There were some changes that I expected to happen as a result of having adopted a child. I knew our family dynamics would change. That happens with each additional child, regardless of how they join a family. I knew that how strangers perceived us would change. We were going from a family of “matching stairsteps” to a transracial family. I knew that adopting a child from a different culture and of a different race would change me, but what I wasn’t prepared for was exactly what these changes would look like.
So how did adoption change me?
1) I discovered I am not as great a parent as I thought. With my first five biological children, I had this parenting thing all figured out. I knew what I was doing and I was a good parent. My children were well-behaved, had good table manners, were obedient and well-liked. A+ for me. And then we brought home our first adopted son who had a significant trauma background. As a result of the trauma, traditional parenting techniques didn’t work with him. Not only did they not work, they actually had a negative effect on our relationship. It was a humbling experience to realize I didn’t have it all together.
2) I discovered I am a more compassionate parent than I thought. When I first became a parent I had certain ideas about what that meant and what that looked like. There wasn’t a lot of leeway in my thinking, for me or for my children or for other parents, frankly. As a result of parenting a hurt child, I have learned to look at parenting in a completely different and far more compassionate way. No one is perfect and we all need a heaping dose of grace.
3) I discovered I am weaker than I thought. Sometimes life is hard around here and I am filled with fear about the future for some of our children. There are some days when this is just about too much for me to deal with and my husband receives a teary phone call at work. As a result of parenting children from hard places, my emotional margin has shrunk a bit and I need to be more protective of myself than I used to be.
4) I discovered that I am stronger than I thought. If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be able to parent a child who needed multiple surgeries and whose medical needs would involve me learning how to inject saline into a port inside my child’s head, I would have laughed. I didn’t do medical things. Not only did I not do them, I was convinced that I couldn’t do them. They just weren’t in my skill set and I had no desire to add them. I am surprised when I am able to kiss the child calmly as she is wheeled into surgery, and I am surprised when I can nail that port with the needle the first time . . . and with my eyes open.
5) I discovered I no longer really care what others think of me. I am a recovering people-pleaser. I always wanted to do the right thing. I always wanted to fit in. I always valued public approval. Yet, as we have grown our family, we have chosen paths that don’t always lend themselves to pleasing others. Some might think we have too many children. Others might not approve of how we are parenting the ones we have. Our children do not fit in nice neat categories and some of them need special accommodations to function in groups. Very little of our lives fits in with a traditional two-child family ideal, and I’m OK with that. I have come to value friends who accept us as we are and really don’t worry about the others.
6) I discovered my faith is more fragile than I thought. When life was easy and predictable, it was easy to think that I had a strong faith. I was doing what God expected of me and life was good. This changed when we began adopting. We were doing what we thought God was asking us to, yet life was, at times, very far from good. It was hard. Figuring out how to have faith when one is being obedient, yet life is hard, led to some doubts and questioning. Was there something wrong with me? With what we were doing? With God? I learned I had based my faith on outward circumstances, and that is a very fragile faith to have.
7) My faith has grown in ways I never thought possible. Living through hard and difficult times, then coming out on the other side and seeing how God was working, is a huge faith builder. Though I went through (and if I am completely honest, still go through) times of doubts and fear, I have learned that God is faithful. He has provided for and healed and protected us in tangible ways. Ways we would have never experienced if we hadn’t set out on this journey of adoption.
Adoption is an extraordinary journey. Not only is it life-altering in that you become a parent to a precious child who does not share your DNA, but it changes you in other ways as well. I am changed because of my adopted children. It hasn’t always been easy, but I hope I am a better person and parent for it.