Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Big Sister's Homecoming: Initial Observations

I completely forgot how absolutely surreal it feels to land on our country's soil after the marathon of the adoption process.  Just like a mother in labor will tell you that the instant she holds God's precious new life in her arms she forgets all about the pain, the same can be said for an adoptive parent.  The second our plane touched down, a flood of emotions rushed over me.  We did it!  We are home!  The moment we have all been longing for.  The end of the paper pregnancy and the beginning of life together, with everything that will entail.  And so we go: to our new home together, with our new family arrangement, and off to explore God's creation together as we journey on a path in a broken world that is filled with God's hope, God's mercy and love, and God's promise of righting all wrongs.  For now, we simply do as he commands: love others as ourselves.  Bear each other's burdens.  As Paul states in Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."  When we do that, I have learned, the blessings flow.  Spiritual blessings that continue to reveal the truth of creation and Christ; spiritual blessings that instill a peace that the world could never provide.  

Now, you are going to have to bear with me here.  I am tired, probably unknowingly jet-lagged, and full of raw emotions right now.  However, there is something I absolutely needed to share.  God is amazingly faithful when we love his children.  Before coming home with Sporty and Sassy in 2010, I had so many fears, so many questions.  How would I fix her hair?  How do we communicate when our children speak a different language?  How would we get up to speed with schoolwork?  Will Sporty learn English?  Would I learn to prepare food that they would eat and enjoy?  How will our bio children react to the new arrangement?  Would we be good parents?  Would Sporty and Sassy (and now Big Sister) accept me as their mother?  Would I love all of of my children equally?  The list goes on.  You name it, I've questioned it.  Big, small, and indifferent.  

I didn't have nearly as many questions this time, because over the past seventeen months, I have watched as God faithfully provided all that we needed to get through each day, each situation, each hiccup.  When we asked, God responded.  When we humbled ourselves and relied on him, he came through.  Every time.  Still, a new child is a unique creation with a unique history and set of circumstances that led to orphan status.  I am not naive and know this road ahead will be full of challenges.  With that in mind, I simply prayed, "God, I trust you and your wisdom.  I want to be your humble servant; to love what you love and do as you would desire.  Please give us wisdom and patience and calmness and peace.  Please provide clear direction and all that we need to help us to help each one of our children realize the gifts and talents that you have given them for your glory.  Help us to be the best parents we can be so that our children grow to know your heart and understand your love, so that they may serve you with everything you have given them."  This simple prayer (or something similar) is what we pray as every night.  God hears our prayers and responds.  Let me just share a few of the amazing things that have happened in our two days home with Big Sister.  

While in Whole Foods yesterday (48 hours after touching down), I was not in the store five minutes before being approached by a complete stranger.  "I'm sorry, I feel led to come talk to you," she said.  "Is your daughter (how did she know?) from Ethiopia?  She is a beautiful girl.  (Insert a few questions.  Back and forth conversation while, I believe, God is revealing the beauty of adoption to her heart.)  I have an Ethiopian friend who just opened a hair salon in town.  If you want to bring your daughter in, I'm sure she would love to see her."  Sounds good.  Thank you!  I take down the number and proceed to the next aisle where I am immediately stopped by an Ethiopian businesswoman.  "Hi, my name is Abbie," she says.  (A few questions and back and forth conversation while she processes.)  "I would love to give you my phone number just in case you need any help during the first few months home.  I know how difficult it is for a child to leave her country.  My kids were begging me to take them back (to Ethiopia) for the first few years here, but now they are adjusted and this is home.  Please call me with any needs.  Also (and here is where it gets funny), there is an orthodox church I take my kids to.  I don't go, because...well...the service is 6-7 hours and that is just torture.  I drop them off and go take a nap.  You should do the same.  The kids have great fun and they all speak Amharic."  So, I take down her contact information and proceed through the store being stopped two more times by Ethiopian-Americans willing to help us with our transition in any way possible.  For those of you who don't remember, very similar things happened when we arrived home with Sporty and Sassy.  One of the families that initially reached out to us has become wonderful friends and I thank God for the blessing they have been to our family.  My point is, when we are faithful to God's desire for us to reach out and help others, he responds in kind.  My faith tells me so, but my eyes also bear witness.  We are all part of God's family!  

Big Sister has blessed our family in so many ways, and she has only been home three days.  I am simply amazed at the way our children immediately clung to one another and accepted each other as family.  They knew.  God prepared them as we all prayed for each other.  In the states, we have been praying for Big Sister for months.  In Ethiopia, she has been praying for us.  God heard, responded, and did what only he can do.  He united us in his love and is creating his heart in us, as he guides us to love like he does.  Big Sister has jumped right in.  She is a willing helper, an amazing sister, a driven student, a gentle spirit, and a beautiful child of God.  As we continue our initial transition, I want to thank each one of you for the part you played in our story.  We are surrounded by such wonderful, loving, and supportive family and friends.  Your story is weaved into ours and I don't want that to go unnoticed or unappreciated.  We love you all and thank you for journeying with us.  God is faithful!

