Showing posts with label Grief and Loss. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grief and Loss. Show all posts

Monday, September 23, 2013

He Called Her "Real Mom"

I'd love to know your opinion on this one.

The other day Wenxin and I were talking, and I'm not even sure how it came up. I think I was telling him that I bet his foster mother would be so proud of him.

And then he asked.

"What about the other one?"

"The other what?" I replied.

"The other mom. You know . . . my REAL mom." (emphasis mine)

"Oh, I see. I bet your first mom would be so proud of you, too."

We talked for another minute or two, and as he ran out the door to go play, I said with a wink, "Hey Wenxin, don't forget. I'm REAL, too."

Big grin, and he was off.

So here's the question. He's 10 years old and adopted for three years now. Is it important for me to teach him what most people consider to be appropriate adoption language? Should he call her his first mom or his birth mom instead of his real mom? Does it really matter?

My gut tells me he should be able to call all the mothers in his life whatever seems appropriate to him -- because it's his story. My gut says I should follow his lead on this one. But he is only ten and is still making sense of his own history. On this issue, does he need guidance from me? Specifically, does he need me to choose his words?

I'm not concerned about my place in his life. I know this kid loves me. I also know I'm his third mom. I'm OK with this. And I think I can live with him calling her his real mom.

But since it's not what's normally done in the adoption world, I'm wondering if I'm missing something here?

I also have a real fear that some adoptive parent will correct him. It could happen, you know, cause calling the birth mom the real mom. . . those are fightin' words in a lot of places.

I'm also pretty sure he'll call her whatever I ask him to call her. He's sweet and obedient. And he believes what I say about things. If I say he should call her his first mom or his birth mom, then I'm pretty sure that's what he'll do -- for now, anyway. But do I want to make that decision for him?

So what do you think? What would you do in my place?

Waiting for all of your words of wisdom.

If you are an adult adoptee, please let your voice be heard on this one.

Sharing today over at Emily's place.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 29: A Dad's Eye View of Adoption

I cannot imagine our family without our girls. It makes me cringe to think of where they would be now and what their lives would not be like if they had remained in their orphanages in China.

I also know that as much as they have been blessed by being adopted, I have been blessed through their adoption all the more. They have taught me more about myself than I ever would have known had God not brought them into my life.

There are times when I laugh and when I cry. Times when it becomes painfully obvious that a meltdown or rage induced by the trauma in their background is being used by God to heal something in me that needed healing.

The first time we had a real honest to goodness full on rage (which is different from a tantrum!) I was as much scared as I was shocked. I believe in that moment if she had a weapon she would have used it on me.

It started with a simple correction and consequence from my wife. No big deal. To us – but not to her.

My main thought at the time (besides feeling this was way beyond me) was to protect her from herself. I tried physically restraining her (discovering later that was exactly the wrong way to do it). But that only made it worse.

It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. My older kids had thrown a tantrum a time or two before – but this different.

We realized that we were in over our heads – and needed help.

Oh the things I learned about trauma over the next few months. About how it interrupts development. About how it can be triggered by seemingly unrelated things. About how raising a trauma child will almost always reveal the trauma and hurt in the parent's background as well.

And trigger our own traumas.

This was far more than I had bargained for when we began this adoption journey. It was not supposed to be about me – it was supposed to be about them.

I had successfully managed to lock away the trauma in my own past in what I considered a most effective manner. I had logically and rationally dealt with the issues from my childhood in a most reasonable and grown up fashion and was functioning quite well.

Until a 9-year-old girl with more hurts than a 9-year-old girl should ever have invaded our home and my heart.

Suddenly, I was the 6-year-old boy again witnessing things a 6-year-old boy shouldn’t see. Experiencing rejection and hurt that 6-year-old boys aren’t meant to deal with.

Being a typical, macho guy – my first response was anger. I was mad at her. Mad at the situation. Mad at my wife. I realized that for the sake of my family and my children, I needed to move through that and deal with my own stuff. Not easy for anyone, but I think guys just have more trouble with this.

After a lot of trying, I realized that my anger was only making it worse, and was directed in the wrong places.  My anger was actually my hurt – and it wasn’t helping heal their hurt.

They needed to be told they were safe, not screamed at by a raving lunatic. They needed to be loved while their behaviors were out of control. Not traditional parenting techniques  - because they weren't traditional kids.

