FB Questions Answered!

A few weeks ago I wrote a short request on facebook asking people to share their questions regarding adoption. ¬†Here are the questions and the best answers I could come up with ūüôā

“In places like China, for example, I’ve heard that it is customary to offer expensive gifts, etc., not to mention the plane fare. Where might a middle class family who don’t have plane fare, etc. be able to inquire?”

So unfortunately I have no firsthand experience with this one, but I will share the best I’ve been able to acquire from my research!

So from what I’ve been able to understand, in many cases these “gifts” are items being requested by orphanage directors/workers when a child is being adopted. ¬†Though this may seem incredibly manipulative, from what I’ve read in many cases it is actually the agency you are working with here in North America that is requesting you to bring these gifts because it is culturally appropriate to offer gifts in situations such as these. ¬†I also found that in many cases these gifts are really not expensive ($10-25 each) and are actually donations for the children left behind in the orphanage when you return home with your child. ¬†The $30-50 thousand dollars you spend on an international adoption is largely spent on lawyer fees both in your country and the child’s, travel costs, adoption agency fees, and government documents you need to acquire for your child. ¬†The orphanage itself from which your child is coming will receive very little, if any, of this money. ¬†These “gifts” are their way of trying to improve the conditions of the orphanage. ¬†Again, this is not first hand experience and my information may not be reliable but that’s what I found. ¬†To avoid being taken advantage of financially in an international adoption the overwhelming advice I read was to work with a reputable agency, to be organized and to choose a country that has signed the Hague Convention.

As far as being able to afford an international adoption, there are many things a middle class family can do:

  1. Apply for adoption grants
  2. Fundraise for your adoption
  3. Live on less
  4. Sell stuff
  5. Get a loan

I believe that where there is a will there is a way ūüôā

Read my blog post on affording adoption here.

How does a family go about discretely investigating about whether or not the child has physical/neurological difficulties? There have been many reports of adoptive parents finding that the babies have difficulties that they weren’t aware of. While a couple would need to accept these things in their own birth child, there are many who adopt, not wanting to sign up for that.

To be honest, I think this was probably more common longer ago.  Here in Canada, I do not think you need to be concerned at all about this as any public or private agency will share as much information as possible with you if you are serious about adopting a specific child.  They are not trying to con you into adopting a child.  On the contrary, they are working for the best interests of the child, not you!  Once you express serious interest in a child, you will be given the opportunity to view their entire file including any medical history, diagnoses, etc.  It will be your job to do the research on whatever you find and be sure you are equipped and informed.

However, you must remember that there are many unknowns related to children who have suffered trauma, abuse and/or neglect. ¬†Short of a magic genie there is no way for you to predict the full capabilities of a child upon adoption any more than a biological child’s future needs at birth.

I would say:

Ask as many questions as you can.

Consult with professionals regarding the information you do receive.

Do your research, but at the same time be prepared that life has a way of throwing curve balls at you and it doesn’t mean someone deliberately mislead you.

If you’re referring to international adoption I would certainly think there are many more risks of this occurring. ¬†I know most adoption agencies encourage you to arrange for a medical examination to take place in the child’s current country and then again immediately upon arrival to Canada. ¬†Many children available for adoption internationally have been abandoned at an orphanage with very little information, so there is not necessarily any way you can know what the true extent of their limitations are. ¬†It’s important to be prepared for things to be much worse than you expect…but it’s also important to keep in mind that a secure and loving environment, with great access to medical care and services is the ideal place for a child to reach his or her fullest potential!

As far as not wanting to ‘sign up for this’…it’s a phrase that would be worth considering deeply. ¬†If you are not prepared to face some unknowns adoption may not be for you. ¬†These kids need people who are willing to stick with them no matter what.

 

“I know a couple who adopted a young girl after fostering for a long time. Later, there was such conflict with their biological children, that they arrived at the difficult decision of letting the girl go again. How does the couple with the heartache in that decision reconcile that issue within themselves. I’m sure they still ache.”

This is a tough one for me. ¬†Everybody has a story about an adoption that went wrong in some way or other. ¬†I feel for this family deeply and I’m sure that they must have walked through some very dark and desperate times to reach this decision. ¬†I have never had this experience, and to be honest it goes against everything I believe.

At the same time, I am not so naive as to think that the intense struggles involved in foster care and adoption could not lead to this. ¬†As much as I don’t like it, there are children who have been wounded to the point where they cannot function well in a family environment. ¬†Love does not fix everything. ¬†There are times when a child needs supports that a home environment will not be able to provide. ¬†Many adoptive parents have lived through the agony of having to choose to send their child to residential treatment centres, etc. ¬†This is hard stuff.

I would say, however…that I feel like there should always be an option that still includes the preservation of the vows you made to your child upon their adoption into your family. ¬†I cannot ever in my mind conceive a time when it would be ok to abdicate my biological child’s place as my son or daughter. ¬†Any parent who abandons their biological child or rejects their place in the family is labelled as a monster. ¬†I struggle to understand why a child you’ve chosen to adopt would be any different. ¬†The day you adopt a child you legally become their parent. ¬†They receive a new birth certificate, with your name on it. ¬†They take on your last name. ¬†You vow before a judge to care for them and love them forever. ¬†The minute you sign those documents in the court room, the time to back out of an adoption is past. ¬†While it may be necessary to relinquish a child to live outside of your home for a while…or even permanently…I would be lying if I said I thought there was ever an ok time to nullify an adoption. ¬†Especially due to sibling rivalry. ¬†I’m guessing the thought of “letting go” of the biological children never crossed their minds. ¬†Two wrongs will not make a right. ¬†They may reject you, they may push you away, they may leave your life in a pile of rubble and desolation…but they desperately need you to follow through on the promise that nobody else did; that they belong to you and nothing can ever change that. ¬†Whether they are under your roof, behind bars, in a respite home or enrolled in a treatment centre…they are yours and you are theirs. ¬†That’s what family means.

 

Do you feel differently about your biological child than your adopted ones?

