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Thursday, January 16, 2014

.How to Support the Family who is Adopting & What Adoptive Families Wish you Knew.

I get emails and messages all of the time from families who are in the beginning stages of adopting - either they have just started the process and are working through the grueling bazillion of hours of paperwork, or they are in the excruciating wait for their referral, or they are home and dazed with their new child. There is a reoccurring theme that flows through these messages:

We've lost our friends, or (and sometimes AND) we've lost our relationship with our family; we don't know how to ask for what we need from the people in our lives, and we now feel so very, very alone. 

My heart breaks every. time. I read this stuff, and I immediately go back to our own journey and our own losses. I feel solidarity with their words - a solidarity that none of asked for. Most people who enter the adoption journey do it understanding there is a cost - they count the cost ahead of time - but none of us walk into it expecting to lose the relationships most dear to us simply because of the process. But I have witnessed it far too often. I have read your words, I have witnessed the tears, and I have heard the cries of countless other families who have experienced the agony of a lost village.

But it doesn't have to be this way. There is another way - a beautiful way, and that is what I am proposing today. For some of us, it is too late, and know that my heart feels that pain, but for others, it is not. Perhaps this post can save a few relationships, and can bring the needs of adopting parents to light. Because in the trenches of the dark, tough, tunnel vision of the process, it is so hard to say what we need, or to even know what we need; so let me be your voice today. Don't be afraid to share this with your friends and family, from my experience there are so many times when they just don't know what you need, and a little nudge in the right direction could be the difference between a broken relationship and whole, healthy relationship. And truly that is what we all need.

If you landed here, and you are friends with a family who is adopting, or you just found out your daughter and her husband are adopting, this is written just for you. That family needs you. I mean desperately needs you. They may not know it, they may not have the words to tell you, but I can tell you with certainty that they have never, ever needed you more than right this moment. And while every family and adoption is unique, this list is pretty universal, and will give you a really good starting point. It's not exhaustive, and I am not the expert, but I hope it gives you some ideas. (Please leave your own ideas in the comment section.) Here are 6 things adopting families wish you knew about them, and what you can do to show your support and love to them.

