In Need of Grace {a letter from my child}

“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” Russel Barkley

I think of this quote when parenting my kids.  It is a great reminder when I’m struggling to manage the problems and issues we often face.  I have also thought of it when considering my own actions.

Sometimes, I’m not easy to love.  I absolutely admit that I can be a bit of a grouch at times.  I can put expectations on my kids that are probably too high for their level of functioning.  My feelings get hurt, I lose my temper, and I struggle showing grace – even when I am the one who probably needs it the most.

Last week at a doctor’s appointment for a recent back injury, my doctor asked me how things are going with the kids.  I sat for a minute and thought, “Do I tell him the truth that life is hard or do I grin and say things are going fine?”  The word “fine” has become the one I use when things really aren’t that fine.  It gives a simple response to questions that I don’t want to unpack.

As much as I tried to keep it in, I couldn’t.  The tears ran down my face as I explained the issues we are having and how I have been feeling and failing, lately.  The funny thing (actually, not that funny) is when you are told “maybe tomorrow will be better”, deep down you know that it probably won’t be.  Instead of offering a rallying cry to me, my doctor let me cry.  Soon, he brought in a counselor they have on staff and she also just let me cry.  It felt good to release it.  I should probably do that more often.

Fast forward a few days from this appointment to my birthday (yes, I just turned another year older).  My children were having a rough night.  I’ve learned not to expect nights without behaviors – even on special occasions.  As I opened my gifts, one of my children handed me a letter…

Dear Mom,

Thank you for sooo much for being graceful, and loving to me and for adopting me and helping me up when I’m hurt, cheering me up when I’m sad and you love me no matter what I do.  Thank you for being my mom for the best years of my life.

Did you read that?

Graceful.

Loving.

Helping.

Cheering.

Best years of my life.

I cried as I read it and looked at my child.  Soon, this child’s eyes were welling up as I opened up my arms for a big hug.  I will hang on to this letter.  I will read it over and over again during the good times and the bad.

It is hard to explain what it is like to raise children who struggle with lots of things – mental health, academics, behavioral issues, etc.  From the outside, my kids look perfect.  Their outside appearances do not match what is going on internally.  Because of this, there are false perceptions made about all of us.

Having been down a bit from the past few weeks of challenges, I have been in need of a lot of grace.  I have wondered in desperation if I was equipped to handle the arrows aimed in my direction and at my children.  I have questioned if there will ever be a relief or a miracle or something that proves the heartaches and hardships will make sense one day.

Through a child’s words, I was offered that grace.  It spoke straight to the heart.  I was given the gift of encouragement and a glimpse into why it is so important to keep going.  I was reminded of the need to offer grace, the feeling of being loved, the importance of helping and encouragement, and that (often) we parents are our children’s entire worlds.  My child’s letter thanking me for the grace I have shown actually provided me with the grace I have searched for, lately.  What a powerful moment it was.

Although my child wrote the letter, I see God’s hand all over it.  I hear Him saying, “There you go…there you go.  See?  I told you it is worth it.  You do matter.  Your children matter.  You may not see it every day, but your children do and so do I.”  

Parents of children with extra needs, moments like the one I experienced reading my child’s letter may not come around very often.  I know this.  You know this, as well.  We find ourselves not only managing the typical antics and activities of childhood, but also managing the extra stuff; the kind that yearns to siphon whatever energy or hope we have left at the end of the day.  Some days, it isn’t very much, is it?

We have to remember that we are making a difference even if we don’t see the results immediately.  We must believe that even though a miracle may not occur, our actions, stability, support and love are miraculous to our children.  It is okay to admit our failures.  It is totally acceptable to dwell in the knowledge that we are desperate for a measure of grace on any given day.

Keep going.  Keep the faith.  Even if you think no one is noticing, remember that your children are.

So is the Lord.

Praise Him for that.

 

Not a Burden (a little note on the adoption anniversary of our youngest son)

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope your day was filled with family, food and friendship.
 
A few nights ago, our oldest two kiddos were just not into it (meaning getting along, playing nice, communicating with us, etc). My awesome husband suggested I take our youngest son out to eat and that he would hold down the fort with our two older, cranky kids.
 
As my young son and I scarfed down our meal, I delighted in his whimsy. He is quite the character, says the most random things and dreams of being a rock star one day (insert my fear of him living in our basement as an adult). 
 
