Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dear Church, Stop guilting Christians into adoption. Sincerely, Trauma Mama T

Fair warning: This post is directed at Evangelical Christians (for lack of a better term – because really it's about so many Christians in various denominations). This is for Christians who know James 1:27 by heart and use it as a slogan to promote adoption. This is for the local church with an adoption ministry. This is for anyone who preaches the Gospel of adoption and promotes its popular culture throughout the Church today. If that's not you, then you might want to pass on this post. I haven't written here for a while and there's a lot bottled up inside, so this may become pretty passionate. Actually, I expect some people to react strongly to this post. I'm also ready for possible “correction” by folks who are partying on the Christian adoption band wagon, but here's the gist of all this: Church, stop it!

Yes, I am an adoptive mother. I have six children. The youngest two were adopted (together) at age nine and twelve from Eastern Europe in 2007. My biological sons were 14, 16, 18 and 19 at the time. Yes, I had all four boys within 5 ½ years of one another. Yes, I know modern science has a way of preventing this from happening. Yes, they're all really mine. Yes, my husband and I wanted things this way. Yes, I believe we were called by God to adopt. Yes, we had a burning desire to bring our children home and that calling was a deep passion that would not go away. Yes, it was quite the journey! Yes, I still believe God calls certain, specific Christian parents to adopt. No, I do not think that makes me "special."  (I believe a calling is simply a calling.  It is for God's intent and purpose, not our own.  It is given and it can be taken away.  It is about Him and not about us.)  No, I do not believe adoption is a general call on the Church. (Yes, I said that – keep reading.) And God is NOT calling all the people who are adopting in the Church today to actually adopt. The Church, however, is the one calling them and the culture of adoption in the Church is as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Adoption ministries in churches are the champion of adoption promotion. They know all the statistics and how many orphans there are in the world vs. how many Christians. They show charts in worship services set aside as special days called Orphan Sunday and tell us that if just X number of Christian families would adopt, we could solve the world's orphan problem. They hold fundraisers. They promote orphan hosting programs at the holidays. They pray with families and urge them to keep going through the difficult times that inevitably come as one pursues adoption. They organize short-term missions trips to help orphanages, yet too often have no clue of the true impact of their visit on full-time missionaries left behind to clean up the mess they leave, including hurt relationships caused by ignorance and the American culture of being “better than” the ones we think need our help.

Supporting families who pursue adoption is not a bad thing.  That's not the wolf, necessarily. It becomes the wolf when it is (what I call) the neo-Christian cultural, “in” thing to do. It becomes the wolf when adoption is the primary goal over helping orphans grow, become healthy and educated and remain in their own culture (and perhaps biological family) so they can grow up to serve others in the place in which they were born. It becomes the wolf when people go into adoption with dreamy ideal and a belief that all will be well because God can heal any hurt the newly adopted child may have. It becomes the wolf when the Church, who promoted adoption and supported the process of adoption, doesn't know what to do with an adoptive family when they get home. It becomes the wolf because the Church too often has no clue about trauma, attachment and other mental health issues, sees them as "sin issues" or weaknesses in faith and then blames and condemns adoptive parents because their lives and the life of their adopted child don't have a Hallmark movie happy ending.

Church, stop it!

Yes, God Himself has adopted us as heirs. Yes, God does indeed call some people to adopt. No, James 1:27 does not say “true religion adopts.” Read it again. And then read it in context. Orphan ministry is not necessarily adoption ministry.  It is also not USUALLY adoption ministry!  Orphan ministry is looking after them - caring for them - taking care of them.  It does not make us rescuer.  It does not necessarily make us parent.  Adoption ministry, on the other hand, needs to be a WHOLE lot more than getting people through some legal process.

Stop pressuring people who are struggling with infertility to adopt. Mourn with them. Love them.

Stop pressuring people who are good parents to their biological kids to adopt. Celebrate with them. Love them.

Stop pressuring single adults to adopt. Let them live and grow and serve the Lord. Love them.

Stop pressuring pastors and missionaries to adopt. Stop pressuring and chewing up and spitting out our pastors and missionaries, period. Love them.