The only way to help heal them was to love them over and over and over and over again. And then tell them and show them some more. And while I was pouring that into them, I realized that my own childhood hurts were being opened and then healed.

I thank God every day that I listened to His call on my life and that He loves me enough to have blessed me with these three wonderful girls.

It has not been easy. But God has been with me. My peers, business associates, old friends and family ask me often,“Why did you do this? Shouldn’t you be out playing golf, traveling and enjoying your life?”

My answer to them gives me the opportunity to share our adoption story, but it’s also an opportunity to share what Christ has done in my life.
As surely as it seems that we rescued these girls, Jesus has used them to help rescue me from being held captive to my past.

Doug is a 55-year-old father of 6 and grandfather to 1. His hobbies are chasing his kids and indulging his wife. When he needs a rest, he is president of Mission Beverage Company in Los Angeles. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 28: How To Help Your Church Help You

We're coming full circle here. We've covered a lot of topics this month -- topics designed to help you prepare to parent. Karen is back again today sharing once more about how to get help -- this time, from your church.

A little while ago, I wrote a post titled Alone in a Church Full of People. It was in response to my many friends who felt that their church families had abandoned them in the tough times of parenting a traumatized, older child. I was saddened at the number of friends who had stopped going to church, had no support from their church, and even had negative experiences with their church family. I was saddened for them and for what it said about the church. Here is something I hope will help –

An Open Letter to Our Church

Dear Pastor and Church Members –

As you know, we have recently adopted a (insert child’s gender and age here). We are entering into a very new and scary world, and we need you to help us. Before we tell you what we need, here’s a little information on what it’s like to adopt an older child.

Most people figure that adopting an older kid is actually easier than having a baby. The child sleeps through the night, feeds themselves, and actually has the cognitive ability to understand that they have entered a wonderful new world of family and safety and security and love.  It’s an easy transition for all – filled with hope and new beginnings.


The reality is that our older adopted children don't act their age and don’t always assimilate well. Their traumatic beginnings have affected them in ways we are only beginning to understand.

They can’t walk into a room full of kids who have been in Sunday School together since pre-school and make friends easily. Some weeks we are simply trying to keep everyone alive. The more subtle issue is that no one understands that the bruises on my arms are from restraining my child during a rage  - and getting to bible study would be easier if I could come in my pj’s and know that during child care, my child was OK. Given that, here are some things that you can do to help us.

  • First and foremost, our family needs prayer. Dedicated and committed prayer partners who will come along side our family and pray us through the times ahead. If there are one or two prayer warriors that would be willing to do this – that would be wonderful. 

  • Our meals ministry is a blessing to new moms; we could use meals, but not just for the first two weeks home. Rather, feeding us one or two nights a week for several months or more would feed our souls and relieve a significant amount of stress.
  • Educate your lay leaders and pastoral staff about raising children with backgrounds of trauma. There are some wonderful resources available for you, and they will help you understand what our family is going through. We need you to understand.

  • Please release us from our volunteer obligations. It simply isn’t the season for us to pour into others; all we have is being poured into the broken soul God brought into our family to help heal. Guilt about not teaching Sunday School or leading Awanas or volunteering at VBS is hurtful, not helpful.

  • Please refrain from offering parenting advice to us about our adopted child’s behavior. More discipline won’t help him – trust me, we have tried. What he needs is healing first, and that looks different. It doesn’t help when the Sunday School teachers tell us “you just need to be more firm with him."

  • Help our child transition. Find a buddy for them to hang out with in Sunday School. Our child doesn’t know how to make a friend or be a friend; help us show them what that looks like. 

  • Show up and be the hands & feet of Jesus. Come sit with our kids so we can take a walk together. Offer to clean my house. Take my adopted child out for ice cream to give our other kids a break from the chaos for an hour or two. We are not asking for days or weeks – just an hour or two a week.

We need church. We need the healing that only God can bring into this child. It is harder than anything we have ever done. And we need the Body of Christ to stand with us and sometimes hold us up while we fight for the healing and the restoration and redemption that Jesus will bring our child.

In Him – 

In our case, our church has been very supportive. They have supported all of our children for two services every Sunday so that we can attend one service and can sit and have a date during the other service. It’s an unconventional way for us to have a date each week – but it works. They also have a college volunteer who is our older daughter’s buddy for children’s church and the transition time. Their disability ministry helps Katie be in class for two services.