Yes, I do. ¬†I ADORE all 3 of my children but I absolutely feel differently about them in some ways. ¬†I worry less about my biological son’s future, and my relationship with him is so easy. ¬†Our attachment is secure and unexplainable, with no interruptions or unknowns. ¬†My daughters and I have walked some hard and dark places together, and I have fought harder for them than I knew was possible. ¬†There are days my heart wants to explode with pride as I watch them conquer their world. ¬†There are other days I feel a lot of fear and pain as I watch them. ¬†I have had to earn their trust, and we still walk on eggshells around some issues. ¬†It is a more intentional love, and there are days the foundation appears to be crumbling in places I didn’t know exist. ¬†I am constantly on alert with them. ¬†We take nothing for granted. ¬†But we are a family. ¬†Forever. ¬†And I would choose this again and again and again. ¬†My 3 children came to me in very different ways, but the 3 of them make up my heart and together they are siblings with a bond that is unmistakably family!

 

How long does the adoption process take? 

Unfortunately the adoption process is unpredictable as there are many variables. ¬†There are 3 different types of adoption, first of all. ¬†International, domestic and foster care. ¬†For all three you will need to start with a homestudy assessment. ¬†This process usually takes approximately 6 ¬†months to complete. ¬†After your homestudy is complete it depends largely on how motivated you are to adopt and what type of child you plan to adopt. ¬†If you are adopting internationally or through foster care and are interested in adopting children with special needs, older children or a sibling group your adoption will usually go fairly quickly from this point…especially if you are being proactive in searching for your children. ¬†If, however, you are waiting for a baby or child with very limited special needs you will wait longer as children rarely make it through being abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned without some major trauma. ¬†If you are adopting domestically and being matched with a birth mother there is no guarantee when or if you will be matched but most families statistically are matched within a year. ¬†You can speed up the adoption process by being prompt in completing your paperwork, being open to special needs children and being proactive alongside your adoption worker. ¬†However…God has a way of making things happen in His timing and in His ways, and sometime that means waiting. ¬†At the end of the day it is all up to Him and trusting His timing will help bring peace in the waiting periods and hope in what seems to be endless holdups. ¬†He is bigger than any obstacle that may stand in the way.

 

What are some things your home requires to pass the home inspection?

Some things you will need to complete a homestudy in Ontario are:

  • Criminal Record Checks
  • Fire Inspection
  • Medical Certificate completed by family physician
  • References
  • Financial Statement form
  • Proof of Home and Auto Insurance
  • MTO Driver’s Abstract
  • Car Seat Inspections
  • Notice of Assessment
  • Complete PRIDE training
  • Meet with your social worker at least 3-5 times

Many people find the homestudy process to be quite invasive and intimidating, which it certainly can be. ¬†Having someone come in and inspect every aspect of your life, home and family is a little disconcerting. ¬†However, this is an essential part of being sure you are a safe, consistent and loving home for a child to grow up in. ¬†Try to remember that everything you are being asked to do is for the sake of the many children out there waiting for a family. ¬†Raising children with trauma backgrounds is not always easy and it’s important to be sure you are prepared for this challenge. ¬†The homestudy is designed to help both you and the adoption agency you are working with to determine whether your family is prepared for adoption.

AF

 

Adoption vs. Birth

I went into adoption absolutely certain that I could and would love children born to another woman.

I was right.

I knew long before I met my girls that my love could run as deep, steady and strong for a child I chose through adoption as a child I gave birth to.

But there was also a lot I didn’t understand¬†until I gave birth to my son.

Before we adopted I naively thought that love for my daughters would come instantly and feel deeply maternal.

I was wrong.

While I did fall instantly in love with my daughters, it was a very different kind of love than the love I felt when I gave birth to my son a  year and a half later.

It took day in, day out, month after month after long month of choosing to love my daughters before those feelings of natural, instinctive, maternal love came to me.

In theory I loved them fully and intimately, but realistically

we were strangers

and we needed to get to know each other.

I hadn’t spent nine months feeling the stirrings under my heart. ¬†I hadn’t held them for those first breaths and watched each tiny movement. ¬†I hadn’t witnessed the steady growth and development and learned what experiences formed in them their character and who they had become.

I have missed so much and I grieve that deeply.

When my son was born his innocence and purity took my breath away. ¬†He was…and still is…so unscarred by this world.

My daughters never had that experience.  Even prenatally they struggled against circumstances beyond their control.

They fought for survival even before their first breaths.

I would give anything to give them the innocence my son got to experience, but I can’t and that is hard.

It is hard to look into my daughter’s eyes and see longing there as she says, “Mommy, I wish I grew in¬†your¬†tummy.”

Or to hold her shuddering little body as she cries tears of grief and loss for her birth mother…tears that she can’t even understand they are so complex and raw.

When my daughters came to me at 7 and 5 years old, they had personalities, character traits and a whole life that I knew very little about.

Sometimes that still gets in the way.

Sometimes I see fear, and I don’t know why it’s there.

Sometimes I see pain, and I don’t know what it’s about.

Sometimes there are vivid memories of people and places that I don’t know and I have no way of knowing if these memories are accurate and true or distorted by a child’s memory.

They’re looking to me for answers and I don’t know what to say.

Sometimes I see anger and resentment and I have no words to unravel the pain behind it all.

Sometimes I am the one battling the deep feelings of loss, of insecurity, of resentment and of exhaustion.

It is so tiring to constantly battle the layers upon layers of grief, fear, loss and trauma written on the hearts of children who have seen and heard and felt the unimaginable.

There is always always an unknown factor to consider.

Just because I chose this doesn’t mean it’s easy.

It’s not always fun.

Hurt makes people hurt.

Fear makes people push away.

Betrayal makes hearts break and the healing is slow and painful.

Sometimes I just want a normal family.

Yes, it’s true and I said that out loud.

Sometimes the guilt of that tears me apart.

But so many other times I see love, and I feel honoured to be their mother.

I see happiness and it overwhelms me with joy.

