Friday, January 30, 2009

Pressing On

This is the second time I have taught a ten year old how to speak, read, and write in English as their second language. I must say that I am thankful as I begin this undertaking again that I have some experience(although it is not that much). I have created a method to this task at hand. Math(thankfully) is a universal language, and since Etsegenet was attending school in Ethiopia she is at grade level in this subject. I have other friends who have adopted older children and they are starting at the beginning in mathematics. We begin each day with this subject. I read all the story problems and make sure that the concept of the day is understood and then E is on her own for most of the lesson. Once she has completed it I correct it right away. That way I ensure she is comprehending most of what is going on. Then it on to the major task of learning English. We have begun with a kindergarten/first grade level phonics program. It is called Explode the Code. When we first started, which was basically the Monday after she arrived from Ethiopia, we only did this subject. It covers the basics in short vowels and beginning blend sounds so she can begin to read. She is very fortunate to have learned most of her vowel and consonant sounds, although many are not being pronounced correctly. We have now added reading aloud, a grammar/English book and handwriting. In a week or so we will add spelling and parts of speech. All in all it is going great. By the end of this school year I will have her tested at the first grade level. Next year we will bust through 2ND and 3rd grade English and the next year will be 4Th and 5Th grade level which should bring her up to speed. This program worked so well with Denis that he is now able to do a high school level American Literature class at a ninth grade level even though he is technically only an eighth grader. We are excited about how she is doing and we are looking forward as we press on.

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Order

Before I start this post I want to say that I am not an expert on adoption or claim to have all the answers. This post is simply to share with you some insights I have come upon through my own family experiences after having five biological children and adopting four others.

Every time a new child comes into a family a new order needs to be established. I have experienced this phenomenon with each birth or adoption. As a child enters the family there is a disorder that occurs prior to the "new norm". It takes about three to six months to see the completion of this reordering process. It is the most difficult time for the family since not one of us is able to escape the process. For me the biggest challenge is learning how to balance my mothering between the children that have been in the family longer and the ones that are just entering. I lower my expectations of how much I can accomplish as a good deal of my time will be taken up with helping various children find their new spot after displacement happens. As the ones that have been in the family begin to adjust to their new roles many feelings emerge. I have noticed that at this point any or all of my children may go through a grieving period. For example, our middle daughter was the youngest child for ten years. When our new little Abigail was born Angelina was very excited to be a big sister, yet once we got the baby home reality hit and Angelina went through a swing between joy and loss. She loved her new baby sister dearly, but now needed to find out where she fit in the family. She felt a little guilty at these feelings, but once they were validated she was able to move into her new role with grace.The nice part about this rather difficult time is that it is a process with a beginning and an end. As the adjustment is worked through new roles are established between the family members and new bonds are formed. If worked through properly the result is a closer family as individuals find value and confidence in their new spot. Most of us that have had more than one biological child have seen this take place. But if you add to this natural adjustment a traumatized adopted child the process is much more complicated. A mistake I have seen others make is to ignore or try to go around this adjustment process. Many times we are uncomfortable with the changes ourselves and might not feel qualified to deal with the amount of emotions that run through the family. But regardless of ones ability to deal with interpersonal relationships( that many times looks very ugly especially in an new adopted child) the process will continue. Your final result depends on to what extent you are able to work your family through this process. Make no need tools to help you.

