We have a vision of the body of Christ rising up to glorify their Heavenly Father and reflect His merciful heart by extending this gift to orphans through adoption. We see the fatherless discovering their identities in Christ through finding love in family. Will you take this journey with us, sowing into a life for a bountiful harvest? Please help us tend this garden and revive the brokenhearted with the love of Jesus.
I am certain I got your attention with the title of this post. Do you have your notepad ready? Luckily, you probably won't need one.
I am often asked, "How do you do it? How do you care for so many kids and their needs and homeschool?" Inside my first thought is always, "Yeah, that's a GREAT question!" It amazes me to be quite honest. I usually smile because most of the time it is a rhetorical question but today I decided to just answer it in full. This way the next time someone asks me, I can whip out my business card with my blog address on it. LOL!
Before I start I have to tell you that I am a bit embarrassed to share the details because I have many friends with way more than six kids who do much more than I do each day. I'm sure they will pat my back through the screen as they read. :) To them, I say, bless you for going before me and thank you.
1. The Goal is CLEAR. I know I was called into this walk to serve. Knowing my choices daily affect the forever lives of my children, I take it with a holy weight. This means, I am DELIBERATE. I make exchanges everytime we bring in another child. Some people might call it a sacrifice and some might call it crazy. Some may think it's not possible because they wouldn't choose to do the same, but not because they couldn't. I exchange my plans for His to a further degree. I release more of me, full knowing that in doing so I am relying on God to provide for all of my deepest desires. Things like, showering without anyone in the room with me, having alone time with my husband, taking the children places that will bring them joy.
2. RELATIONSHIP. Children with brain damage, backgrounds of abuse or institutional settings,and other developmental delays need to know stability. I've learned through prayer and walking this out (through great mistakes of our own)that the first thing to teach in any classroom is relationship. If you don't have relationship, the lesson you intend to teach will not be what they will learn. Because of this we make sure that the first people to bond to our children is mom and dad. We tackle boundaries of relationships so that they can gain a strong sense of who they are. We are focusing on IDENTITY first. In this haven place, they learn about immediate family and reliability of primary caregivers. We don't introduce secondary caregivers until a strong trust is built with mom and dad first. For children who have had their trust broken in the past it is much easier for them to go to many different strangers and superficially behave lovingly. Fellow church members, friends and family may comment on how great the healing in the child is, but we know that some of the ways hurt children make new environments safe in their mind, is they try to win approval through smiling, hugging, kissing. Many of these children have lacked stimulation and either avoid new senses (many are sound sensitive)or they seek stimuli for their senses.
While our children are working through these new experiences, we have established ourselves as trustworthy to handle all of the ways they respond through their fears. This means sitting through some screaming fits, emotional meltdowns, the push and pull they extend as they test this new relationship. Is it solid? Before we can begin truly interacting with a lot of other people in community in a healthy way we need to have some real foundational understandings of who we are first. If we don't we can easily morph into new personas with the new people we meet and begin seeking their approval to make us okay.
All other relationships developed after this are setups for greater success. PLEASE PLEASE when you meet a new adoptive family and they ask you not to hug or kiss their child, they are being very diligent about building stepping stones that are healthy. They are not being controlling. There is not a set timeline for this. For our daughter with FAS, healthy relational boundaries must be constantly maintained for her because she is unable to judge safe people. We will probably always have to oversee those boundaries. For Maxim, he also needed to have an understanding about how people relate in general. Having never known what families are or why they are different than any other people was something that needed to be taught through demonstration. We start with very black and white guidelines on who to hug and kiss and who we give high fives to. This helped define relationship in the beginning until deeper conversations and understandings over time were in place.
3. RITUALS. Right from the beginning we establish rituals. These rituals provide something for their minds to hold to. During this time, we do not break the rituals. Family Movie and Popcorn night every Friday, bible time every day, bath times, family meals. Because our family is on the larger side we have to be flexible with doctor appointments, taking kids places, and in general unexpected events of life. Having some key rituals in place provide a comfort. They will often ask, so we are going to eat when dad gets home? YES! I can always say that and they can always know yes as I have shown them. They no longer ask.