Stop pushing the adoption agenda. Stop it! Yes, orphans need care. Yes, adoption is an option – but it is also a very hard calling many more times than it is a Hallmark movie happy ending.

If you do promote adoption, also promote truthful, complete education. Tell people that MOST of the time, there is INDEED some kind of problem in adoption. Tell people trauma is real and show them what it does to the brain. Be honest with yourself and with other parents looking into adoption. Look at brain scans, for example, of traumatized kids vs. neuro-typical kids. Think of it this way in terms of belief in God's healing: does God heal Down Syndrome? (I use this as an example because my brother was born with DS.) I haven't seen God heal DS this side of Heaven. Brain damage caused by trauma, fetal alcohol or drug exposure, and the mental health issues that go along with all of it are also NOT typically healed by God – not the way people are led to believe and hope for anyway. Stop saying they are! Yes, we can teach our kids to navigate through the brain damage caused by trauma. Yes, the brain can and does develop good neuro pathways with proper care and those new, good neuro pathways can compensate for much.  We can use modern medicine to help with symptoms, but true and complete healing of the brain rarely comes this side of Heaven. Stop making adoptive parents feel guilty – or think their faith just isn't quite strong enough – because it's not happening for their family. Stop ostracizing them because their kid doesn't behave like other kids at church. Stop blaming their lack of parenting skills (they probably know more about parenting than the people in your church who do it intuitively with a child they've raised from the womb – or at least they're in the process of learning more and so deserve your respect). Stop judging. Stop pushing. Fellow Christian adoptive parents, stop being the fuel that fires this culture! God doesn't need you to encourage (push) His people to adopt, nor are you the Holy Spirit for the person who is called.  Be still.  He is God.

When an adoptive family is struggling because the mental health issues or physical health issues of a child they've adopted are just so overwhelming that it's too hard to do anything other than muddle through the day, stop talking about them behind their backs. Stop advising them; you have no clue what it is like to live in their situation. Love them. Support them. If something really “bad” (in your eyes) should happen – like a child having to go into residential treatment – or even the disruption of an adoption, still love them. Still support them. Don't advise them unless they ask you for advice, and then only do it if you actually KNOW what you're talking about. If you don't, tell them you'll help them find someone who does.

If you're considering adoption, know it can truly be wonderful. Well, silly me, you do know that!  It's why you're considering it.  But, that's the stuff everyone tells you. You also need to know this: it can be very, very hard. Adoption changes the lives of EVERYONE involved, not just the parents. Not just the kid being adopted. If you have biological children, it changes their lives, too – and well into adulthood. For example, our oldest son and his wife are having our first grandchild soon. They don't really want our family there because of the circus that has become our lives due to adoption and early childhood trauma. The siblings who waited in wonder for the birth of this child (not to mention the grandparents) are being held at arm's length because our son wants to protect his baby from us and our daughter-in-law doesn't want to have to deal with us. Do you have ANY idea what that feels like? Do you really want to risk knowing? This is part of adoption.  Our oldest is not a bad son. This is a good, loving, intelligent young man who has compassion for others. Yet, this is the hurt we all know. Believe me, you don't want to know this hurt as an expectant grandparent. It is probably the worst thing I have ever experienced. It is deeply cutting.  But it is real.  This is the truth.  Are you sure you're called no matter what?

If you're considering adoption, know it involves DEEP losses – not just for the adopted child, but for the entire family. You will lose your dreams. Some of them will be for the child. Some of them will be your own. Some for your marriage and some for your other children. Even in the best of situations, your dreams will at least change. Your child has lost everything. They do not consider you a “gain,” even if they have moments of realizing they're better off. They will always wish their first family had worked and they never had to have met you, even if they come to love you.

If you're considering adoption, know your child may never be able to love you. Your child may never be able to fully attach and may always have a sick push away/draw near/push away harder relationship with you. Know that there may come a day when you've given all you have to give and even WITH God's help, you need to draw boundaries to protect your sanity, your marriage, your other children.

