Saturday, April 27, 2013

Orphan Fever: Are Christians Naive?

Have you read the Mother Jones article? Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession by Kathryn Joyce paints a pretty unflattering picture of both evangelical Christians and the international adoption business.

Since I'm an evangelical Christian and an adoptive parent, I decided to read it, and I encourage you to take a deep breath, and read it too. Resist the urge to be defensive. Listen and learn and ask yourself, "How can we, as Christians, work to better serve orphans and widows and needy families worldwide?"

I read articles like this with the idea in mind that in most criticism, there is a kernel of truth. So I set out in search of it, knowing that when we rush to defend ourselves too quickly, we may miss the very thing that God is trying to teach us. Instead, why not give our critics a respectful hearing? Why not see if there's anything to be learned?

To illustrate what she perceives as the failings of the evangelical orphan care movement, Joyce tells the story of Sam and Serena Allison, biological parents of four, and their adoption of six orphans from Liberia. She describes their adoption as just one of many troubled Liberian adoptions that occurred as evangelicals rushed to adopt children following Liberia's 14-year civil war.

Sam and Serena adopt four kids on one trip, and it seems they are quickly overwhelmed. Unprepared to parent kids with backgrounds of trauma, they use an authoritarian, first-time obedience, corporal punishment parenting style. Perhaps their understanding of Biblical parenting led them to believe it was the only godly way.

As homeschoolers, they continue to homeschool even when it doesn't work for their adoptive kids. I couldn't help wondering if homeschooling was essential to the parents' cultural worldview. It seems that sending the adopted kids to school might have provided a much-needed respite for everyone involved.

As for the children, they come carrying baggage from the trauma of war. Hoping for a fairy-tale existence in America -- where they'd heard that money grows on trees -- they end up in rural Tennessee. Attachment doesn't go so well. There are cultural misunderstandings. Finally, one of the older adopted boys is even accused of inappropriate sexual behavior within the family.

As things continue to spiral downward, it's difficult to read. Joyce outlines serious allegations of child abuse against the Allisons and other adoptive parents. Eventually, the Allisons even send one son back to Africa where he finds his former orphanage has been closed.

I'd love for you to head on over to Mother Jones and read the whole article. 

What do you think? Were the Allisons and the other families in the article bad people, or were they just naive people? Did they seriously underestimate, or perhaps even ignore, the challenges of adopting multiple older kids from a war-torn African nation?

And what about the evangelical orphan care movement? What are we doing right? Is there anything that concerns you? How can we be better?

This is really important, and I look forward to hearing your voice in the conversation. Leave a comment below.

*If the Mother Jones article left you a little deflated, read this rebuttal by a Christian adoptive dad:  Is the Left Launching an Attack on Evangelical Adoption?

Ni Hao Yall

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An-Ya and Her Diary: A Book Review

Dear Diary,
I have a new mother and a father. I call my father Daddy. I call my mother Wanna. I call her that in secret because she Wanna be my mommy. She can't. They mean nothing to me. I know their names, I know how many papers they signed to make me their daughter, but those papers mean nothing. I don't have anything else to say about them right now. 

These words from the opening pages of An-Ya and Her Diary, a young adult novel by Diane Rene Christian, stopped me cold. An-Ya, an eleven-year-old girl, recently adopted from China, calls her new mother Wanna? At the time, it was more than my adoptive mama heart could bear so I turned off my Kindle and didn't return to An-Ya's story for about three months. 

Recently, however, something prompted me to revisit An-Ya, and I'm glad I did.

Eleven-year-old An-Ya is one of China's abandoned babies. She was found in a box along with a blank book.  Printed on the first page of the book was her name, An-Ya. For years, An-Ya fantasizes about the day her birth parents will return to the orphanage for her and her diary, now her most precious possession. She keeps the diary blank, waiting for the day she can fill it with her story's happy ending.

But An-Ya's birth parents never come.

Instead, eleven-year-old An-Ya is adopted by American parents. She is their second child. Her younger sister, three-year-old Ellie, was adopted from China as a baby. The presence of Ellie in An-Ya's story provides a great contrast, showing how older child adoption is, indeed, very different from infant adoption.

