This past week has been a tough week 'round here. Lots of folks struggling with their older adoptive children. I'm gonna try to shed some light on what happens when you adopt an older child. Keepin' it real, like I always try to do.
And by older I am talking 9 and up (can be younger) but mostly teenage. As well, I will share some of what we have seen, but not all, so please understand not everything pertains to us personally--(DO NOT CALL MOM)
First, you fall in love. With a picture. You yearn. You count days. You pray and ask God to help bring this child He has chosen for your family home ASAP. You can-not-wait for your trip to come. You envision what your child will be like home. You just want to go for your child, like yesterday!
And finally you do. Except, this child is nothing like the picture you have been looking at for months and months. They are totally different. Some ways, good, because you finally have this child in your sights, usually not in your arms, not with an older child, but at least in the same room with you. You have signed papers saying "Yes, you are adopting this child." And you are somewhat busy getting all the paperwork done, getting meals in, possibly sightseeing.
The down time, well, it's awkward, that's right, you can't really communicate, you aren't too sure what all your child is thinking, feeling, if they are okay to shower alone, are they scared, sleepy? How do you get them to change clothes, get them to stop yelling, touching everything? It's kinda overwhelming. But you are doing "okay." You can "let things slide till you get home," right?
You learn a whole new language- body language, the first language you learn of your child. But don't forget, they are a teen or tween so they can often "throw you" on that language. You will make mistakes. And it's really okay that you do, that's life.
But once you get past the whole "Amazing trip to China" and probably before you are even half over the whole "jet lag" mess of your days, there's this nasty little thing that OFTEN happens. It's called REALITY. And it sets in.
You are looking at this new person you brought in your family, and you are wondering, "What was I thinking?" Because this is WORK- it's not easy. In fact, it's downright HARD and day to day life is not easy.
You see, it's AWKWARD to have this big/little person, (big in body-- little in maturity/language/skills) you are supposed to love with all your heart and you barely KNOW this person. Yep, you feel like this is a stranger in your home.
And as time slides on by, as it tends to do, you can find yourself looking up one day, or day after day, maybe even 2 months in (or 4 or 6 months) and thinking-- I still don't know this child very well, this is HARD.
They don't speak, don't seem to want to have much to do with you OR they are hanging on you and can't seem to give you a second to pee alone or inch of space to even breathe.
And you feel--------overwhelming LOVE? No, not yet and you wonder, when, when will the love come?
Because instead you really feel-----
Guilty. Annoyed. Tired. Angry. Upset. Out of your comfort zone. You feel-- well, kinda HOLLOW--do you even like this child? There's no warm fuzzy feeling there yet, for this child, and you wonder--- WILL THERE EVER BE?
And often we start to think we (the parents) are messed up, there is "Something's wrong with US." WE CAN NOT FEEL THIS WAY- IT MUST BE WRONG, right?
But wait...... you are providing for, feeding, clothing, educating, trying to nurture this big/little person as much as possible, even when they seem like a total stranger to you. One you brought in your own home and feel like there should be some date this "stranger visiting" will be "going home, leaving."
Because it's still AWKWARD to have this person around. You don't really know them well and aren't sure what they think of the family, of you, of your rules, of their adoption, of maybe anything. (Even just going braless or hanging out in your jammies feels awkward so you haven't done it in front of this child yet-- can you imagine that?)
Because even though they have gained language they aren't sharing anything important with you. They are just polite house guests. That's right-- they still don't seem like they are FAMILY.
And there again, the guilt rises. WHY, do we not love this child with all our hearts yet? This is the child God meant for us, blessed us with, how can we feel like THIS?
And let me tell ya, it's REAL. We can and DO feel this way. We are very social creatures. So when you have someone who just exists, isn't really trying to be an involved part of the family, doesn't talk, OR is in your face, can't give you or anyone else in the family a second alone, driving you nuts annoying everyone ----it's stinkin' HARD to figure out a way to love this person.
It's hard not to RESENT. Resent the life you had before. Resent that the adoption of this child is not what you expected. Resent the child for seeming to not care, not try, try too hard, not understand. Resent what this is doing to the other children/ your marriage. Resent others, for not telling you how hard this could be. Resent how hard it is. Resent others who seemingly have "perfect" adoptions.
