Saturday, April 13, 2013

Angela's Adoption Advice



I had the most interesting conversation this afternoon with Angela, who at almost 15 years old is wise beyond her years and always has been.  Home three years now, she has spent a lot of time in contemplation about her life, her adoption, her birth mom, and so much more.  I have the deepest respect for this daughter of mine, for the courage and honesty she has always shown, and for the healing work she has not shied away from.

I shared with Angela that I had been in conversation in recent weeks with a mom who had just adopted a 15 year old girl from Bulgaria.  She and her husband are in a very demanding, challenging situation, and wisely are reaching out in different directions for support and encouragement.   I received an email from her a couple of days ago, and in these early days home things are not the fairy tale many want to make it out to be.  She is a wise, thoughtful mom and will do well, but is weathering some rough storms right now.

Angela and I started recalling our first weeks and months together, where our key moments were and what they meant.  We talked about communication with no shared language, discipline, and so much more.  An hour and a half later, we were still talking.  She kept telling me what she thought I should tell this new mom and other parents adopting older kids, so I thought I'd share some of my wonderful daughter's hard earned wisdom about adopting older children, and those early days of doing the New Family Dance.  I am, of course, paraphrasing in my quotes, to the best of my recollection, in Angela's voice.:

1)  "It's not a fairy tale, mom.  It's hard and uncomfortable, and everyone thinks it is going to be comfortable fast, but it won't be. You need to tell parents that it takes a lot longer than they think for everyone to feel like they are not strangers.  They put too much pressure on themselves, maybe because they think everyone is watching them and they feel like they have to pretend they are all loving right away.  That is silly, they can't be and no one should think they should be."

2)  "We were told so many bad things about coming to America, so many wrong things.  We were told that when we got off the airplane they would take us to a hospital and cut our hearts out. They told us that all Americans were rude, and that all Americans were rich.  I can see now that the women who worked there might have been jealous because their life was so hard, or maybe they were uneducated or listened too much to the government that said America was bad, but back then I was younger and I didn't know what the real truth was.  Parents who come to adopt don't know how many people are telling us crazy things about our new life.  It makes it harder because they are not honest about what it might be like."

3) "Let your kids get mad at you, you don't have to be their best friend, you have to be their mom and dad.  I won't forget on the airplane coming home when I was so rude to you, and you let me have it right there.  I knew you were not someone to be that way with.  I was MAD, but mom, if you hadn't done it then, I would have gotten worse and worse because I would have known you were scared to discipline me.  Too many parents are too worried with their new kids that their kids will be mad at them and not love them, but what they are really doing is making it all harder by not being tough and loving parents right from the beginning.  I was a bully at the orphanage, I made fun of the adults who were weaker, and I wasn't honest.  Mostly, I was that way because I could get away with it and no one cared if I was honest or kind."

4)  "I don't know how our family would be like if you had gone back to work and we had gone to school right away.  I didn't want to be close to you and Dad yet, and I would have probably found some bad kids to get close to and we never would have gotten close.  I am really, really glad you stayed home and forced us to spend time together.  It made it all go faster, I got used to you faster, and soon it didn't feel so weird."

5)  "Tell parents this...tell them don't force their older kids to hug them and get too close to them.  You and Dad did it just right, you played a lot with us.  You gave us a lot of time and didn't expect us to be all huggy at first.  You didn't push yourselves to us when we didn't really know you, you let us come give you hugs.  But you know what I liked?  You tried a little.  Remember when at first I was really mean and cold to you, and pushed you away?  You didn't force me to love you, and you didn't pretend it was all good.  But you didn't act like you hated me either.  And you would sneak in and put your arm around my shoulder sometimes or touch me on my hand or arm.  At first, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but it felt really weird.  I didn't think I liked it, because no one ever touched me before.  But then, one day, I realized I liked it, and then you started hugging me, and I liked that too, but only after I felt like you weren't going to push me to pretend to love you."

6)  "Mom, you didn't know how bad I didn't want to disappoint you, and how I was afraid you might send me back. I wanted to be perfect, but then the stress made it worse because I didn't know how to be perfect because everything was new, and inside I was mad sometimes for no reason.  But even when I was mad, it was like I still wanted you to be proud of me. I was so mixed up! And I had spent a long time not caring too much if someone was proud of me, and I got away with a lot of things, so I had to break bad habits like lying.  But for some reason, once I got home, it was like I couldn't even lie anymore."

