Faith and Favor have been in the states with us for a little over two months now. Overall, their transition and adjustment is going really well. I think it helps that they have one another as a familiar face and a stabilizing force. However, the road to becoming family in more than just the word is long. As we've been coming out of our "cocoon" more, we've received a lot more questions about this process, so I thought I'd try to answer some of those questions/concerns here.
1. What is normal life like for you guys right now? Honestly, we're not really sure. We may be living "normal" life, or we may still be settling in. Since our only other experience with kids had been Rory (who is the easiest kid ever), we have no idea if the twins' behavior is typical 4-year-old behavior or if it's adoption-specific behavior. In one word, or lives are: busy. In two words: really busy.
Faith and Favor's father passed away before they were born and their birth mother died when they were 5 months old. When they entered the orphanage, they transitioned into a multiple-caregiver situation. There were four main "mamas" who took care of them. When the mamas were busy, the other kids would care for them. Though the mamas at the orphanage loved the twins with all of their hearts, the girls had no one to make a primary connection with and had no idea who, if anyone, would meet their next need whether it was a meal, or to bandage a scrape, to rock them to sleep and comfort them from a nightmare, or to encourage them to crawl and walk.
Four years later, enter these new people who have different colored skin and speak a different language. They meet the twins, give them a hug, and drive them away to a different place than they've ever been, put them in a different bed than they've ever been in, and eventually put them on a plane for 30+ hours and bring them to a place with new sights, sounds, food, language, and even general ways of doing simple things like going to the bathroom or getting dressed or bathing. That's a lot to take in for an adult, and even more so for a four year old.
Jonathan and I had a year of praying and dreaming of adoption to prepare our hearts for our girls, but they had little time and their comprehension of adoption was much different than ours. They did express a desire to be adopted and to get a mommy and daddy, but they probably had very little understanding of what that meant.
So here we are in America with two 4 year old girls who have the "family age" of 10 weeks. The formative months of an infant learning dependence on his parents (because he has no other options) has to be more-or-less artificially recreated for Faith and Favor. But it's different, because they're already independent. They can feed themselves, dress themselves, communicate with language, walk around, etc. So, we have to take every single opportunity we have to help them understand that mommy and daddy are their primary caregivers and are the first people to meet ALL of their needs.
Until the twins learn that they can always come to mommy and daddy for food, comfort, or assistance of any kind, we're asking others not interact with them much. It's not meant to cause hurt or discomfort, but it's in effort to not confuse them or slow down the bonding process with Jonathan and me. It's also to help them understand that they're now in an environment where all of their needs will be met, and they can predict and confidently know that all of those needs will be met by their parents.
I know this is very difficult for most people to understand because it's challenging to comprehend or understand a situation with which you have no personal experience. I've never had to actually learn how to trust my parents or actually learn and believe that they were my parents. These kids do.
3. Why can't I hold or interact with the twins? As you read above, we're working really hard and being extremely intentional to help the twins understand that we are their parents. They're used to mission teams coming to their orphanage and spending one or two weeks holding them, playing with them, feeding them, and then disappearing. It's going to take them awhile to understand that we're not going anywhere. People (our friends and family) coming into their lives once a month or even every few days who hold, feed, play with the twins, and then leave help to reinforce the twins' expectation that adults come and go and there's no permanence in their lives.
I know that for those individuals who are used to interacting with kids closely, this is super challenging and it makes you feel uncomfortable. We really appreciate your understanding and acceptance of our requests about this, even if it doesn't make complete sense to you.
4. When will be able to treat them like we treat other kids? I wish I could give you a cut and dry answer, but it really depends on the kids and their personalities and level of adjustment. We're anticipating around 6-12 months of limiting interaction with other adults, but it could be shorter or longer than that depending on the progress and trust we see in the girls in relation to Jonathan and me.
At this point, we feel like the twins are adjusting to their new lives really well, but they are still extremely insecure and we aren't even halfway "there" when it comes to parental bonding. They still can't sleep in their rooms by themselves, they shut down and get very nervous when we go into new environments (to those who aren't familiar with their cues, they just act very tired), and they still go up to strangers and try to get food or be held.
In general, it's a standard that it will take twice the amount of time that the child was institutionalized to feel completely comfortable in a family.
5. What's different about raising kids who are adopted versus biological kids? At this point, everything. Everything we do is intentionally thought out and we have to consider strongly if it would be good for the twins or not. If we have an active day we know the next day will be a "readjustment" day and the kids will act out more and we'll basically have to close ourselves in at home until they can resettle.We don't stay out late or for long periods of time, we don't leave the kids with babysitters, we don't leave the kids in another room without us if we're somewhere other than home. Jonathan is (and will be for a long time) sleeping on the floor in the twins' room. We try to foster dependence by spoon-feeding them, rocking them like babies, helping them go potty, and anything else that - though they're past those things developmentally - can help to develop the intimacy and emotional bond we're looking to create. On top of that, we're teaching them to follow rules and structure for the first time in their lives. We're teaching them English and general norms and expectations of American culture. It's not easy, but raising kids isn't easy.
6. What would help us as we're in this stage? There are a few things that would be helpful to us as we're working so hard with our girls. Here are some general thoughts:
- Please ask us questions. This journey is very lonely and I promise we're not going to act like you're stupid or think you asked a dumb question. It's nice for us to talk about what we're going through, but don't want to discuss it with people who aren't interested.
- Please don't tell us that you understand or always advise us on things we share just because you have kids of your own. This may be rude, but if you haven't adopted, you haven't been there. There are pieces you may understand because kids are kids, but it's very invalidating if anytime we share something, someone else responds by, "I have kids too, so I know exactly what that's like and this is how you need to handle it." If we ask, please share openly, but share sensitively and understand that raising kids who were recently adopted isn't the same as raising biological kids.
- Just because we don't contact you doesn't mean we don't want to remain in touch. We really like seeing people and spending time with them and your initiative to see us means a lot.
- Please don't put any other expectations on us. Every ounce of our energy is going into getting used to our new family and helping all three girls get used to their new lives. We don't have a lot of energy to make sure that you're not offended at what we're doing or why we're doing it.
- Read this blog post about the same thing. All 400+ comments show us that we're not alone in this.
- Most of all, your friendship, prayers, and support is what we need. We can't give a lot back right now, but I promise that we will also be there for you when you need it.
As a final thought, the things we are sharing are the vulnerable, challenging details of what life looks like for us on a daily basis. I'm hesitant to share the challenges because there may be individuals who think we regret or question or decision to bring these girls home, or even think that we shouldn't have adopted because of the challenges it brings. That is in no way the case. We would do it over again and again and again and again, because the light and life and joy sweet Faith and Favor have brought to our lives is worth it. We are wildly in love with our life and wouldn't choose to be anywhere else than where we are.