I see healing and it makes me fall to my knees in worship to the One who can bring redemption out of so much pain.

So many people see all the hurt and pain that often goes along with adoption and they decide they could never do it.

Too many risks.

And it’s true…after having experienced both adoption and natural birth, I will atest to the fact that giving birth is probably easier.

It’s the natural way to receive a child, the way our Creator first designed for families to be born.

It’s beautiful.

But what about when the original design falls apart?

What about when pain and destruction and sin enter in?

Ripping, tearing, breaking;

leaving wounds upon both the innocent and the guilty?

Then what?

Is there any hope of redemption?

Yes!

A thousand times yes!

I cannot begin to pour enough passion into these words.

To let you see,

to let you feel

the incredible grace

that our Father pours upon those who choose to engage the pain.

How he takes the ashes and creates beauty from them.

How he takes the broken and uses the scars to proclaim His glory.

How he bathes us in grace upon grace.

How he heals and transforms and gifts.

How we see the gospel through this thing we call adoption.

It is probably true that nothing quite prepares you to face the pain of this.

But it is absolutely true that nothing will prepare you for the rewards you will experience and the victories you will be a part of.

Nothing will prepare you for the small things that will bring you joy,

the grace you will receive

and maybe most of all the love that will grow strong in your heart for these children you’ve chosen as yours.

Yes, yours.

It will become their identity.

Your children.

It’s my favourite thing to say.

My daughters.

One of my favourite narratives in scripture is the account told in Hosea of God lavishly loving upon the people who had turned their backs on him.

Hosea 2:23 says,

“I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'”

When I read these words, there is something that resounds within my heart.

I will say to those who were once not my own

“You are mine!”

I will choose, despite all odds, to

lavishly love

upon these people who were once strangers to me.

And in it all, the unthinkable will occur…

we will become one.

A family.

A home.

A testimony of grace and redemption.

So even though adoption can be hard and messy and complicated

it is so worth it and in it’s own way

it is so beautiful.

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

AF

Cry It Out?

 

IMG_9407-1I remember the first time I cared for an infant.

As a “new mom” to our first foster child, a baby, I was reporting in detail every little quirk in his sleeping habits to our social worker. ¬†What sticks out in my mind is her kind eyes looking at me with a hint of amusement as she said gently, “You know you may eventually just need to let him cry it out!”

Fast forward four years and I’m dragging myself out of bed to go comfort my five month old for the fourth time in one night.

Not hungry.

No fever or signs of pain.

No diaper change needed.

Just wanting to be snuggled and preferably offered a breast for extra comfort!

As much as I absolutely adore
my baby, and have learned sometimes it’s not worth the battle, sleep is something I know I need and this particular night I knew I needed to put on my big girl pants and get him back to sleep without my help. ¬†This was becoming a pattern.

So…

After attempts to rock him, cuddle him and sing him back to sleep I tucked him back in his crib, turned on the singing seahorse and stood beside his crib watching him cry in the warm glow of the night light. ¬†I thought of leaving, but couldn’t bear to leave the room and instead propped my head on the rail inches from him and tried to calm him with my whispered words of comfort.

His poor little eyes filled with big tears and he cried his little heart out. ¬†He’d never experienced anything like this before! ¬†Being such a content little guy, at the slightest whimper he is used to being scooped up. ¬†I thought to myself that this was probably one of the first big moments of stress in his life!

He cried and cried, big shuddering sobs.

Just when I’d think he was almost calm again, he’d start all over again.

At these moments it is really unfortunate to be an adoptive parent who has spent the last three years focusing on attachment, brain development and healing kids from trauma.  As I stroked his cheeks and listened to his mournful cries my heart broke and I felt my chest tighten with anxiety.

All the stories I’d read of babies left screaming for hours on end and the resulting brain trauma flew through my mind. ¬†I was sure he was going to think I was abandoning him and all I could picture was the diagram of the brain in attachment classes with the prefontal cortex all lit up in bright red!

What kind of mother just stands there and lets her child cry?!

At the same time the logical side of me knew this was an age old, tried-and-true method that most mothers use at some point with most babies.  I also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving of me after a night of fitful, interrupted sleep.  Thirty minutes, an hour, forty-five minutes, or two hours at a time is not a way to feel rested and energetic the next morning!  I would still have to get up and take care of my baby.  I would still need to home school my daughter.  I would still need to get to the grocery store with my two children and do the shopping.  I would still need to get to the appointments and make dinner for my family.  I would still need to do the laundry so my girls had clean clothes for the weekend.  Life would still be there, and I would be a much better mother with a little more sleep.

Sigh.

This pattern needed to stop.

I realize there are all kinds of ideas surrounding babies and sleep.

Sleep schedules.

Sleep training.

Sleep cycles.

But every baby is different, and every mother is different.

At the end of the day you have to find whatever works for you.

After almost 45 minutes of on and off, broken-hearted crying my baby gripped the finger I offered and drifted off to sleep, still sniffling as his tears dried on his pink cheeks.

The funny thing is, as I felt his body relax and go off to blissful dreamland,

instead of heading back to my bed,

I stayed.

I stayed and stroked his soft head.

I whispered to him all my dreams for him,

My prayers for him,

And my apologies for being only mortal when I wish to be so much more.

My arms ached to hold him,

now still and quiet in sleep.

I desperately wanted to cuddle him close and let him feel my skin against his.

I wanted him to know just how very much he is adored.

But of course I couldn’t.

I told my husband later that the worst part was not watching him cry and have his eyes beg mine pleadingly, though that was torturous.

No.

The worst part was that eventually he was okay.

Without me.

Eventually he gave up.

And that broke me.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again.

I probably should, and probably will.

It really does work most times from what I hear.

But I hate it.

I’m designed to be his everything, and that is what I thrive on.

Interrupted nights,

frustrated minutes pacing the floor,

those are really just par for the course.

I’m a mother, after all.