Once in America, An-Ya begins to record her journey in her diary, and the words she writes paint a real life picture of international older child adoption. We watch An-Ya's family struggle. We cheer them on. And the unique value for adoptive parents like me, is that the story is told from An-Ya's perspective

An-Ya and Her Diary is a real jewel, and in my opinion, a must-read for any parent considering an older child adoption. Because adoption looks very different when viewed through the eyes of the adopted child.

Diane Rene Christian, an adoptive mother herself, resists the urge to neatly tie up all the loose ends in An-Ya's story, and the book closes with An-Ya and her family very much still in process. But they've all come a long way, and as I turn the last electronic page, I am convinced that An-Ya is going to be OK. I'm pretty sure she's even warming up to Wanna.

At this time, Amazon Prime members may borrow An-Ya and Her Diary free on Kindle. And in the future, I hope to review An-Ya and Her Diary: Reader and Parent Guide, a collaborative work by a group of professional adult adoptees. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

And Then, Someone Threw Up in a Kid's Meal Box

We stretched that road trip out as long as possible, leaving Grandma's house  -- right outside Washington D.C.  -- at about 6 o'clock last Thursday evening. Our van packed to capacity, we all squeezed in and departed before the D.C. evening rush was really over. Just as expected, there was heavy traffic, but it was creeping along, so we couldn't complain.

Then we hit Richmond, and traffic totally stopped. It was 8 pm, and suddenly, we were just sitting there, like all of Richmond had morphed into a giant parking lot.

We thought it couldn't get worse. 

Then a voice from way back in the third seat announced,

"Mom, this is not a joke. I just threw up."

 "Did you throw up in something?"

"Yes. I threw up in my kid's meal box."

We thought it couldn't get worse. 

And then. . . the box broke.

We learned a lot about road trips that night.

Yes, individual car carry-on bags were a great idea, but we learned that they need more than a pair of pj's for the hotel. Everyone needs a complete change of clothes that they can get to without unloading the entire van.

We learned that the cleanest restrooms along the interstate are in hotel lobbies. And Mr. Hampton Inn desk clerk -- there might just be a special place in heaven waiting for you. You didn't even wince at the sight of my vomit-covered child. Knowing full well we weren't hotel guests, you still gave us a complimentary toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash, and quickly showed us to your sparkling facilities.

We learned that our divide and conquer strategy for times like this works just as well on the road as it does at home. I took the sick child inside the hotel for a quick clean up while Mike tackled the van upholstery using bottled water and paper towels. Non-combatant children were ordered to stand on the sidewalk and basically, stay out of the way.

Finally, we learned that in times of crisis everyone can give a little. Nathan, who got a beautiful boxed set of the Harry Potter novels for Christmas, had been willingly sharing them with his sisters, although he'd fussed and worried over every creased cover or dog-eared page.

He thought it couldn't get worse.

And then poor Harry got caught in the crossfire. The night someone threw up in the capital of the Confederacy on the long road trip home.

Just keeping it real, friends.

Shared at Little Things Thursdays and Tuesday Baby Link-Up.
works for me wednesday at we are that family

Monday, April 15, 2013

Attachment: It's a Parent Thing, Too

For me, love and attachment grow as I get to know each of my kids and invest in their lives.

A lot has been written on promoting attachment in adopted kids, and as a result, terms like reactive attachment disorder strike fear in the hearts of prospective adoptive parents. What if we adopt a kid who isn't able to attach?

But attachment is a two-way street. What about the mom who struggles to attach to her new child? Who is writing books for her? How can she promote attachment in her own heart?

I'm not a big believer in love at first sight parenting -- at least not across the board. Maybe that happens with some people, but it's never happened for me, not even with my biological kids.

Each time I gave birth, I loved my babies right away, but it was more of an act of the will kind of love. I didn't really know them yet. And my emotions -- well, they were all over the place. When I saw each of my biological kids for the first time in the birthing room I felt exhausted, spent, tired, proud, happy, scared, uncertain, protective, nervous . . . the list goes on and on. Yes, I loved them. . . but not the same way I'd love them in the days to come.

A few weeks later, looking back at that first meeting, I would've sworn that I had hardly loved them at all. Those feelings during my first moments as a mom couldn't even compare to the fierce, protective love I now felt for my baby. In every interaction, my tone of voice, my touch, my eye contact now revealed a deep emotional attachment to my child.