7)  "Oh, you need to tell them that they shouldn't give their kids too much stuff because we don't know what to do with it and we don't even know what we really like or want.  I think sometimes new parents want to give their kids everything to show they love them, but we didn't have anything before and most Americans have way more than we are used to.  I was actually kind of glad our rooms were not with too much stuff.  It was a little more than our orphanage, but not too much and it made it feel better.  When I was home for awhile and was in another girl's room who we met at homeschool, it was way too much and I remember thinking I was glad I didn't come home to that!"

8) "Learning English made my brain hurt. I would do OK in the morning, but everything was so new like food and stuff.  My brain just was mixed up all the time and I remember wishing I could turn it off sometimes!  There wasn't much we could do, because I had to learn, but I still remember feeling so confused and just tired of trying to understand everything that was new all around me.  Just learning how to live in a house was a lot to learn!  There was so much new things like a washer and dryer, and where food went and stuff."

9)  "I think parents want everyone to meet their new kid, and for their kid to see new places right away, but you and Dad took us places a little at a time.  Walmart was SO big!  It was crazy!  And I am glad our church was small because there was so many new people to meet, and I was embarrassed when they talked to me and I couldn't understand, but it also felt good to know they talked to me, too.  It's hard to explain.  But I think you guys made us stay home a lot at first, and that helped a lot.  We got to go out some, but not too much that would make my brain hurt some more.  We were used to being in one building all the time, and only going out in a car maybe two or three times a year away from the orphanage, maybe to a doctor or something.  Now I see how everyone lives a normal life and that wasn't normal at all, but to us it was and THIS was not normal.  I think we needed to be slow getting used to going places more."

10)  "Sometimes I was very lonely, even though Olesya was here and the boys were all here.  I missed my friends because they were like my family, and I felt guilty that I had so many nice things and good family, and they didn't and most of them never would.  Sometimes, when I thought about it, I felt really awful.  It helped me a lot when you asked if I missed them, and I knew you understood when you said it was OK.  Then when you said let's go buy them some little things and send them, and you can write letters to them, I really felt sad and happy at the same time, because I didn't want to hurt your feelings that I was feeling sad, but I couldn't help it...but I was so glad that you didn't get mad at me and understood. And that time you gave me a hug and I cried, and it felt good, and  knew you were a good mom and I didn't have to feel guilty for being sad sometimes.  That helped SO much."

11)  "When I saw you cry...remember that night when I was so mean to you?  When you cried, it was like I melted a little, and I was ashamed of myself for being mean.  I think I was only thinking of myself and I didn't think much about how I was hurting your feelings because you always acted so strong.  I was very surprised when you cried, and then Dad made me go in and apologize to you, and you told me how much you loved me and had waited so long for me, but even then you said it was OK for me to be mad that it took so long, and that you were mad about that too because we didn't have that time together.  I didn't even know I was mad about that until you said you were!  Then I realized that waiting so long wasn't your fault at all, and I was being mean for no reason when you were really such a good mom.  I knew I was going to blow it, and I had a chance for a really good family if I could just stop being so mad inside.  Then you hugged me, and remember I sat on your lap and we both cried?  That was when I knew you were really my mom, because you could get sad and mad with me, and I could be the same with you...and we could still be OK with each other.  But I was really ashamed for a long time about how I had treated you in Kazakhstan and when we first got home.  But you are such a good mom, and you made me feel like you totally forgive me.  I think I started getting God a little more then, too."

12)  "Your kids don't know how to be kids, and they don't know how to be adults, and they don't really know how to be anything!  You knew that we needed to be little kids, and sometimes I still do even though I know I am more grown up now.  Kenny is still a little boy like Joshua, even though he is 14 and plays super heroes.  I am so glad I don't have to grow up too fast, and that you let me be grown up when I want to be grown up, and be little when I want to be little. I don't want to be too little anymore, but I don't have to have a boyfriend or start dating or pretend I want those things yet.  Someday I will, but right now I just want to have fun, study school, and be a kid.  Kenny would never be normal at school, and at home he can be who he is and not get beat up or do stupid things to fit in.  He is changing, but he isn't ready for all that stuff.  I don't think any kid who comes home from an orphanage is ready for that stuff, even if they act like they are.  We came from a really good orphanage, and I am still not like a normal 15 year old American teenager, and I don't really want to be either.  But I couldn't be, and neither can Olesya, and Kenny can't for sure.  We can sometimes when we are around them, but not all day, it would be too hard, and they are all into things we are not into yet.  I remember playing with Playdough, and shaving cream and stuff that I see Shea do or younger kids play with, but we were older and still wanted to do it.  I remember playing in the sand at Ridgway with the little kids and having so much fun!  I never got to do that before, and I think American parents who adopt older kids think we did all the same things that kids here do, but we didn't because there was no money, and no one to do it with."