 

AF

 

5 Rules to Enjoying the First 6 Weeks With Baby

So, now that Karter is 6 weeks old, I have a few little tips for new moms to make the first 6 weeks with baby as smooth as possible. ¬†Some of these were given to me by other people, some I learned the hard way and some on retrospect would have been a good idea ūüôā ¬†For those loving a little one with colic, sleep issues or feeding issues these will be doubly important!

1. Say no to extras.

This is not the time to commit to another committee at church, throw a Christmas party for your coworkers or invite friends over for a five course dinner.  For 6 weeks, say no.  Just do it.  NO.  You and your baby will be happier, healthier and more rested.

2. Stay home.

Right alongside rule #1 is stay at home. ¬†Send someone else to get the groceries, pick up the kids or run errands. ¬†Clear your calendar of any ‘going away’ activities. ¬†Unless you really feel like you need a breath of fresh air, just stay at home in your p.j.’s and enjoy it! ¬†You’ll be surprised how exhausting it will be for you mentally and physically just to go to the store for a few minutes. ¬†So don’t. ¬†Just stay home. ¬†Though I would say, if you’re feeling up to it a walk outside is a wonderful way to get some air and feel like a human again! ¬†But no pressure ūüôā

3. Accept help.

There will be people at every turn offering to bring you meals, run some errands, babysit your other children or clean your house for you. ¬†Say yes! ¬†Even though you know you haven’t done well in the past offering help to others, or you feel like that person deserves help more than you do…say yes! ¬†People don’t offer unless they genuinely want to help, so just accept it. ¬†Before you know it the tables will be turned and you will get a chance to return the favor. ¬†This is part of the beauty of being a part of a community. ¬†It takes a village to raise a child…starting in the first 6 weeks!

4. Hold your baby.

Whenever you get the chance, every time you want to…hold your baby. ¬†Just sit and stare down at that little face, the perfect little fingers and toes and the tiny turned up nose. ¬†Stroke that soft head and kiss those sweet cheeks. ¬†Before you know it your baby will be kicking and giggling, but right now all she wants in the world is to be close to you. ¬†The world feels big and strange to her and your arms are her safe place. ¬†So don’t be afraid to just sit and hold your baby. ¬†It’s satisfying, peaceful and bonding.

5. Take naps.

Schedules will come later. ¬†Right now both you and baby are just figuring out the new world you live in so don’t expect to have a predictable sleep schedule yet. ¬†Throw the clock out the window and just follow your baby’s lead. ¬†If 3 am is his awake time, then unfortunately there is very little you can do to change that! ¬†So sleep when he sleeps and be ready to chat when he’s awake. ¬†If it’s almost dinner time but baby is falling asleep and you’re exhausted…grab a quick bite and then head for your bed or the couch. ¬†Soon enough baby will get onto some type of schedule but for now just sleep whenever you can ūüôā

So that’s what I learned…any thing to add all you moms out there?

I’d love to hear what things helped you get through those first 6 weeks or what things you wish you would’ve done!

AF

Don’t Grow Up So Fast

I am transitioning into a new phase and it’s taking the wind right out of me at times!

My daughters are now 9 and almost 7…and they are growing up so fast.

Last September I was walking my girls down the hill to school every day and watching until the last possible second as they would go inside with their classes.¬† If I turned my¬†back too quickly my oldest daughter would have a meltdown, crying¬†and¬†screaming at the sight of me walking away.¬† She was terrified I was leaving her forever.¬† I will never forget the hard knot in my chest having to walk away as she screamed and cried, trying to run after me down the sidewalk.¬† It was one the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.¬† My littlest A didn’t struggle with anxiety over me leaving, but¬†her little soul was still struggling furiously to figure out what had happened to¬†the safe little life she’d loved so well.¬†¬†We had a long year full of discouraging ups and downs, never being quite sure what was going on inside her little mind.¬† Daily check ins with an incredible teacher were¬†my lifesaver.¬† I needed to know what was going on in¬†her world so I could figure out what was going on in her heart.¬† It tore me apart watching her struggle and feeling like I had¬†no idea what to do!

This¬†September,¬†we are walking triple the distance to a¬†brand new¬†school that all the kids¬†from two old schools in town have moved to.¬† The old school just down the street is¬†sitting¬†vacant and quiet, and¬†it takes a lot more work for me to wander by my daughters’ school at recess time just to make sure they’re ok.¬† As if the distance alone isn’t enough to discourage me,¬†the load I’m carrying on my feet these days¬†is¬†substantially¬†more¬†as well!¬† At 8 months pregnant, walking is getting less and less appealing.

So this August, as the first day of school approached, I was in a pickle.

Last year I spent tons of time at school; volunteering, checking in, bringing whatever it was that had been forgotten.¬† Barely a day went by when I wasn’t in the school for some reason or another, and it was reassuring to be able to check in on my daughters while I was there, even if they didn’t see me.¬†¬†With only¬†a bit over a month to go until Baby arrives, I knew that this year was going to look very different than last!¬† All summer I heard murmurs about bussing schedules and numbers to call to check if your kids were eligible for the bus.¬†¬†I, however, pushed them aside and firmly stuck to my guns.¬† We would walk or bike or drive.¬† I didn’t want to lose that daily connection and I couldn’t quite fathom sending my kids off on the bus every morning¬†and¬†very possibly never walking into¬†the school yard at all for weeks at a time!¬† On top of that, we weren’t able to find out who my kids’ teachers would be until the first day of school.¬† I tried to stuff down the worry, but I was concerned.

A week before school started, I got a call from the board of transportation, letting me know my daughters¬†were eligible for bussing and that¬†Bus #534 would be stopping at the bottom of Logan’s Lane¬†every morning at 8:15.

I kept this news to myself, knowing in my gut what both my daughters and my husband would say if I were to bring it up.  Until this point I had not known for sure if we were far enough away to be eligible for transportation.  Now I knew and the picture suddenly seemed pretty clear.

By mid October I would have a newborn, and shortly after that the weather would turn cold.  Snow would bog up the sidewalks and I would be leaving the house twice a day with an infant to pick up the girls in the van.  This would mean lugging a car seat in and out of the house twice a day, leaving the house on time and still only really gaining a peek at the school, not connection with the teachers.