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." -Matthew 25:37-40

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Lost Art of "Because I Said So"

On this Father's Day weekend, I found it fitting to reflect on one of my own father's most favorite sayings: Because I said so!  He had a shirt with this saying on it, so that when he got tired of actually saying those words, he could just point to his chest.  Perhaps many of you grew up with parents who also loved that phrase.  I, for one, promised myself (at the wise age of fifteen or sixteen) that when I grew up and had a family of my own, I would never use that phrase.  Many of you may have made that same promise.  I swore that I would give my children explanations and reasons, answer their persistent questioning and demands with a calm and patient demeanor, and seek to help them understand why they can or cannot do whatever they are asking to do, have whatever they are asking to have, or go wherever the are appealing to go.  That was my promise and I stuck to it for a good while...nearly my first years as a parent.  Specifically, when the only children in our home were preschoolers, when there was only two of them, when their questions were primarily based on curiosity and wanting to explore their world, and when the only material items they asked for could be purchased at the Dollar Store.

Then, our family grew.  

We added a tween, Larry continued to ask at least five thousand questions per day, Moe entered a horribly whiny, three-year-old phase, Sassy would repeat everything Moe said or asked, in his same whiny tone, and neighborhood kids flocked to our home to play, bringing with them their own barrage of questions.  I was getting hit with questions from every angle.  Persistent questions, nagging questions, questions still based on curiosity, questions as to my reasoning on why we cannot have ice cream every night, questions from the neighborhood kids as to why they can't play football in the same space the preschoolers are using to scoot around, questions as to why they can or cannot have/do/go whatever might happen to be on their minds at the moment.  

Then one day, I remembered some magic words.  I know I promised I would not use them, but after all we are not going to have the tail wagging the dog on my watch.  Hey kids...check this out:  BECAUSE I SAID SO...THAT'S WHY!  Do you understand?  No, OK...we can try it again.  Go ahead ask for something.  You want an iPod touch?  No can do.  You know why?  Because I said so!  Now, to be certain, we do discuss our reasoning for everything from the physical world we live in to our eternal Christian belief system.  We discuss and learn and explore all day long.  I love learning and growing and building critical thinking skills.  Answering questions from my children brings me much joy and pleasure.  It it one of the most rewarding parts of parenting, in my opinion.  However, sometimes the answer is just going to be the resurrected age-old adage: because I said so.  No additional reasoning, nothing to explain.  Plain and simple.  

I actually put this phrase to use today, you know...to honor my father on Father's Day.  The younger kids were playing on our new wet/dry bounce house outside.  They jumped and climbed and slid and splashed for hours.  When they were finished playing, we turned the castle on its side so it could dry off before being deflated and put away.  While it was on its side, the older kids decided to use it for pitching practice and a soccer goal.  Every time they threw or kicked a ball, the castle would inch back, eventually landing on our concrete driveway.  I was observing their play from our upstairs window while doing laundry.  Because our concrete driveway is a rough surface and the bounce house was not cheap, I opened the window and told them not to play there, that the bounce house was drying off and to leave it alone.  Three boys were trying to give me every reason under the sun as to why they should still play there and why the bounce house would be OK.  Hey boys...guess what?  Don't play there.  Got it?  Do you know why?  BECAUSE I SAID SO.  And off they went.  Hopped on their bikes and rode back to the pool.

Sometimes, the cause of my stress and frustration is that I try to give too many reasons or explanations as to why things are as they are.  With five children, I simply cannot do this without forsaking my sanity.  I would be fielding questions all day long.  It seems that many parents today have ended up on the opposite end of the spectrum from that of our parents.  Not wanting to be the "Because I said so" types, we try to explain and reason all of our actions.  Sometimes there is nothing to explain or reason and I need my children to understand that I do want to help them grow and explore, but they need to respect the role of the parent in the home and accept their position as child.  As such, there is a time and place to discuss our rules and there is a time and place to simply comply with them.  If they are confused as to what time it might be, I tell them to default to comply.  

Finally, Scripture is pretty clear in the area of relations between children and parents.  Children are to obey and honor their parents.  Parents are not to provoke their children to anger (Ephesians 6:1-4).  As you can see, there is responsibility on both the part of the parent and child.  If I were only to go around saying "Because I say so" all day long, I would not be fulfilling my duty to God as a mother.  However, my children need to be raised to understand that God created an orderly universe, and as such, we create our lives in an orderly way.  With five children, and all of the intricacies that come with older-child international adoption, our home would be complete chaos without honoring certain roles and functions.  Personally, I have found it extremely beneficial in our marriage for my husband and I to remind each other regularly that we each need to be submitting to God's will.  By doing so, it takes stress of our marriage relationship and instead points our prayers, energy, and focus toward God.  God, in turn, helps us reorganize ourselves, our marriage and home, and relationships with our children.  When our relationship with God is right, our marriage relationship is strong, and we are both better parents for it.  However, the primary relationship will always be between each individual and our eternal God and all other relationships grow from there.

With that being said, never be afraid to dust off and bring back to life a good 'ole "Because I said so" once in a while.  It kinda feels good to say it and if nothing else, buys you are little more time to think of a more articulate way to handle whatever situation you may find yourself in.

