Recently, a friend and I leaned against my kitchen counter, watching our children play in the backyard. As we sipped coffee we chatted about a young couple in our church that is in the process of adopting two children. We reminisced about the time when we were in their shoes, recalling how little we truly knew and understood about the road that lay ahead. My friend and I agreed — we wished we could share all we have learned since that time about adopting children from “hard places.” We wished that someone had done the same for us.
As we talked, I realized that much of what we have learned along the way might be helpful to more than just this couple. They are good lessons and timely reminders for all of us who are on the adoption journey, no matter how far along.
I would encourage my friends to give up their pride and their desire to compare. I thought I was a fairly humble person, but adopting my children has brought me to my knees when it comes to thinking highly of myself and my capabilities as a mother. My oldest daughter was a hard baby and a challenging toddler, but once I got on the ‘Christian Mommy Discipline Train,’ she shaped up pretty well. That doesn’t mean I never had a child misbehave or throw a tantrum in public. I won’t even mention the time that four-year-old Noah pulled the fire alarm at church and the congregation had to evacuate the building. There were embarrassing moments to be sure. But this…this kind of parenting brings a different sort of humility.
In my first 20 years of being a mother, before adopting, I was never so stumped or so completely empty of wisdom as I have been at times in trying to be a good parent to the children we have welcomed into our lives through adoption. I never read so many books, pored over so many websites, or called so many experts in search of help. I never took my child to a therapist or felt that I might need one myself. I never called my husband home from work because a child was so distressed or out-of-control that I couldn’t keep everyone safe—and not just once, but many times. And as someone who was a passionate homeschooler, I never had to seek out alternatives to homeschooling because it wasn’t working. I never thought about acronyms such as IEP, RAD, or PTSD. I never sent an email to my friends telling them I couldn’t manage the summer on my own, and asking if they would be willing to help. Based on my years of experience as a successful parent, I thought I had it all figured out, only to find out that as we began the adoption journey I was, in many ways, completely starting over.
But I quickly learned that there were many other things I did not know from my previous years as a mother. I didn’t know the indescribable joy of watching a child fall in love with me. I didn’t know the beauty of holding a child in my arms and fiercely loving her even though I had only met her weeks before. I didn’t know the agony of waiting for a child who was 8,000 miles away, or seeing her turn her face to me for the first time and come into my arms. I didn’t know the hope I would feel when I saw sad and tender tears on my child’s face for the first time, after months of anger and frustration. I didn’t know how incredible it would feel to hear my child say, “I love you, Mommy. You are the best Mom!” when I knew this was truly a revelation to her.
To those who are considering adopting a child from a “hard place” as well as those who are already traveling this journey toward healing, I say: be ready to lay down your pride and abandon yourself to love. It will be different than you think—better in some ways and much harder in others. Find a few people you can trust, friends you can call at any hour, friends who will understand and love your children even when they seem unlovable. Don’t pressure your child to become like your other children who have been raised with loving guidance and discipline since birth. And do not, under any circumstances, compare your newly adopted child with your friends’ children. You will live to regret it. Rather, give your child time and permission to heal, and become a committed and active participant in that healing. It won’t be easy nor is it likely to come quickly. This healing will take a great deal of your time, energy, and finances…but give it all away for your child’s sake.
I have come to learn that it is precisely this kind of adoption journey – a journey of humility, selflessness and sacrificial love – that God called us to when He called us to adopt. I suppose Eby’s vacation Bible school verse says it best:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. — Micah 6:8
Lisa Qualls has been married to her husband Russ for over 26 years. They have 11 children who came to them by both birth and adoption. She earnestly believes in the power of God to heal children’s broken hearts and is privileged to participate in the process with her own children. Lisa writes about her life and family for Empowered to Connect (www.empoweredtoconnect.org) and on her blog, A Bushel and A Peck (www.onethankfulmom.com)