Or…

We could enjoy the nice weather while it lasted, walking and biking, and have a short walk down the hill to the bus stop all winter long while the snow and cold took over.¬† Baby could stay snug and warm inside as the girls walked up and down the street to the bus twice a day.¬† No car seat hauling, baby bundling, or interrupted naps…unless I felt up to it.

Sigh.

But oh I fought it.

When¬†I finally admitted to my husband the call I’d received he laughed out loud and¬†said with no room for discussion the girls would indeed be taking the bus all winter and that I had better get them on it¬†ASAP so they know how to use it when¬†Baby comes on the scene!

The girls were thrilled!  They loved the idea of using the bus and immediately wanted to try it out!

So that is how I¬†found myself watching them climb¬†onto that big yellow bus on the second day¬†of school…the¬†first I insisted on walking them!¬† Big smiles, calling “I love you”, all excitement and confidence.¬† Since then they’ve¬†gone on the bus a handful of times, though I’ve¬†encouraged that¬†we enjoy this beautiful weather and walk or bike most days.¬† I need the exercise even if they don’t, and¬†even though they enjoy their independence they do love¬†having me there, too.

Since my ever-growing weed of a 9 year old is a pretty fast biker, I’ve even cut the apron strings and let her go ahead of us all the way to school!¬† There are two small, quiet streets to cross alone and then one busy one that has a crossing guard.¬† It nearly made my Mommy heart panic the first time she sailed off out of sight alone, but I also knew in my heart that she was completely capable and I needed to let go!

What amazes me every single day is the huge difference I see from last September, and every day I go away absolutely in awe, praising God for what He’s done for us.¬† It’s incredible!

Akeisha is thriving on her newfound independence and wants to bike to school alone every day!¬† Her confidence and enthusiasm makes me so proud.¬† She is so not my little girl anymore.¬† In her words, “Mommy, I feel like I’m growing up so fast!”¬† She truly has grown and matured so much in the last year and the security she feels now has given her wings to soar!¬† It is beautiful watching her thrive.¬† I know she is going to love being a big sister to our newest little addition, and I am enjoying watching her grow up even if it tears at my heart some days.¬† Happiness looks gorgeous on you, my girl!¬† You have no idea how my breath has caught in my throat these past¬†few weeks as I watch you take on the world with all the confidence¬†and grace you possess.¬† I will always be cheering you on, and I’m trying hard to keep up to you!¬† I’ll try to give you the wings you need to fly!

Since Akeisha wants to bike, Alexa sometimes goes on the bus all by herself, which makes her feel about 10 feet tall!¬† I have to admit I am holding on to her for dear life seeing Akeisha take¬†flight from my little nest!¬† It’s nice to still have someone who wants me to be there with her, and she readily admits she needs Mommy to be there at the bus stop morning and night.¬† I love seeing her happy little face beaming at me through the window and waving furiously as the bus pulls away.¬† Admittedly this is enough to bring a few tears some mornings, which we will definitely blame on pregnancy hormones ūüôā¬† On our walks I revel in those¬†moments when she takes my hand in her little one and¬†squeezes our code: 3 squeezes for “I love you.”¬† Then I look down and she’s looking up at me with those big blue¬†eyes so innocent and vulnerable and my heart skips a beat.¬† She is so happy these days, and even though life and especially school¬†will never be bump free for Alexa, I love seeing her so happy.¬†¬†For 15 min all the way to school and 15 min home she chatters non stop to me and I just keep thinking that too soon it will end.¬† Too soon¬†she won’t want to¬†hold my hand or squeeze me so tight it hurts.¬† Too soon the chatter will change¬†and knowledge will take over that sweet innocence she carries.¬† Maybe when it comes I’ll be ready, but for now I am so in love with my little girl.

Both girls are learning how to help pack their lunches, bike and play out on the street without me there watching and sign out books at the library all by themselves.

The first year of adoption we cling so tight, struggling to learn how to be a family and that we belong to each other.¬† Now in this second year, I see it is changing so much.¬† They are so much more settled.¬† They’re ready to grow a bit.

Life looks pretty bright these days.

We are so excited to meet our baby and become 5.  My nesting instincts have kicked in and I am trying to prepare as much as possible on the limited energy I have.

We are so blessed.

My heart feels full and overflowing with gratitude for the grace God has shown to us this past year.¬† Only He could have accomplished this.¬† There is nowhere else I’d rather be than here.¬† Part of me wishes we could just freeze this moment in time.

My girls laugh when I sing this song to them, but it’s one of my favourites these days.

Don’t Grow Up So Fast

You want it all right now, let’s hurry up and wait
Girl, you’re right on time, trust me, you’re not too late
I hate to see you rain, those mascara tears
But you can drown in the water beyond your yearsJust don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
You will get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
So don’t grow up so fast

The world will turn, shadows fall
There’s your pencil marks in the corner on the kitchen wall
Yeah, to remind us all

Just don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
You will get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
So don’t grow up so fast, ooh

Just don’t grow up so fast
You don’t want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don’t you hurry, try to take it slow
We all get there before you know it
Ain’t just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
There’s only so much sand in the hour glass
So don’t grow up so fast, ooh

Attachment 101 – Part 3

In my last two posts in this series I introduced the attachment theory and explained how that affects children who have been adopted.¬† We discussed how to step into your child’s life and take control of their world confidently¬†so that they can attach to you and trust you as their new caregiver.¬† I explained that children who have experienced trauma in their lives need a lifestyle that is highly structured and highly nurtured.¬† Taking control and developing boundaries focuses on the need for structure, so today I want to focus on nurturing.

When most people think about adoption, nurture is the picture that fills their mind.¬†¬†They imagine holding their child,¬†hugging and kissing their child, laughing, playing together¬†and smiling.¬† They think about all the things they will do together, the sweet little rituals they’ll establish at bedtime and¬†the millions of ways they will try to help their child forget¬†all the grief, fear and loss of their past.