Happy Father's Day!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mommy, I Don't Like When They Ask Me Questions.

"Mommy, I don't like when they ask me questions," Sporty said to me tonight after dinner.  They ask if I am adopted and that makes me feel weird.  It also reminds me of my first family and then I feel sad.  His head was down, but his eyes looked up to meet mine.  We were sitting on our back deck, had just finished dinner, and were discussing a situation that had occurred the previous night.  Taking in all that was being said and otherwise communicated, I thanked God silently for bringing our family such an articulate child, one who has the ability to feel and process and talk about everything that is happening.  While we were talking, I couldn't help but praise God for this gift.  I am truly a blessed mom.  

What were we talking about?  

Last night was Sporty's end of the year concert at school.  My husband and I gathered in the cafeteria with all of the other parents to watch the elementary school band perform for us.  It was quite a show and certainly exceeded our expectations.  We weren't sure what to expect to be quite honest.  I heard a lot of "Hot Cross Buns" and "Let's Go Band" going on in the family room, but wasn't sure how this would come together with scores of other children, a disproportionately large number who chose to play the clarinet this year.  Anyway, it was a great performance and I was so proud of all that Sporty has accomplished over the past year and a half.  Standing there watching him play, recapping all that has transpired since he joined our family, my heart overflowed with gratefulness and joy.  My mom would have loved to have been there, as she was a big fan of school bands, and I silently prayed to God during the concert that if was at all possible, she could see what was happening.  It was a wonderful evening and we were looking forward to taking Sporty out for a surprise treat afterward.  

But then it happened.  

The show was over and instead of coming to join us so we could lavish praises on him, Sporty quickly headed for the exit.  While other families met up and departed together, it was clear he was uncomfortable in this environment.  I had noticed this unease before in his school setting, but brushed it off as normal tween behavior and kids not wanting their parents around.  But this was different.  I noticed this unease did not happen in any other setting.  Not on the soccer field, playground, pool, out in the neighborhood, or any other place except school.  He always wants me around.  In fact, he usually wants to hold my hand or walk arm-in-arm when we are out.  What is it about the school setting that is so different from all others?  Anyway, Sporty headed out the door and I followed behind him, probably feeling hurt and wearing a not-so-happy-expression.  I stopped him and as I was letting him know I found it rude for him to walk away from his family when we were there to see him play, I realized we were standing next to another Ethiopian family...only they all looked alike.  Ethiopian parents and Ethiopian children.  Then behind us, a Sudanese family.  Sudanese parents and Sudanese children.  Nothing about the appearance of these other family units would make anyone take a second look.   But our family?  Perhaps we get more second looks than I would like to believe.  

We are extremely fortunate to live in a globally diverse area.  Over one hundred countries are represented in our elementary school.  Everyone gets along and plays nicely together.  Our children are exposed to other cultures, countries, and religions literally right outside of our doorstep.  However, I am beginning to see that even in a wonderfully diverse macro-environment, our children still realize there is something different about them, about our family.  And that is not only OK, but extremely healthy to communicate so openly about these differences and more importantly how they make us all feel.  Although the conversation made me sad because my child felt sadness, more than anything I was thankful that he loved me enough and felt safe and secure and comfortable to share how he truly feels.  

Back on our deck, when he was done talking, I thanked him for letting me know how he felt.  I reassured him that all of those emotions and feelings are normal and he is entitled to have them, feel them, and express them. I also reiterated a previous discussion that we had by reminding him that at no time does he ever have to tell anyone details about his personal life that he would rather not disclose.  Saying something like, "Thank you for asking, but that is personal and I don't want to talk about that right now" is a perfectly acceptable response to anyone.  He is free to share what he wants, with whom he wants, when he wants.  Now or never.  I let him know how proud we are to be his parents and that God brought our family together through adoption.  I tried to communicate that I understood how me might be feeling and encouraged him to talk whenever he felt the need.  I again silently praised God for blessing us in ways I could have never imagined and once again my heart overflowed.

Sporty even felt the need to make a joke after our more serious conversation.  "You know, mom.  Sometimes I am embarrassed too....because you are shorter than me and people will make fun of me because my mom is short."  ....and just when I thought I had closed the chapter on short jokes in my life, God reminded me that he also has a sense of humor.  

While we were sitting on the back deck, the following verses from Isaiah 58 were running through my mind.  It was as if God was reminding me that He is never far away, yet always walking with us.  A welcomed indication from a God who recognizes that we cannot completely grasp the reasons or the plan, but always gives us a peaceful assurance that he is indeed at the helm.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, 
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, 
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy 
    and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.

Photo Credit

We Will Not Cocoon, But...

