The adoption journey can bring about immense blessings that you never saw coming and never expected to experience. But sometimes the blessings come in unexpected ways.
We woke up with an anxious heart.
A 15-year old boy was aging out of the system in the coming months. Aging out means he would soon be too old to be adopted. As if a 16-year old doesn’t need a family anymore! He would be on his own. Forever. Most likely to be homeless, partake in illegal activity to survive, imprisoned, be trafficked and/or succumb to an early death.
You get the call from a case manager asking you to take in a teenager recently placed in foster care. Or you’ve chosen to adopt a pre-teen. Now what? How do you successfully set boundaries for them? How do you ensure you and the child are on the same page when it comes to respect, guidelines, and family values?
We didn’t wade into the shallow end of a heated pool, so-to-speak, when we began our foster care journey. We were pretty much tossed into the deep end. Our license was completed in a very short 4 weeks and the calls started rolling in. We were often unprepared, which is to be expected. This was also very much the case when we took in our first teenager. While we had served as youth pastors for nearly a decade before our first teen arrived, everything we thought we knew about them went right out of the window when we were suddenly parenting one!
Foster care has gained a global spotlight over the past few years thanks, in part, to movies and media coverage. Many people are choosing this path. But, there’s a right reason and a wrong reason to choose this journey.
“I wish we could do away with the term foster-t0-adopt,” my friend said, as we chatted briefly during a conference a few days ago. “It communicates the wrong message to people who are entering the process. We should call it, foster-to-reunify.” She was referring to the underlying intention some have in entering the journey, to build a family by fostering. Not specifically the program of fostering-to-adopt. I nodded as I listened. She was completely right. Foster to adopt IS misleading at times!!
It’s really hard to not take your child’s meltdowns, outbursts, or aggression personally. In the heat of the moment how do you differentiate between trauma and a personal attack on you?
For years I misunderstood my child’s behavior. The aggression, words, and defiance were all an attack on me! Or so I thought. I’d shake my fists at the heavens and beg for a better behaved child, or at least a “fix-it” solution. I even tried to parent the way I was parented, growing up. I’d set up the boundaries, I’d reinforce the rules, and if said boundaries or rules were crossed, BAM… consequences enforced. If you acted like a little jerk to me in front of my friends, or at church, GROUNDED! If you acted out, stole something, hid food under your bed, BUSTED! And to be quite honest, for years I felt as though we were running in a hamster wheel. Not only did I see zero traction, but I didn’t like the way my disciplinarian style was making me (or my child) feel. Bottom line: it wasn’t working.
If you’ve wondered this as you’ve battled your child for days upon days, or found yourself so frustrated you could scream, you’re not alone. But there’s a truth you need to know.
I know you. I see you. I am you.
I know what’s going through your mind on any given day. I know what you whisper as you recover from an 8-hour battle with your kid, or walk out of an IEP meeting defeated because there’s no sign of progress. Trust me. I know. If you looked at an X-ray of my heart it wouldn’t look like the perfectly formed plastic model you’d see on the corner of a doctor’s desk. It’s been broken so many times over my child, it’s deformed and morphed, like lava flow into ocean waters morphing into new land.
Fear is a natural part of the adoption journey. Sometimes, it can be all-consuming and you lose sleep. How do you escape worry and fear, and find a place of rest?
I held my brand new baby girl in my arms, tightly, as she slept sound. She had been ours for just 3 short months. Our house was a flurry of people, stopping by to see her for the first time, celebrating our new-found parenthood, loading us up with diapers and meals, the usual after a baby is born. We were young, wide-eyed, and exhausted. We breathed a sigh of relief once her adoption was final. We had found peace. It was short-lived for me.