When we were just starting out on this road to adoption, we were humbled by the call of God to care for his precious hurting children. We attended the Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting training course in Tampa, FL. I know that when we as humans do something new and different, it is always helpful to connect with someone else who has been there. I want to communicate some of the things we learned in our classes.
We just attended our first adoption class, and the social workers discussed the different reasons why children are put into the foster system and the feelings and behaviors that result from those specific situations.
In light of this, we are praying against those specific feelings and behaviors that will result from the abuse/neglect our future child has endured. Those feelings include fear, anger, anxiety, distrust of adults, shyness, fear of being touched, fear of getting close emotionally, shutting off emotions, and many others. Some of the specific behaviors include violence, hoarding, sexual promiscuity, controlling behavior, lying, stealing, criminal activity, being overprotective, and many more.
We believe that through the power of God, our child WILL be confident, joyful, feel safe, have faith in the right adults, be outgoing, desire affection, desire growing close to others, desire to share their emotions and be willing to be vulnerable. We speak that the child WILL know right from wrong and WILL be gentle, not violent, trusting they don't need to provide for themselves, not hoard or steal, be sexually pure, be willing to give up control, be honest and truthful, will not commit crimes
but will help others, and not act as if they will lose everything, but trust that God will provide.
1 John 5:14-15 - And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Well, last night we learned about different types of loss these kids feel when they are taken from their parents and homes. We learned about spiritual losses, intellectual losses, and physical losses. Spiritual losses include their sense of hope and belonging, these kids often lose hope they will find a permanent family when they bounce around in between different foster homes. Intellectual losses include a lot of things, whether it is being behind in school because they had to transfer or losing memories of their parents because they are so young when they get in the system. And physical losses include their home, toys, bed, etc.
We also learned about maturational losses and situational losses. Maturational losses are those things that we lose just because we grow up. A baby loses the security of the womb when he/she is born. These losses are something that we expect to happen and these things have automatics gains associated with them. The baby gains attention and comfort from his/her parents. But situational losses are not expected, they are dependent on circumstances that are out of the child's control. But most importantly these losses do not have automatic gains. If a kid's parents molest him, he has lost his innocence. If his parents die, he lost his closest family and the love they shared with him. There are no immediate gains to these circumstances, these gains must be "learned" or "discovered".
And finally we talked about the grief cycle, we all know it: Shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance/understanding. We need to understand the losses our child has experienced, help the child identify the effects of that loss, and then help the child to the acceptance/understanding phase by helping them to "learn" or "discover" the gains they've earned through the losses.
I’m praying today for God to expose all the losses our child has felt and will feel. I pray that there will be nothing festering in the dark parts of our child’s heart, but God will shine his light and expose those things hiding in the darkness. I pray that God will pour out His wisdom on us, that we too will be able to empathize with the weaknesses of our child and be able to help them discover the gains they’ve earned through their losses. I also praise God that he makes all things new.
This section is actually broken up into 2 parts. This week we talked about how to combat "junk behaviors" and avoid pitfalls which prevent attachment. Junk behaviors are those that manifest either as a coping mechanism for stress or as a means to test the parents commitment. The biggest pitfall to attachment as far as the junk behavior goes is reactive parenting. Reactive parenting is better known as negative consequences usually issued in a moment that the parent is angry or frustrated. Negative consequences can be especially harmful to neglected or abused children. Taking away personal items without warning or physical punishment can cause the child to view the adoptive parents as another abuser, in which case trust is broken and attachment can't be formed. This week's focus was on what not to do, and
next week we'll learn more about proactive parenting. Setting expectations ahead of time and focusing on rewarding desired behaviors as opposed to punishing undesired behaviors.
And lastly, we talked about specificity when
address behaviors. Instead of saying the child isn't following instructions, address what they specifically were doing, for example the child is tapping on the table or playing with their hair. Specificity helps on two fronts, first you can address the specific behavior with the child, "Why are you tapping on the table, what are you thinking about when you do that?" Second, it helps you identify if the child is reverting to a coping behavior instead of just being defiant. If you know the child plays with their hair when they are stressed, then instead of reacting to disobedience, you realize something else may be stressing the child and be able to control your reaction. If you address the specific behavior, the child then knows the expectations and can succeed, but if you react to the general disobedience, the child may feel helpless and that they are not able to meet expectations
at all, so why try.
We went to our 2nd adoption class, and we focused on the process/events a child goes through that leads them to be taken from their birth parents. It was a humbling experience. My husband and I volunteered to play the role of birth parents in a skit that results in the children being taken from their family. In some cases, kids are abused from the get go. But a lot of kids have normal family lives with loving parents who meet a challenge in their life and things go wrong. They don't react well to the stress and the children get hurt. The kids in the system may be affected by the event and may be fearful, but they still love their parents. They still want to be with their parents, but because of circumstances they can't understand, they are divorced from their parents and taken to live with someone else.
If we show compassion, understanding, and grace to the birth parents, we can begin to feel the hurt of divorce that these kids feel, and we can help the children address these feelings. And by relating to them, we can begin to form a bond of trust. They can know that it is okay to remember their birth parents and talk about them with others. They can remember the good times they had with their parents and not feel wrong for still loving them and longing to be with them one day.