Our family will not exactly be cocooning after Big Sister's arrival next week, but we will be altering and limiting our interactions and our routine to facilitate her assimilation into our family.  "What is cocooning", you ask?  Simply put, cocooning is when a family chooses (in this instance upon the arrival of the newly adopted child/children) to more or less close off from unnecessary interactions with the outside world and focus inward on the family unit.  A lot of families find this cocooning period extremely beneficial, as it helps to build the confidence and assurance of everyone, individually and collectively, during an otherwise crazy transition period.  Given the nature and personalities of each member of our particular family, we will not be closing off entirely...as I fear that would lead to increased tension in our home, to put it mildly.  However, we will be taking a step back, taking things one day at a time, and playing our routine by ear.  There are many too many unknowns at this point to know exactly what the next few months will look like, but Big Sister's assimilation and the healthy regrouping of all members of our family will be our number one priority.  

The initial weeks and months following an adoption can be a little different than the time immediately following a birth.  Yes, there are similarities:  everyone is excited and wants to welcome the newest member(s) and there are transitions for everyone in the family; however, there is a lot about the transition of an adopted child, especially a child that has spent a significant amount of time in an orphanage, that is completely unlike that of a child welcomed home shortly after birth.  With that in mind, it is our job to make sure our immediate environment is as peaceful and welcoming as possible.  Everything will be so new to Big Sister: a new mom and dad, new siblings, a new home, new smells, new tastes, new language, new, new, new.  With that in mind, too many comings and goings, too many new faces, too much of anything new or unknown could cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.  

With that being said, we are not stay-at-home-kinda-people, and God already knows this about us.  Because we completely trust God's judgment and provisions in bringing our family together, we know that our daughter has been perfectly and wonderfully placed in our crazy family.  Even still, there is an adjustment period for all of us.  Our simple and flexible plan at this point is to  continue with our normal routine as much as possible, while understanding that we may need to make changes and adjustments day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month.  Lots of observing, lots of flexibility, lots of compassion, loads of prayer, and firm boundaries.   

Below our some of our family's general guidelines that we plan to use during our transition period:

  1. Everything comes from mom and dad.  In other words, mom and dad meet all needs.  Why?  When a child does not have a family and lives in poverty, they may tend to respond/show preference toward anyone who gives them 'things".  This complicates the transition and attachment process and creates unnecessary stress.  The role of mom and dad is not gift-giver, but unconditional love-giver.  
  2. If it doesn't have to happen today, it might not.  This falls under limiting unnecessary comings and goings.  My goal during our first months home is to establish the norms of our home and the norms of our familial relations.  Everything else may have to get put on hold.  
  3. Establish boundaries and house rules right away.  In my earlier post on establishing boundaries, I discussed this in more detail.  In short, we will not bend or break our house rules to accommodate Big Sister.  Rather, we will assimilate her into our established house rules.  This is not a free-for-all, but an extremely difficult time requiring hard word and consistency by mom and dad.  
  4. Get rest.  I stink in this category.  Because I am a night person, regardless of how tired I feel each morning, my energy spikes at night.  This tricks me into believing I am not exhausted, but I am not-to-so-kindly reminded each morning how fatigued I really am.  In order to remain calm and level-headed, adequate rest is so important.  Caffeine only exasperates my anxiety, so while that may be quick pick-me-up, it is not the long-term answer. 
  5. Connect with spouse, if applicable.  I'll admit it.  My husband and I dropped the ball in this category last year.  We were so busy running a mile a minute with the craziness of our newly-doubled family size and other changes in our family that we forgot to connect with each other.  This led to all sorts of stress and communication breakdowns and resulted in both of us feeling unappreciated.  Our fix was to have a weekly date night, every week this summer.  Can we afford this?  Not really financially, but a greater cost would be jeopardizing the parental unit in our family.  It has been refreshing to reconnect with my spouse outside of our role as parents.  Who are you again?  Oh, right...now I remember! 
  6. Keep it simple.  Big Sister is coming from a history of poverty and oppression.  We live in a world of excess.  The two could not be more opposite from each other.  Our society likes to teach us that we need to spend money and go over the top to celebrate such things like the arrival of a child.  However, our rule is to keep it simple.  Yes, we want to celebrate and appreciate Big Sister as a unique child of God....but not with material possessions.  We want to avoid sensory overload and over-stimulation (in all of our children to be sure) and therefore will keep our environment and surroundings as simple as possible.  
  7. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.  Here is the biggie.  Our child (your children) will only enter our family once for the first time. This is the only time we will get to convey who we are, what we stand for, what we value, how we use our time, what is important to us, etc.  If we were to lavish our child with gifts initially and then suddenly stop doing that, could you see how the child may get confused? If we were to allow chocolate cake and ice cream every day for the first month home and then tell them we do not allow junk food, do you see how that could be confusing?  If we were to allow Big Sister to stay up until 11:00 pm every night initially and then suddenly tell her bedtime is 9:30, do you think she may feel jipped?  Big Sister will be trying to figure out what our expectations are of her during this time.  If we are not consistent, we are not helping, but rather hindering her transition.  
In short, our guideline is that for all things, big and small, we need to spend the first months home establishing who we are individually and as family, what our rules are, and how we operate.  This establishes consistency for Big Sister and with consistency comes confidence in  her new home and environment.  THEN, once these are established we (the parents) can decide which rules to relax and when.  However, I do not believe this would work as well the other way around, i.e. relaxing the rules and then trying to firm them up.  

