Walking Hand in Hand

What a fascinating process it is to weave family this way; three children from another culture, two adults from different family backgrounds, each of us with our own ‘baggage’ and our own coping skills. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? And sometimes it is. Last week I heard a sad story of a family beginning the process of disruption after trying so hard for a year to make their adoption of a little boy work. In the end, the trauma their adopted child had experienced was far beyond their ability to heal him from, and his coping skills were unhealthy and even dangerous to their family including their existing bio child. The worst case scenario with an adoption is often the realization that the child suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. I’ve heard several of these stories first-hand from parents who have gone through such a nightmare and survived to tell about it. One thing I know for sure…we must not judge or try to understand until we’ve walked in their shoes. To anyone struggling with this, my heart goes out to you. There is so much heartbreak for everyone involved. My prayers for each person involved in that family to return to wholeness, forgiveness and health very soon.

I’m reminded of this awesome essay written by Melissa Fay Greene for those contemplating adoption from Ethiopia. She has a wonderful way with words, and with truth about family and the challenges of adoption. I loved reading it again from the other side of the ‘great event’ of actually getting to pick up the kids and bring them home.

For us it’s been eight months since that event, and every day we grow a tiny bit more as a family. Like watching a garden grow…you can’t see it in a moment, but you can see it in a week or a month,  or sometimes even in a day.

Last week a therapist asked my middle child how long he thought he would be staying with this family. When he refused to answer we reminded him that this was his forever family. He got upset and left the room, then came back and told us that he ‘hated this.’ We worked on that for a while, but it was helpful for me to see how uncertain he still is. Later that day, after he’d returned from school, I asked my oldest the same question. He got a beautiful smile on his face and said, “Always!”

I felt triumphant. Like at least the message is getting through somewhere! It’s like getting a quarterly parenting review: Exceeds expectations here, Satisfactory there, Needs Improvement in this area over here.

And just when you feel like you are all in a groove and moving forward as a cohesive family, one or another kid will do something or say something that makes you wonder if they are having an out-of-body experience. Here’s the thing that I keep perceiving with my kids (could be totally wrong, I’m just saying this is what it feels like to me): That just as they allow themselves to enjoy being snuggled, attended to, smiled at, laughed with, entrusted with something valuable, celebrated, respected, loved, they remember that enjoying or wanting those things makes them vulnerable and their fears creep in and slam the doors shut and prevent them from receiving the love and affection they so desperately want and need. Oh, it is so frustrating for all involved. I guess what I’m seeing is that the door is cracked open a little wider and for longer periods of time as we go on. It’s just that when we get to something really touching (like love, or trust) that they retreat with great haste and intention.

All three of the kids seem to be attaching well, and for this we are so very grateful. Their needs are extremely different and what works for one definitely doesn’t work for another. We are regularly having to think on our feet, try a different approach, or just let it go and try again tomorrow or the next day.

We had family movie time on Saturday and watched Madagascar (the original) while Ellie was napping. I let the boys help me come up with rules for family movie time, such as 1) If someone needs to go to the bathroom we pause the movie until they get back. They enjoyed coming up parameters that would support our togetherness. Alex was content to let Melkam sit on Mommy’s lap the whole time as long as he could sit beside me and have our arms linked. It was a beautiful family afternoon on a lazy Saturday, and I hope we have many more like this!

And here’s a cute photo of the cutest little shnookums ever. I love the back of her neck. She is the one person in our family who is crystal clear that she’d like to be snuggled and hugged and kissed all the time. Except on the rare occasions she decides she doesn’t want to be, and then, watch out! That screech will blow your eardrum.

One response to “Walking Hand in Hand

  • Dakota Corey

    As always, a very well written post. I’ve found it interesting lately to have almost accidentally re-connected with several families that are going through this process with about the same timing as our family (and yours) and that pattern of opening up and then slamming the door shut seems to SO be what this time in the progression is about. It can be so hard for me to appreciate the process in the moment, but when I take a step back I can see its true – huge gains are being made. It’s also reassuring to talk to families that are a little further down the road in their journey and having them confirm that it only gets easier/better in most cases. Much love to all five of you!

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