Christmas- What about Joseph?

I’m stuck on the story of Joseph this weekend. He doesn’t get many accolades. Truth is, we can learn a lot from the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph chose not divorce Mary, which he had every right to do in his culture. He also chose not to abort Jesus, which was a common practice in the Roman Empire.

Adoption means advocating for the unborn, just as Joseph did.

Adoptive families must trust God to build their families His way. Joseph could have divorced Mary, denied the child and  walked away. Orphans come in all sorts of packages. The culture often dictates who should be ‘saved’ and who should not be. Many infants never leave the womb alive, in the name of a woman’s reproductive rights, their right to life is terminated before they breathe.

Adoption means advocating for the unborn, just as Joseph did. His actions matched His theology. We adopted parents walk in the footsteps of Jesus’ earthly father, when we respond to an “unwanted pregnancy” with the offer of family.

We parents respond to tragedy and social orphans with the offer of a home. We adoptive parents walk in God’s vision of family when we adopt. Adoption is not a second rate alternative to biological children. It’s kingdom building work. When we build the kingdom through adoption, we follow in Joseph’s footsteps. Adoption is a holy work.

Continuing Education and Fostering and Adopting

“How do you handle lying?”

“My son is stealing every day, what should I do?”

“My kid is so angry all the time, I can’t seem to get him on the right track!”

These are just some bits of conversations I have had with adoptive/foster parents. Kids getting kicked off the bus, suspended from school, kicked out of kid’s church. I could say, “Been there. Done that,” and sometimes I do, but that is not enough. Adoptive/Foster parents need real tried and true info to help them on their journey. We parents need to understand where the behavior is coming from, what’s going on inside the child’s brain, and what we can do to help foster attachment as well as moral and physical development.

What happened?

If you adopted a cute cuddly baby or toddler and he suddenly starts behaving in off the wall ways, you may be asking yourself, what have I gotten myself into and what happened? What did I do wrong? I used to ask myself this on a daily basis. When rotten behavior burgeoned its ugly head and morals seemed non existent, I cried, disciplined and when traditional parenting didn’t work, I delved into research. That doesn’t make me super woman. I am definitely not a super hero. What it did for me was bring me out of denial. I was denying that there was anything different between them and my bio kids because I felt like it meant I loved them less. It didn’t. That was a lie. The other lie that was difficult to battle was “you’re not being fair!” from the bio kids. I had to approach dealing with behaviors differently in my adopted children and it was evident that I was doing things differently. I wish there was a magic wand I could wave over my bio kid so they could understand I am parenting two different backgrounds, a set of kids from a secure foundation and another with no foundation of family. You can’t base fair on two different circumstances to begin with. It wasn’t fair that my adopted children had traumatic beginnings. Let me get back on track here, education is the key for parenting children from hard places.

A New Perspective.

Out with the old. In with the new. That is the perspective we must take in parenting children who have had trauma in their lives. Adopted/foster kids don’t come with a clean slate that we can write on. They come with a chalk board full of past. We must acknowledge that and focus on child rearing that meets them where they are, not where we expect them to be. For example, we expect an eight year old to act his age, yet if he has had a traumatic beginning, he may only have an emotional age of three or four. He may lie, because in his mind, he believes you will believe exactly what he tells you because his brain is only developed to the stage of a three year old. Four year olds think you only know what they tell you.

It’s a difficult thing, this re-shifting of parenting. It’s a bit easier if you think of your children as half their physical age and measure their brain development rather than their shoe size. If they have poor impulse control, they are using only the downstairs brain, it takes time and consistent parenting to help these kids move to the upstairs brain. Kids who have not had the opportunity to explore truth and fiction may struggle with the two, not matter their age.

Raising children from hard places helps me understand the portion of scripture referring to renewing my mind. When raising these children with cognitive dis-regulation due to early trauma, it takes a constant flow of education, a renewing of the mind in how to meet these kids where they are mentally, physically and spiritually.

. Check this video out for help in handling lying.