Finally, we ask that you extend us some grace in the weeks and months ahead.  This transition is much harder than it may look to the outside world.  We are doing our very best to keep life as normal as possible for every member in our home, but please keep in mind "normal" people do not add five children in five years to their home.  We appreciate the tremendous amount of love and support shown to us by our family and friends and look forward to introducing Big Sister to our wonderful village in the weeks and months ahead! 

God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.  
-Psalm 68:6
Photo Credit

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mum Mum Mum Mah Y-Y-Y-Yoga Face

Disclosure:  I am not a Lady Gaga fan.  I am not, not a fan either.  Honestly, I just don't know anything about her, her lyrics, or her character to give her a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  I do know, however, the chorus to her song "Poker Face", because...well, pretty much everyone knows that chorus, right?

Anyway, I started doing face yoga (don't laugh until you try it!) about one month ago and every. single. time. I start my exercises the lyrics to that song pop into my head and I will admit, my variation of the song made the exercises quite fun.  Mum Mum Mum Mah Y-Y-Y-Yoga Face!  Sing it with me.  "What is face yoga", you ask?  Well, it is just like other forms of yoga only the exercises specifically target the muscles in your face.  Sound strange?  I thought so too, until I thought about it again.  I am an avid runner and exercise all of the main muscle groups in my body about four or five times per week.  And, in the muscles I work, I have tone and form and strength.  So why not work out the face muscles?  To be honest, I never thought about my face even having muscles.  I mean, I know there are muscles in our face...but those are not the muscles that come to mind when I think of exercise.

HOWEVER, like many others who are twenty-nine for a few years running, I know that skin starts to lose collagen over time and become less elastic.  What does that mean?  It means our skin will start to look older at some point.  There is really no getting around the aging process, although the world will try to sell you eternal youth in bottles, syringes, capsules, and every other form in every pretty package available.  However, statistics tell us there is a 100% chance we will all get old and die.  How's that for a happy thought?  :-)

But there is hope!  No, you will not live forever or suddenly look like you did when you were eighteen again.    We all can, however, feel and look great when we choose healthy lifestyles.  Face yoga is just one more tool to keep bodies running smoothly.  By exercising the underlying muscles in our face, we increase circulation, which increases collagen production, and also build up strength under the skin, which  in turn can improve the appearance of our facial skin.  I know it sounds super strange...and my husband could not look at me without laughing when I demonstrated my new face exercises to him.  Show your kids a good "lion face" if you want to make them laugh.  It is all laughable, friends, until you start. seeing. results! Then, perhaps like me, you will be hooked.

So, what do you have to lose?  It is free and available at your fingertips everyday.  Come on.  Join me in exercising and singing, "Mum Mum Mum Mah Y-Y-Y-Yoga Face!"  Check out Annelise Hagen's video below for a good laugh and some tips on getting started.

What was your initial reaction to trying face yoga?  Which exercises have worked for you?  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Older Child Adoption: What Mommy Says, Goes!

With Big Sister's homecoming just around the corner (no, we do have an official date just yet), I have been brushing up on some 'transition skills', if skill is even the right word to describe how one handles adding a new and unique child, a tween at that (yay?!), and having our home turned upside down by everything that comes along with newness and transitions.  While I hope some aspects of the upcoming months will be smoother due to having gone through this already, I know that each family is different and each child is unique and enters an established family unit bringing her or his distinct story, history, and set of experiences.  Regardless of how ready one may feel, there is really no way to predict or fully prepare for everything that may surface.  

One area of Sporty's transition that I remember quite vividly was how he responded differently to mom than he did to dad.  First, let me say that I think most kids do respond differently to their mother and father.  Moms and dads are first and foremost unique persons with individual personalities and gifts, and second have unique roles in the family.  I am not talking about traditional or gender roles, but rather the roles that are determined by your individual family composition and how you live day in and day out.  I think all of these things come into play and determine how all members interact with one another and therefore should be considered when trying to figure out what may be going on in any home.  

With that being said, I observed very early on in our time together as a new family unit that Sporty regarded what I (mom) said as a mere suggestion and took what his father said as a directive.  He would try to manipulate and play games with me, sweet talk me into giving him what he wanted.  (Sound like every other kid on this planet?)  However, his strategy seemed to suggest that he was skilled at getting the rules changed in his favor or getting his own way by trying to create some sort of quid pro quo environment.  He was relentless and would not accept no for an answer in the beginning.  In fact, at eleven years old, he seemed to have the coping skills of a preschooler when told no or when he was made to do something that he had made up his mind not to, like work on his social studies project or clean his room.  

There was definitely a cultural component to this interaction, but I believe a large part of his behavior was due to the fact that he was raised by his grandmother as an only child for the first nine years of his life.  As an only child, even in a third world country, he was probably spoiled as much as possible.  He was obviously not used to being told no.  In addition, he had never had a father or father figure in his life.  He was always cared for by women.  Then, as one of the oldest kids at the orphanage, he was more or less used to doing his own thing and I believe that the nannies may have demonstrated their love through tangible gifts or privileges.  All of this, in my opinion and through my observation, had made Sporty come to believe that love was somehow conditional.  If I loved him, I would give him what he wants.  Because he wasn't getting what he wanted, that must mean that I did not love him and therefore he was going to respond accordingly, acting on his perception that I did not love him.

