The last few months have been extraordinarily challenging for our family, with more moments of crisis than I care to count. Cognitively Scott and I thought we understood the challenges of adopting older children (with the older the child, the more challenging the situation), as we had much training, education, and preparation prior to the adoption. (Our kids turned 14 and 18 within 3-4 months of being home). I think we relished the idea of the challenge, with good intentions blinding us to the reality of the hardships that lay ahead, and our pride most certainly played a part in it. Our expectations and the expectations of our adopted children and biological children most certainly also played a part in some of our deep disappointment on what our new family would look like, when reality was so far from those expectations.
Disappointment, despair, feelings of failure, and hopelessness crept in subtly. The daily stress and frequent blow-ups began to take a toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Suddenly, Scott and I were the ones who were hyper-alert, ready for each new situation that required our intervention, and the strain began to drive a wedge between us. We knew we needed time for ourselves as a couple, but when we would take the time, we often “paid the price” when we got home, making us less and less willing to take the necessary time to invest in our marriage. It seemed all we could talk about was our newest children, and soon the talks turned into arguments, and our many mistakes and failures as parents added to our burden and hopelessness. We were in survival mode.
We sought counseling, but I fear we waited too long. The truth is, we had no idea how to parent an 18 year-old Ukrainian man that we hadn’t raised, whose culture, language, and background were so different from ours. We followed professional advice, only to find that it backfired on us and wasn’t the best advice after all. Hindsight is always 20/20. (We are learning now that much of this adoptive parenting is trial and error, with more error than we care to recall.) Our many mistakes added to his turmoil, and it came to a head during what was supposed to be a wonderful family vacation in Florida. More heartache and disappointment for everyone.
Our God is a good and gracious God, and I can tell you after everything we have been through, we can testify that He does hear and answer prayer. He is true to his promises. He is faithful. God provided mentor families for our son to live with, who have been able to help him with his goal of being “on his own,” and God provided an amazing job for our son as a mechanic’s apprentice, where he can learn a trade and has the potential to work his way up the ladder in time. We are more than thankful for others who love our son enough to mentor and guide him, as we begin to put the pieces back together in our family and find our new normal. God brought us through the valley, but we can see him using those very dark hours as a way of bringing about a better plan for our son and for us. And our God is not done with our story yet.
This is our story, and it probably won’t be your story if you adopt older children. But you may be able to glean something from our experience which would help you, so here are a few things we have learned, and not in any particular order:
1. The older the child you adopt, the more likely they need mentoring, not parenting. This could be an entire blog post on its own, and I will probably write more about this later as I learn what this looks like. But essentially, it may be “too late” to parent a 16 or 17 year old ex-orphan. They may just need mentors to guide them in the way to go. This doesn’t mean they aren’t part of your family, or that you don’t lovingly discipline them; it just means you let go of some of the expectations you would have if you kept your “parent” mentality.
2. Seek counseling early, especially with older children. Reading all the books in the world will not prepare you as well as having a trained adoption counselor helping you with your specific child/children and your specific family dynamics. APAC offers free counseling, or you may be able to get help through your adoption agency or local counseling office. But if you have adopted an older child, you probably need professional help.
3. Realize the seriousness of the spiritual battle you are entering, and get ready to fight. But fighting requires you to know who your enemy is. Your enemy is not your spouse, or your newest child, it is the spiritual powers of darkness, and frankly, you have ticked them off pretty badly by attempting to obey God and demonstrate Jesus’ unconditional love and grace. You better have your armor on, be ready to use your Sword, and have other prayer warriors fighting for your family, too. It’s war.
4. Nurture your marriage. If your marriage falls apart, everything you have tried to do in providing a family to your newest kids (and biological kids, if you have them) will fall apart, too. It is absolutely essential to find time to play, laugh, talk, and get away together, but it will feel impossible when you first come home. You must make it your highest priority.
5. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to spend time and effort with your biological children, too. Ours seemed to get the short end of the stick for the last few months, and thankfully, they are pretty resilient. But don’t underestimate the difficulty they might be having sharing their parents and adjusting to all the changes, too. It’s important to spend time and effort with them, too.
6. Surround yourself with support. Your church family, other adoptive families, your extended family, and your friends will be there to help you. Don’t push them away in an attempt to survive this difficult adventure. Let them know what you need and allow them to fulfill James 1:27 by helping your family in practical help, meals, prayers, and babysitting. You can’t do this by yourself, so don’t try.
7. Cling to God’s promises. Write them on cards and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Write them in your journal and re-read them. Get the app for your I-phone so you can listen to them in your car or when you are on the go. God is faithful, and his promises are true, and in all of this He wants to show His character and love to you and your family, and He probably wants to show you your dependence on Him, because you can’t do this on your own.
Buckle up, it’s a wild ride, and God isn’t through yet.