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Self-Care, Adoption, and Compassion Fatigue

I stood in the bathroom, brushing my hair before an appointment. My son was having a hard day and I couldn’t stop thinking about how to respond, react, or help him. I kept playing out different scenarios in my mind and trying to come to a solution. I grabbed my hair and gave it a tug and said to my frustrated image, “Get out of my head!”  I needed to think of the appointment in front of me and focus on it instead of on him.

Adoption and Compassion.png

When raising a child from a difficult place, we can develop what experts refer to as “compassion fatigue.” It is usually used to refer to professionals such as paramedics, nurses, counselors, and so on, who get overwhelmed with the input of negative second-hand stress. What about a parent raising a child who has come from a traumatic beginning or with developmental delays or a capital letter syndrome (ADD, ADHD, Sensory issues, on the spectrum, FAS, etc..)? Yes! Parents can and do experience compassion fatigue because parents can’t go home at the end of the day.

Psychology Today describes compassion fatigue as a type of Secondary Post Traumatic Stress. Compassion fatigue is a somewhat common phenomenon that affects medical workers, social workers, and even pastors. It stems from witnessing or hearing about traumatic experiences in the lives of other people and feeling helpless because you can only do so much to help.

Helpful practices to deal with compassion fatigue:

  1. Exercise. I cannot stress this enough. I know. It’s the last thing I feel like doing when I am stretched to my limits and experiencing compassion fatigue. I just want to fall into the sofa and watch Netflix mindlessly or read a book on my Kindle and ignore the world. Exercise helps. It does, even in small snippets. A walk around the yard, running up and down the stairs a few times. I used to do both of these when my children were all small. I didn’t have huge increments of time, nor could I leave them to do a full exercise routine. When it got to the point that I could, I often exercised at 10:30 pm, which a visiting friend told me was crazy!  I needed to exercise so I didn’t go crazy. It released all the pent up frustration! “Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.”-
  2. Set limits to your activity with breaks. I struggle with this. I want to be productive. I want to get it all done. That’s a wonderful goal, but it isn’t the best goal. The better goal is to enjoy life. To set limits to activities so you can settle down in the moment and when it over, cherish it, not just move on to the next thing.
  3. Have a personal life apart from your child -It doesn’t have to be something that takes you out of the home every night, it could be as simple as a book club. It can be sewing, teaching a class or two, refinishing furniture. Not only does this give you something else to pour into, it let’s your child see you doing something meaningful and he will one day, want to follow suit.
  4. Hav a Sense of Humor- I have found that my children who have struggles with impulse control, behaviors, FAS, etc. (put yours in the blank) are not those things, they suffer from, but they are awesome human beings with a great sense of humor. I just had to stop trying to fix them and listen.
  5. Talk about it. Find an adoption/foster group where you feel safe sharing and talk. Don’t just listen. This sort of outpouring of your feelings is a good release. It’s a kind of confession that cleanses the soul that you can move forward.
  6.  Determine your emotional limits and stick to them.Determine your emotional limits

“The helpers’ symptoms, frequently unnoticed, may range from psychological issues such as dissociation, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, to feeling powerless. However, professionals may also experience physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, general constriction, body temperature changes, dizziness, fainting spells, and impaired hearing. All are important warning signals for the caregiver that need to be addressed or otherwise might lead to health issues or burnout.”-Psychology today 

There is some discrepancy in the church body about this point. Some believe that you should pour yourself out without discriminating. Jesus kept boundaries. When the crowd got to be too much, he went away.  If you have a family that you can’t serve or children that you cannot parent because you feel like you are drowning all the time, it’s time to take stock of your emotional limits. What stresses you out the most and how can you work through it or hand it off (if possible)? When one of my children was having some serious issues and I was doing everything I could every day. It was wearing on my physical and emotional well being. I was exhausted.  My daughter took over doing some of the grocery shopping for me for a season. It was a blessing. It wasn’t forever, I wasn’t dropping my title of manager of the home, I was delegating. Delegate. It’s okay. Maybe (if your kids take a nap) you can sit down and read while they nap or watch one of your favorite HGTV shows. You don’t have to be “on” all the time.

If you feel as if you are suffering from compassion fatigue, don’t wait to start treating yourself. If your health fails, if you aren’t there for your family, then what?  You need to take care of yourself. You are valuable. You are loved. You are worth it.