The bond these children have to their parents is also a great mystery, something that should never be defiled or betrayed. Something their parents broke and are unable to mend. The kids are then divorced from their parents, but the kids didn't choose it, nor did they do anything to cause it. We pray for God to comfort these kids through the hurt of this divorce. That God can fulfill the needs of that parental bond and hold our child in safety and acceptance.
Hebrews 4:14-15 - Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Well we're halfway done with the course and I get the feeling we are learning a lot because the information is becoming more and more familiar each week. Last night, we discussed helping these kids to form new attachments within our family. We spent some time on what they call the
Cycle of Need, and how trust is formed when needs are met and mistrust is formed when needs aren't met. It sounds simple, but often times attachments aren't formed with a child because the root of the need is unknown and the need remains unfulfilled. We are praying this week, that God will reveal all the needs of our child. Whether through therapy, conversation, or divine illumination, we pray that whatever troubles we face with our child, God will reveal the need that the child is trying to fulfill with their behavior. We also pray that God will remind us to call on him when we face these trials. That we will remember that He is our Great Physician, and that He knows all the needs of our child and will gladly intervene on our behalf, if we call on him.
Lastly in class we talked about three factors impacting trust and attachment. The first is separation and loss, depending on the hurt the child felt in their forced divorce from their family, they may be unwilling to make themselves vulnerable to that loss again by not becoming attached in the first place. Next, is abuse or neglect. If a child has determined that the only way they will meet their needs is by meeting it themselves, they may not feel a need/desire to trust anyone else. And lastly, is the adoptive parents expectations. We did a short exercise in class in where we imagined we were in our favorite spot in the house with the people and things we
loved. And then someone came a took us from our home and told us we are going to live with a new family that has been expecting us for a long time. When we were asked how we felt, I felt that I was stolen from my family so that this new family could have the kid they always wanted. That opened my eyes a bit, that these kids may see us as the reason they were taken from their home. I pray that God will keep that exercise fresh in my mind when we receive our new addition. I pray that we will manage our expectations. The child we receive may not want to be there and may not be willing to show us affection. I pray that we will not pressure the child to attach to us beyond what they are ready to do.
We covered the remaining material from the topic last week, which focused on building attachment by staying physically close to the child. There are a whole bunch of steps that I won't list here, but they focus on making sure we show genuine interest whenever the child talks to us and ensuring the child feels comfortable in telling us anything.
Rom 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
I look at what Christ did for us, and I see the story of a Father who not only felt affection for a lost child, but showed that love by sending Christ to redeem us even as we were running from God and hurting Him with our sinful nature and ungratefulness. We are praying that God will fill us with His Spirit and that we will desire to show love to our child, even if they hurt us, knowing the benefits will outweigh our hurt or desire for justice.
I talked about junk behavior last week; behaviors that may be annoying or disruptive, but do not physically harm anyone. We are supposed to ignore these behaviors so that we don't reinforce the behavior with attention. It makes me realize all the junk behavior in my life that God ignores because He loves me and wants me to draw close to Him. God demonstrated this adoption process perfectly. We know that our child is not going to initiate this loving relationship, and they are not going to move into our home and just simply love us.
1 John 4:9 says - We love because He
first loved us.
We breezed through a lot of material yesterday, mostly because a lot of it focused on being a foster parent, and most of our classmates are planning on adopting and not fostering. Of the things we learned, I wanted to focus our prayers on two areas. First we discussed preventing "disruption" and "dissolution". Disruption is when a family is matched with a child and somewhere along the process towards adoption, the family decides
they can no longer adopt the child. Dissolution is when a family has adopted a child, but then decides the adoption was a mistake and places the child back into the foster system. We discussed the harm that this does to a child in foster care and how much more withdrawn a child will become after
this happens. We discussed the stages of disruption, which focus on stressful events compounding and all the blame is placed on the adopted child. I pray that God will be ever present in our interactions with our child and will reveal to us our sources of stress and will disrupt any
thoughts we may have to blame the child. We pray that God will grant us His ability to show grace and understanding, and will give us the wisdom to use
that ability. I pray that He will continue to speak our true identities to us and prevent us from feeling hurt from the words and behaviors our child
will have for us.
Second, we saw a video of a man who had aged-out of foster care, meaning he was never adopted from age 12 to age 18. He recounted his feelings and the hurt he still feels. He said that he was a behavior problem as a foster child that it often resulted in him being put back into the foster system. At the end, he listed all of his accomplishments. Graduating high school as valedictorian, getting a graduate degree in Health & Human Services, getting multiple post-graduate degrees, becoming the director of a major charitable organization and the chief of staff to the Mayor of Washington DC. He said at the end of that list, "Who would not be proud to call me son." I pray that in all of the good and bad times, we will always
see the potential in our adopted child. We can see more than a temporary frustration, but we would see the accomplishments God has prepared for the
child we adopt, just as God sees the finished work He has for us, even though we do not currently fulfill that image.