Monday, March 21, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Encouragement For Those Struggling to Parent Children From Hard Places

I am a runner.  Not the kind that has that lean, energetic, and toned  body. Not the kind that looks at a piece of chocolate cake and says, "No, I think I'll just have a salad.  I just crave salads, don't you?" Not the kind that says, "I'm so stressed, I just need to go for a run to feel better. "  
No, I just usually (let's be honest here--always) take the cake and leave the salad.  The farthest thing from my mind is running when I'm stressed.  Give me a quiet room, the chocolate, the laptop or a good book, and I'll see you in a couple of hours. 
Not that kind of runner.  The other kind. 
I am the kind that has looked at a difficult situation, longed for an answer, decided that it was too hard for me to tackle, and have placed it on the back burner, hoping some other runner will grab the baton and take off with it. Except it's not an easy race. It's the kind that makes you question everything. Makes you realize your flaws and shortcomings, and doesn't even look doable on some days.The kind that makes you look like this:
It's the race of parenting a child from a hard place. 
Loving a child through adoption, foster care, or step-parenting. 

The reason I have been running for the past few years is not a small one.  In fact, it is such a huge weight and mantle that I am so very sure there is no way I can handle this on my own.  I do not have all of the answers for you, my friend.  I am just a fellow soldier struggling with the weight that has been put on my back to make it the next few feet, set down my pack, rest, regroup and get back on the road for a little while longer.

Part of the reason I have waited is that I wanted answers.  How do I help other struggling women through their hardships if I haven't arrived on the other side yet?  How do I encourage the mom whose heart is broken and she is flattened with the heavy burden she is carrying, when I am hurting and struggling too?  I so wanted to arrive on the other side and give the four step approach to freedom.
This is how you love a child from a hard place.  This is how you parent with pure love a child born to another and is now yours to love and raise.  This is the secret ingredient in that soup you keep pouring methods and ideas into, and it still just tastes flat.

Three and a half years of trying to create in myself a pure enough heart that I could love a child I don't often like.  Three and a half years of beating myself up for not conjuring up loving emotions when they deserved all of that and more. Three and a half years of guilt. Frustration.  Anger. Emotional fatigue.
If you have never parented a child from a hard place, then believe me, sister (brother), what I write will make  no sense to you whatsoever. You will compare my experience with your own and throw your shoulders back, puff out your chest, and look down your nose on me and anyone else who may identify as pitiful, selfish people who should never have adopted, fostered, step-parented in the first place.

I know this because I have seen the vicious attacks that have happened on the hurting moms and dads struggling to love an unlovely child, who dare venture out into the deep waters of adoption support groups.  I have seen them stick their toes into the water, hoping, just pleading for another to reach out a hand and help them rise above the flood of hurt and anger. There were those who offered kind words of encouragement.  But I have watched as a few wolves tore apart the injured mother sheep grasping for a little bit of encouragement.  Part of me wonders if those wolves were just dressed up sheep--sheep in wolves clothing, so to speak. Maybe they couldn't admit their own flaws.  Maybe denial has worked for them. Or maybe, just maybe they were one of the lucky ones who didn't struggle as you and I do.

Picture-perfect adoption stories fill social media pages, as they should.  Adoption is still the answer to motherless, fatherless children around the world.  Fostering is the emergency rescue of children in danger.

We need to see the "Gotcha Day" videos, to cry with  new moms and dads who have worked, prayed, and waited for so long and are finally able to hold and hug the children they have loved from afar. We all need to see the miracle of a life rescued from abandonment, placed in a loving home, thriving far more than anyone ever expected. We need to see the before and after pictures. Tens of millions of children still need homes. They cannot rescue themselves.  Parents need to rise up. We and millions of others just like us are the answer.  Imperfect people are needed to imperfectly reach out to angry, hurting and abandoned children.

The pressure is there, my friend.  Pressure to fake it 'til you make it, with the idea that at some point you will make it.  Pressure to come up with the answers that nag you day in and day out.  Pressure to paint a picture-perfect adoption story so that you can inspire others to rise up and do the same.
But the answer that I had searched for these past three and half years hit me in the face today.  I guess I knew it all along, but now I'm finally going to pass it to you.  It's okay if you don't get it right away. It took me an awful long time to get it myself.

As beautiful as the gotcha day videos are.  As beautiful as the successful, picture-perfect adoption stories are.  As amazing as the before and after pictures of rescued children are, they all pale in comparison to the most beautiful expression of love of all.
The breathtaking beauty is in your struggle.  
Your tears, your doubts, your anger, your hurt paint a masterpiece far more beautiful than anything else.  You are loving the unlovely in the midst of all of the ugly.  Your broken pieces are creating a mosaic.  You can't see it because each piece looks imperfect.  Parenting in your weakness.  Helping when you are hurting.  Providing when you are angry.  Giving when you have been taken from.  The Bible puts it this way:
 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.       --Luke 6:32-36The Message (MSG)
You think you have come up short because you are so engulfed in the emotions of it all, it feels like failure.  If you truly loved your child, wouldn't you know it? Wouldn't you feel loving? Wouldn't you have the endless "I would kill for this child, I would give my life for this child, I would give up everything for this child" emotions to go along with it?  Guess what?  You don't need the emotions. The fact that you don't have warm fuzzy feelings is proof that you have loved when it is hard.  It is the extra mile.  You have already walked it.  You have given when it didn't feel like giving, it just felt like a big charade.

The angry outbursts followed by an apology, or maybe not.  Yet another meeting with the school principal, the teacher, the resource worker.  The IEP. Hundreds of hours of counseling.  Nights of lost sleep.  Trips to psychiatric wings, to hospitals, to jails.  Breaking up fights. The phone calls from school.  Staying up late nights trying to figure out how the extra bills will be paid. The nagging feeling you are doing irreparable damage to your other children. The arguments with your spouse. The pit in your stomach.  The tears you have cried.  All pieces.  All imperfectly, breathtakingly beautiful.
There's a song that plays quietly in my head on some days.  It says what I feel often.  I heard it many years ago before I could apply it to my struggle.

"...People say that I'm amazingStrong beyond my years,But they don't see inside of meI'm hiding all the tears.
They don't know that I go running home when I fall down.They don't know who picks me up when no one is around.I drop my sword and cry for just a while.'Cause deep inside this armor,The warrior is a child."(From "Warrior is a Child, by Twila Paris)
"Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright-eyed, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future.  Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn't know then what we know now.  We didn't know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano lessons and band aids on skinned knee." 
(excerpt from  http://lisa-overcomingmyself.blogspot.com/2011/07/to-mothers-of-unattached-children.html?m=1)

Stand up,  chin up, shoulders back, my friend. Take a deep breath. You are doing it! You are making a difference. You are accomplishing what many wish they could, but aren't yet.  Don't worry about the finish line right now.  Your goal is the next few steps.  You have an Advocate that is with you, giving you what you need for today.  Surrender your hurts, your fears, your anger, your imperfections to the One who can fill in the gaps for you.  He promises to be the perfect Father to your child when you fall short.  He is cheering you on in your battle. 

You can do this.  You already have.