Anyway!! As I sat and listened to him, I realized how lucky we are to have him as our son. We hadn’t planned on adopting again but life throw us a curve ball and we chose to take the pitch. We hit the ball out of the park with this kid. I’m so glad we did.
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Five years ago today, our adoption was finalized. As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, we are thankful for being his parents. Children are a blessing, not a burden (even on the hard days).
 
P.S. I’m totally fine with him being a rock star one day as long as he can pay his own bills…
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Keep It Real {things I wish I heard prior to adoption}

As a parent to kiddos adopted out of difficult situations, here are the things I totally wish someone would have said to me prior to adoption:

1) It’s not gonna feel good all of the time.
2) Nurture is awesome, but genetics are huge.
3) You might have days where you wished you had made a different decision. (don’t guilt yourself about it)
4) Raising children with extra needs causes you to live life around a schedule of medicines, appointments, triggers, and other issues.
5) It does hurt when you are told that you are not their “real parent”. (even though you pretend it doesn’t)
6) Fear causes you to overthink…a lot.
7) There will be things that come up in your child’s life that you never had to deal with.
8) Don’t compare your own upbringing or the way you were as a child to what you expect or wish of your child.
9) Adoptive parenting can be very lonely and isolating.
10) Don’t underestimate your voice in all of it.
11) Never underestimate your child’s voice in all of it.
12) Get used to advocacy. It will become one of your best assets.
13) Adoption = loss. It just does.

I never want to paint a rosy or perfect picture of adoption – not even during National Adoption Month. Instead, I want others to know that while adoption is incredible and totally life-changing, it is also hard.

In order for us (people who work and live life within the realm of adoption) to make a difference, we need to take off our rose-colored glasses. We need to tell it like it is. We have to understand that adoption is wonderful but also challenging. The gavel’s declaration of adoption does not mean that hard stuff ends. If anything, it is just beginning.

For any of you who are parents through adoption and are struggling, I see you. I get it. I am right there with you.

Keep your chin up. Keep it real.

5 Things I Would Tell My “(pre)Adoptive Mother Self”

November is National Adoption Month in the US.  We set aside this month to focus on adoption stories as well as the plight of many children waiting for families.  I’ve been an “official” adoptive parent now for a little over ten years.  We’ve stretched out of our comfort zone, dealt with issues that we never thought we would face, and we’ve laughed…a lot.

Even on the hardest days – the ones where we have really struggled – my husband and I do not regret our decision to adopt our children.  We would have missed so many precious moments.

Ones like this, 20180607_144153_Film1 (1)

Or, this one…

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Thinking back to my “(pre)adoptive mother self”, I totally wish I could say that I was 100% prepared for parenting – not just parenting in general, but adoptive parenting.  I know that there are many similarities, but I also know there are many differences.

If could go back, here are a few things I would tell myself:

  1. When the gavel falls and adoption is declared, that is when the real work begins.  Meaning, adoption can get much harder.  Sure, there are difficulties getting to the place where you are on the eve of adoption, but oh boy, all of the trials we experienced during that time seem kind of trivial compared to some of the issues we now face on any given day.
  2. Don’t take it personally.  There is a special kind of guilt that seems to tag along with adoptive parenting.  It is hard to not take things personally when you witness your child struggling or when your child says things to you that take your breath away (I’m not talking about the sweet statements, although there has been some of those).  When you work tirelessly advocating for and managing your child’s life to the point of not being able to capture just a glimpse of forward movement, it is hard to not take it personally.  Just don’t.  Or, at least, try not to.
  3. Listen.  Like, REALLY listen to others who have walked in the shoes you are about to walk in.  Learn what you can about trauma (in the womb and out).  Be prepared to have a host of professionals in your life (doctors, specialists, teachers, therapists, etc).  Definitely advocate and ask questions but also choose to listen and learn.  It will serve you well.
  4. It is not going to feel good all of the time.  The reality is that parenting (of any type) can break your heart from time-to-time.  With adoptive parenting, the things that break your heart tend to be ones that you really do not fully comprehend and certainly cannot control.  I’m talking about genetic issues that come into play as the years go on.  I’m speaking of the damage done in the womb that is hard to explain to someone.  I’m thinking of the challenges that you never faced growing up but now dwell in your home because your children face them.  Nope.  It does not feel good all of the time.
  5. No matter what, don’t give up and don’t you dare second-guess your importance in the life of your children.  Don’t do it.  Never do it.  Your kids need you.  They don’t need another set of parents to not come through.  It will get rough.  You will think, “Am I really being the best parent I can be?  What if I didn’t answer that question the way my child needed me to?  Maybe, I’m the problem?  What if I tried a little harder?”  These questions have circulated in my mind a lot through the years.  They are made up of guilt mixed in with a sliver of grief.  Just don’t go there.