4. ADDRESSING FEARS/Building Communication. Finding out their fears right away and creating a plan built around it as soon as possible helps in easing them. I try to make their fears work for our bonding and creatively find ways to address those fears without making it obvious. I have set up scenarios like this: I took an apple that was on the table. An apple I knew Maxim was eyeing. Instead of immediately giving him the apple because I know he wants it, I wait for something. Either he showed some anxiety or he would say I wish I could eat. I let time hang for a few seconds and acknowledge his stress. "I took the apple didn't I?" He nods with very concerned eyes. "You wanted to eat the apple." Continued furrow and nod. "I see that you are very worried about it." I identify to him his feeling. Sometimes the kids will ask, "what is worry?" Sometimes, we may be on the verge of a meltdown. If I don't see the meltdown coming, I press further. "I wonder what you could do to feel better. Do you know?" Most of the time the answer is no. This is when I say, "I think you should try asking me for the apple." I give the words to say in the beginning especially if language is a problem or the task is to overwhelming to both think of words while dealing with the stress of wondering what my answer will be. As they have success asking, they are encouraged to keep asking. For my daughter with FAS, that stress of using words is something we continually work on and she is making ground over time. But again, the timeline is different and the amount of pressure I give in pushing is dependent on how much trust has already been established and how firm they are in our relationship.
5. The DAILY GRIND. No doubt it takes coordination and effort to bathe, feed, cook, teach, clean, care for medical needs,tend to emotional meltdowns, return phone calls, coordinate schedules and at the same time be active members of society that give back and bless. Not to mention maintaining social times for friendship building. WHEW! Quite honestly, since prayer is first in our priority for the day, it seems to align all of those needs without nearly as much effort as it would if I forced my desires. I have a scheduled cleaning time during the week for the hard cleaning and that is a great time to teach the kids about cleaning. The rest of the week it is a constant wipe here and there and pick up as I walk from room to room. Because we established those early, my oldest handles about 75% of the washing, drying, folding and putting away. My 10 yr old puts dishes away and takes care of all of the animals each day. Everytime I have felt there was something missing and I began to pray about it, the answer was filled. EVERY TIME. If your heart is sincere and you are honest about your needs, weaknesses and take them to God, He really will help you! For example, my two oldest bio boys (without any special needs) were wanting to take guitar and be a part of a science class with other kids. It just happened to work out that for a price we could afford, the boys picked up guitar lessons AND became involved in a local homeschool group science class. Both taking place on the exact day and time we really needed it to be. God will meet your need specifically. If he calls you to do something and you give your yes, you can trust Him to take care of ALL of the details.
6. LEARNING LOVE CONCEPTS. My four youngest, learn well through storytelling and they love to watch me act out lessons so for abstract concepts that are difficult for them to process through just telling, I often role play scenarios. This continues to build on relationship and keep their interest in the topic I am wanting them to learn. A lot of the lessons I focus on in the beginning are connected back to relationship. Cooperation, Listening, Serving, Praying, Blessing, Sharing, etc. For cooperation I had them try to pick up something heavy...and it could only be done if they did it together. Active. Then I acted out a skit where I didn't help someone who needed help....and we were to talk about, "How do you think it made that person feel when I didn't help them?" I have them already working on raising hands and waiting for me to call on them. They want to hear eachothers answers and contribute to the conversation so we get to dive into emotions that may touch on some fears they are working through. Doing it this way is another opportunity to indirectly address feelings.
7. LIFE SKILLS. Teaching begins when we wake up and doesn't stop. I am talking about colors and numbers and shapes and letters from the time I roll out of bed. For my children with developmental delays they have great difficulty remembering what comes next and how to do that. Through visual reminders and verbal cues, I am training them to eventually do it themselves. While I do give a lot of directions, it is usually through questions. "What do you think you need to do next?" "What will happen if yo go outside in the snow with your shorts on today?" These probing questions are asking them to access an answer in themselves. I'm pressing them to think instead of rely on me to just tell them every time. I listen while they rethink back through listing off. While it may be time consuming, allowing them to do that helps them inbed the information. It can often seem like the movie Groundhog Day if you have ever seen it. Everyday the character wakes up and the same things happen, never deviating. By maintaining that for them especially in the morning, I am teaching them their life skills. Making beds, picking out clothes, going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, putting ON clothes, bathing, combing their hair, taking dirty clothes to the laundry are all important aspects to building their abilities. And as they are able to do this repetively, it becomes natural. As they catch on, it's so rewarding to watch them become excited about being more independent. I have also learned that for my 2 yr old bio without special needs, that I am addressing things that she is able to do too. She is doing more things and understanding how to do things sooner because she sees the teaching every morning.