Because I am the primary caregiver in our home, it was my job to somehow demonstrate that love is unconditional and that my love for him was in no way reflected through tangible gifts, bending the rules for him, or allowing him to get his way.  With three preschoolers watching, eyes glued on every spoken word and interaction, it was imperative that we created an open environment where both words, gestures, and consistent action attempted to demonstrate the belief that love is unconditional and that we love all of our children unconditionally.  I also had explain the role of parents in regard to their children.  Mommy and daddy make the rules in our house.  You are not in charge.  While I am so thankful  for your help and assistance in our home and with the little children, you are the big brother (and an awesome one at that), but not their parent.  The role of parent is different from the role of child.  I also had to constantly remind him that what mommy says, goes.  This may seem like a given, but for those of you who have been there, you know it can be tough.  My husband needed to back me up every. single. time. (even if he didn't agree...we could sort that our later) in order for Sporty to begin to understand that mommy and daddy are Team Parent and although we sometimes look more like the Bad New Bears than the World Series champs, we are getting there.  It is tough and with so many unique personalities, ages, and histories, there are a lot of balls in the air at any given time.  

Very early this year, after I thought we had moved beyond this gender-parent-role thing, we were having a very difficult month.  He was constantly back talking.  Like I mentioned above, we have three preschoolers in the home and they observe and repeat everything.  For about one month's time I tried to point out disrespectful words or behavior when they were happening.  I tried removing privileges.  I tried to remain calm.  However, he was not getting it and the situation was escalating.  Let me just say Sporty and I had one blowout come to Jesus moment in our home.  He learned that I meant business and while I absolutely love him unconditionally, I will not allow him to talk or act disrespectfully.  End of story.  It has been over six months since that incident and I am happy to report nothing even close has happened since.  No backtalk, no disrespect.  If he is feeling like he wants to say something rude, we have come up with ways for him to handle the situation.  In addition, to address my responsibility as the parent, I promised not to belabor a point in the heat of the moment.  He promised to remove himself from the room or situation.  So far, so good.  

Just yesterday, Sporty was about to walk into our home with his dirty feet, after having been playing in our yard barefoot for hours.  I told him to wipe his feet on the mat before coming in and then go get a baby wipe and clean them off.  Without a word, he looked at me and saluted with a smile...acknowledging both that he will comply and making light of my obsession with clean feet in the house.  

One final note.  I have founded it absolutely imperative in all situations to parent with compassion.  Before jumping to any conclusion about why a particular child is behaving a certain way, I first ask myself if I, their mother, am meeting their particular and unique needs.  How could I love them better?  What am I failing to do?  What areas can I improve on?  What am I missing?  My prayers always include asking God for patience, wisdom, discernment, and peace.  Parenting is hard...all day, everyday.  It is not possible for me to remain calm and level-headed always, but I know that we serve a loving, perfect, and compassionate God who can and will provide all that we need to parent in the trenches.  After all, God is always in the trenches...always asking us to join him there.

Have you had gender-based parent issues with your adopted children?  If so, how did you handle them?  

Proverbs 22:6 
Start children off on the way they should go, 
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Catholic Guilt: What To Do When You Decapitate Baby Jesus

God made you special and loves you very much.
Catholic guilt.  Some of you know exactly what I am talking about.  Some of you may be carrying around some of it yourself.  What exactly is Catholic guilt?  I am not exactly certain to be honest, but I will define it as any feeling of guilt that comes from a thought, action, or inaction that a part of yourself perceives to be wrong and can somehow be traced to a Catholic teaching, either spoken or implied.   Fear-based teachings have this sort of effect on people, ya know?!  Boo!  

Anyway, I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time.  The thoughts I am about to share make me both laugh and scratch my head.  The photo above was taken of a statue of Saint Joseph holding baby Jesus in his arms standing next to Bob the Tomato.  If you look closely you will see that Jesus is missing his head.  It was a freak stair-diving accident involving a few rowdy preschoolers and this statue.  I am not sure if there was a parachute involved, but either way this was the end result.  Almost four years after the accident, I realized that the statue was still sitting atop my refrigerator, headless and all. 

Why was it still there?  Two words: Catholic guilt.  OK, maybe not exactly guilt, perhaps it was the old dead Catholic in me that somehow felt fearful of the repercussions for having decapitated Jesus in my home.  My Catholic friends may not think this is funny.  At all.  Honestly, I am not even sure I should think it is funny.  I start to laugh, because after all this plastic statue was manufactured in China, no doubt using dubious labor practices.  The statue says clearly, "Made in China" not made in heaven.  So, it is just plastic right?  To most of us yes.  To my adult self and beliefs, mostly yes...but also no.  If my answer was truly yes, this broken statue would have been in the trash four years ago, right?  What was it that I have have learned seemingly a lifetime ago to make me think that a broken statue is in any way, shape, or form related to harming Jesus?  You and I are supposed to be Jesus' hands and feet and a statue is just, well...a statue.  The statue cannot grow the kingdom or love a neighbor so why is so much emphasis placed on images and statues in the Catholic Church?  

