My husband and I went through our state’s IMPACT training 8 years and 6 adopted daughters ago, but I can still remember sitting there thinking, “I’ve got this. That (insert behavior) isn’t ever going to happen to me.” Boy was I wrong. On this side of my journey there are so many things that I wish I had done differently, but I’m stubborn and always have to learn the hard way.
Many times when I’m speaking or training, I hear foster/adoptive parents say that they’ve reached the end of their rope and aren’t quite sure how they got there. It’s never a surprise to me to hear that they’re tired, emotionally spent and mentally drained. I’ve been there and sometimes still find myself back there. That moment of exhaustion sneaks up on you; in the midst of doing the best you can do one day you wake up and realize that you don’t feel like you have the strength to go on.
Along the way, I’ve discovered a few common threads that exist when we find ourselves at our breaking point and a few critical things that foster/adoptive parents shouldn’t do…
Don’t forsake proper training – even on topics you don’t *think* are relevant.
It’s important to educate yourself on issues of grief & loss, attachment, sexual abuse, abandonment, PTSD and many other issues related to foster care and adoption. Like me, you may think that’s *never* going to be relevant to your family, but I can assure you that it is. Educating yourself on the issues that our children have experienced is a giant leap building a relationship with them. There are times that a child’s difficult behavior has absolutely nothing to do with us, rather its a deeply ingrained response based out of fear, neglect and abuse. However, if we don’t understand the unique behavioral implications of adoption and foster care we can’t understand our children’s behavior. Without proper understanding, we can’t properly respond and instead will react out of frustration and exhaustion. Spend time educating yourself now – it could save you many sleepless nights later.
Don’t assume that because you’re “called” it’s going to be a cake walk.
As a Christian I love James 1:27, Psalms 68:5&6 and the many other verses related to God’s heart for the orphan in the Bible. However, I’ve heard many wonderful Christian families who have reached the end of their rope say, “We were sure God called us to this but…. (insert behavior)….maybe we didn’t hear God right.” Somehow we get the mixed message that because God has called us to do this, it’s suppose to be easy. This thinking leads us to false expectations of our journey with our children and causes us to excuse ourselves from doing the hard things in parenting because we must have “missed God.” As parents we have to trust God to get us through the difficulty and give us wisdom, but we can’t expect it to be easy just because He has called us to do it.
Don’t isolate yourself.
We need community, especially in this journey. Find foster care/adoption groups on Facebook, seek out those in your church or community who are fostering or have adopted and ask a few of your trusted friends to walk along side you in this journey. It’s easy to feel alone because of issues or challenges that your children are facing – but you don’t have to BE alone. Surrounding yourself with people that you can call and who will say, “I get it” is imperative. There will be many times that you don’t understand a behavior or challenge that your children are facing, but those in your community of friends will be able to see what you’re not seeing and help you navigate the moment.
Don’t wait for normal.
So many times foster and adoptive parents come into the journey expecting to add another member to their family, take a slight “getting to know you break” and then pick up right where they left off +1. Your family will never go back to “the way it was” – it will be completely different and beautiful, just the same. When we tell ourselves, “I can’t wait for things to be normal again” we rob ourselves of the moment and of the opportunity to redefine normal. Our family doesn’t look like the family next door, or like my family growing up, or like my brother/sister’s family – and that’s okay. We are unique, our journey is unique and our family is unique. We will never go back to how we were “before” and I’m so grateful!
Don’t forget they’re worth it.
Our children are valuable because God created them and when He looks at them, He smiles. We have been given the unique opportunity to take care of them, lead them, guide them and love them – even when it’s tough. In the darkest moments, we should never allow ourselves to forget that they are worth every ounce of the fight we have in us. They’re worth every tear, every prayer, and every moment. When we take our eyes off of their worth and place them on their behavior we lose focus on what really matters.