Thursday, November 19, 2015

Squeezed and Molded: THE EARLY DAYS

Adoption is hard.  If you don't think so, you probably haven't done it.

And I'm not talking about the waiting and the fund raising and the endless prayers and worries and email checking and agency calling. Yeah. That's hard, too.

I'm talking about the ACTUAL bringing of a new child into an already-functioning family.
It's hard.  Pretty much for everyone. It's also amazing and miraculous. Even in the hard parts.

Before my family's move to The Philippines to start our own child caring agency, I was called on often by the adoption agency we used in the US to adopt our own four sons, Christian Adoption Services.  I was called on to mentor or walk with families who had just brought their children home and were struggling with some aspect of the transition.  I loved that ministry. I saw good fruit as families "got the hang of it".

I struggled with our own transition.  ALL FOUR TIMES.  Sometimes the struggles were tiny but often they were big.  And, don't get me wrong, I loved my sons. I wanted them. I would not have given them back for all the tea in China.  Most days.

If you are reading this and your adoption has been EASY, please bow your head right now and thank God for that. You are in the minority. In fact, I have never met anyone like you.  Every family who has ever confided in me about the early days of their adoptions sang very similar songs:

"This is hard"
"Why do I feel this way?"
"What have we done to our family?"
"I'm tired".

But those same families expressed peace and the deep knowledge that they were all right where they were supposed to be, on the many good days post adoption. 
I believe there are several reasons that the early days of adoption are hard for most families.  And I believe it is NORMAL for adoption to be "hard" in many aspects.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.
1. Unmet Expectations:  Before our children are home, we build a fantasy around them. We imagine how they will sound, feel, react and even smell.  And it is almost never a true picture.  Our fantasies rarely include the nitty gritty about another human - handling his dirty laundry, bathroom accidents, bad breath, rotten teeth or tantrums, poor sleep patterns,  "weird" eating habits and the time it takes to just warm up to another person.  These can all be big wet blankets on the party that has been going on in our minds for upwards of a year. 
Suggestion: start BEFORE your child comes home imaging him as a child who might struggle. Think of ways you will comfort him when he's crying for no reason. Make a plan, ON PAPER of some strategies you will use if he clams up and won't speak to you for a little while. Put into place a  "go to" plan for your other children if they encounter any negative behaviors in their new sibling that they are worried about. Include the whole family in these discussions of "what if . . .".  It may feel like focusing on the negative when what we really want to do is float on a cloud of dreamy love.  But, trust me, it will help balance expectations and give everyone a plan of action if early struggles crop up.  It will also paint a picture of the child as a regular child with regular child behaviors.
2. Sheer Exhaustion: If your child is from another time zone and he's not sleeping in your time zone, everybody pays.  If you traveled around the world to fetch him and you had to "hit the ground running" when you returned home, everybody pays with interest.  
Suggestion: REST together.  If your child naps at noon, have the whole family get some quiet time. The temptation to do laundry and clean house while he sleeps will be there. If you can afford to hire help for housekeeping, do it for the first month. If not, pace yourself and prioritize sleep over housework. I know, easier said than done . . .
From 3pm on, plan activities that will keep everyone awake. Take walks, color and draw together, sit in the grass outside and look for bugs and birds, play board games and cards - anything to stay awake until dinner, bath and bed time.  
If you are a rigid "everyone in his own bed" parent and your new child is afraid, you may have to take a 30-day break from your rules and make him a pallet in your room. When everyone establishes a sleep schedule and catches up from the trip and transition, feel free to get tough again. In the meantime, grace, grace and more GRACE.
3. Your Other Children:  If you have other children in the home when you adopt, there is a whole new dynamic to explore. Jealousy, new bonds, a pecking order and Mama and Papa spreading themselves  thin trying to  spend quality time with every child - all stones in the heavy bucket of adoption transition.  But there is HOPE .  . .  read on! 
