supporting adoption

Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 


Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

How to Keep Your Friends that Adopt

I have been dragging my feet about starting to answer all the questions, partly because I have been so busy and partly because there is plenty to write about just in my life in general - and updates are always easier to write than something topical.  But, alas... I will begin.

The first question I am going to answer was unique in that the person asking wasn't trying to satisfy any sort of curiosity, but was genuinely interested in better supporting adoptive families.  I don't think there is ANYTHING wrong with asking questions about adoption purely because you want to gain a better 
understanding of the whole thing... I love asking questions and I encourage others to do the same!  But I did like that this question was not for curiosity sake but for the sake of supporting others.

Before I get started, I would like to put out a bit of a disclaimer.  I do not speak for all adoptive moms.  I do not speak for all biological moms.  I do not speak for all women, or all Christians, or all hilarious people.  I don't speak for anyone but myself, and I don't even want that responsibility.  As it is, my opinion can change just on a hormone's whim... so I can't even promise that I will agree with me tomorrow.  So take all this with the tiniest grain of salt possible.  Maybe not even salt, but like... some sort of low-sodium salt alternative.  Just remember that if I write something ridiculous, I warned you to take my answers with a grain of Mrs. Dash.  Now, let's do this.

Question: How can people better support adoptive families?

My low-sodium answer:

1)  Celebrate!  When a couple announces that they are beginning the adoption process, react the same way as if they just handed you a framed sonogram picture, because that is pretty much what is happening, they are expecting a baby!!  This is great news guys.  Who doesn't love a good baby?  This is when you jump up and down, maybe cry a little and hugs all around!  This is not a time to list all your concerns or ask if they've seen the movie Losing Isaiah.  Just do all the normal "are you hoping for a boy or a girl? Do you have names picked out?" kind of stuff and just plan the freakin baby shower already.

Friends came to celebrate Jaylen's homecoming from NYC.

2)  Do Ask Questions!  Asking questions is a great way to gain more knowledge about the process, to undo some preconceived notions, and most importantly it is a great way to be involved in a wonderful and exciting season in the lives of the happy couple and to show that you care!  My guidance about questions is to frame sensitive inquiries carefully, and leave room for people not to answer if it is too private or too painful to rehash.  Just because someone announces that they are expecting via adoption, does not mean that they are ready to sign over a HIPA release to you. Simply avoiding assumptions (about their fertility status, reasons for adopting, etc.) and asking "The Google" first will clear up some questions that you may want to ask ("How much does it cost?") and give you a spring board to ask those questions in a better way. ("I read that adoption is really expensive, are you planning to do any fundraising?")  This shows that you care, you've done a little homework, and that you respect privacy enough not to be overly direct on sensitive points.  

3)  Do Share Your Reasonable Concerns.  Adoption is a complex issue, and the very reality that adoption exists is actually a tragedy.  Soo... it's very natural to have concerns or opinions on adoption, and it IS OKAY TO SHARE THOSE with your loved ones.  If you've followed tips 1 & 2, you've earned the right to share concerns, but remember that concerns are best received if you use adoption-friendly language.  Simply rephrasing questions like "Aren't you afraid that the kid will want to look for his real mom someday?" Or "Don't you want your own children?" to more sensitive language like "How will you prepare for the day your child decides he might be interesting in reconnecting with his biological family?"  Or "Has a desire for biological children had any impact on your decision to adopt a child?"  Just coming from a place of love and support is the most important thing.  When in doubt, start all questions and concerns with "tell me if this is totally ignorant, but I just want to understand..."  Chances are, you will blow it at one point or another, and a lot of grace is given to those who acknowledge the fumbling and/or to those who threw us a baby shower.  

4) Encourage.  Like a physical pregnancy, adoption has a lot of ups and downs.  Pregnancy has plenty of exhaustion, anticipation, fears and joys... adoption too!  Some pregnancies end in devastating sadness, yep... we got that too.  People say stupid things to pregnant women, holler back on that one.  Whether an expectant couple is growing their child inside of their body, or via the womb of another woman... they need a lot of support during this scary, exciting and life-altering stage!  Keeping the couple encouraged and uplifted will be of great importance, especially during long wait times or times when they feel a sense of rejection when they are not chosen.  Just a note of encouragement will do, but if you want bonus points... write a letter to their future child telling her how much her parents wanted her and longed for her and how loved she already is!!  When all else fails, plan another shower.

5) Consider Financial Support.  Adoption is ridiculously expensive.  Until adoption reform takes place, it is an extremely costly decision, and one that people often make because they feel a specific calling to adopt.  It is rarely a decision that is made because "We could afford it, so why not!?"  There are plenty of ways to help with the financial portion, even if you personally don't have extra funds lying around.  Simply hosting a fundraiser dinner in your home, or donating items for a fundraising garage sale, or spreading the word by sharing the link to their online fundraiser/auction... be creative!  The reality is that it takes a village.  Most people finance their adoption with some combination of savings, funds that have been donated, and ultimately an adoption loan.  These are usually low-interest loans that can take years to pay off.  We paid off our first adoption loan about one year before taking the second.  We have been very blessed with generous friends and family, and without them... We would have had to sell Tom in order to bring Jaylen home.  So, at least consider blessing adoptive families with bags upon bags of cash.  Trust me, if you do... they will still have to take a loan, but they'll love you forever and you will have the distinct blessing of knowing that you helped bring a family together.  Plus, if you are the controlling type... You can push for a least a middle name in your honor.

 Tom rocking the T-shirt we sell as an adoption fundraiser.

Voila!  Five steps to keeping your friends that adopt!  And more on this later, but it also really helps of you aren't a racist.