I want to focus now specifically on the process of adjusting an adopted child into a family. It is clear that each adopted child has had trauma. Whether they have been given up at birth or later. The trauma can range anywhere from loss of a parent to severe abuse. Once a child's normal path has been interrupted by trauma they no longer function out of trust, but fear. The fear based reactions of an adopted child can look pretty unusual. With our children we have seen everything from disassociation, hitting, yelling, and reverting to infant behavior, to running away and complete rejection. And although this is very dramatic behavior I will reiterate that when dealt with properly it will go away. As each incident is dealt with the erratic behaviour diminishes and the child's true self begins to come out as trust replaces fear. If an adoptive parent shies away from dealing with the true fear and grief a child comes into the family with they are dooming themselves and their child to a much longer adjustment period. I mentioned earlier that tools are required and we have always been open to all that we could find. Books such as Beyond Consequences by Heather Forbes can help or adoption support websites like: A Family 4ever. One tool that has been very effective for us with older foreign adoption is having an interpreter on hand for the first two months to allow our children to speak in their native tongue until they can acquire their new language. Another tool we use is asking hard questions to get at the truth of what is really going on. For instance we have asked our adopted children, " Do you know why you are here and what happened to make this necessary?". We deal with their situations truthfully when they are ready to handle it. We do not expect the healing process to be quick or go away after a few weeks. Some of the deepest level issues have emerged after years of having a child in our home. Before we adopted we decided to make sure our expectations were in check. My husband articulated this in a way that really helped me," We should not expect this child to love us. But we will love this child through our actions of taking care of his needs and after a lifetime of working with him if he reciprocates this love it will be a cherry on top! Surely he will be better off here than on the streets." This changed my perspective on the goal we were shooting for. My goal was not to have a perfect mother/child bonding experience. It was to help a child come to the spot where he could see who he is from God's perspective and inside a family is the safest, most effective way this occurs. Now I could do my work without having any expectations that my son should or would give anything back to me. My focus was not on what I might receive from this broken child, but what I needed to do to help him heal. It was a good thing because at first he was not very fun to be around. And of course at first you do not see an end in sight so it helps to have your emotions in check. Homeschooling has been one of the most effective tools when adjusting our older adopted children into our family. With Denis it allowed him to move to a healthier spot without the added burden of peer pressures. I was able to give him plenty of one on one attention so he advanced quickly with his English. If an issue came up I was better able to tell what was bothering him since I was around him all the time. He learned what a family was like and moved away from institutionalization. I am finding this to be true with Etsegenet as well. I will put a disclaimer in here...each family is different and their children have needs that do not match ours. I am not saying this is the only way, it has just worked well for us. Lastly, a quick list of "no-brainer", must have tools: PRAYER, lots of family meetings to work through feelings and character issues, regular Bible studies, and a network of people you can go to for advice. If you are wondering how we find time for all these gatherings, we do not watch network television at all(that's another post altogether).

I have just touched on a few of the tools we have used to help our family come to a new order as we continue to grow. I am sure others have different and just as effective tools. I would love to hear some of your suggestions as well. As we learn from one another may God be glorified and children grow in families that seek his face.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's Never Too Late...

This is my sweet father. He is eighty-seven and a new convert to the Christian faith. He will be baptized in just two weeks and will receive his first communion. All I can say is, "WOW! and Praise God!" I hope I never get too rigid to remember that God is not finished with any of us yet and you are never too old to be born into the family of Christ! We are celebrating along with the angels in heaven!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009


How long do you think it takes to heal the pain of abandonment? I don't know the answer and probably you do not either. But for my six year old the pain is still there. Not all the time like it was the first few months after we brought her home from China at one year old, but it still is present. I recently read a post on a friend's blog relating how her adopted daughter has trouble watching her sister(who happens to be bio)open birthday presents. These two siblings are very close in age just like two of my girls. My daughter Isabelle from China is just 5 months older than her sister Abigail. On Abigail's 5Th birthday Isabelle was visibly disturbed, which shortly turned to anger. My sister-in-law had given both the girls a small gift and then had given Abigail one more for her special birthday present. We made it through the evening, but the next day Isabelle was still angry. When I brought her into my bedroom to discuss what was going on she burst into tears and bawled, " I just want to go back to China!" I thought this was an interesting response to Abigail getting a birthday gift. She continued crying,"Why didn't she want me?" It turns out that this perceived inequality on Abigail's birthday reminded Isabelle emotionally of the inequality that occurred around her first birthday. That day on my bed Isabelle cried and I cried for my precious child and for the loss of her mother in China. We prayed for her China mom and Isabelle realized that day that the way God worked it out allowed her to not only have a mom who loved her as much as any birth mom, but also he gave her many siblings who will always be there for her too.This aspect of security and family strength gave Isabelle the ability to focus on the good work God had done in her life. I have never grafted a branch on to a tree, but this grafting that occurs with adoption takes a lot of tending and salve and nourishment. I bet it is quite a bit like that with a real tree. I would guess that you do not just drill a hole and stick a branch into the trunk and sit back and watch it grow. With adoption you cannot just bring a child into your home and think they will not need specific nurturing that will help them bond to your family tree. After an emotional issue like this one is worked through and resolution occurs we rarely see it as big again. As we talked through Isabelle's feelings about the loss of her mother and her country I saw in her a new sense of security with the family that God gave her. She knows for certain that the family that God grafted her into will hold her up as she continues to bond and grow. And as I watch this grafting process continue I see Isabelle flourish and I am certain that one day when she is fully mature she will bare much fruit!


It is the New Year and all I can say is, "I can't wait to see what God has in store for 2009!" We are celebrating all that He has accomplished in our family this year and are grateful for the love of God in our home and lives! Happy New Year to you all and blessings in the year to come!