hold you tight and kiss you when you are scared, what does it matter if you have DS, or CP, or Arthrogryposis, or Leukemia, or HIV, or TB, or Autism, or anything else?
If no one delights at the very thought of you, why does the rest of it matter?


Why does a child say yes when she has been told that "these Americans don't love you, they really just want to harvest your organs"?

She say yes because while she may die when she get there, it is worth the risk to see if perhaps they really do love me.  If I don't take the chance, aren't I dead already?

Please understand this:
You are not meeting a greater need if you go to Africa over  the American Foster Care System.
You are not meeting a greater need if the child is actually a sibling group of four.
You are not meeting a greater need if the child is bed-bound.
You are not meeting a greater need if the child has HIV.
You are not meeting a greater need if the child has special needs of any kind.

You are meeting the greatest if you give love to the child you can.
Everything else is just details.

So dear friend, if you are asking yourself these questions and feeling like there is no way you could do what these other people do, ask yourself this question:

Can I love a child who needs it?

If the answer is yes, then GO!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Where conflict begins

In case you didn't know, how my family has become my family is usually on my mind.  Additionally, I do a lot of talking with other families who are in a state of "becoming", and we are constantly working toward what will promote unity and neutralize conflict.  

While this is still a work in progress, I hope you will read and consider this.  Please comment with any epiphanies you have had that I could add to this list. 

The Adoptive Parent’s responsibility

Provide a safe, loving atmosphere that meets all needs of the child

Make the child a welcome addition to the family, not the center of the family.

Recognize that your child has no concept of family and certainly does not know your family.  They do not know how to give or receive love and have a skewed perception of what real love is. 

Be proactive, not reactive in your parenting. 

Be intentional about building relationship and do not place any responsibility of building said relationship upon the child

The adoptive child’s expectation

I am never going to worry again because all of my dreams are going to come true now that I have a family.

If my family loves me, they will give me everything I want.

I will never have to work, or go to school, or do anything unpleasant ever again because now my life is going to be perfect.

The Clash

Conflict within our new families begins for many reasons.  I believe they can all be traced back to some aspect of this list.  The child’s contribution to conflict is easy to identify.  Nothing on their list of expectations has any connection to reality on any level.  How could it?  They know what they don’t have.   With all the egocentricity of a child, they theorize that all of life’s problems will be solved when I get everything I want without any personal responsibility.  Life happens to me, so good life will happen to me with these new parents.  Relationship, responsibility, and reciprocity are not factors in any child’s thoughts.  This line of thinking is difficult enough without factoring in any institutional delay or health diagnoses.  Factoring in those two elements can compound the problem exponentially.

What creates more difficulty is when the parent does not have a clear understanding of what it takes to separate personal feelings and expectations from the reality of helping their child navigate through not just the concrete transition of the actual physical changes brought about by the adoption, but also helping their child navigate through the more abstract transition from orphan to family.  An orphan is a singular unit existing alone without the benefit of love, caring, or support from any avenue outside of him or herself; literally the child is an island, isolated and alone.  Family on the other hand is a network of natural help, assistance, support, and love.  A family naturally acts and reacts in concert with each member to create unity and security.  This is a relationship that naturally develops over time starting at conception.  When an orphan is plucked from their isolation and transplanted into the network of family, they cannot naturally and immediately adjust.  It is impossible.  It is an assault on every aspect of who they have been as a person and is completely foreign to them.  For most, it is overwhelming.  They will struggle and fight against this new sensation until they learn to understand it and can begin to appreciate it.  Please understand, this will take A LOT OF TIME.  “Behaviors” in a formerly orphaned/institutionalized child clearly expose the disparity between who the child was and who the child is becoming.

If a parent now places his or her own personal expectations and emotional needs upon a child who is already in such a state of distress, even more pressure is placed upon the child.  It is unrealistic and unjust to put such a vulnerable child in this position.  The child, who is already on overload, is going to act out against such expectations with even more distressing behaviors. 

You the parent must be in control of yourself and your emotions so that you can navigate through turmoil without having your confidence shaken by how their behaviors are making you feel.  You cannot have your feelings dictating how you react to your child.  Your child is out of control and desperately needs you to be in control.  If your emotions cause you to lash out at a child who cannot contain himself/herself because you took their behavior personally, how can you possibly create a sense of security for your child?  You yourself are not secure.  This cannot be.  You must be the sure foundation.  Only then can your child begin to trust that there is someone stronger taking care of things.  They fight to make sure it is true.  If they can beat you, how can they trust you to protect and care for them?