13)  "You didn't ever give up, even when I was stubborn.  Remember when you took me to the library when we first got home, and I stood there and said I don't like books and didn't even want to look at them? Mostly I really didn't like books because I couldn't read well in Kazakhstan, and there were no cool books to read so it was boring.  But you didn't give up, and you kept taking us and let me check out nothing, and one day I was interested in Amelia Earhart, and you helped me get a picture book, and all of a sudden I liked books!  Now I LOVE to read, and you didn't give up on me so I could learn to like them, but you didn't force me either.  Parents give up too soon, and when we get here everything is so new we don't want to try things because sometimes it is just too many new things to try, but later when we feel better and life is easier, it is easier to try things."

14)  "Some kids are bad though, Mom, and they won't ever change.  I remember one kid who was adopted and I felt bad for the parents, because they seemed nice, but this kid was not a nice kid and I think she was never going to be nice.  Maybe she changed, because I did, but I wasn't bad in the same way as she was bad...she was kind of evil I think.  But most kids are not like that at all, and they would be very different if they had a family."

15)  "I don't know what you and Dad did, but you made everything not so serious and we laughed a lot, but you were still serious and we knew it.  I am not saying it right, but when you made fun of us and teased us, we knew you weren't being mean, you were trying to say it was all OK if we made mistakes, and we could laugh and have fun with it so we didn't worry.  You tried to speak Russian, remember, and you even made fun of yourself!  But you were serious about us getting a good education and working hard in school, even if it was putting cards on Matthew's body parts and laughing as we did it!  You worked very hard, and you still do, and so do we because you showed us it was important.  I didn't care about school before, but something you did made me want to care."

16)  "You told us how to hug, remember?  After things were good, and we didn't feel so upset and we were all loving, we didn't really know how to hug or be close.  We wanted to, but it's silly to say we didn't know how, but we didn't. You joked with us about hugging and being far apart from each other, and then you made us hug big bear hugs and made bear sounds, and it was so funny!  But we never hugged anyone we loved before, not really that I can remember, and hugging someone you sort of like is different from hugging someone you love."

17) "When we used to live in Kazakhstan in the orphanage, we saw a lot of things we shouldn't have seen. We saw lots of bad movies with a lot of violent things in them or scary things, we saw kids who killed themselves because they were so sad, we saw things with our first moms and dads that we shouldn't be seeing.  I think parents think we come like little, little kids, like Joshua and Matthew.  We can't help it, we aren't little and things happened around us that we couldn't not see. It changes us, and you can't change that even if you love us.  Parents need to know we aren't like new babies, but we can still be good kids if they stick with us and love us enough."

18)  "Remember after we had been home about a month, and Olesya and I kept looking at all your old photo albums?  I think that was really important, and we just couldn't stop looking at them.  Now that I am older, I know it was because I was trying to learn who you and Dad were, and to learn what your life with Matthew, Joshua and Kenny was like too. It was like a story I didn't know but was a part of, and I needed to know more.  Olesya looked at your wedding pictures over and over again, and I liked the ones of you and Dad when you were even younger.  I think parents should always take out their picture books and show them to their kids, and let their kids see them a lot because they need to know where their mom and dad come from and what their life was like. It makes you feel more like part of the family.  And I never told you, but it meant a lot to me to see  our pictures on the fridge and the board in the hallway, and I could tell they were old and had been there a long time.  It made me feel like you were being honest when you said you had really loved us for a long time, and it made me feel like we were part of the family even when we weren't home."

These are the things from her conversation today that stand out.  Every child is different, of course, and kids who come home older than 10 or 11 might react differently, just as those who come home younger but still older than toddlers might as well.  I am betting, though, there is a lot of commonality here in Angela's experiences that runs through many older child adoptions.  I don't know if this will help enlighten anyone or not, but I hope it might help someone out there who is wondering what in the world is going through their new child's mind, and how they might approach it.

Angela, someday you will read this and you nor I will remember all the details of this conversation, for it is just one of thousands we have already had.  But when you read this, sweetheart, I want you to know just how much I admire you, how much I trust your instincts, and how very glad I am that we found one another.  You asked me in the car today when we were alone, how I knew you and Olesya were my daughters, and we spoke of God guiding us, of us not steering the boat so to speak, and how it was hard to explain, but I just knew and trusted God on this one.  You were so interested, and you said with such sure confidence, "Yup! That's just how it works, and it is so cool to see it.  God makes it all fit perfectly, just like our family fits perfectly...even if everyone thinks we don't match, WE know we match!"

I love you, my wise, wise one.  Always have, always will.