Before your child comes home, you will not be able to truly imagine that reality will set in.  You will not be able to prepare for those days when all you want is to be left alone.  You will not be able to comprehend the strength it will take some days just to reach out and give those hugs, kisses or gentle pats.

The bottom line is that no family is happy all the time, and children working through difficult¬†feelings rarely display those emotions in cute, loveable ways.¬† It is not easy to be gentle and kind¬†in the face of defiance.¬† It is not easy to stay energetic and¬†positive when your children are¬†testing every limit they¬†find.¬† It is not easy to create a peaceful atmosphere with a¬†screaming child.¬† You will get tired of being followed all over the place.¬† You will grow weary of a child’s tears, missing the loved one you can never be.¬† You will crave just one night of solid sleep.¬† Then you will feel incredible guilt as you think about all they’ve been through.

You will be a parent, not a revered saviour.

Realizing this is a bit of a let down; we all love to¬†feel like heroes.¬† But¬†it’s also exciting when you realize you have really become a normal family, complete with all the¬†stresses and chaos.

Nurturing consists of those tangible ways¬†we express to a child that he is¬†adored,¬†important and irreplaceable.¬†¬†It’s caring, warm gestures that go above and beyond, but include, basic survival needs.¬† Nurturing is essential for attachment.

Children who have grown up in dysfunctional, chaotic environments are often starved for nurture.¬† However, they will not always respond the way you’d think.¬† It can be more difficult than imagined to nurture your child.

Touch is one of the most obvious and powerful communicators of love, and obviously important¬†when nurturing your child.¬† Hugs, kisses, back rubs, holding hands, wrestling and piggy back rides are all great ways to connect with your child physically.¬† For those children whose love language is physical touch this will be even more important.¬† In some types of attachment therapy “holding” is considered it’s own exercise.¬† Some children will take awhile to feel comfortable enough to relax in your arms or ask for hugs or kisses.¬† Others will be all over you within hours or days.¬† It may be more uncomfortable than you think having that child who wants to touch you all the time.¬† Many children struggle to figure out appropriate social boundaries.¬† They may hug and hold hands with any adult they meet.¬† They may want to touch your face or body in ways that would be totally appropriate for a baby or toddler but not quite as cute in an older child.¬† It can be hard to offer hugs and kisses without limit, retain enough boundaries to keep yourself from feeling claustrophobic and teach your child appropriate social boundaries.¬† It is especially difficult with a child who has been sexualized by adults in their life.¬† Beware of any sort of touching that the child is uncomfortable with and follow their lead.¬† If you see signs of provocative or overly sexualized behaviours, be sure to clearly direct your child away from those behaviours.¬† The goal is to nurture your child, not to lure them back into unhealthy habits.

I remember the first day I met my daughters.¬† At 7 and 5, they were anxious little whirlwinds of activity.¬† I wanted so much to be able to just reach out and hold them…but I was a stranger.¬† While one of them soon snuggled in close under my arm, the other one circled me warily, staying just out of reach.¬† Now she falls asleep in my arms, but then she needed me to follow her from room to room, looking at everything she pointed out and then letting her retreat again for a while.¬† The most I got was to let my fingers slide over her silky hair for a second.¬† My husband, however, won her over by offering piggy back rides ūüôā

Food is another basic way to nurture a child.¬† We all need food and water to survive, but some children have not always had plenty of food or water.¬† They may remember times when their tummies ached with hunger, or they may cope with anxiety by grossly overeating.¬† Be sensitive to this and try to make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to give them that physical satisfaction food brings, while establishing¬†healthy eating patterns.¬† Simply doing the little things like getting a drink of water for them, pulling something from the fridge, scooping food onto their plate or¬†packing a plentiful and appealing lunch can help children feel¬†nurtured and cared for.¬† For children who hoard or steal food, packing a special snack basket or stocking a cupboard just for them helps reinforce the message that food is readily available when needed.¬† This helps them realize they are not in danger of¬†being without enough food as they’ve been in the past.¬† For children who may have missed early infant nurturing, spoon feeding or even bottle feeding is a bonding activity that will reinforce tons of¬†positive messages.

Like many little children,¬†my¬†littlest A loves to snack!¬†¬†She adores junk food and candy and begs for food anytime she’s bored or slightly hungry.¬† While this is very frustrating, I’ve tried to turn it around by¬†getting ahead of her and surprising her.¬†¬†When she’s busy with something else I’ll suddenly interrupt her and¬†tell¬†her it’s snack time!¬† She’s always delighted to realize she didn’t even need to ask and it’s way more fun for me!¬† I also like to let the girls lick off spatula’s, have a few chocolate chips when I’m baking cookies or pick out a special snack to go in their lunch at the store.¬† My grocery bill has definitely went up since I started packing creative, healthy and appealing lunches but it’s a way to send my nurturing along to school with them.

Even though your child may be an independent 8, 10 or even 16 year old doesn’t mean you should never do anything for them they can do themselves.¬† While promoting attachment you are not focusing on independence.¬† We all love to be treated with care.¬† Go out of your way to care for your child.¬† Pack¬†their lunch, start the bath water for them, help a younger child dress, brush their hair, trim their nails,¬†put their pajamas in the dryer to warm them up while they’re in the bath tub.

Simply having fun and spending time together is a big part of nurturing your child.¬† Laugh.¬† Smile.¬† Snuggle on the couch and watch a movie.¬† Make eye contact and pay attention when your child is speaking to you.¬† Make yourself and your home a “safe haven” your child can come back to no matter how he or she is feeling!¬† Reinforce the message that we all¬†have feelings and they are not wrong in and of themselves, it is what we do with them that matters.

Most of us know how to nurture, it’s just difficult to¬†do it when we’re feeling tired, worn out or frustrated.