This is important. We needed to be connected to the Body and to Jesus while walking the last year and a half. It’s OK to ask your church to help – and to help them understand how to help you.

Ask for help. 

Karen blogs at Casa de Alegria.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 27: Naming

What would we name the boy in the photo? The 7-year-old in China who was about to become our son. This was one of the hardest decisions we made in our older child adoption.

He wasn't a baby. We had biological children who were seven and eight, and we couldn't help but think how confusing and upsetting and disorienting it would be for them if they suddenly had to change names.

Names aren't neutral. So much of our personal identity is tied to our name.

We broached the subject with our case worker at the adoption agency -- a Chinese American lady. She seemed alarmed. "All these children expect to get American names. He'll be disappointed if you keep his Chinese name." And then she added, "Even Chinese adults who immigrate to the States take American names. Their Chinese names are too difficult for people to say."

Part of me felt relieved by her answer. It would be easier to give him an American name. Even though we'd repeatedly asked how to pronounce his name, it was so foreign to us that we were never quite sure if we were saying it right or not.

It was suggested more than once that we keep part of his Chinese name as his middle name. But which part? His Chinese name consisted of three Chinese characters. Which part would be the most meaningful to him? Seems silly now, but we really didn't know for sure.

So when we traveled to China to adopt Wenxin, we gave him an American first, middle, and last name. We called him his Chinese name in the beginning, and then, while still in China, we introduced his American name through our interpreter. The plan was to gradually transition from calling him his Chinese name to using his American name all the time.

Wenxin, however, felt strongly about keeping his Chinese name. Every time we mentioned his American name he said, "No."  Wenxin he was, and Wenxin he would remain. It felt right to us.

As you read the rest of what I say, please remember that we didn't arrive at the decision to keep his Chinese name out of a firm conviction that it would be wrong to change his name. Quite the opposite. We actually gave him an American name and had every intention of using it. We had a change of heart, however, as we got to know our new son.

"But aren't you worried that people won't be able to say it?"

No, not really.

If you've only seen Wenxin's name in print, you are probably mispronouncing it.  The "x" throws people off.  His name is pronounced "Wen Sheen,"  just like the actor, Charlie Sheen.  Once we say that, everyone gets it. From time to time, people want to say, "Wen Ching," because that "ch" sound seems Chinese to them. But so far, the little bit of effort it takes to teach everyone to pronounce his name correctly seems 100% worth it.

You know, the America of today is a nation of many ethnicities and many ethnic names.  We have a president named Barack Obama.  Probably, most Americans had never met a "Barack" before President Obama, but we all learned to pronounce his name correctly. Thank you, President Obama, for not changing your name to something that would be more comfy for us all.

Almost three years later, all our friends and family (well, most of them) have learned to pronounce Wenxin's name correctly. When he plays soccer, you can hear parents all up and down the sidelines yelling, "Go Wenxin!"

Older children adopted internationally have almost all their choices taken from them. They have to accept new parents, move to a new country and learn a new language -- whether they like it or not.  He was almost eight years old.  We simply couldn't take his name as well.

I've heard adoptive parents say that naming their new child is an important part of "claiming" them as their own. Naming is something your parent does for you. I get that.

I wonder, however, if we should rethink this issue. Does it have to be that way? Should getting new parents always mean getting a new name?

If Mike and I died, and someone else stepped in to finish raising Nathan, Julia, Wenxin, and Katherine, would I want that person to change their names? What if they moved to a different country? Would that make a difference?

Does the age of the child or the child's preference matter?

I don't have definite answers to these questions, and I realize that I'm in the minority. Most adoptive parents rename their kids. Especially when the kids have names that are hard to pronounce.

All I'm suggesting is that we think about it carefully. Because your name is really important. It's strongly tied to who you are.

I'd love to know what you think about this one. If you've been reading quietly without speaking up, now would be a great time to join the conversation. There are no wrong answers or stupid questions, so please leave a comment.

Also, here's another quick way you can help. Would you tweet this post or share it on Facebook or with your online adoption group? I'd love to invite more people into the conversation, and you are key to spreading the word. Thank you.

Don't Miss A Single Post. To Read the Whole Series, Start Here.
Shared at Ni Hao Y'all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 23: A Movie I Recommend

This feature length documentary is available on streaming Netflix or at Amazon.