44 comments:

Lindsay said...

Wow Angela. I have no doubt you will help a lot of people with your thoughts.

Unknown said...

I am smiling through my tears.
You have made such a great family it's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing.

. said...

SO glad you documented this. What a wise and sweet girl you are Angela! This stuff can really help LOTS of people. Blessings to you all!
Shan in CO

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Angela's insightful conversation(s). Very helpful! Barbie

Anonymous said...

Cindy
So easy to see why you are so proud of your girl ;)))
Adrienne

Anonymous said...

What an amazing insightful daughter you have. I wish I could personally thank her for sharing these thoughts. We are in the process of adopting a 10 year old and I so appreciate hearing first hand experiences. Thank you for sharing this.
dawn

Tammy said...

Such amazing insight. Tell Angela thank you for giving words to those of who have children who can't express all of this yet. We hear these things all the times from professionals but sometimes it just doesn't seem as important. Hearing it from a young woman, who went through it herself, means so much.

It's interesting she talked about why she was looking at the photo album. My 6 year old who just came home looks at our albums constantly - now I understand why!

Rebecca Sheehan said...

Thanks for posting Angela's comments Cyndi.

I used to read a lot of your posts on the old Kaz lists before you brought Kenny home. Lost touch a few years ago.

I was talking to my son Declan about this post over lunch. He was 3 when he came home with us so I suspect he has some common experiences with Angela.

Thanks for sharing and the family looks beautiful and happy.
-Becky S

Anonymous said...

A family of wise and wonderful women--a gift to the great guys in the family.

Terry Tomaszewaki said...

Wow! Thank you both so very much for sharing your feelings and your journey! I have adopted a toddler, then a 6-year-old, and now am in process for a 13-year-old. I plan on sharing your blog with my children to help prepare them for how their new brother will be feeling later this year.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing your daughter's (and your) insights.

Beth Templeton said...

Angela, what a blessing you are. It is an unusual thing to have such insight and understanding at your age. Well done! I am sure God is going to use this gift in many different ways over the years. Keep expressing yourself! I am going to share this with our Hope at Home ministry (we have a ministry blog and conference to adoptive and foster parents) on our facebook wall because I think this will help many parents. Grace and Peace be with you!

ESolgos said...

So encouraging and helpful! One of our girls we adopted at age 10, now 12. I am crying, laughing and taking notes reading this! We have made so much progress as mother and daughter. Can't wait until we are where you two are!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Angela & Cindy -- so deep yet practical. We are considering pursuing a 12yo boy currently in an orphanage ... need wisdom & courage. You are giving me both today. -- R.

Carrie DeLille said...

THANK YOU ANGELA!! This is a great reference that I can share with many!!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful daughter you have. A true blessing. Thank you both for sharing some of your most intimate moments with each other for the sake of helping others. You are a blessing to many!

Ali Graham said...

Thank your daughter so much for sharing her heart! What a blessing.

abarrelofbakers said...

Thank you so much for sharing. We are adopting an older child, and this is wonderful input.

Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing, I have 4 adopted siblings, and 2 were adopted as infants the other two from the ukraine at ages 16 and 12 while I was 16. I think this is pretty close to what we experienced as well.

Jessicarwarfield at gmail dot com

mamaporuski said...

She is so articulate for being home only three years! Great job! So glad she has insight that she can share. Even though we as parents know this about our kids, helping them through the day to day, moment by moment transition is so exhausting and tough! God bless!

~Noelle said...

We are hoping to adopt two children from Ukraine ages 11 and 13. This advice, from your daughter was more educational than any other piece of information we have found yet. God Bless her for her honesty and insighfulness! You must be so proud of her! Please tell her that we want to thank her from the bottom of our hearts for her help and advice!

Grace In Italy said...

Thank you! We have had our 11 year old son home for three months and it has been super difficult. This helped remind me of what is going on in his head. It is truly encouraging. Love Always Hopes!

Joanne Berry said...

Thank you so much Angela for sharing your heart felt, honest insight. You are so mature beyond your years and yet your sweet and pure innocence comes shinning through too. We adopted a sibling group of four children this past year from Ukraine. Your wisdom is so encouraging to me as a mom. Some days it is very tough and with four different personalities, your advice hits each and every one of our kids. Thank you again for opening your heart and telling us like it is. Some of it we had never thought of before and other bits of advice are always helpful to hear again. My husband and I will find us going back to read this again and again just to keep us refreshed. God bless.

rosie said...