If you're considering adoption, know you will lose friends. You will. Even in the best of situations. You will probably lose relationship with certain family members, too. There are different reasons why, but it will happen.

If you're considering adoption, know that when things do get hard – and it is far more certain that they will get hard rather than that they will be easy, there are people who can help support you through it. The thing is, when you're considering adoption, you just don't think you'll be “one of those people."  No one ever wants to join this club, but what I'm sharing here isn't just my own personal experience. It is the experience of many, many good families. I've simply learned some additional ways of helping some of them along their way and so I teach therapeutic parenting classes and write about it sometimes.

If you're considering adoption, know there are pieces of you that will fall away. You'll wonder what ever happened to this or that about yourself. You'll want that back. You're going to want the peace you knew before adoption and you'll wonder if you'll ever have it again in a lasting way. There may even be days you wish you'd never adopted. (I no longer believe those feelings are “sinful.” I no longer believe those feelings make one any less a Christian than anyone else. I also no longer believe those feelings take you any further from the presence of God than you are in any other honest struggle. -- Read my “Better Than a Hallelujah” post about honesty with God.)

If you're considering adoption and that burning, aching, this-won't-go-away desire to keep going, deeply, spiritually, all consuming “crazy” isn't there, then you're probably not called by God into adoption. So, don't let anyone guilt you into adoption and don't let any church culture sweep you up into adoption. There are already too many families who have let that happen to them and who are struggling very, very much.

Finally, I apologize for feeding this wolf when I did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Setting Boundaries

Yesterday, I wrote about the very real need to make connection with other parents who are walking this walk, raising kids who are diagnosed with PTSD, RAD, ADD/ADHD, etc. (a.k.a. kids with traumatic pasts).  I wrote how important it is to find others who get it.  Today, I want to swing in the opposite direction and talk about setting boundaries - setting limits - even removing ourselves from those who are not supportive, who trigger us, discourage us, compete in some sick way with us and are always looking for a fight.

I don't know about you, but I'm too tired to fight, be it overtly or in a passive aggressive manner.  (Not that I'm not tempted to get sucked in from time-to-time.)

One of my older sons is finishing up college this fall and was offered a position as a worship pastor at a small local church.  The church's lead pastor is a young man who is an awesome leader and very good preacher.  I believe he will be an excellent mentor for my son and am excited that one of my Original Boy Band guys will have this opportunity.  All that to say, Hubby and I went to church there last Sunday.  The pastor preached about idleness and disruptive believers - a.k.a. "church family members."  Here's one of the scripture references from that sermon:

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us." -- II Thessalonians 3:6

I didn't like that verse.

I was raised to "bear all things."  I wasn't raised to separate myself from someone even if they were idle or disruptive.  I was raised to put up with it and to try my best for as long as it took (even if it took forever) to lovingly teach, guide, even comfort the idle or disruptive person.  I have even taught others something that became a catch phrase for me in my therapeutic parenting classes:  Hurt people hurt people.

Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear I am not talking about our hurt kids.  That's different.  They are ours and at least while they are still children, it is our responsibility to lovingly teach, guide and comfort them - even when they are idle or disruptive.  The folks I'm talking about are the ones that make our lives miserable or just enjoy yanking our chains for their own entertainment.

Without going into detail, I'm finally to the point where I know I need to come to a place where I give myself permission to bear all things from a distance.  It's even okay to make that distance as between here and the other side of this life.  I can bear all things through prayer, believe and hope all things and even love without having to allow the disruptive person to be in my face.  It's okay to separate myself from that.

Every village seems to have one or two.

And so I have in some cases.  In one case it's a mom whose adopted children are about the same age as mine.  She's had plenty of problems, far bigger than any I've had with my kids.  I believe a huge part of it has to deal with parenting and she just triggers me because she tries to argue with me, or at least persuade me with her way of thinking every chance she gets.  She's a busy body who always has something to say, something to add.  That's disruptive to me and to my peace.  I don't need that trigger.  In another case, it's an extended family member who cannot for whatever reason respect anyone else's feelings in the family.  

I still care about these people, but I'm finished with the disruption.  It's okay to be finished with disruption.