Looking back to my “(pre)adoptive mother self”, I totally thought I was prepared for all of this.  I thought I had a grasp of trauma-informed parenting, adoption issues, loss and grief, and a whole host of behavioral issues.  I totally was not.  I can’t even pretend that I was.

Yet, would I do it all again?  Absolutely.

Can I imagine a life without my children?  No way.

Without (foster parenting) and adoption, I could have missed this:

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6 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Beautiful Children

I wrote an article for Adoption.Com recently regarding the lessons I’ve learned from my children.  It seems that as each year unfolds, I find myself learning more and more about children, adoptive parenting, parenthood (in general) and myself.  Thank, goodness!

1. Children have the desire and right to know where they came from. Adoption is a part of our language. Despite the openness or maybe because of it, our children feel comfortable about asking us questions. They know we may not have all the answers, but we welcome their questions. My kids taught me that history is important, and it is okay (more than okay) to want to seek it and understand it.

2. Children don’t expect perfection. They yearn for presence. I have found myself comparing the parenting of others to my own. I have carried guilt and grief over not showing my best side all the time to the kids. The truth is that my children do not expect the “best of me” all the time.  Instead, they just need “all of me”—my time, my love and my presence.

3. Resilience matters. My children did not have the best start at life. They each suffered less-than-ideal womb experiences (and describing it that way is being gracious). They each have struggled in various settings, socially and academically. We have had multiple specialists, medication regimes, and evaluations. Despite a few odds being against them, they are all incredibly fierce in their own ways. My children have shown me resilience, and I do my best to show it to them as well.

4. Love is greater than biology. I know that seems like a no-brainer, and if you are a parent through adoption or provide foster care, you live in this truth. It is hard to fully explain to people, who question the ability to love a child not born of them, how deep and true loving an adopted child is. Sure, there are areas and kinks that must be worked out. There might be lots of behavior problems and attachment issues, but sometimes, these things only deepen the feeling of love and protection. I have experienced this and continue to do so as my children get older.

5. Parenting does not have a one-size-fits-all standard. In our family, we allow certain things to fly. Our schedule is different. We are stricter about bedtime than other parents we know. We must advocate in a different way per the needs of our children, and we discipline in ways that others may not understand. It is not wrong, and it may not be completely right, but it is what our children need.

6. Adoption is a humbling experience. The statement, “Those kids are lucky to have you” often stops me in my tracks. Sure, they are safe, and we do our best to provide them stability and love, but I do not consider what they have experienced in their lives to be lucky. Instead, the reasons they needed adoption are heartbreaking. I know that while my husband and I strive to be the kind of parents our kids need, we will never be able to replace who their biological parents are, nor do we want to. So, yes. Adoption is humbling.

For the full article, click this link:   https://adoption.com/6-lessons-learned-from-beautiful-children

Blessings,

Caroline

That’s Just Fine with Me {perfection is not a guarantee}

pexels-photo-256633

This past week was parent-teacher conference time at school!  I always look forward to meeting with teachers (not because my kids are perfect angels. Sorry to disappoint).  I look forward to it because teachers are spending nearly all day, five days per week, with my children.  They watch them interact with others, learn their quirks, discipline when required, and encourage when needed.  That’s big, people.

Yesterday’s conference started out like most other ones.  We reviewed grades, etc and then my child’s teacher asked, “How is the school year going?”  My reply went something like this, “(Child) is having a hard time.  Not wanting to do homework, lots of behavior issues, threatened to run away this week, questioned a lot about adoption…”

The teacher shoved the grade card aside and we sat and talked about my child and what is going on.  At one point, the teacher showed me an assignment that my child wrote titled, “My Favorite Person”.  She then read it to me.