What caused me to attach during those first weeks? Postpartum hormones? Maybe. Breastfeeding? Definitely helpful, but I think there's something more.

It's just a guess, but I believe the biggest thing that bound my heart to my children  was the simple act of taking care of them. As I willingly invested my time and energy into caring for my new babies -- every single exhausting sleep-deprived day -- my heart for them grew.

I say willingly because the willing part is important. Resenting the neediness of a newborn child is an attachment killer. Same for placing an overemphasis on schedules and sleeping through the night. Lastly, feeling unsuccessful as a mom can also build a wall. Whether it's a hard-to-soothe baby or difficulty with breastfeeding, it's challenging to attach to someone who makes you feel like a failure at every turn.

And then, what happens when adoption is part of the mix? And what if the adopted child isn't a baby anymore?

While a mother's attachment process in an older child adoption may look different than the attachment process with her biological infant, I'm guessing it really works in much the same way.

One rainy morning in September 2010, someone shoved Wenxin into the reception room of the Beijing Children's Welfare Institute with instructions to greet us with the words, "Mama. . . Baba."

At that point, I loved the idea of him. I'd fallen in love with his photo a year before. And I was committed to love him as an act of my will. But in all honesty, he was a little seven-year-old stranger who didn't speak my language. I didn't know him yet. And my emotions -- you guessed it. They were all over the place. I was in a new culture, jet-lagged and rain-soaked and elated and more than a tad scared -- all at the same time. I had a long way to go in attaching to my new son.

Then there was Wenxin. He was wild and unpredictable. And while he seemed to like Mike, he didn't particularly care for me.

So I did what I'd learned to do with all my other babies over the years. I took care of him. Every day I piled his plate high with yummy food from the hotel buffet. I prepared bathtubs that towered with mountains of bubbles. I rubbed sweet smelling lavender lotion into his skin each night before bed.

And in the weeks to come, when I felt like a failure -- when he fell to the floor and raged, or was blatantly disobedient, or looked me in the eye and said, "You're not my real mother" -- I turned to other adoptive moms who viewed his behavior with compassion and encouraged me to keep moving toward him instead of retreating into self protection.

Somewhere along the way, love grew. Not just the act of my will kind of love. An intense, deep, fiercely protective, mama bear kind of love. As I invested my heart into parenting him and advocating for him, attachment happened. Not just in his heart, but in my heart as well.

Attachment. It's a parent thing, too.

Melissa Faye Greene has written a touching story of her attachment process with one of her adopted sons called, "Do I Love Him Yet?"

Have you ever thought about your own attachment process as a mom -- adoptive or bio? What things were attachment builders for you?

Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up, Imperfect Prose, and WFMW.

Ni Hao Yall

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Still On the Road

I'm still here, friends! After a week and a half on the road, I can say I'm becoming a huge fan of the long road trip. My kids are just the right ages for this to be really fun.

On our way to Central New York, we made a spontaneous stop at Hershey, Pennsylvania, because I couldn't resist visiting a town dedicated to chocolate.

Look at the street lights. Absolutely adorable.

On to New York where Mike and I spoke at the Missions Conference that prompted this whole journey. What a blessing to be able to combine work and school and family time. My kids joined in the Children's Conference and made lots of new friends.

Cold weather and wide open spaces. Two things we don't get much of where we live.

And cows. Lots of cows. Here's Wenxin, the Cow Whisperer

Working our way back home, we stopped for an afternoon at Gettysburg. I remarked that I wouldn't have wanted to fight in the Civil War, and Wenxin responded, "That's because you're a girl, Momma."

We're back at Grandma's now, right outside of Washington D.C. Yesterday was filled with metro rides and museums and cherry blossoms!

The American Presidents exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery. Everyone find your three favorite presidential portraits!

Bill Clinton's portrait made everyone's list! The docent told us that President Clinton doesn't care for this portrait, but my kids loved it.

The journey home continues today.

Thanks to Asha Dornfest for featuring my post, Motivating Reluctant Readers, on Parent Hacks this week! Since I haven't been able to blog much from the road, I appreciate Asha taking up my slack.