Some of you may know that I was born and raised in the Catholic Church.  I am actually named after a Catholic nun, a Sister of Charity.  My mom grew up in a Catholic orphanage (children's home) and I am named after her primary caregiver.  I consider that an honor.  I attended Catholic school for twelve years and decided at some point either shortly before or after graduation from high school that something about the Catholic church's teachings and inconsistencies did not sit well with me.  After graduation, I never returned, except for when I visited my mom because she was a practicing Catholic until the day she died.  (The Catholic cemetery almost would not let us in for her burial because we did not have a Catholic funeral, but that is a story for another day.)  

It has been seventeen years (yikes!) since I have been part of the Catholic Church.  You would think their laws and rules would have no effect on me at this point.  There is something about the Catholic church that gets into your head and is nearly impossible to completely dispose of.  Even when you don't believe it and don't practice it.  In all practical matters, Catholic teachings do not impact or guide me.  However, this statue has come to represent a bridge of sorts for me.  It was also a gift from my mom and I know she would laugh and shake her head if she knew it was still sitting in our kitchen.  "Oh, just go bury it", she would say.  The statue causes me to stop and reflect: reflect on where I came from, where I have been, where I am going, and how God may be able to use all past experiences to live out my life's purpose for his glory.  Currently in Seminary, I find it incredibly healing to go back and reexamine my old beliefs, to discover where they may have come from, to toss what I perceive to be useless, and hold on to anything that represents Jesus' heart.  It is all part of the journey.  And it is good!  

Finally, I know a lot of my Protestant friends believe that Catholics actually worship and/or pray to statues.  That is not true.  The Catholic Church teaches that once a religious object is blessed and dedicated for divine worship or veneration, it must be treated with reverence and not be used in either improper or profane was (Canon Law 1171).  (Protestants do not do this.)  Furthermore, the "Catechism of Christian Doctrine" sums us the Catholic position on images quite nicely:

  1. "We should give to relics, crucifixes and holy pictures a relative honour, as they relate to Christ and his saints and are memorials of them."
  2. "We do not pray to relics or images, for they can neither see nor hear nor help us."

So, would Saint Joseph's stair-diving accident be considered inappropriate or profane?  Nah...I'm sure stair-diving was not a popular sport during his time, so maybe he just wanted a quick adrenaline rush?  Seriously though, my answer to this is that a statue or treatment of a statue is so extremely trivial in comparison to the way we treat each other.  Jesus said, love God with all that we've got and love our neighbor as ourselves.  If I had to guess, Jesus wouldn't give a lick about statues and might even caution against them.  For me, anything that distracts or takes away of loving another real person is reason to pause and reflect.  As for my broken statue, I am going to keep it for the time being.  I might eventually "return it to nature" as the Catholic Church suggests, meaning to bury or burn it.  Either way, it is just a statue.  What is represents to me is memories of times past and hope for what is ahead.  So, if you visit my home and wonder why a headless baby Jesus in atop my refrigerator, now you know.  As for my personal beliefs about images, statues, and the like, they align with Paul in the book of Romans (1:25) when he says, "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."  

And, as Bob the Tomato tells us, "God made you special and loves you very much."

The official Catholic position on images, which holds through this day, was given at the Council of Trent in 1543 states, "The holy Synod commands that images of Christ, the Virgin Mother of God, and other saints are to be held and kept especially in churches, that due honour and reverence are to be paid to them, not that any divinity or power is thought to be in them for the sake of which they may be worshipped, or that anything can be asked of them, or that any trust may be put in the images, as was done by the heathen who put their trust in their idols, but because the honour shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent, so that by kissing, uncovering to, kneeling before images we adore Christ and honour the saints whose likeness the bear."  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Relook At The Ungrateful Adopted Child

A while back, I posted about the ungrateful adopted child.  During the time I wrote that particular post, there was a lot going on in our home.  Not wanting to get angry or resentful, but feeling and observing that Sporty was not necessarily displaying what I would describe as a grateful heart, I chose to flip it around a little bit.  Instead of focusing on what I observed to be an ungrateful attitude in our son, I chose to look at the many ways Christians are ungrateful for all that we have been given.  In short, all of us are ungrateful adopted children in one way or another.  By changing my perspective on this issue, it made a world of a difference.  Instead of becoming angry, I asked God to remind me of my own ungrateful heart, to point out when I was not being thankful, and help me see my child's heart.  Because honestly, I already knew that Sporty's actions and/or reactions had little to do with actually being ungrateful and a WHOLE LOT to do with everything in his life that he has little control over.  I was just tired...completely spent.  The first year home with any adopted child/children can really be a difficult time as families transition and when I just wanted to Sporty to be grateful, he was instead being....pretty much a normal twelve-year-old, except that he was in a fairly new country with a fairly new family, where everything looks, sounds, smells, and tastes completely different.  

