Sep 19, 2013

Adoption Adjustment: Sometimes Success is All About Expectations.

I want you to imagine something for a minute.

Imagine that you live in a large building full of boys and girls, some older than you, some younger. There are a few adults around--nice adults, busy adults. You can only remember living here since you've been born, but you've been told all your life that if you're cute enough, if you're accomplished enough, if you are lucky, somebody might take you home and make you a part of a family.

Imagine being filmed dozens of times to be in videos that you know are going to people who might pick you.

Imagine watching people come and take home girls and boys. Imagine what you might think about, what you might do, what you might want or dream about. Remember you've always only lived in this place--lots of kids, a few nice adults. Hopefully enough to eat everyday. Perhaps school, if it is in a country that can support that.

Then one day you're told a family has "chosen" you, that they're completing paperwork, that in a year or so you get to go home with them. Imagine your thoughts, feelings. What would you feel? Be honest with yourself.

You get pictures from them, these strangers, and gifts. You prepare by learning some English. You might already know a little, depending on what sort of place you're in, but now you know how important it is. You realize (but still don't fully realize) that your language is going to change, that your life is going to change.

And then they come, and in a whirlwind of confusing events involving lots of driving and looking and courts and proving and paying and signing, you're trying to feel comfortable with these strangers. You're trying not to feel overwhelmed because this is what you wanted, right? You're one of the lucky ones.

And then imagine going to a new place where you can't understand anyone, where everything is so different, the rules are different, where people seem to be frustrated with you and even angry at times, even these strangers who you're starting to trust a little. You miss, badly, the comfort foods you're used to--flat sourdough bread with spicy stews, or spicy bean paste and meat-filled dumplings. You miss your friends. You feel confused enough to cry because of all the subtle differences--electrical outlets, cars, streets, books, movies, expectations. You feel confused enough to wonder what you've done... what they've done to you. Why are you the lucky one?

I'm writing this, and asking you to imagine, because I feel it is so important for people to understand how adoption really works. Adoption really is a miracle. It is. It is amazing. Having a loving family committed to you, to your welfare individually, committed to love and care for you, is what each person, each child should have. But I think sometimes adoptive parents don't think hard about what is going on in the heart of their child. They expect the kids to be so grateful, to cling to them, to never want to go back. And in some cases that does happen. But more often, I think, is the sort of reaction you'd expect from yourself; from anyone who is so severely uprooted, who is suddenly expected to change lives and change allegiances and languages and find new favorite foods and find new friends and even, to some degree, find new ways of thinking about the world.

My little girl MayMay kicked my shin all the way across the atlantic. And I wasn't surprised.

For several months after we brought them home, my two girls spoke about Ethiopia like it was some kind of fairy-tale place they had left, with sparkles and wonderful food and wonderful people they missed.

Different kids will have different challenges about adjusting depending on their age & experiences. Consider a toddler. My three-year old gets upset if I don't give her just the right stuffed animals and blanket for her bed at naptime. How hard is it for a three year old to adjust to new everything? I would expect some tantrumming, some behavioral problems, some deep, deep grieving.

What about a baby? My babies only want to be held by strangers for a few minutes at a time before they turn and reach for me. It takes several sessions of time with someone new for them to enjoy being talked to, held, cuddled by another person. Imagine a baby suddenly being placed in the arms of a stranger, and then walking everywhere for several days with them, spending nights in a hotel room, then flying for twelve hours or more, then being spoken to and loved on by people who sound different, look different, who this baby has never met in his or her life before.

What about a kid? My kids tend to enjoy new experiences, but they always are relieved to come back home. My 11 year old's favorite way to relax is to find her favorite book, lay on the couch and read and read and read after a long, stressful day. Imagine you've brought home an 11 year old. They come home from a long day of school, where they've been expected to learn everything in a new language and make friends with people who can't understand them. When they get home, are they going to want to spend a lot of time talking to you? They might like a hug, but they may more likely want some time to themselves, to make new comfort zones, to create new ways to be safe and diffuse from all the pressure they're experiencing.

I don't mean this post to seem in any way negative toward adoption. I am writing this because this morning I posted a video on Facebook of a boy who is about to age out of the adoption programs in China. It was a heartfelt, tear-jerking video. He so badly wants to be adopted.

I got to thinking about my friends who might consider adopting him, and I began to feel a little uneasy. Would they go into it thinking that this boy will be so grateful, won't struggle, won't sometimes be angry or confused or even say, at times, he wishes he hadn't been adopted? If my friends were to go into it with that expectation, the likelihood they'd be disappointed is pretty high.

Adoption is a miracle. Taking a child into your family who wasn't born to you biologically, particularly a child who has been alone, who has struggled, whose last hope you are, is a huge, huge blessing to them. And also to you. But what i hope my friends can realize is, it's a blessing that comes in stages. It is not easy. It takes work, and forgiveness, and understanding.

Like anything else in this world, adoption is a miracle that comes from sacrifice... sometimes extreme sacrifice. I have friends and family who have really struggled in their adoption adjustments. But ask any of them if they'd still have done it? Almost without exception the answer is yes.

Just writing my heart today, but comments, experiences, thoughts are welcome.

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