It's hard when people are saying things to you like "Oh, you adopted a teen, how cool, will he/she drive soon?" Other people, including your own family can be soooo clueless. Would you put a 5 year old behind the wheel of a car and let them drive? No, of course not, but that's where your teen/tween is and yet "others" see the child as their number age/size and expect/ think you should too.
Adding pressure to your life because you are parenting a 5 year old in a 15 year old body with hormones and NOBODY gets that. Ya feeling like screaming yet?
Seriously, it's not even funny when you have to tell them to stop picking their nose in the grocery store. To stop slurping up their food, to use toilet paper and that doesn't mean use it and toss it in a garbage can, flush the paper! To stop standing at the bathroom door crying because you went to pee alone. (I kid you NOT)
Even once you get through all the "childish behaviors" and start seeing strides in that area, there are still times they will behave like a 5 year old and it's usually at a time when it's the MOST EMBARRASSING it could be to you. But, you learn their triggers and how to hopefully help them get back on track, and you see baby steps of growth.
A funny thing happens along the way-- as you "Fake it- till you make it"--- yep sometimes that's ALL you can do. Fake it till you make it.
But often down the road you realize you DO CARE. You are finding a new normal, they seem a little less like a pesky guest and more like your kid. You are finding a way to love them :)
It really will be ALRIGHT. And you are NOT alone. There's nothing WRONG with you when you are struggling through these tough feelings. It's not usually a "love at first sight" kind of thing. It CAN happen but usually it's the longer "I'm getting there" version. AND THAT'S OKAY. Seriously it IS.
You may need to reach out for support, you may need to go to counseling, take time out for you to recharge, you might need to respite (take a break) the child. None of these things are "wrong."
That doesn't always mean things always end up peachy. Sometimes at this point things are better but sometimes sadly--- they are NOT. It may end up being YOU that changes to accept what loving your child looks like- different than you thought, but still a love for them.
Because sometimes with these older kids, and this is mainly 14+ aged kiddos, you "may" get slammed. And what I mean by this is-- you may be 1 year, 2, even 3 years down the road and find out your child's only desire to be with you/to have been adopted is for what they can get. Education, job skills. Food to survive. Clothes to wear.
They have NO DESIRE to be a part of the actual FAMILY beyond what is provided for them. They are only interested in what YOU CAN DO FOR THEM.
And this manifests in 2 ways. (I've lived with both) They either ask for/want everything they can get. Even if it's not suitable for them, they will ask for it, just to see if you care enough to buy it/ get it for them.
The other way? They ask for NOTHING. They try to take care of themselves, their needs as independently as possible from YOU. They say things like they will "take care of you when you are old." Meaning "Pay you back" because you are giving them what they have to have.
They want to "owe" you NOTHING. No commitment. No ties. No work to be part of the family. No strings attached:( And this is a biggie here--- You can't force them to want the family and all that means. You just can't.
This type of child is extremely hard to deal with, to get to know, to have a bond with, to love. It's HARD to feel used but to turn that other cheek in love and ask them to "Do it again." Yep, sure is.
I mean, who wants to have all the monies, time, feelings, invested in an adoption of a child to learn you are looked at as their " free ticket" to America:( Yet, sometimes this is your reality. Your teen has grown up for MANY years surviving on their "own." Their own smarts, guts, determination. And adopting them doesn't always mean to them what it means to us.
For some teens, it's like "Winning the lottery." They are told how wonderful it will be to come here, everything they desire bought for them, no worries, Disn*yland like days, everyday. Golden opportunities, they will be RICH.
Then when they arrive, they find out fairly quickly the "golden dream" comes with work, hard work. They DO NOT WANT anything to do with the rules a family brings.
They don't like having to invest in FAMILY, sometimes due to orphanage behavior, sometimes due to one or many of these things--
Trauma from the orphanage
Trauma before they went to the orphanage
Did you notice not one of these things we can change? All things out of OUR control but your teen blames YOU for this hard work, the rules, the difficulties that they often make worse by not wanting to put in ANY EFFORT. Them blaming everyone else makes no sense but it happens.