Perhaps some of you have have adopted children who appear to be ungrateful as well.  Not being thankful about a certain gift.  Asking for a name brand item when you were sure the generic brand would be just fine.  Not looking people in the eye and saying please or thank you.  Flat out ignoring people when they are speaking to him/her.  Constantly asking for things and more things when in your mind you are thinking, "Really?  Last month you didn't own one pair of shoes or anything that played music and now all of the sudden you think you are entitled to whatever exceedingly high cost fly-by-the night brand you lay eyes on?  How did this happen?  What can we do about it?"  Diving deeper into what appears on the surface to be an ungrateful heart, I was able to uncover a few gems. 

First of all, we need to consider cultural differences.  Could any of the perceived ungratefulness be chalked up to different cultures?  Without a doubt!  For example, and this is just one example, in Sporty's home country for him to look me, his mother, in the eye could be offensive.  In America, we want our children to look at us to make sure they acknowledge what is being said.  So, we worked on this.  I forbade him to turn his back on me when I am talking to him.  No exceptions.  Since I am pretty sure that is universally rude, that was a no brainer.  As for the eye contact, we are working on it.  I don't want to strip away his culture and definitely appreciate and respect that he is trying to respect me, but I also desire for him to learn cultural norms here...for school, relationships, and his future!  

Second, we live in a country of excess.  I was amazed at how quickly our son transitioned from not owning a single possession to asking for pretty everything in sight.  Honestly, can you blame the kids in a sense?  Our eyes don't see what their new-to-America eyes see.  Picture Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory or something similar.  They have hit the jackpot.  Useless items everywhere for the taking!  Do they understand value?  Prices?  That we are not rich?  That we just broke the bank on the adoption itself?  Not unless we teach them, so I put the kibosh on the "I-wanna-have-it-itis" early on.  VERY. EARLY. ON.  It went like this: Sporty: I want an iPod Toosh (obviously meaning touch).  Me: No, you can't have that.  They are expensive and you are not getting one.  Sporty: I want another pair of shoes.  Me: No, the ones you have area just fine and until you grow out of them they will be the only sneakers you will have.  This went on for months.  I would give reasons, explain how money is earned and how we spend it, and would also state that that there is a time for gifts, and that time is not every day.  We have necessities and the rest are wants.  

Third, control or lack of control.  Thinking of all the changes in our son's life in such a short period, it is no wonder he may feel a bit out of control or unsure.  Many of us have control issues.  When we feel like (insert whatever) is out of our control, we develop unique coping mechanisms.  For example, I am a runner.  Whenever I feel stressed, upset, or frazzled, I lace up and hit the streets or trails.  Kids generally don't have these skills (unless they have been coached) to identify their triggers and come up with practical solutions.  They may never have been taught how to communicate their feelings or emotions, especially if this was not common in their culture.  Perhaps Sporty asking for material things was just a way that he was trying to communicate something immaterial was missing.  Trying to fill a void if you will.  Thankfully, Sporty can actually communicate quite effectively.  He may not want to, but if I am able to get him to relax and feel secure, he usually opens up about whatever may be bothering him.  Then, we talk and I can reassure him as best as possible. 

Finally, there are so many things beneath the surface.  Please, please don't assume that your child is truly ungrateful.  I imagine that they will not understand the enormity of what has happened in their lives until much later.  Remember, they are only kids and we cannot ask kids to deal with adult issues.  What appears to be ungratefulness might just be uncertainty, insecurity, hormones, fear, or any combination of things.  Try to figure out creative ways to dig beneath the surface so you can discover your child's heart.  In our home, that has made all the difference.  A smiling face and good soccer skills does not mean our child has not suffered severe grief and loss.  Our son and your child have left their country and culture, moved halfway around the world to a place where most don't yet speak the language, and are calling strange new people mom and dad.  Some have siblings perhaps for the time, all are asked to meet countless new expectations, maybe without even understanding what the expectations are.  Imagine how you might feel?  Imagine being in a foreign country without an interpreter and knowing that this. is. it.  There is no going back.  Make it or break it.  That scares me and I am a grown adult!  

Do we need to teach our children to be respectful?  Of course.  Can we teach our children to have a grateful heart.  Yes, I believe so!  Are some of  our children's actions rude or inappropriate regardless of culture and therefore need to be dealt with accordingly?  Sure thing!  Since my first post nearly six months ago we have had lesson after lesson on being grateful and what that means.  How do we show we are grateful?  What words or gestures could be used?  How do we properly thank people?  What are appropriate responses in such-and-such social situation?  All of these things take time.  There are so many changes going on in such a short period.  Emotions are all over the place.  We are tired.  Our children are tired.  We are stressed.  Our children feel our stress and react to it.  It is hard.  It is rewarding.  Is is where Jesus' heart is, friends!  So, stay on the path.  Get help when needed: for yourself, your child, your family.  And, be sure to always ask yourself if what you are seeing on the surface is truly your child's heart or merely just a symptom of something greater going on inside.  Finally, remain His humble servant.  Remember why you started down this road don't lose hope.  We are all on this journey together!  

But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says: "God opposed the proud but gives grace to the humble." James 4:6
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