8. DEALING WITH CONSTANT CHALLENGE. Sometimes the repetitiousness can make my eyes cross. I will be honest. I really am normal with my own irritants. I am sound sensitive. I want to check out from time to time. I am tempted to scream back in their face. When my institutionalized kiddo's first came and banged their heads against the walls, at times, I wasn't sure if I wanted to join them and try it myself or help them bang theirs harder. :) As I said at the beginning, I want to be honest and share it all because if I don't, you may make the mistake of putting me on a pedestal or thinking for a moment that there is something special or different in me to do this call. While I may have a mercy heart gifting, I am still flesh!! And the only thing reliable for me to do this well is to be so aware of what I cannot do, so I go to the One God who will make me able. It has not been without a lot of tears. As you help someone become free of the spirit of rejection, you will face a lot of rejection yourself. You will walk a lonely road for a bit. It's not meant to destroy you, it's meant to make you lean on your heavenly Father. While your own child pushes and pulls, you may experience friends who offer unhelpful advice, mistake your grieving as emotional weakness or leave you alone because they don't know what to make of the weird things you share that are so counter to their normal life experience.
The greatest blessing I have received in support are those who know my heart so very well that they are not afraid to sit and hear stories about a child sticking their head in the toilet and throwing pee water all over the floor. I can tell them how horrid it was to walk in and find poop all over the walls and in their hair for me to clean up. I can say these things and they do not link it to me being sorry that I adopted or that I do not love my child. They do not feel awkward and the need to say, well she has come so far and is really doing great. They know me so well that they know I already know that myself. I was just so completely grossed out. So part of staying healthy for me is being able to be REAL in my friendships.
9. Humor Breaks off the Enemy too. I cannot count all of the weird things I have done with my kids. I haven't read about them in any book. BUT, they worked. I will just share a few to give you an idea.
-Grace cannot brush her teeth independently yet and is somewhat resentful about it. So one day when I was brushing her teeth and she started to shut on me, I just started brushing her.....NOSE. She was caught off guard, started giggling and opened her mouth again. I didn't say a word and when we were done, I asked her to look in the mirror and tell me if her nose was sparkling white. So she checked. Yes it was. (I acted like I was sincere about it and didn't laugh and it seemed to work.)
-If Maxim put his coat on upside down, I might go get mine and put it on upside down and stand in front of him. "Ready to go! Got my coat on! See!" He might look at me funny... "What's wrong?" I say. "Your coats on not right Mom." "But it's just like yours Maxim." "OHHHHH!" he says and smiles as he takes it off to fix. When you are constantly correcting them, it helps to have some humor and again allows them to discover the mistake. Atleast it works for us.
-Sometimes when I hear the kids arguing, I start acting whiney in front of them in a big display. One day I began..."I can't believe Daddy didn't take me to the zoo. I wanted to see the orangutan. (stomp stomp stomp I go.) I wanted to give the orangutan a carrot! I can't believe I didn't get to go. Hmmph!" Never fails. They stop arguing and stare at me and laugh...and then it's usually...when are we going to the zoo again mom? I ask them, "So what did Mommy look like? Was that pretty?" As I give the looniest face I can. (Not very hard for me.)They know that's mom's way of saying, stop fighting with eachother. They know to say they are sorry to one another and to begin playing nicely.
10. FACING WOUNDS HEAD ON. And sometimes, the best thing I can do is sit right in the middle of big tears and not try to do anything at all but, nod my head and say, you are so SAD! I just let them talk and be what they are and not leave. I don't want them to think that weaknesses are to be shunned or feared. Our God is bigger than our wounds. When were are grieving and struggling and we call on God, he answers. I praise God that I have children who not only ask for prayer, but ask if they can pray for us!
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18