Are your other children old enough to start learning to put other's needs ahead of their own? If they are not babies or toddlers, they are!  Explain to them BEFORE your new child comes home that "new sister will need extra time with Mama and Papa when she is still new. You might have to share us more than you want to. "   And do not let the guilt of the slightly unbalanced, TEMPORARY shift in focus drag you under the waves.  With some conscious effort, you will be able to regain more balanced parenting in a month or two.  And, depending on how you have parented your other children prior to adoption, a little dose of "it's not always about ME" might do everyone some good.  It always did in our own family. Selflessness in not natural to any of us and adoption is a good way for ALL of us, parents included, to get a crash course.  Painful though it is.
4. Too Much, Too Soon: Everyone wants to meet your new child. They donated to your adoption fund, they prayed, they listened while you cried during the wait, they dog sat while you traveled, they DESERVE to meet him.  The pressure of those meetings takes a toll on the family and the child. Nobody's comfort matters as much as that of your new child during transition. If the friends and family have to wait, graciously tell them via a blanket email, facebook status or quick phone call that you are having adjustment time and will see them as soon as you can. Assure friends and family that you are planning a drop in day that will be announced as soon as everyone feels human again!
5. Feeling Isolated: Do you have anyone you can really trust and talk to about your struggles in early adoption? Let's see . . . the family members who discouraged you from adopting in the first place would just say "I told you so" so, no. Not them.   The friends and family who are encouraging and supportive but have never adopted may listen and pray but will they really UNDERSTAND?
The ladies Bible study you stood before sharing about the beautiful picture of the gospel that IS adoption - they might be a good place to start but will you scare them out of adopting someday? Hard to say. 
You and your spouse may be on the same page but, if not, the last thing you want to do is discourage the one you are expecting to keep you somewhat afloat.    Are you both struggling?
The FIRST and BEST place to go for encouragement and help is to your knees.  Seek the face of God. Tell Him your struggles. He already knows them.  Ask Him to keep your heart focused on the "bigger picture".  Read His promises. They are no less true than they were before you added to your family.
 Chances are, you have at least one close friend who has adopted a child and who would walk with you through your transition time - the joys and the pain.  If not, call your adoption agency and ask for a mentor. Get into an online/ facebook adoption group and observe at first. Is this group sharing REAL or just FLUFFY? If they are open about their ups and downs, you have hit paydirt.  Stay there, share, read, support each other.  Someday YOU will be that family walking others through their transition time with assurances that "this, too, shall pass".  And it will. 
6. Borrowing Trouble:  You read so many adoption books prior to bringing your child home that you are now on the lookout for the symptoms of the disorders the authors specialize in.  Is it Reactive Attachment Disorder? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Conduct Disorder? Borderline Personality Disorder? Institutional Autism? Full-Blown Psychosis?  The list goes on and on . . .
Educating yourself is a good thing. Hyper analyzing a brand new son or daughter is not.  It steals your joy and it is likely for naught.  When a child is new to a family, you are NOT seeing the true picture of the child. He is likely not yet comfortable enough or finished with grieving his losses or enmeshed enough to be his true self.  In the early days, all of my boys could have been labeled with one disorder or another. They were unattached. They didn't really know us.  They were acting out in grief over losing their old lives. They were sometimes in "fight or flight" mode.   Of course, there will be cases where your new child has a serious and yet undiagnosed behavior or mental issue but, in many cases I have seen and lived, waiting several months for things to smooth out also "cured" the "disorder".  Pain and grief can manifest in scary ways. But that doesn't define the child. Not forever. 

My hope as you read this is that you do not become afraid of adopting a child. This is actually written for those who have made the leap and are struggling in the early days.  I do believe the change adoption brings to a family, by nature, causes some bumps in the family path. Sometimes those "bumps" are small and barely register on the family radar. Other times, they rock the boat to almost capsizing.  Every family and every adoption is different.  
I have said this in former blog posts but I will say it again:
Your family, at week 2 post adoption looks NOTHING like your family will on week 22 or week 32 post adoption.   And a  year out?  Two years out?  You will likely not give a moment's thought to your early transition days. You will likely remember them more fondly than they actually were and you may have even adopted again by then.
Because, in the end, bumpy or smooth, easy or hard, adoption is WORTH IT.