Last week I had a bad week.  One of my daughters was sick and I was just not in the mood!  She is a detail person and struggles with anxiety in the best of times, so feeling a little off turned her into a real bear!  The tiny bump on her lip and the fever she developed had equal significance, along with a possibly occurring rash and itchy spot on her left leg!  She woke up multiple nights in a row and knocked on my door in tears, panicking at the thought of not sleeping which then of course kept her from sleeping for long afterwards.  She was defiant and mean at school, tired and grumpy at home.  I am telling you this to show you that even though I know all about nurturing in my head, I fail miserably on a regular basis!  Last week I had the perfect opportunity to show my daughter that I cared about her and would go out of my way to nurse her poor tired little body.  Instead, I was grumpy, irritable and insensitive.  I knew I was failing miserably and instead of choosing to let this motivate me I let my mind take me on a huge guilt trip instead.  After everything this little girl has been through, how could you treat her with such a lack of compassion?!  What a horrible mother!

See, just because my daughters have not been born to me by birth and have trauma in their past does not mean I always find it easy to be gentle and kind.  I am no superhero!

So I hope all you moms out there are encouraged to nurture your little, middle sized or big kids today.¬† Go the extra mile to make them feel important.¬† Remember the golden rule.¬† Take every opportunity to love.¬† They’re worth it!

Attachment 101 ‚Äď Part 2

My last post, Attachment 101, was designed to introduce and explain the theory of attachment. As a short recap:

1. Bonding and attachment occurs as an infant’s needs are expressed and met, over and over and over again.

2. When children do not receive consistent, predictable nurturing the internal message becomes ‚ÄúI am responsible to keep myself safe.‚ÄĚ

3. Children with interruptions or gaps in their attachment development are essentially brain-damaged. If you could see a picture of the child’s brain that has been nurtured and cared for consistently versus neglected, abused or moved frequently there would be a physical, noticeable difference in the number of connections formed. This is more than just an emotional problem!

4. The good news is that these missing connections CAN be formed later in life! However, it is much more difficult than beginning with an empty slate. There are deeply ingrained survival skills that need to be destroyed before new concepts can be established firmly.

So…

With all that behind us, let’s keep moving forward.¬† I’d like to talk about the rewiring process and what that can look like for kids and parents hoping to create a secure, loving environment where a child can thrive. There are many different things parents need to remember when parenting a child who has been hurt physically or emotionally.

I won’t be able to cover everything I’d like to share in one post, so I’ve broken it down into several categories to keep it clear and simple. For today, I’d like to focus on the control issue.

Most children who have experienced a past of abuse, neglect or bouncing through the foster care system will enter their adoptive families with their guards set high. They have been let down by many adults in the past and they have learned to rely only on themselves to survive. In the past, this was an essential survival skill for them. Learning how to keep a distance from people, read adult behaviour and predict major changes on the horizon helped them to cope with the incredible amount of losses they’ve had to endure. It made the inevitable goodbyes bearable, kept the fear at bay and taught their brains how to function under major stress.

Now that your child has entered a forever family, it is imperative that they learn how to let go of that control and hand it over to you. The very skill that made it possible for them to survive will now be their greatest obstacle. They cannot bond and attach to you until they are willing to rely on you as their parent and caregiver. Children cannot go through life depending only on themselves. No matter what they may have convinced themselves of, they are not invincible. They are children. They need adults to guide them, lead them, protect them and nurture them. As adoptive parents we desperately want to play that role in our children’s lives and help them overcome the paralyzing fears they grapple with but often times they will not allow us to get that close.

They are afraid of abandonment.

They are afraid of abuse.

They are afraid of feeling weak or powerless or vulnerable.

They are afraid of opening their hearts and then having them broken.

Unfortunately, there is no easy switch to flip. There are brain connections that have never been formed and deeply rooted instincts that will not be easy to change. Basically, it is up to you at this point to take control of your child’s world unapologetically and be the parent!

This will be the beginning of a war.

They will fight you ferociously on this.

They do not realize you are on their team. All they know is that they are in danger of losing the defences that have always kept them safe. They are terrified of losing control but they are even more fearful of someone else taking control.

Interestingly, we all know this feeling. As adults, control becomes a word that raises red flags in everyone’s minds. We do not feel comfortable submitting to authorities we do not trust. We want to remain in charge because we’ve seen or experienced abusive control in relationships around us. However, if we are to form deep, soul level relationships we will have to let down our guard at some point and allow someone to get close enough to potentially break our hearts.

Infants are dependent on their parents for everything. The only way they will feel loved, nurtured, safe; is if someone has complete control over their life. In this environment, they attach and they trust as their needs are consistently met.

This is what needs to be replicated in your adopted child’s life.

It might take months, years or decades but this process cannot begin until you as a parent take control from your child. They will not hand it to you on a silver platter. They do not know what they need. You do.

Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are. They have terrorizing trauma, deep grief, and overwhelming challenges looming before them, and they need to know there is someone strong enough to handle all that. They need to know that they are not too much for you. They need to know that you are big enough to protect them and help them heal. They need to know that with you in control of their lives they will be safe. You will not lead them into chaos and danger as others have.

This does not mean that we march into our children’s lives and take over every little choice they have. This does not mean we abuse our authority over them or become someone they fear. This is what many of them have experienced in the past.

Instead, our primary goal should be to look for every opportunity possible to lovingly send the message,

‚ÄúYou do not have to decide that.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúI will take care of you.‚ÄĚ

“I will keep you safe.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúYou do not have to fight so hard to survive, baby.‚ÄĚ

At the beginning, you will need to move into the parent role before you really feel like your child’s parent. Realistically, you are strangers, but this should not stop you from acting like you are in charge.

Set boundaries.

Be active in your child’s life. Know what is going on and show you will handle the big stuff.

Don’t allow another adult to step into the role that is only yours as a parent.

Give choices, but make sure your child is choosing between a few good choices that you have come up with.

Help them with every little thing you possibly can.

Do things for them that they can do themselves.

Make your expectations as clear and simple as possible, with consequences that are logical and simple.

When they cross a line, be matter of fact about consequences but not harsh or angry.

Don’t pick battles you can’t win.