Here is some of it:

“My favorite person is my parents.  They protect me.  They make sure I am safe on the streets.  They watch me when I am playing outside.  They are respectful of me.  They have manners.  They listen when I am talking to them.  They forgive me when I say sorry to them.  They don’t let me down.  They adopted me.  As you can see, I have a very good Mom and Dad.”

While the teacher was reading it, I started to cry.  Soon after, she did, too.  She said, “You’re doing a good job, Momma.”  I cannot stress enough the importance of the timing of this.  My child has been questioning a whole lot about our adoption history and I’ve had to answer some pretty tough questions.  This parent-teacher conference was not just about reading, writing, and arithmetics.  It was about life and I needed to read the words: They don’t let me down.

Some people have questioned why we chose to tell our children immediately about adoption.  (Like as soon as they were adopted – age 20 months, 14 months, and 13 months).  We knew they didn’t understand or comprehend it, but the word became a part of our language and adoption, a natural part of the make-up of our family.  My husband and I have come to realize that if we hide or mislead our children about the smallest of details of their adoption stories, then we shouldn’t expect them to trust us with any of the details.

We know that if we chose to hold tightly their adoption stories, it would have been a mistake.  Even with our openness, it is tough at times.  There is nothing like watching your child grieve for a mother that one has never met, or felt.  It is heartbreaking, deeply moving and can render one at a loss for words.

When your child spits venom at you that encompasses the full measure of grief, anger, and confusion, it does cause you to question whether you are good enough and if you have this whole adoptive parenting thing down.  After reading my child’s letter, I know that while we are not perfect, we are good enough.  Just good enough.  That’s fine with me.

Surely, we will have tougher days ahead.  Perfection was certainly not promised when we signed on the line for adoption.  It is not guaranteed for any family, regardless of how children come.  With adoption, though, I’m learning that we do have more to prove, we do have to be intentional about our efforts, and we must work hard at never letting our children down.

I’m also learning that while perfection is not a guarantee, love is.

That’s just fine with me.

My Child, There Are Better Days to Come

My child had a rough morning.  I could see it all over my darling’s body; eyes a bit wilder than usual, hair somewhat disheveled, and arms flailing with impulsive movement.  It reached a game-changing moment during a redirection.  I looked up and saw that hand, the one that often grabs mine when walking together, fly up in the air and smack hard against my skin.  Sure, it was a slap on the arm but it hurt.  It left a red mark.  It was not a “toddler testing boundaries” kind of hit.  It was meant to hurt me and it was full of pent-up angst.

First, came the shock, followed by a brief moment of anger.  Just as soon as my anger began to swell, I melted into tears; sadness took over.  My child fell back into the seat and started to cry.  I sat there for a moment not knowing what to do.  We were loaded up in the van and on our way to school but the last thing I could focus on was getting there before the bell rang.

While trying to find the right words, I heard, “You are going to just give me away to another family.”  I could not believe my ears.  With the sting of my child’s hand still lingering on my arm, I said, “No, of course not”.

Soon, my child said, “I just get so mad.  I have anger issues.  I’m sorry.”  I tried to find the right words but it seems during moments like these, words can be elusive.  I offered the knowledge of “Even if someone has an issue with anger or whatever, it is still up to them to make better choices.  You have to choose to do the right thing and ask yourself, “Is this worth it?”.  I don’t know if that was good enough or if that is what my child needed to hear but it was all I could come up with at that moment.

There was a hug, followed by an apology, and a statement regarding the worry about other kids noticing my child’s tear-stained face.  “Just tell them you had a rough morning,” I said.  The van door slid open and I watched as a piece of my heart formed in the shape of a child slowly walk to the doors of the school, pause for a moment, and then look back to make sure I was still there before entering.  My kiddos know I always stay put until they enter the doors to their school.  On this morning, it was especially important for me to stay a while.

Ugh.  Of all the things that happened, the saddest and hardest part was hearing the words, “You are going to just give me away to another family.”  Where does this come from?  My child has been with us since infancy and despite filling the space between us with love, this child still seems to meander carelessly somewhere between the knowledge of being adopted and the full measure of being in our family.

Sure, there’s counseling, training, and all sorts of ways to intervene.  We’ve set up boundaries, applied consequences, talked openly about adoption and biological parents, followed through with providing moments to build self-esteem and show our love, but there is still a void that is hard to fill.  When the void gets too deep, the claws come out.