While not specifically about older child adoption, this film paints a picture of what it's like to grow up as an international adoptee, always living somewhere between your birth culture and your adopted culture. It gives a rare glimpse of international adoption through the adoptee's eyes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 17: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part I

Tara's Family
There is only one group of people who can tell us, from experience, what it's like to grow up adopted. We must develop the habit of listening to the stories of adult adoptees.

Please don't think that just because you've known one adult adoptee in your life that you've got the whole picture. Each story is unique. We need to develop the habit of lowering our defenses and listening because only adult adoptees can help us see adoption through an adopted person's eyes.

Today, I interview Tara Bradford about growing up as an international adoptee. Tara has a unique perspective as she is a transracial adoptee, a mom by both birth and adoption, and an orphan care advocate. 

Welcome, Tara, to Death by Great Wall. Tell us a little about your story.

We know that all stories of adoption begin with loss, and mine began with my relinquishment by my Korean birth family, resulting in my adoption by a Caucasian family in the US. The family I came into had a son two years older than me. 

Unfortunately, the loss did not end there.

Within a year of my adoption, the couple separated. There was much pain in my childhood from experiencing the effects of what divorce can do in a family, especially as an unattached adoptee. I was close to my mother and grandparents, but did not have a good relationship with my adoptive father. Years of emotional pain culminated in him telling me he had not wanted to adopt me, but did it only to save his marriage. As a result, at the age of 21, I legally dissolved my relationship with him and had my mom’s third husband named as my legal father. 

The challenge of being a transracial adoptee in a small town --population 800 -- with no other minorities but myself, coupled with what I was experiencing through the divorce created a lot of insecurity, identity confusion, and fear of being rejected. I’ve since reached out to my mom’s first husband and told him I forgive him and have been on a healing journey from my circumstances for the last 13 years.

Was being adopted a positive thing or a negative thing in your life?

It is both. I realize that because of the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment, I could have ended up in conditions that might have taken my life down a very different and negative path had I stayed in Korea. The positive part of being adopted is that despite the circumstances of my adoption, it brought me here to the US where I met my husband and have a very blessed life.

The negative part of adoption is also the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment. It caused me to grow up without my birth family. I experienced further abandonment with the divorce of my adoptive parents and the eventual dissolution of my relationship with my adoptive father. The effects of others' choices on my life dug deeply into my heart and soul, and the road to healing has been long.

What was it like growing up in a family with people who didn't look like you? Did you have any Asian friends or role models?

It was very difficult growing up as a transracial adoptee. My racial background was not something we discussed intentionally. My childhood was challenging because I knew I was different, and I was trying to understand where I fit in since everyone at school was white, and everyone else in my family was as well. I began to think that in order to fit in, I had to look and act white. I remember dreaming about getting my eyelids fixed so I would have folds in them and could look more like the white people around me.

I didn’t know any other Asians and only came into contact with them when we would visit a Chinese restaurant at which point I would feel terribly uncomfortable and embarrassed. I really wish my parents had been more intentional about teaching me the history of my racial background and helping me understand how to feel comfortable with my racial identity within a white culture.

What was your parents' attitude toward your birth family and birth culture? How did that affect you?

We never talked about it. I would like to believe that they respected my birth culture, and I guess I honestly can’t say how they felt about my birth family as again, it wasn’t a topic of conversation that we engaged in.

In looking back at my childhood, I can see how that was very disempowering to me as a transracial adoptee. Not understanding my birth culture or how one exists within the American culture as a transracial adoptee created a huge chasm in my life. The lack of knowledge of my birth family coupled with my ignorance of my birth culture caused me to experience a deep identity problem.

Have you ever gone back to your birth country?

I have never gone back to Korea. I hope to do so soon and have been talking with my husband about when that will be.

If you could meet your birth mother today, what would you like to ask her?

If I met my birth mother, I would want to know the circumstances of my relinquishment. There is a constant gnawing inside of me that beckons the question, “Why?” It’s as if I have a chapter of my story that has been torn from the book leaving blanks that can’t be filled in. Even though I’m at peace with not knowing, there is a sense of wonderment about my birth family.

Friends, Tara's honest, vulnerable answers brought tears to my eyes. She's given us a lot to think about. If you have a question you'd like to ask Tara, please leave a comment, and I'm sure Tara will be glad to respond. You can also hear more from Tara on her blog, Smore Stories.