So, while you're going beyond yourself like I talked about yesterday, remember you can still be choosy.  Don't let just anyone in.  You don't need any idle or disruptive friends.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Where have you been, Trauma Mama T?

Almost a year. That's how long it's been since I last wrote anything here. A lot can happen in that amount of time and, well, it has. Frankly, I don't know where to begin. Even following my freshman English comp teacher's advise to “pick one thing and tell us everything” isn't working very well. How do I pick ONE thing?

I am scattered. I've fought depression this year. I am t.i.r.e.d. There's that. People looking in from the outside would think things are going pretty well. Even people who know the things we've been through this last year seem to think that. If they think any differently, they're not saying so. Well, except for a couple of you. A couple of you know better – and you know who you are, you two. I am beyond thankful that you see with spirit eyes and loving hearts and I cannot wait to hug you both again.

When I last wrote, The Princess was preparing for her first year of high school. She had high anxiety and so did I. When my father-in-law died in May 2013, she sneaked off to “make out” with a boy at the elementary school playground where we live. Her older brothers, who were left to hold down the fort while Hubby and I traveled out of state for the funeral, were frantic. She just disappeared and no one knew where she was or why she was gone. It was a first for her. So far, it's been the only time she's done something like that. She said she learned her lesson and doesn't want to do that kind of thing to any of us ever again. (We were scared. The police were involved looking for her.) I want to believe it, but the beginning of high school had me worried. Thankfully, she made it through her freshman year pretty well. Ended up with a high GPA and will be taking an Advanced Placement course in 10th grade. (Not bad for someone who didn't even speak English 7 years ago and had the equivalent of a preschool education at the age of nine.) She just turned 16 a few weeks ago. I am still anxious. Maybe more so. Secondary PTSD and hyper-vigilance are REAL, folks and I have them.

I want so much for this girl. Right now, I'd be very happy if she matured a bit and acted more like 16 than an attention-hungry four-year-old, but she's usually pleasant to be around. So that's good. I love her so much but she drives me absolutely bonkers. She knows it and thinks it's funny. Thankfully though, I also know she loves me, too. So does she. That's a real gift when you've been through the kinds of attachment stuff we've been through. She has healed a lot. (Maybe that's why I see just how far she has yet to go?)

As for Youngest Son, he will be 19 in just a few weeks. He will also be a senior in high school this year. He is getting by at school, taking the very basic courses he needs to take in order to graduate. He does indeed struggle very much academically and has no real desire to learn anything more than he already knows. Yet, he has plans for his future (admittedly, much “inspired” by his father and I). He needs to buckle down in some areas. For his sake and for ours, he will be out of our home (one way or the other) within a month after his high school graduation. (There is much I'm leaving out here, obviously. Those who know us know why.) Still with all that, he's also doing better than he ever has. He doesn't push the envelope with me as much anymore and is sticking to the family rules on a lot of things. Of course, he has also lost a lot of privileges (things we paid for) over the last year due to his choices to challenge those rules. Whether he agrees with us or not, he knows that at least WE need those rules to make OUR family run smoothly. Frankly though, there's a lot we've just given up on trying to teach him. If he makes a stupid choice in the community, he's of age now and he knows he's on his own. That shows some maturing on his part and for that we are thankful. He is working as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant. He has a routine. Routine is essential for our guy. It is healing for him. He has come a long way.

As for losses, in addition to losing my father-in-law last May, my own Dad also died as the result of an accident late last October. I am still grieving. I'm doing okay most of the time, but sometimes something will happen or someone will say something and the pain of his loss is searing. With his passing also comes the loss of my childhood home. It's just a house now and it doesn't belong to our family anymore.