Hi Angela,
I am also adopted from Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan. I am 15 and was adopted when I was 4. I live in new jersey. We might have been in the same orphanage!!!! I could relate in some ways but some I couldnt because I was adopted younger. I think you are brave to let your feelings and experiences out.I know it is hard for me to do that. I had similar problems as you and my mom and I still need to work little things out. I am so happy I was adopted and I hope you write back. I also want to tell you that I belong to a group called Zhailou which is a summer gathering of Kazaks. We make a coomunity and its great and it also teaches us about of culture and we tell stories and have a great time!! Have your mom look into it!!! -rosie or my kazak name Russian.

Christin Slade said...

Thank you so very much for sharing this with us. We are about to bring home 2 older (7 & 9) girls and this was VERY insightful.

Tessy said...

Thanks for sharing this. Really great advice. My son has been home for about a year and half and all of these things are spot on to what we have experienced.

Our Adoption Story said...

A friend sent me this blog post, and I am so thankful he did - it should be required reading for all parents of older adoptive children! Our daughter joined our family 9 months ago from Ukraine, she is 11, and we (especially me as "Mommy") have been feeling the brunt of her anger and frustration). More often than not I get little glimpses of a very special, very attached, loving little girl now and your blog post has opened my eyes and made me realize that this was NOT all in vain, and that we actually ARE doing a good job as parents, and to be patient, understanding and to trust God in all things. Thank you Angela, you are a very special young lady, and I really hope that this blog finds it's way to a publication (Adoptive Parents Magazine perhaps?) - it is EXCELLENT reading!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, our son has been home almost a year and he will soon turn 13. As I read each paragraph it made me smile because each hit the nail right on the head. Many of these things he has just started expressing in the last month or two. He still has a long way to go but this has given me a lot of encouragement that he will get there with baby steps. Thank you!

Leonette Boiarski said...

Great blog post Cindy!!!!!. I am sharing it with some of our families adopting older children. I think of your family often and pop in every so often to read how things are going on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Angela and Cindy...What an incredible gift you have given to children and parents on their journey to becoming families! Oh, for all the wisdom and tenderness in your message...I am an adoption social worker and will share what you have taught me. Thank you!

Foxxy One said...

Someone posted your blog post on Facebook. I hope it goes viral as it has really wonderful advice and insight. You are right, your daughter is wise beyond her years. I hope every prospective adoptive parent gets to read this post.

Dawn said...

Someone linked this blog post and I am SO glad they did! We have been home with our 13 and 12 year olds for 7 months and it is by far the hardest thing we have ever done. These insights are dead on and I will be linking this blog post as well. Through my tears I say thank-you. Thank-you.

Beth Schantzen said...

Our family recently adopted a 14 year old girl from Bulgaria, home just about two months. I appreciate your blog and can share that from our short experience it is appears to be spot on. Thanks so much for sharing, very helpful for so many of us considering older child adoption or in the thick of it! It is NOT a fairy tale but it is one of life's greatest blessings to add an older child to your family and worth every bump along the road but so much easier when you realize what you are experiencing is not unique, you are not alone. Network, it is a sanity saver trust me!

Sarah said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing! There is a LOT of great insight here!

Lisa and Victor said...

Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! We are in the process of adopting our 14-year-old. We've had her through foster care for about 1 1/2 years. It's been really tough at times, and lately I've felt ill-equipped to do this! Thank you so much for sharing your heart and insights. It was so, so, so helpful and encouraging!
Blessings!
Janie

Le Ann said...

wonderful insight and Angela you are doing wonderful to trust your parents and open up and share these thoughts and ideas! That took a lot of courage!

Anonymous said...

wow, what an amazing family you are. I adopted a little girl from China when she was 3 and I am sure she must relate to some your story. She is 23 now and married. I wish wish wish that it was as easy to adopt here in Australia as it is in the States. I would have a much bigger family for sure by now. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Venda, Perth Western Australia

Anonymous said...

You touched my heart. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

this is great info. I love to see God at work in families. it's a beautiful thing. this insight is invaluable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. What a gift. We have adopted an older child and this is amazing for me to read. I will pass it on to my friends in adoption land. Wow... Blessings!

Rebecca said...

We're in the process of adopting two older girls (11 & 15). Reading this was wonderful. Thank you, and thank you to Angela. This was so insightful and I'm eager to share it with my family. Loving seeing through Angela's eyes how far she's come and her feelings over the last few years. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I adopted my oldest son from Kazakhstan in 2004 when he was just over one year old. Some people, many people, think that is so young for the amount of struggles we have (still) with him. He is currently in a residential treatment center and it is so very hard. I hope and pray that one day he will really believe and understand, like Angela articulated, that we love him even when things are really tough. Blessings to you all!