Every time you act or speak in a way that tells your child you are comfortably in charge, you are cementing a feeling of safety in them. This authority establishment is not up for grabs. You are not asking for their permission to be the parent. Instead, you are lifting a huge load off their small shoulders and placing it on your own without a flinch. As they fight to take it back, be firm but gentle. Never forget their fight is really fear.

Many children go through this same stage of testing authority, and much of this will sound familiar. Children who have been hurt, however, have much more at stake in their minds. This is not just testing, this is tearing down the structure by which they have survived so far. Their future depends on you getting this message across to them. It’s not really about eating peas, it’s about being in charge of their life.

The best way for parents to go about taking charge of their children’s lives and sending these safe messages is to parent in a way that is focused on plenty of nurture and plenty of structure.

While children are adjusting to their forever families and attempting to attach, they are under a lot of stress. As most children, they will do best in a home where their days are predictable and structured. This does not mean you need to run your home like a boot camp, but you will need to be prepared to change your lifestyle to accommodate your children’s needs. While they are trying to attach and bond with their new family, children are not going to be able to cope with the flexibility of most children their age. Plan to spend lots of time at home, get lots of sleep and say no to some events or social engagements. As parents, you need to set a pace and rhythm to your home that both you and your children can thrive on. Put up a big calendar that your child can see and let them know what to expect as much as possible. Though you are stepping in to take control of your child’s life, you are not entitled to run it with only yourself in mind. Don’t let your children decide what and how much you do, but make sure you are making the best decision for them. It will take some trial and error at the beginning, but soon you will know how much your child can truly handle.

Making sure your child knows what to expect, is getting enough sleep and is supported by you through each day sets him up for success! It also sets him up to count on you to create an atmosphere he can thrive in. Structure does not mean less fun or less loving. Instead, a structured life for your children will help them to be able to have more fun and it will help your fearful child realize you know what is best for him and will do it!

Explaining decisions you make to your child can be a great way to show them you are dedicated to being a great parent. Let them know that they need to go to bed at the usual time because you know they need sleep to feel good and enjoy the day tomorrow. Let them know that you require them to eat nutritious food because you want them to have healthy bodies and feed good. Let them know they are not allowed to play near the road because it is not safe and you need them to be safe. Let them know that they cannot be left with a babysitter yet because they are still learning how to be a family and they are not ready for that step yet. Though most children tend to roll their eyes or sigh at these parental ‘lectures’, you may be surprised at your adopted child’s reactions. Even though they may not like your decision, they are hearing an important message from you.

‚ÄúI love you. I am taking care of you. I will do what is best for you even if you don’t like it.‚ÄĚ

Often children who are starting to feel a shift in their control will try very hard to control all kinds of little details in life. They might ask questions or chatter incessantly. They might follow-up all your decisions for them with comments like, ‚ÄúYes, that’s what I was going to do.‚ÄĚ They will often try to control decision-making, play the parent to a sibling or come up with an idea just a tad different from yours. Though this can be frustrating, try to remember they are feeling nervous and anxious about the feelings of love growing inside of them. I often say things like,

‚ÄúThat’s ok, you don’t need to be in charge of that.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúI’ll let you know if you need to know.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúI’ll think about it.‚ÄĚ

With a smile and a gentle tone, this clearly conveys the message that you are in control and you will take care of things. It doesn’t have to be a reprimand or lecture, which will most likely throw you onto the battlefield, but your child will get the clear message they do not get to decide or be in charge.

My daughters will often later quote back to me the reasons I have given them for decisions that they didn’t necessarily appreciate in the moment. There is a measure of awe and joy in their voices as they say,

‚ÄúYou want us to be safe, right?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúYou tell us to eat healthy food ’cause you don’t want us to be sick, right?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúYou’re afraid we’ll get hurt if we do that!‚ÄĚ

Unfortunately, for an older child parenting in a highly structured manner may cause misunderstanding in other parents. Don’t let this stop you from doing what you know your child needs. While another child may be ready to walk to school on their own, tuck themselves in each night, get a drink or use the bathroom on their own, comb their hair or have a play date at a friend’s house…you need to realize that your child has not come through a chaotic life unscathed. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings, but don’t let what other people are thinking stop you from giving your child the structure they depend on to cope or the boundaries they need to attach to you securely.

While you are pouring in all this structure, however, you need to be spending just as much time giving your child nurturing…but that is a whole new, exciting topic that I will cover next time ūüôā

For today, remember:

*Be the parent!

*Hurting children desperately need to be shown that parents are more powerful than they are.

*Take charge of your child’s life confidently and gently.

As I was writing this, I couldn’t help thinking of the many times I struggle and writhe in my Heavenly Father’s loving care. I can look back and see times in my life where I fought against His control, terrified that if I lost control of my life it would result in devastation. But when I finally give up and surrender to those big hands, that strong voice, that enduring love…I feel so safe. To know that He is in control of my life, orchestrating my every move, is such an incredible feeling. There is nowhere I could be safer than in the centre of His will for me.

When I see the especially bright eyes, the relieved tones and the purely joyful words of my daughter after an especially tough battle…I know that it is the same for her. In my love, she will be safe. And someday, she will experience a perfect love that is so much greater than mine. A love that is truly powerful beyond all measure and wider than imagination.

This song by Westlife¬†reaches my soul and makes me weep. To know that this is my Father’s heart cry alongside my own small Mommy desire is breathtaking.

“Safe”

Hard to find a way to get through
It’s a tragedy
Pulling at me like the stars do
You’re like gravity
Even if the wind blows
It makes it hard to believe

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all the world inside
I see it come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

Doesn’t even matter to you
To see what I can see
I’m crawling on the floor to reach you
I’m a wreck you see
When you’re far from home now
Makes it hard to believe

So how you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
Till you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

We all fall down
We all feel down
Cause rainy days and summer highs
The more we pray the more we feel alive

How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?
How you gonna love?
How you gonna feel?
How you gonna live your life like the dream you have is real?

And if you’ve lost your way
I will keep you safe
We’ll open up all your world inside
So you come alive tonight
I will keep you safe

I will keep you safe
I will keep you safe