Tomorrow, I'll ask Tara about how her own adoption affects the way she parents her adopted children. See you then!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 11: Unexpected Challenges

Today's guest blogger is Kim, pictured here with her husband and sons on their first day as a family.

One minute you're two happily married people who do whatever you want, whenever you want. Maybe you want to go to see Mumford and Sons. Done. Maybe you want to drive up to Minneapolis for some sushi and shopping. Done.

Then suddenly you're bent over the toilet at the Ethiopian guesthouse losing your breakfast because you found out that you're becoming real-life parents three days earlier than planned. "I can't do this," you beg.  "Please God. I don't know what we were thinking. I've changed my mind. Please."

One minute you think you've adopted two healthy boys with big appetites and energy to play soccer for hours.

Then suddenly your husband is spending four hours in a clinic in Addis Abeba with your oldest son who had a seizure your last night in country. Your son gets a shaved head, has an EEG that shows some kind of abnormality, and in a rush you pack at the guesthouse in order to make your flight back home.

One minute you think you have faith. You believe in Jesus. You trust in His plan for your life.

Then suddenly you're clinging on with white knuckles, begging that He doesn't leave you, crying out for the strength to get through each day. 

Maybe you're finally figuring out what faith really is.

So, in a nutshell, that describes our first months of parenting. Like the crazy folks we are, my husband and I went from being the parents of zero children to being the parents of two older sons adopted from Ethiopia. We really did everything we could to prepare. We read the books, watched the videos, had the conversations. But still there were many unexpected challenges that came as a side order with the main dish of older child adoption.


For our first several months of parenting, our oldest son suffered from seizures, sometimes several a day. We had no prior knowledge of a seizure disorder. It wasn’t until the night before we were supposed to fly home from Ethiopia that he had his first tonic clonic seizure. It feels like a dream to remember this time. After we came home, sweet Getu had seizures sometimes several times a day until last September when we finally got his medications under control.

Getu’s seizures didn’t make us love him any less; they made us love him move. I’m not sure I really understood what it meant to be a mother until I cradled my then 8-year-old son’s limp body on our kitchen floor after he had had another seizure. We survived traumatic blood draws, CT scans, MRIs, and multiple doctor’s visits. We became a family.

Other challenging unknowns have manifested themselves in the narrative we’ve been told about our sons.  This part is personal; it’s not my story to tell. I will just say that some of the stories we’ve been told from our agency and from the boys and from another third party are conflicting. Not kind of conflicting. Mind-blown-not-sure-how-to-proceed conflicting. And we used a reputable agency. Stories like ours aren’t unique either.  So health unknowns, behavior unknowns, and narrative unknowns should not come as a surprise.

Big Feelings

I would like to say that I wore my new role as an adoptive mother like a well-worn parka, comfortable and warm. The reality is that I did more crying and yelling in those first months than I really want to admit.  (Except I just did.) And I wasn’t the only one in our family experiencing Big Feelings.

Yes, the first several months were accompanied by a myriad of what my husband and I have deemed Big Feelings. Big Feelings manifest themselves in tantrums, inexplicable crying, difficulty getting to sleep, physical violence, and ugly talk. Bryan Post breaks down our emotions into two categories:  fear and love. Those first months home will carry with them a lot of fear for your children and for you. We were somewhat prepared for this, but the extent of the Big Feelings was definitely an unexpected challenge for us.

I would like to tell you that now, over a year later, we have all conquered our Big Feelings and are carrying on in our world of butterflies and unicorns and neuro-typical children. However, that would be a Big Fat Lie.  The boys (and the parents!) do a much better job of recognizing and handling the Big Feelings, but there are still moments where it feels like we live in a town with BF as mayor. That is certainly a daily challenge that comes with older child adoption.

Cultural Identity Crisis

This is something that I am internally wrestling with on a daily basis, and I just couldn’t have predicted what a giant deal this would be. We are a transracial family, so this is mostly a complication of that, not just older child adoption. I do think, though, that we’re dealing with these issues and conversations in much different ways than if we had adopted younger children. Yes, those younger children would still have memories and experiences from birth culture, but not in the same way that an 8- and 9-year-old child would.

