Whether buying a new car or choosing a paint color, people are full of opinions and advice. Hands down the most advice-filled things any of us can do are marriage and parenting. Everyone. EVERYONE has some piece of advice to share, or an opinion to give. It’s hard, especially in the beginning, to filter through what’s good or bad for your individual situation.
Entering the journey of foster care and adoption is no different. Stereotypes, opinions, experiences (good and bad) and advice are plentiful. Fortunately for all of us there are some really, really great voices in the foster care/adoption arena whose experience has taught them what advice was truly good or bad. As I considered writing this post, I reached out to them and they graciously responded with the best advice and worst they’ve been given along the way. I’m grateful for the influence of each of these women in my own life and I know you’ll be blessed by their words of wisdom.
Safe Families for Children & Christian Alliance for Orphans
Best: Children have a strong need to belong; work at connecting at every level.
Worst: Love is enough. relationships are hard work. Most are never ready for that piece – just even in general in the body of Christ people don’t want to work hard at loving well.
One Thankful Mom
Two of the best pieces of advice we received:
1. Simplify your lives as much as possible.
Live as if you’re adding a newborn to your family, even if your new child is ten years old. Say “no” to all extraneous commitments, and “yes” to all help offered.
2. It’s okay if you don’t feel love immediately.
Attachment takes time and shared experience. Be gentle to yourself and find someone you trust who will listen and not judge, who will speak truth into your life, and will encourage you when the days are long.
Two of the worst pieces of advice we received:
1. Parent your new child the same way you parented your other kids.
Adoption always involves loss and grief, even for a newborn who already knows the sound of her mother’s voice. Most of our children came to our family with severe neglect and trauma which did not heal the moment they entered our loving home. The parenting techniques we used with the children born to us not only did not work, but could have been harmful. It’s essential to be flexible as we parent children from “hard places.”
2. Your other children are strong enough to handle it.
One of our greatest regrets is that we didn’t protect our other children enough and give them voice. We were so focused on the needs of our new children that we lost sight of what was needed by everyone else. The life they had was gone, and they had little access to us as we immersed ourselves in helping our new children. They suffered, grieved, and were hurt, but in the early months we could hardly see it. Thankfully, we finally realized the toll this was taking on the kids, and made changes that brought healing.
Interestingly, I feel like there is one piece of wisdom that ranks as BOTH the best and the worst advice I received. Let me explain and see if this makes sense to anyone else!
Love Is Enough. This was the worst advice I got because I took it to mean that our love (my husband’s and mine), the love of our biological children and extended family, the love of our church family…. that all this truly godly love coming from so many people who walk in the love of their Father God would be enough for our adopted children. When we adopted over 15 years ago from Russia there wasn’t much to be heard about the effects of trauma on the brain, on attachment disorder, etc, so my expectations were that the same love and parenting that was successful in raising our three biological children would be what God would use to heal our adopted ones too. And indeed much MUCH healing has occurred through this human love. I give honor to God for this beautiful plan of His to place the lonely in families!! But as the years have gone by it has become clear to me that there are places in my children that even the most godly and wise parenting will not touch. And so that brings me to the best advice, which is LOVE IS ENOUGH!! I have learned, I AM LEARNING even now, to place all of my hope in Father God for the healing of each one of these treasures He has given us. This perspective has brought so much freedom to me. I am able to rest in His love for my child–His miracle-working, wound-healing, life-transformig love. And as their trauma has traumatized me (I hope that doesn’t sound too dramatic to you, but indeed this secondary trauma is real. I don’t begin to compare what we have experienced parenting our beloved sons and daughters to the horrible pain they survived before they came home, but adoptive parenting has taken us to dark valleys of pain) I have heard that same voice whisper, “Beth, My love is enough for you too.”
So, for my other two, less wordy responses:
Good: Call Forth The Treasure! By that I mean always always always speak life to your child. Even, ESPECIALLY, when there is nothing to be seen in their behavior or words that would draw that from you naturally. Arm yourself with truths about his/her identity from the Holy Spirit (just ask! He will show you who He sees when He looks at your child) and speak those aloud. Weave them into your parenting day after day after day. Don’t grow weary in this. Walk by faith, not by sight when you are going through a rough season with a child. Text it, write it in lunchbox notes, say it about your child where others can hear…… these are seeds of life that will bear fruit!
Bad: If this adoption is really from God it won’t be hard work. Ummmmm……..NO! Luckily that one didn’t confuse me when I heard it, and boy am I glad I didn’t take that piece of advice. It has been a glorious, beautiful and exciting work to be a part of the Father’s extravagant love poured out on these precious former orphans, but it has been the hardest work I have ever done. Very hard. And I see God’s smile on both the happy/easy/joyful days, as well as the hard/sad/bad days.
The Young Family Farm & Created for Care
Best pieces of advice:
1. Remember that it could take twice the amount of time your child was not in a safe, loving home from the time he/she IS before you see real healing in their hearts and actions. It might take longer. But it might be faster. Every child is different. Just love them big where they are.
2. When strangers are curious and ask personal questions in front of your children, always answer for the heart and ears of your children no matter how it might make you look or not even address the question. Remember your call is to your child not a stranger’s education or filled curiosity.
Worst pieces of advice:
1. Never leave your child for at least their first year home. (Every home, child and family is so different! We happen to be a 2 parent home so daddy can rock a weekend with the kids so mom can go breath just like daddy can travel for work a couple of days too. It’s so important to take care of yourself and not be led by guilt or strict rules.)
2. If you adopt a 2nd time, you should adopt the same nationality or color of your first child because it will help them to have a child that looks like them. (Um…not really. Nothing but God’s healing hand over time mends the broken-hearted. I think it’s more important just to listen to God’s voice whether He is asking you to grow again at all–and then follow Him and say yes to His voice no matter what He asks. It doesn’t have to make sense to our eyes or minds to be His will.)