This is the last part of older child adoption I plan to write about for the time being. It’s also one of the most difficult areas of our adoption thus far. When we were waiting for Lola our middle daughter, Charlotte, was a ball of anticipation. She prayed constantly for Lola and the day she would come home. She was over the top, over the moon excited about having a sister. It would have been very easy to fuel these expectations but we did our best to prepare Charlotte for the broken little girl who would soon become her sister.
A new family member with lots of baggage isn’t going to come in and make your home a little brighter. As difficult as that is to convey, it’s the truth. If you are considering adoption, it’s important to know that darkness comes before light.
And with that knowledge you can step into adoption knowing that the work is hard but the outcome is restoration.
When Lola came home she did not understand family. She didn’t understand that other children could be part of her family. And suddenly, she was sharing these two people (mom and dad) with three other kids. Probably not what she had planned. As a result, she rejected sibling relationships for several weeks. This left Charlotte feeling hurt and disappointed. Though we had prepared her for a difficult transition, it’s impossible to truly prepare an unscathed four-year-old mind. The boys… well, they are boys, and while they exhibited other emotional signs such as frequent temper tantrums and whining, they did not necessarily get their feelings hurt.
So what did we do?
1. Dates. Lots of dates. Dates were comprised of mom and daughter/mom and son trips to the grocery store, a quick stop at a coffee shop or letting the one who had the hardest day stay up a little later to watch a movie or play a game with Daddy. I can’t tell you how many times Calvin and Elliott have played monopoly in Elliott’s closet. For Liam, who is two, I’ve taken to wearing him in the Ergo when he’s especially cranky. Magic I tell you.
2. We never placed blame on our newest family member. Commiserating with the other 3 is not the answer here. Children don’t enter families through adoption to become the enemy. Agreeing with them when they were angry with Lola was an absolute no-no. This creates lines of division, when as parents we are working toward unity and family connections.
Example: Child says “ugh, she is always mean to me, I hate it when she does ____” An off the cuff response from a parent might be “Me too honey, this is difficult for all of us.” A better response, that removes blame and adds grace would be “Honey, I know you are having a hard time. You have really been a good example for your sister. Feel free to express your feelings to me anytime.”
This response acknowledges the child who is struggling, but does not allow blame to be placed on a new, adopted sibling. The last part is especially important. Parents must let their children express their feelings and hurts in a safe setting. The last thing we want is to push our children to express intimate feelings to people outside the home.
3. We did not use gifts as a replacement for time. When chaos seems to be reigning in your home it’s a natural Western response to start buying your kids everything they want. Well… we still have adoption debt so that kept my spending at bay… but additionally we know that gifts do not replace time. So Calvin and I plunged into quality time that depleted us but built up our children. There are times in your adoption transition when you look your spouse in the eye and commit to exhausting yourself for a time… all the while praying that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t terribly far away. Warning… don’t commit to this exhaustion without having a plan for at least some renewal, even if that renewal comes through watching DVRed Walking Dead episodes with your honey while cramming salty snacks into your mouth at 10:30pm. This is truth.
4. We held Lola to the same kindness standards we asked of Charlotte, Elliott and Liam. This was crucial. When your newest person enters the family, their grief and loss must be accounted for, but it does not give a pass to skip out on family rules. We corrected behaviors with appropriate adoption-minded responses, and clearly communicated expectations for family behavior.
When you adopt, your children will grow up just a little quicker. When you adopt, your children will see the dark side of the world a little earlier. And this is okay. Who ever said that suffering should only be witnessed by the mature? I pray that my children will grow up to be challengers and defenders who never sit on the sidelines.
Lola has now been home for four months. Yes, we are still at the beginning of this transition. BUT the initial chaos and sibling hatred is tempering off. Hearts are being healed, trust is blooming AND they are starting to play together. Tea parties are happening in the sun room, hide and seek commences spontaneously, there are less fits and whining and generally, we are feeling like our family is whole. Is it worth it? YES. One thousand times over. I am honored to watch my new daughter and my entire family transform before my eyes. I am blessed that God chose to form our family by adoption. And I am humbled that I was found worthy to mother my four children. I am never a perfect mother but as I adventure on with Calvin and these four beauties I resolve more and more to allow grace to dominate my parenting.