From day #1 we tried to incorporate Ethiopian culture in our house. I cooked the foods, played the music, showed the videos. And despite every effort, the boys now reject nearly everything but the food. They lost their first language, their birth words, the lexicon of their first family. And with that loss came more helpings of grief and confusion and hard, hard questions about belonging and identity and names. No matter how I spin it, my boys are being raised white with black skin, and when I think of their future, I can’t sleep.

I’m reading books (like this and this) and being part of online forums and Facebook groups with adult adoptees who sometimes speak loudly in angry and unsettling voices because I need to know and prepare and seek to understand.

So those are some of the unexpected challenges that come with older child adoption, and really maybe any adoption. This is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s just a few of our stories, our challenges.

I have to leave you with this, though:  Given all of these struggles would be still adopt our Getu and Endale again? Without a second thought!

Our Family Today
Check back tomorrow as Kim shares about the unexpected blessings of older child adoption.

To read this whole series, start here with Day 1: 31 Days of Preparing to Parent. . . when you're adopting an older child.

Kim is a full-time teacher, wife, mother, and Christ-follower. Her family doubled in size last April with the addition of Getu (9) and Endale (8).  Kim blogs at Like the Love

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 7: The Best Advice

Today's guest post is by Karen, mom to these three little ladies. 
When you grow your family, you get a lot of advice – some of it good, some not so good. My favorites are:
Sleep when they sleep.

Never wake a sleeping child.

Accept offers of help.

I had no problem executing the first two; as a matter of fact, I prayed for a child that would sleep well, long & often (an unanswered prayer!) because I love sleep. However, for a long time, I ignored the third.

I was the Queen of Competency. Blessed with gifts of administration and organization. Wrote the book on multi-tasking and functioning for days with little sleep.  The master of my domain – by myself!

When my second child arrived home at age 4 with autism, I struggled, but basically was able to do it all on my own – not well, but it all (mostly) got done, and we were surviving.

My third child, an older child adoption, changed all that. Only I was slow to accept the reality because of my Pride.

When our oldest daughter arrived home at 9 years old, she was full of emotions and fears and uncertainties. She underwent a huge cultural shift. She lost the only home she ever knew (and even if it’s a “bad” place, it’s a known place for them).  The loss of her biological family was finalized. She was in a foreign country with no language where everything was different. She lost everything she knew up until that moment.

That would be a lot for a healthy adult to process, but for a child whose developmental stages have been interrupted by trauma – it was a recipe for chaos.

Which is exactly what erupted in our home.

I struggled by myself for a long time trying to hold everything together – meeting everyone’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. I was trying to be everything for everyone – and several of those everyones had high needs and were struggling with trauma.

I was exhausted. My marriage was strained. My kids were a wreck.

I needed help.

Tangible, physical, come cook dinner for me and tend to one child while I soothe and calm the other two kind of help.

I lived in this chaos for months before getting help. Why?

My pride.

Pride – a deadly sin, for it isolates you, hurts those around you when you let it stand in your way, and goes against God’s plan for His people. His plan is for us to be in community and be part of the Body.
 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,  so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

This design is intentional. God’s plan requires we break the bonds of pride that say, "We are an island of sufficiency." It allows us to accept our dependence on God through the physical reality of accepting our dependence on others.
It humbles us. In a good way.

It also allows others the opportunity to participate in God’s grand plan for these hurting children. By allowing them to help you, you help them see what it truly means to lay down our lives for one another.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

One of the things we discovered was that the places help came from were not necessarily the places we expected. The family we expected to step up to the plate slowly receded into the background, while other family members unexpectedly waded into the deep with us. Friends who had stood by and prayed these children home disappeared, while those we considered merely acquaintances became the glue that sometimes held our family together.
That was something to process.

I also discovered that I had to do some work. I needed to figure out exactly what I needed, which is no small feat for someone who felt like she had never needed anything!

Help comes in many forms, and during this 31 Day series I will be writing about focusing on your friends and your church. I'll give you some ideas on how to figure out what you need and how to ask for it – hard things, but necessary and part of God’s design for us.

You can find Karen blogging at Casa de Alegria.