When Your Adopted/Foster Child Doesn’t Love You

Ania, Amerey (and baby Moira and Cecilia) and I stopped at the playground by the Mon River after lunch one day. The weather was sunny and close to sixty. It was nice to get outside. Cecilia tromped around the playground trying every nook and cranny, joyfully waving at other kids before she camped out in the sandbox. Amerey and I sat on the bench next to sandbox and Cecilia began a conversation with a Mom and a little boy on the other side of the fence.


“Is that Mom speaking Polish?” Amerey asked me.

“I think so. I need to hear one more thing to be sure.” I waited for the Mom to say something else and I said, “Yep!”

“I knew it,” Ania said, “something deep in the back of my mind recognized it!”

“Okay,  go talk to her!” I said.

Ania alluded to the fact that she wanted to relearn Polish and she might want to go back and visit Poland. Years ago, when Ania was small, this may have sent me into an inner emotional tailspin.  Not now. I love it!

I walked over and talked to the sweet, shy, beautiful Polish lady and blurted out (okay, butchered) the Polish phrases I remembered and both my girls joined in. Pretty Polish Mama grinned when I said them but hesitated when I asked questions. So, I said my farewells and we left.

“Someone has been very mean to her,” Ania offered as we walked back to the parking lot, “people make me mad!”

Flash to the Past.

What insight. We don’t know any of the sweet Mama’s story, but Ania could read her pain. Suddenly, I was transported to an orphanage in Poland with four-year-old Ania, in a heap on the floor, crying and angry. Again, back in the states, over and over, she said no to my parenting, no to my loving advances, my parenting style. She didn’t want to eat when she needed to eat. She didn’t want to go outside, because she was afraid. She didn’t want to enjoy the swimming pool because she didn’t understand the physical laws of nature and that floaties (and Mamas) will hold you up.

Thankfully, by the grace of God, I didn’t take this personally. I had done that with my first child, sporadically thinking that she didn’t love me because of the way she was acting. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t want to be hugged and cuddled. Then I discovered she had some health issues after a ten-day stay in the hospital, my perspective changed.

Glorious Dreams of Parenthood

I think we parents have glorious dreams of parenthood in our minds when we adopt. We can’t wait to be a family. We will love the child and he will love us and all will be right with the world. Picture perfect, right?

What if, as Ania said, “someone has been very mean to them,” what if they don’t trust? What if they have been rejected? Tossed about by circumstances and from home to home? What if the person who was supposed to care for them didn’t follow through and do it?

In order for a child to love, he must feel secure. What if it takes years for a child to feel secure? Can you hack it? Can you keep loving, keep pouring into the child while he pours out hateful words or falls on the floor in a heap?

Your Adopted/Foster Child Will Wound You.

It’s inevitable in any relationship that we will be disappointed. We will be wounded. It’s sometimes a shock to our system when the wounds from our adopted/foster child come so frequently and viciously. We parents can wonder why we are sticking this out when we feel as our adopted/foster child doesn’t love us. We want to give up when we parent with love, make sure the child’s needs are met and the return is “I hate you!”

Your Adopted/Foster Child Will Expect You to be Perfect.

It’s such a strange phenomenon. Our child’s birth parents are far from perfect (as are we).  A child who has had trauma will accept scraps from bio parents and expect x-boxes, phones and pure gold from foster/adoptive parents. It can be infuriating, devastating and cause us to doubt why we are doing this in the first place.

Kids are used to Trauma.

Kids from hard places, i.e., any child from the foster care system is used to trauma. It’s their normal. We are a new normal. We parent from the idea or supposition that the child has value. We value them. We value our possessions and care for them. The child doesn’t value themselves or possessions. It’s a paradoxical. When we are able to think of it from their perspective, we can understand why they accept scraps from bio parents. Bio parents gave them scraps before and with a hope that it would turn into something more, the child accepted it. You give love, security and the best. The child begins to expect that from you even if he doesn’t act appreciative. Keep doing what you are doing. Don’t withhold love just because your child isn’t acting loving towards you.

Love is not a gushy feeling

Love is not a gushy feeling. It is an action word.