My child thinks deeply and has big emotions.  This child is sensitive, inquisitive and always wants to know more and more…even when there’s not a lot more to offer.  Moments like these are tough to swallow.  Knowing how to respond is even harder, and I tend to receive the blunt end of all that emotion welled up inside a youthful body.

Being an adoptive family is a wonderful thing but it is not perfect.  It is filled with a lot of loss.  We do our best to weave the tapestry of our family with as much good as we can but there are issues.  We’d be foolish to think that everything is okay all of the time.

This is a part of adoption that others don’t see.  This is the part of parenting children with invisible special needs that are often unseen by many.  This is hard.

Even with all of the intentional efforts put into raising a well-rounded and secure child as one can raise, we still have to navigate these valleys and they are deep, my friends.  We put on a smiling face that does a good job of covering up some of the battle wounds we’ve endured.  We pretend that everything is great but sometimes, it just isn’t.

Telling an adoptive family, “Oh, kids will just do that, sometimes” is useless.  We know that kids, regardless of their histories, will do things that can break one’s heart.  We are well aware of that but there is a difference, you know.  When your child is exhibiting things that seem to carry an invisible message, it is hard but it is not impossible to manage.

I guess that is where the fortitude to keep going comes from – the awareness of possibilities covered in a glaze of hope.  Hope is found in the possibilities; hope for change, hope for better responses, hope for a recovery and hope for healing.  If it weren’t for the belief in possibilities and the endurance of hope, nothing would be gained and so much would be lost.

There will be tremendously painful moments full of emotion throughout our life as an adoptive family.  Yet, in many ways, the complex splendor of life is often found in the midst of incredibly hard times filled with blood, sweat, and tears.

My child, the one with the big emotions wrapped up in a small frame,

I love you.  I have always loved you.  I will always love you.

Nothing you have done or ever will do would cause me to not love you.

I have never regretted adopting you.  I never will.  I am yours and you are mine.

I wish I could retell your story minus all the bad stuff, but I cannot.

It must be scary to feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Let Momma carry it for you.  If I could, I would swallow it up so that you never have to feel it again.

I will never be able to claim myself as your biological parent.  I know that breaks my heart and I suspect it breaks yours.

You are unique.  You have a gift to give this world, baby.  You’ll find it and when you do, hang on and hold tight.  I believe you could be a world-changer.  

You may feel broken at times but history shows us that the Lord uses broken people for mighty things.  That’s the incredible part of faith – knowing that our weakest moments can become part of our strongest testimony.

You have a place in our family.  You always will.  Don’t lose sight of that, my child.  Don’t lose sight.

My child, there are better days to come.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

-Isaiah 41:10

 

What Adoptive Parenting Has Taught Me About Persistence {Adoption.com article}

Hello, friends!

I was tasked with the assignment of writing an article regarding what adoptive parenting has taught me about persistence.  Parenting, in general, definitely teaches us a lot about persisting, but I’ve found that adoptive parenting and raising children who come from hard places brings its own set of unique challenges.

Here is the link to my article:  What Adoptive Parenting Has Taught Me About Persistence

I hope you take the time to read it!

Keep on keeping on, Friends!

Blessings,

Caroline

Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Adoptive Parent?

I was recently tasked with the assignment of writing an article for Adoption.com regarding “what it takes to be an adoptive parent”.  At first, I was not quite sure what to write.  What DOES it take to be an adoptive parent?  What does it take to be any kind of parent, really?

As I thought more and more about this subject, I rested on a few themes: patience, understanding of systems, strong emotions, humor, comfort, perfection, rejection, resilience, “issues”, and the meaning of adoption in each of our lives.  Sure, some of these things may be important for any type of parenting.  The reality is that they are especially important for adoptive families.

Here’s a link to my article on this subject: Do You Have What It Takes to be an Adoptive Parent?

If you have any other ideas of what it takes to be an adoptive parent, I’d love to hear them!

Blessings,

Caroline

Four “AHA” Moments That Changed My Adoption Path {Adoption.com article}

I was recently tasked with the job of writing an article for Adoption.com regarding “AHA” moments that changed my adoption path.  For the article, I chose to focus on four moments that changed my perspective of the path to adoption.  These moments are ones that have stuck with me long after the Judge’s gavel fell and adoption was declared.

To read the article, click on this link:  Four “AHA” Moments

I would love to hear about your “AHA” moments!

Blessings,

Caroline