How do we become proactive rather than reactive parents?  We must learn who our children are.  We must learn the signs and triggers that cause them distress, and then we must do everything in our power to create an environment where these situations happen as seldom as possible.  We must not become angry when our children melt down because the situation has become too great for them.  We must be responsible to neutralize any flair up without blaming the child for the situation.  You KNOW what is going to be a problem for your child.  It is up to YOU to take care of it. While I state that the child is not to be the center of the family, in this circumstance, the child’s needs do need to dictate what you will and won’t be doing for some time to come.  This does not mean that the family revolves around the child’s happiness and all aspects of family life bows down to the great and mighty child.  I am sure you know families who operate this way.  This is not the same thing.  You are working toward healing for a broken child.  You are working toward integrating them into your family.  This takes time and specific attention.  The bottom line is we must recognize and accept who our children are RIGHT NOW as we work toward developing them into who they are to become without our own anger and resentment creating additional problems.  Our children did not create their own situations they are victims of circumstance.  It is our calling to facilitate healing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Truth sucks. Redemption is sweet.

It has been a while since I have posted.  I could simply explain that it is baseball season- that alone says enough, but naturally with me it's super sized.  I have 4 boys on 3 teams playing baseball.  Add to that doctor appointments, dentist appointments, other appointments, random tantrums, unwanted behaviors, a broken arm, a brief hospital stay, unrealistic expectations about what family means, children with less empathy than you would expect, and a husband out of town for work, and well, there you have it.

So many things, both good and bad, are happening.  The trick is, how to share those things without violating the privacy and trust of my children.  Currently it is not possible, but I am bursting with it all, so I will settle for sharing how it is going for me.

So, good news or bad news, which do you want first?  I guess I will start with the bad, that way hopefully I can finish up with redemption.

I am weary.

I miss the feeling of unity our family had.  While I believe we will have it again, we are fractured and have not yet healed.  It is painful.  One of the first things I will tell any potential adoptive parent is that these children do not owe you anything.  They do not have to love you, and they most likely won't for a long time, if ever.  This is a true true true statement.  What I have shared less about is what it actually feels like to live through it.

It sucks.

It sucks to not be appreciated, even just a little.
It sucks that no matter what you do, it is not good enough.
It does not matter that you know that you are dealing with unrealistic expectations.
I know that they do not know what real family is.
I know that what they need is not remotely close to what they want or expect.
I know this.
It still sucks.
It sucks to make serious long term decisions for people who don't trust you when the decisions you have to make are the antithesis of that person's desires.
It sucks to have to do the things parents have to do.
I will be invasive regarding your texts.  Your emails.  Your phone conversations.  And yes, I will ferret out who the jerk is that is not being nice to one of my children.
I will take it when you look at me with those betrayed eyes because my responsibility to protect you, even from your self, ends up revealing what you were doing behind a friend's back. 
I will take your despising looks, your feelings of betrayal, and your ire, because that is what a mom does.
It is in my DNA.
It is why I excel at what I do.


Doing what it takes sucks.

If I tell you that I will never let anyone hurt you, you had better believe that I will go the distance to make the pain stop.  Even when you don't want me to.
I will shuffle sleeping arrangements, cancel plans, declare edicts about behavior,  and I will back them up.

I will stay awake all night listening for shouting or crying.
I will stay awake with someone as they cry.
I will stay awake and cry all night myself.
I will always tell the truth, even when it hurts.
I will always believe you, even when it hurts.
I will always make the tough decision.
I will sometimes make the wrong decision.
I will sometimes hurt you with my decisions because it is the right thing to do.
I will sometimes hurt you with my decisions because I made the wrong call.
I will always love you regardless of your behavior or your reciprocity.

And it sucks.

So where is the good news?  What doesn't suck?