THEY JUST DON'T WANT FAMILY. (This would be ANY family, so don't take it personally because it's NOT personal) BUT this is a ROUGH road to walk if you find yourself there.
Worse yet, your child can and will be totally "charming" to everyone outside the home-- they can do WELL in superficial situations. But the important issues, the deep connection that we adopted them for, to give them a family-- they have NO DESIRE to work to have that, so when you try to enforce rules, make them BE a part of the family you get ISSUES. BIG ISSUES.
It's issues you never dreamed you could face with your new child. Running away. Lying. Stealing. Disrespect. Temper tantrums, anger, damaging property. Holes in your walls- gasp! Trips to counseling, possibly even trips to a mental ward, contacts with police, children and youth services, etc.
A big doozy no one expects, STRAIN on your marriage. Lack of privacy, not feeling sure how to handle said child, one parent or both not feeling connected to the child, coping day to day just with the incredible amount of needs this child has----these all cause an amazing amount of wear and tear on you DAILY.
You may learn things that BREAK YOUR HEART-hearing your child has watched other children die. Finding out your child has witnessed/been party to abuse.
Teen adoption is NOT A WALK IN THE PARK. Even if you get a child who is easy going, wants to be adopted, only has clinging behaviors, immature behaviors, it's still gonna be TOUGH. Probably the hardest parenting you have ever done.
Now, WHY? you are thinking should anyone EVER take this on? Because God calls us to love the orphans. Because God loves them. Because we want to parent. Because these kids deserve a chance, they deserve a home, a family, love even if they don't want it.
Yes, yes they do. And you all know we have 4 adopted teens. AND NO REGRETS. None. And yes, some times things have been hard. REALLY HARD. Some days I want to cry "Uncle" and give up. But then God has given me the strength to go on, because that's what I need to do. It took us (both dad and I) longer to feel love for some, yes it did. BUT we love them ALL. Without a doubt.
Sometimes that love means accepting the disappointment that we aren't going to get as far with them as we wanted to. They don't want it. That our relationship with them doesn't look like we thought it would. It's different than we expected, but we still love them.
This sometimes means that we have to hold out hope for their future, that we understand they *might* not get what family is till they are older and even have a family of their own. Or even accept that they may NEVER get what this family wanted to be for them. We very well could be only a "mentor" type person for a child we call son/daughter. We may have AWKWARD times with them for as long as they live with us, or even beyond.
And we STILL have NO REGRETS. None. We love them AS IS. And that might not be a warm fuzzy feeling love, it may be a we-are-here-for-them-no-matter-what LOVE, but that's still our love. For them.
Here's something another mom wrote (permission given to me to use this) to explain WHY to move forward in adopting an older child and how to cope when times are tough---
If Jesus called you to this adoption, you had to obey, so no use saying "Should we have??"
What God calls us to, He equips us for (in that order)
Equipping us for this is much different than the other parenting we've grown so used to (and fond of) but it's not a BAD thing
Release guilt about what you do or don't feel- since God loves our child more than we can even begin to love them, He's got our backs on this
Obeying God is an act of love- you loved when you obeyed Him to adopt your child
Feeding, clothing, teaching your child how to live in the world as an independent adult, etc, IS AN ACT OF LOVE
Just as our bio children have disappointed us at time with choices they make, just as they must learn life lessons, so will our adoptive children and even WE, the parents have learned while raising all of our precious kids.
So yes, go forward and adopt--- please, if you are ready and God is showing you an older child, GO FOR IT. It's gonna change your life. You may have days you say "It didn't change it for the better!!" And I'm right there with you, sister.
But on the days that you see them learn, you see the progress they have made, you see the success of just one child and you know that God BLESSED YOU to be a part of this, and you say "WOW, I am so honored to be a part of this." Well, those are the days that let you know your child was --
TOTALLY WORTH IT. 100% WORTH EVERY TEAR, EVERY FEAR, EVERY ANGRY TIME, EVERY SMILE, EVERY LEARNING EXPERIENCE, EVERY MINUTE SINCE YOU MET THEM.
Even with the crap. (Seriously). God takes us, crap and all. God never gives up on us, no matter the failings. Are we worthy? Are these children worthy? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and YES.