  1. We have tunnel vision - especially at the beginning. Perhaps our eyes are just being opened to the orphan crisis, to foster care in our country, to what God says about caring for those in need - which then dominoes into social justice and sometimes missions, and we are very passionate about the subject. We are so passionate that conversations with us will be single subject, one sided rants about the above. It's new, it's exciting, and we are on the front-end - it's much like a brand new dating relationship. We see all of the positives, and we are starry eyed, hopeful, expectant and just plain excited. We want to share this excitement with the world. I mean the. whole. world. We see brown skinned babies at the mall with white parents, and we go weak in the knees and nearly squeal at them. We see Asian children at preschool and immediately start dreaming and yapping about our future children and the beautiful gift that is adoption. You might feel a little weird around us (okay a lot weird). Something has happened to your once-normal friend who used to chat about shoes and clothes and TV shows, but is now shouting about how your clothes are not fair-trade (and neither is that coffee your drinking or your candy bar your eating!), and don't you care about the child soldiers in Africa?! You might feel a little uncomfortable, like perhaps now your friend expects you to jump on the bandwagon and get weird too - perhaps even start an adoption process yourself, and that's not your calling so you squirm and begin to feel uncomfortable every time you see her number on the caller id or read another passionate blog post or facebook update. We are single-minded and self-absorbed, much like the expectant first-time mama who is growing her precious baby inside of her. But we need you - no, not to adopt - we need you to listen, give us grace, and invest in the process - much like you did when your sister was expecting her first baby. Be excited with us - even if you don't quite get it yet. Do your own research on these subjects that have begun to matter to us. We need you to give us time and space and allow us to go through this process. The tunnel vision will not {exactly} last forever.
  2. We are making connections all over the world with other adoptive families, but we still need you. Social media is an amazing tool to connect people. Within days of signing up with our adoption agency, and being accepted into the program, we were given access to oodles of families going through the exact same process, or families that had already gone through the process and had their children at home with them. I started seeing beautiful, trans-ethnic families pop up on my newsfeed on facebook, and my excitement grew by leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be connected with other families who are just as excited as we are, who get the language of adoption, who are filling out the same paperwork, who are also dreaming of children who will soon enter their home, or who are in the trenches of raising their new children. It is  an amazing gift, and so beneficial to have other families to walk through the process with. I always look forward to getting together with the families I have met during this process, and I cherish those relationships so much. However, they do not have the history that I had with my other friends and family. They don't know those quirks about us, they don't know our favorite dessert, or our favorite movie, or what makes us tick, or how we parent our children. They have not experienced the years of conversations around the table that make us as familiar as that old sweater. And they are not right here to hug us when we have had a really, really low day, to have a shared pot of coffee with, or to offer us a real live shoulder to cry on when the wait becomes unbearable. We need your physical, in-our-life presence, more than you know - it is irreplaceable. You are a valuable part of this journey. You bring clarity, wisdom, and understanding, because you know us so well.
  3. The paper work is enough to make us feel like we are going crazy. The amount of paper work for an adoption - especially an international adoption - is stark-raving ridiculous.  I am sure that forests have been obliterated because of that paperwork. It is enough to make us want to gauge our eyes out when we feel as if we are filling out the same thing over and over and over, and the red tape makes us want to strangle somebody. (Of course we get the reasons behind it all, and we want an ethical adoption process.) But the process is enough to make a sane, quiet person turn into an absolute lunatic. It's like filling out a job application and writing a resume times a gazillion, only the end result isn't employment but rather our son or daughter being allowed to come into our family. It is maddening and overwhelming. We just need you to understand the stress and the pressure we feel from the overwhelming amount of paperwork (not to mention the social worker visits, the perfecting of our home to prove we are fit to parent in order to pass a homestudy). It makes us crazy and stressed out. Ask us about it, though. Be interested. Learn about the process - offer to help by watching our children while we fill out paperwork, or run around the city for clearances. Drop by a meal ( I promise you that meal planning has slidden to the back burner, and in its place are piles of unending paper work and boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.), or just drop by with a gigantic bar of chocolate and a hug.
  4. The wait feels like it will kills us, and it puts our whole life on pause, because we are so in love with our child whom we have never met, and feel like there is a gaping hole in our family. This may be one of the hardest things for people, who have never walked through the adoption process to understand. To love a child we have never met, and to miss that child in a way that knocks the air from our lungs sounds preposterous. Surely it cannot be the same feeling that a parent would feel if their birth child was missing from their home. But let me assure you, it is the same feeling. Remember the way you felt when you heard your child's heartbeat for the very first time, or witnessed the kicks and wiggles on an ultrasound machine? That overwhelming desire to protect, and nurture your child with every fiber of your being before you had even physically met her? It's the exact same thing. But we don't have the privilege of watching our bellies expand and feeling the reassuring wriggling inside of us. We just have this stretched out heart, and the realization that  in this moment we are powerless to keep our child safe. We don't have the privilege of knowing that our wait will be just nine months - a definite ending point when we will see our child's face. Instead our timetable is very much indefinite, we get no guarantee of when he will arrive, and that is hard. It is so hard. We walk around and it hurts to breathe, to function, our world feels like it has stopped because our child is missing. I remember one instance when I was having an especially difficult time with the wait. We had received our referral for Jamesy, and we were waiting for a court date and permission to travel to Ethiopia to meet him. The day of his first birthday arrived - a day I had begged God to bring him home by, but that wasn't in His plans - I was in agony that day. My heart literally hurt at the thought of him not being with family for his first birthday. That day, a dear, beautiful friend, showed up at my door with a gigantic hug, and a gorgeous hand crocheted blanket for Jamesy, as a tribute for his first birthday. The gift and hug meant the world to me - that she cared and noticed the pain. I don't remember if she said anything, but the words were not what was important. My advice to you? SHOW UP. Just show up, and extend grace, love, and mercy - let them know that you see this pain, you acknowledge it, and you care.
  5. After we bring our child home, we may disappear for awhile. Many families choose to cocoon with their children when they first arrive home in order to begin the initial bonding and attachment process. Most families are pretty straightforward with their plans. We need you to respect us, even if you do not agree with the plan or understand it. It is so important for this new child to learn that her parents are the ones who will now be meeting her needs. I can promise that so much thought and preparation went into these plans. It will seem as if you have lost your friends completely, but you have to understand that the things going on in that home right now are intense. There is trauma like they have never experienced before. A child that has to be placed for adoption is always bringing pain, and the new parents will soon realize that the child's pain has now become their pain. Things are heavy, things are messy, everyone is floundering trying to acclimate to the new normal. There is sleep-deprivation, diapers filled with parasite infested stools, a language barrier, cultural clashes, a baby that will not take a bottle or fall asleep at night, a teenager who is so frightened from her past that she wakes with night terrors and asks to sleep on our bedroom floor, and in it all are our other children who need so much of us as well. (Invite them out for play dates!) Everything is kept so private in order to protect our children.We haven't yet learned the balance of what to share and what not to share, so we typically share nothing and quietly push through the ugly mess that is the beginning. Please be understanding. Don't stop pursuing us, but understand that we may be so far inside the dark trench that we cannot figure a way out yet. Mail us cards with encouraging words and scripture, bring us coffee, or meals, offer to do our laundry or shovel our driveway. Ask your friend if you can sneak away with her when she goes to the grocery store. Just don't cut ties. Give the family, time and space, and the grace to figure things out. Understand that right now she is in a scary position, throwing her love all over a child who may never return that love. It is frightening and vulnerable and overwhelming. She feels like she cannot complain to you, because she chose this road and she is afraid that you just might throw that at her, and she cannot take one more hurt. So she doesn't say anything, she just closes herself off more. There are things that she just cannot tell you in order to protect her child - just understand that. Read all of the books that you can get your hands on about adoption and children from hard places, and let her know that you care. That will mean more than you can ever, ever imagine.
  6. If you stick around for the whole journey and the cocooning phase and the years to follow, and you still answer your phone when she calls, then you are a friend for life. The adoption process in not an easy one - for any parties involved - including the friends and families of the adoptive parents. If you invest yourself in the process in the above ways, if you stick the whole ride out, and don't give up on your friends when they go completely crazy in the process, then you deserve so much respect and appreciation. You are rare, and a treasure to these adopting families. Don't underestimate your value. When the family finally comes up for air (and it literally may be years later), and you are still there extending coffee and grace and of course a chocolate bar, know that you have given a beautiful, priceless gift. The world needs more people like you. The Church needs more people like you. Your calling may have not been to extend your arms to an orphan, but instead to extend your arms to a former orphan and his family. And that is precious beyond words. Don't give up on us. We need you. We so need you. We just might not know how to tell you.


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