One recent evening, our three children and I sat around the table drinking tea like any good Russian family would. They were telling stories about the shenanigans they had gotten into at the orphanage, the fist fights the boys constantly had, how the older girls would gang up on the younger ones, and the countless ways they would try to avoid the mean orphanage workers. As they talked and I listened, there was laughter, but their eyes were telling me something completely different. They would never want to go back. Perhaps they have not fully come to the understanding of what family means, but they know without a doubt that they do not want to go back.
My husband and I have been adoptive parents for almost four years, yet almost every day hundreds of thoughts go through our minds regarding what our kids need. How can we connect with each one of them? This is taking everything out of us! What form of discipline will work best for them? Are we providing the kind of home atmosphere they need? Lord, help us because we do not have the slightest idea what to do!
Dima, our oldest, was the first to join our family—just after he had turned twelve. This summer he will be sixteen. Alyona and Losha, who are biological siblings, have been with us for six months and are currently thirteen and twelve. Dima lost his biological parents in a tragic accident when he was seven years old and, before showing up in our lives, he was with a foster family for a couple years and then the orphanage. The younger two have a different story—they never knew their dad, have a few other half-siblings, and their real mom lives in our area. After falling victim to alcoholism, a far too common problem in Russia, her parental rights were taken and our two kids were moved around between hospitals and foster homes until their life at the orphanage began.
I had always dreamed of adopting, and it was something that my husband and I began contemplating early on in our marriage. Like many unexpected events on our journey of life together, this also happened unexpectedly and at times we could not have arranged ourselves. All I need is to hear the word adoption and something starts stirring in my heart—because so many emotions are wrapped up in this one word. It is sad and happy at the same time; it is frustrating and rewarding all at once. Almost always difficult, we would not want it any other way, yet it carries with it both loss and gain.
Because our kids had become orphans at such young ages, they had experienced abandonment, loss, rejection, heartache, confusion, and loneliness. Then suddenly, years later, they found themselves in a strange and foreign environment—our house! I remember so clearly the culture shock I experienced my first couple years living in Russia. The only language I had spoken all my life was not any help, nothing made sense, and curiosity mixed with fear filled my mind. I felt scared, alone, and excited all at the same time. In a similar way, our kids’ worlds were turned upside down. They had been going through their days at the orphanage wondering if things were ever going to change, and then out of the blue, a tall Russian guy shows up with his Canadian wife announcing they would like to invite them to spend a week in their home and hopefully become their parents. Both times, to be honest, we knew that we had to be all in fully or not at all.
It would be a lie if I said the adoption journey has been great. The kids we have been blessed with are amazing, and we could not imagine our life without them. Yet I can openly say there is nothing I have experienced in life quite as emotionally and mentally draining as starting to parent pre-teens who are of different nationality; have been through more hardships than I probably ever will; have trust and attachment issues; and cannot yet communicate in my first language. The only strategies they have ever known are lying, cheating, and/or getting revenge. No one had ever taken the time to sit down with them and explain basic things like telling time, table manners, doing homework, waiting when necessary, or sharing possessions. No one had ever told them they are special, or that they have the potential to accomplish great things, or that they are loved just for who they are. I have learned that I had all the wrong expectations and somehow had let myself think our adopted kids would start doing what we say and changing their behaviour almost immediately. Obviously now I realize how very wrong I was! How do you teach a 13-year-old to not answer rudely when asked something, or how to properly use a fork and a knife at the table? How do you convince them that you are not going anywhere, because you have chosen to permanently make them part of your family?”
Last year, within just a few months, our family almost doubled. The house got a lot noisier, stress has become a close acquaintance of ours, and money is tighter; instead of potty-training, we are suddenly having discussions about peer pressure, pornography, puberty, and whatever else the teenage years throw our way. We have wondered if we are doing anything right, if our kids know how much we love them, if their hearts are being healed, and if we can guide them along the right path and not lose them to the world sometime in the future. When things start to look dark and overwhelming, I remind myself that a year from now things will look different, and I thank God for the privilege to be mom to these, our children. I look at their faces and quietly ask God for wisdom, more patience, and the ability to love them like He does. I know becoming a mom has changed me, probably in more ways than I would like to admit. Adoption has taken me on a journey I never could have imagined—it is so all-consuming and so life-changing. I am reminded of the fact that I was once also an orphan in a spiritual sense, without a Father to carry me, unsure of who I was. Then God accepted me into His family and that all changed drastically.
In spite of all the mistakes we are making along the way, the fights and tears, the frustration when one of the kids lashes out or completely withdraws for days because they do not know what to do with their emotions or are afraid of being given back to the orphanage—in spite of it all, I choose to love Dima, Alyona, and Losha as my own. I am far from being a great mom, but God brought them to us, and His word clearly says to take care of orphans. His heart breaks for them, He loves them unconditionally, and I am convinced He does not ask us to do something for which He has not prepared us. Adoption is love; adoption is acceptance; adoption is God creating families in surprising and unique ways. Like living in another culture, being adoptive/foster parents can be a tangled, beautiful mess—nearly indescribable, unimaginably challenging, and extremely rewarding.
Question to consider: How have you experienced “Like living in another culture, being adoptive/foster parents can be a tangled, beautiful mess—nearly indescribable, unimaginably challenging, and extremely rewarding”?