Love is a commitment. Love is kind when kindness is not returned. Love is patient when others are impatient. Love hardly even notices when someone does something wrong. Love forgives. Love’s hopes are fade-less in all circumstances.

When we sign the adoption decree, it means the child is part of the family, it does not mean that family is part of the child. Through the history of Abraham, we learn about “faith without works.” He believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness, he had an account labeled “righteous.” When we adopt/foster, we have an account labeled “family” and we have to put works into that account in order for a child begin to love us back. When I say love, I’m not talking about chubby toddler arms wrapping around my neck giving me a hug (that is wonderful), I’m talking about believing, trusting that Mom and  Dad will meet the child’s needs. It’s the kind of love that says, “I feel secure, I know you are there for me.”

Fast Forward.

Fast forward sixteen years, Ania is twenty years old, an amazing young woman. By that, I mean she loves others and has empathy. She sees pain and responds to it because she remembers the pain. She understands the need for family and she loves her family. You see, Ania didn’t trust me at four and all these years later, she does. She knows I will be there when she needs me. For example,  when she took her car into the dealership for a check-up and she texted me and asked me to come to pick her up. She didn’t ask me before she left because I was working out and she knows I can’t exercise and talk at the same time. She told me later, “I knew you would come to get me, so I just left.” This brings tears to my eyes. She knew I would come and get her. That’s huge!

Are you parenting a child who “doesn’t love you”, i.e., isn’t attached to you, doesn’t trust you? Are you ready to give up because it is difficult? Don’t. Please, just don’t. Family is more than just a name on a piece of paper, it’s a safe haven. Your home can be that safe haven. It will take time, months, maybe years, but you will have those pinpricks of light when the child comes to you. The light may be something as simple and profound as “Will you help me with this math?” Or when the child trusts that you will have a snack when he needs it or that you will pick her up at the car dealership.



Memories of the Pre-adoption wait

The water in the pot hit boiling point and air bubbles pushed to the surface in symphonic cadence disproving the myth that a watched pot never boils.  Two faces peered into the pot mesmerized by bubbles.

“Hey, does water have air in it?”  my youngest shouted.

“Yes, remember the model of  the H2O atom you made?” I answered

He ran to the family room mantle and grabbed his model (that’s where we keep our atom models, where do you keep yours?) and slid back into the kitchen yelling, “I got it!  I got it!”

*Dance of JOY*

Aha moments are priceless.  I can’t buy them with Mastercard.  I can’t download them on iTunes.  I can’t get an app for them on my phone.  I can’t order them on Amazon.  I can’t order them at all.  I wait for them.

I can SOW, but the reaping comes much later.  This is true for everything, but with children who have learning challenges or attachment issues, the wait may be longer.  The victory is all the sweeter if I can maintain my peace during the waiting.I remember THE WAIT  during in my pre-adoption journey.  I had been living in the pre-adoptive limbo for so long I didn’t think it would ever had an end.  Adoptive parents know this limbo well, the paper work is finished (finally).  The home study is complete (yay).  INS has approved.  Finger prints are inspected.  Everything has been forwarded to the proper authority in_________(fill in the blank).  Then comes the most excruciating part.  WAIT FOR THE CALL.   Yes, I remember those instructions.  Simple right?  The hard part is finished.  WAIT, an inactive state, right?  Rest, sit down for six months, have a cup of coffee with your WAIT.

Waiting is a part of life, right?  I wait at the grocery store, the cell phone provider, the doctor, the dentist, etc… What I do while I wait determines how I feel about the time spent.  I am assured while I wait- it will eventually be my turn.  I need to have this attitude with my children.  As I sow, I know I will eventually reap.  They will reap the ‘aha’ moment and I will reap the joy with them.

“Cast YOUR bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”- Ecclesiastes 11:1

I will find it after many days.  Not two days, not two minutes.  Many days.  If you are sowing connections, lessons or training with your child.  Don’t give up.  WAIT.  Have a cup of coffee with your wait.  Read a good book.  Relax.  You threw your bread out on the water, let God take care of it.  The tide will come back in and wash upon your feet cool and tickly, you will laugh and be full of joy as you cast your bread, your sustenance, your life, time and energy upon the water again.

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