Here are all the posts in this series so far:
Day 1: Drowning in Paperwork
Day 2: A History of Loss
Day 3: Tantrums
Day 4: Parenting with Connection
Day 5: Prayers for the First Days Home
Day 6: Others Share about the First Days
Day 7: The Best Advice
Day 8: How to Get the Help You Need
Day 9: Thing People Say to Adoptive Families
Day 10: More Things People Say
Day 11: Unexpected Challenges
Day 12: Unexpected Blessings
Day 13: Manipulation and Control
Day 14: Sharing Control
Day 15: Packing with Attachment in Mind
Day 16: Kids Camp Two Years Later
Day 17: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part I
Day 18: Listening to Adult Adoptees, Part II
Day 19: Understanding Negative Behavior
Day 20: Does Race Matter?
Day 21: Bedtime, Spanking, & How We Parent
Day 22: So. Your Adopted Child Hoards Food
Day 23: A Movie I Recommend
Day 24: Bullying
Know someone adopting an older child? Part of an adoption message board? Invite your friends to be a part of this series by using those tiny share buttons at the bottom of this post. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 2: A History of Loss

Back in July 2009, I fell in love with a photo.

6 ½-year-old Wenxin, living in an orphanage in Beijing, needed a family.

After months of looking at adoption photo listings of waiting children, I was smitten by this little boy with a serious look on his face. I shared his photo with my husband, Mike, and was surprised when he found himself drawn to the photo as well.

Thus began our journey to make Wenxin our son. In the days to come we’d contact the adoption agency and review his file. We’d be granted pre-approval to adopt him. We’d share the news with our three biological kids and our extended family. We’d hire a social worker. We’d be fingerprinted by the FBI. And finally, we’d travel half way around the world and spend three weeks in China adopting Wenxin, making him our son forever.

But it all started with a photo.

Chances are, if you are considering adopting an older child, the day will come when you fall in love with a photo, too. But when you look at that photo, you need to remember what everyone else seems to forget.

The child in the photo comes with a history of loss. 

No older child is available for adoption because he’s had a good life.

Stop for a moment. You need to let that truth sink deep down into your soul.

He’s not a blank slate. There’s a whole history that’s already been written, and that history includes a lot of loss.
The child in the photo lost his birth family. If he has foster parents, he will lose them as well.

Even the blessing of being adopted internationally will pile on more loss. He’ll lose the country of his birth with all its familiar sights, sounds, and smells. He’ll be faced with adjusting to a new family, learning a new language, and coping with the shock of sudden immersion in a totally new culture.

Don’t get me wrong. The child in the photo needs an adoptive family. But more importantly, he needs to be adopted by the right kind of parents. Older children need compassionate parents who patiently face the losses in their new child’s life. It's not this child's responsibility to fulfill your dream of being a parent or to complete your family. If you choose to adopt an older child, you must walk in with your eyes wide open, prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of parenting, willing to receive nothing in return.

That's what this month is all about. Learning a little each day. Adding tools to the toolbox. Preparing to parent in a whole new way.

Older child adoption is not a journey for the faint-hearted. I'll say it again. It's hard work. But the child in that photo is most likely brave and resilient, and you can become the type of parent he needs.

Tomorrow we'll look at choosing a parenting style that takes into account the losses our kids have experienced. See you then!

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below. (When your comment doesn't appear immediately, don't panic. I moderate all comments to weed out spam, so as soon as I take a look, your comment will appear on the blog. Thanks for your patience.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gotcha Day - Yea or Nay?

Our First Family Portrait on Wenxin's Original Gotcha Day Back in 2010

"Hey Mom, do you know about Gotcha Day?" 

Thank you very much, Netflix. Somewhere, in Wenxin's daily consumption of Disney sitcoms, he happened on an adoption-themed show. And one of the characters let the cat out of the bag about Gotcha Day.

"It's for adopted kids. It's a day to celebrate the day you adopted me -- kind of like a birthday."

Gotcha Day. Sounds good to Wenxin, but you might want to know that not everyone's a fan.

At first glance, Gotcha Day seems like a great idea. A day to celebrate becoming a family. What could be wrong with that? 

Well, for one, some people seem to object to the cutesy name.  The word, gotcha, conjures up images of childless parents snatching or acquiring children. You know, "Gotcha!" For folks who cringe at the term, Gotcha Day, many simply change the name to Family Day or Adoption Day. Problem solved.

But for others the issue is deeper. Here are some comments from adult adoptees I found by doing a quick search of adoption message boards.

I was adopted as an infant but back in my day (lol) the term "Gotcha Day" hadn't yet evolved (thank God). I do think that "Adoption Day" would be a more respectful term. 