Last September, I took a job as a family advocate working with child victims of crime. On April 4th, I was fired from that job for no reason. Really. No reason was given. I have yet to be given any reason officially and only have “he said/she said” reasons. One is that the soon-to-retire director was close to being fired by the board of directors herself and she threw me under the bus because she didn't want me finding more of her mistakes when she left. (This is a plausible reason as this person suddenly, during her last month or so in the position, began cutting off my responsibilities and starting making me do things that she later told me I should not have done. I was in the process of a project going through literally hundreds of records to find DOZENS of them that had been incorrectly entered into the data base system by the previous family advocate and were never caught.) Another reason is that two local cops decided they didn't like me and complained about me to the sheriff. (This is also plausible as there are two cops on our police department's force that wouldn't crack a smile at me if I handed them XXXX – fill in the blank with whatever sounds really great to you -- on a silver platter. I don't know what their problem is but a couple of cops not liking me is no reason to fire me.)

I live in a very strange, very small Midwest town. There is a culture here like no town in which I've ever lived before, and I've lived a lot of places. There is a distinct divide among people groups. Cliques really. If you're not from here, it's very difficult to find a place to fit in. Plus, after you've been fired, it is pretty much impossible to find a job anywhere else – at least doing anything professionally. Everything and everyone are connected. I can't even get an interview. And I won't lie. How do you answer the question “Why were you fired?” when you were never given any real reason WHY. You just were.

I did hear one interesting thing from one of the therapists on our county's multidisciplinary team about a month after I was let go. This person said, “I never heard any reason why either. No one's talking about it. It's just like you've disappeared.” Funny, that's exactly how I've been made to feel. Disappeared. It too, is a searing loss. Not that I'd EVER go back or have anything else to do with these people in that capacity. I have been deeply hurt by this. If someone just had the balls (yes, I said “balls” - twice now) to tell me what really happened I might be able to deal with it better, but no one ever has. I was never actually disciplined for anything. It is true I made a couple of mistakes in the early months of my tenure, but who doesn't make minor mistakes when they're learning a new job? It was stuff related to procedure and protocol – personal preferences of individuals – and how the heck are you supposed to “just know” that? Those were corrected. I was never written up for anything. There was nothing for which I could have been written up! It was a matter of a lack of training in some areas – not my fault – actually my boss's fault ultimately. But again, those mistakes were about the preferences of individuals – like those two cops - not about anything that hurt anyone. The parents and the kids loved me. One drew a cartoon of me as a super hero a week before I was fired. In fact, two weeks before I was fired, the sheriff pulled me aside and told me what a great job I was doing. Go figure. I hope the two cops and my now retired, almost fired, boss are happy.

Also now, our tri-county area does not have a trauma-trained, certified parenting class facilitator. (This was something I did in addition to my family advocate's position.) Not that I can't be replaced in that area, but for now there's no trauma-focused parenting classes in our area. And there could be. And there's a need. I suppose I could do classes on my own or through my church as a ministry, and maybe I will some day. But for now, the wind is out of my sails. I've been beat up a bit too much. These people will likely never know exactly what they did to me. If they did, I wonder if they'd care.

Now, I don't want this post to be a “pity me” thing. I'll be okay. In fact, I'm more okay than I was a couple of months ago. I have some really GREAT things I'm looking forward to over the next several months. First of all, I'm heading to a Hope Rising retreat for moms of kids from tough places – mom's raising kids with traumatic pasts. (If you're interested, read more about those retreats HERE. There are still a few spots left.) I'm very blessed as I wouldn't be able to afford this retreat on my own because things are a little tight financially since I lost my job. I was gifted the retreat cost by some folks who care about me. I'm very, very blessed by this. I just have to get myself there – and I am definitely getting myself there!

I also have my first grand-baby on his or her way! Our oldest son and his wife of four years will become parents some time around Christmas. We are beyond thrilled! (If you're a praying person, I ask for your prayers for a healthy, safe delivery for mom and a healthy, full-term baby.)

I am looking forward to Youngest Son's high school graduation and #4 bio son's college graduation. Plus, #3 bio son was married earlier this year and his wife is also graduating from college with our #4 bio son. Life is still very good even in the midst of all the loss we've experienced since I wrote here last.

I hope you understand that in dealing with the losses I just haven't been much for writing. I hope you'll forgive me and stick around. I do hope to write again soon – helpful stuff. Stuff that you can use. Stuff that teaches. That's what I want this blog to really be about. Death happens. Life happens.

Thanks for reading,