I love my children.
With every action, even the despised ones, I add another block to the foundation that they can stand on.  They see me going the distance even when it is ugly.  They see me risk their displeasure, and although angry, their security grows.
I find the notes left in strategic places that say:
I am sorry.
I love you.
Thank you.
I see those words in your eyes even when you think I betrayed you.
I see that you know I am for you, even as you tell yourself I am against you.
I see the relief in your sobs when I force a hard truth that while so painful to experience, brings you sweet relief.
I feel your arms around my neck holding me tightly.
I cherish your many kisses goodnight.
I am so proud of you when you make the decision against having a tantrum but instead make eye contact and count with me.
The strength and fortitude these children display is amazing.

The bottom line is, life is hard, and God is good.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

loving her softly

I think I heard my oldest daughter's heart finish ripping in half last night.
It was the most sorrowful sound.
Even so, there was hope.
We were wrapping up a great day, week really.  I was making pizzas and she offered to help me finish. We both sprinkled cheese over the crusts and washed our hands.
"Thanks, babe." I said as she walked out of the room.
By the time I had put the pizzas in the oven, she was back in the kitchen crying and yelling.  She sat on the steps, held her face in her hands and sobbed.  I heard the word Ukraine many times, and it was clear that she was NOT HAPPY.
I sat next to her with my iphone for translation assistance and asked her what was wrong.
Many things were typed into my phone.  We sat on the steps type/talking through dinner.

What was the bottom line?

She understood that while this whole time she has planned that she would go back to Ukraine as soon as possible, there is no one there waiting for her.
There is no one to help her there.
She has nothing there.

How her heart broke when this became clear to her.

Just what exactly brought this on?  I believe it was a few minutes of furtive wifi use while we were at McDonalds.  We do not give the children unlimited access at home, but we don't restrict the occasional free hotspot.  She was able to see that people (a boy) she cares about had already moved on.  Mixed in with that was continued sorrow about her mother and her past and the stark difference between life with us and the life she lived prior.
It is a very heavy thing to love someone who was supposed to protect and take care of you but didn't.  How do you reconcile that in your soul?

Imagine this with me:
This woman I don't know shows up out of nowhere with her husband, they tell me they love me and my three siblings, give me their name, a home and a family.


How does that work?
My own mother, who gave birth to me, loves me but failed to do any of those things.
Does that mean she didn't really love me?
Is it a betrayal to like this new life?
Does it mean I don't love her?

As her mom, it is difficult to realize that the weight my acceptance and unconditional love is actually crushing her sometimes.

How do you love someone softly?

I tell her that I am so very sorry that her life has been so difficult for so long.  I tell her that her mother clearly loved her, but that her love was not enough to protect and care for her properly.  I tell her I wish that had not been true, but that I have no power to change the past.  I can only take care of from now on, and that it is a blessing from God that I get to do that for her.

Here is what I know.
My daughter was upset, heart broken really.  Of all the places she could go to cry out in pain, she made sure to come to the room where I was so that I could give her the comfort she needed.

And I did, because I am her mom.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How Love grows

There are many people in my home.
Most of them love me.
One of them wants to love me but mourns her losses and dreams and schemes of going back.
One of them loves me more and more after every tantrum is spent and I controlled when she could not.
One of them does not wish to like it here and does not wish to love me.  She intends to be a tenant.
One of them just goes with the flow and is enjoying his new life and family in a very unconnected way that says, "I will enjoy this while it lasts."

It is odd to have your heart walk around outside your body in forms that do not recognize your love for what it is.  That can't help but neglect it and reject it and ignore it and long for it.

It is my joy to seize a moment to offer the comfort that my child didn't even know she needed: to hold her in my arms, stroke her hair, cry over her as her own tears fall,  to see her consternation over my tears for her fade in the comfort of my arms.  To know that in that moment, she understands that I love her.  It fades, but it will be back again.  It breaks my heart into a million pieces to have her share the tragedy that was suspected but unconfirmed until she tapped it out on my translate app.

It is frustrating to know that one of my children understands nearly every word I say but will not communicate with me in English and refuses to assist when her siblings are trying to talk to me.

It saddens me to see my son skittish around quick movements and to feel him flinch if an affectionate touch lingers to long.

It brings me joy to hear a new voice ring out, "Mama, Mama! Come here!"  To hold this little girl as she squeezes me around the neck and showers me with kisses.

There are strangers in my home.  
They do not love me.
They may never love me.
They do not have to.
I love them more than life itself.
It is enough.