I personally felt an added pressure to "perform" because I was a "chosen child". It felt a little bit like I was acquired to fill the space in my family that needed to be filled. I was loved and cherished, but it did not erase that fact. Celebrating "Gotcha Day" would have probably made that feeling even worse. Adoptive parents (even on this forum) seem so eager and desperate to find a child (being honest here) to love. And yes, I can understand that. But coming from the other end of that love, I'd just say be extra careful. Celebrate that child's full heritage, and let him/her acknowledge the truths and reality that they are separated from their biological identity, family, and heritage. Adoption involves loss, and when we enforce a "celebration" around it, I personally believe it tells that child it's not safe or right to feel any feelings other than positive. Then when the child grows up they have to revisit their entire reality. Just my opinion.

From another adult adoptee:

I'm going to be a bit more blunt. I think the idea of celebrating a "Gotcha" day or "Adoption day" is one of the more ridiculous ideas I've yet heard. I don't intend to offend anyone, but as an adoptee, I would have dreaded such a day every year. My thoughts would have been along the lines of -
"You want me to celebrate the fact that someone gave me away?"

Another individual suggests that the age of the adopted child makes a big difference:

When I was really young, I was "proud" to have been adopted and think I really would have enjoyed the formal celebration. I'm certain, however, that I would have wanted no part of it by the time I reached about 11 or 12. 

Hmmm. . .That's a lot to think about.  Adoption always looks a little different from the eyes of the adopted child.

But while I'd love to say that our lack of celebration surrounding Wenxin's Gotcha Day has been the result of careful thought given to the pros and cons and long-term effects of such celebrations, that would be a tad untrue. While I have definitely been influenced by listening to adult adoptees, the honest truth is that I have four children, and I'm just not sure I can add one more celebration to my already overflowing plate.

I've noticed that, as a mom, there's a rhythm to my year. And every year, from September to the beginning of March, I run a gauntlet. It starts with Julia's birthday and continues on to the Chinese Moon Festival, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Nathan's Birthday, Christmas, Wenxin's Birthday, New Years, Chinese New Year,  Valentines, and finally, Katherine's Birthday. The thought of inserting one more holiday to this list is exhausting. Enough special food. Enough presents. Enough gift bags. Enough!

And then, because I have three biological kids and one adopted child, I definitely don't want to make it kind of like another birthday, as Wenxin inferred from the Disney show. I'm pretty happy with each child, bio or adopted, getting celebrated on their one special day each year.

I promise I'm not a lazy mom. I am, however, a fairly tired one.

Recently, Wenxin and I revisited the topic of Gotcha Day. I explained to him why the term, gotcha, made me a little uncomfortable.

"Oh, I see," he said. And then he thought for a moment. "I know what we can call it."

"What?" I asked.

"We could call it GOT YOU Day."

Yeah. . . I'm pretty sure he's just in it for the presents.

So what do you do in your family? Gotcha Day. Yea or Nay? Shared at We Are That Family.

Coming July 1

Ni Hao Yall

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

24 Days Each Summer

I cried on and off all day Sunday. I cried for a family I've never met.

Katherine's new friend from soccer has a big sister who suffers from San Filippo Syndrome. It's incurable. . . and progressive. . . and fatal.

On Sunday, Mike took Katherine to help her friend sell lemonade to raise money for San Filippo research. I stayed home and read about the syndrome online and cried.

Because I know what it's like to lose a child.

Because it's almost that time.

The 24 days each summer that are really hard for me.

On June 22, it will be twelve years since my daughter, Sarah, was born, and on July 15, it will be twelve years since she died. She only lived 24 days.

Every year I remember.

Every year I'm sad.

Whenever we lose someone we love, certain special days are harder than others. Birthdays. Anniversaries. I think it's a normal part of grief.

Sarah's little life was so short that the whole 24 days is like one event to me.

It's gotten better over time -- a lot better. It's not debilitating. Last year, one of the days -- I don't remember if it was the anniversary of her birth or the anniversary of her death -- passed before I knew it. I literally forgot to be sad that day. A few days later I realized my mistake and had to smile. A lot of healing has happened in my heart.

But still, I get a little nervous each year, anticipating those 24 days.

As they approach, I get uneasy.

That's just where I am, 12 years after the fact.

And I think that's OK.

Sharing today at Emily's blog.