Monday, May 20, 2013

Parenting Older boys- a note of encouragement

I saw a post on facebook today that has prompted this post tonight.
 
A friend was asking for advice from other parents who have adopted teens because one of their dear friends is in China right now adopting two older girls.  They are feeling nervous and somewhat out of sorts, so I thought I would offer some encouragement.
 
Now, before you check out on me and say, "What does SHE know about older girls?" 
Allow me to say...
"Nothing!" 
 
But, I do know what its like to be out of my element.  I know what its like to wonder if that still small voice was really what I heard all those months before or if, maybe, it was bad burritos? 
I know that feeling walking into a foreign civil affairs office only to look "up" (literally) to my new child.
 
So, to that family that is there right now, wondering what they should do at any given moment, please breathe.  Trust that God has not steered you in the wrong direction.
 
Know that He is equipping you, even now, to parent and love these new girls that are becoming your daughters.
 
Give yourself, and them, a lot of grace.
 
You will make mistakes.  You will not ruin them.
 
This trip and the process you are in right now are very stressful, so don't expect that you or the girls will be "yourselves" for awhile.
 
Remember, you cannot expect from them that which you have not modeled and taught.  Make no assumptions that even the simplest lessons have been learned.  Some may have. Many will not have.
 
My focus in country was to teach everything that I could that was "easy" while the window of wanting to impress was still open.
 
I'm referring to things like:
 
 Ask for what you need
Say please and thank you
Tell Mom or Dad where you are going, don't just disappear (ie. going to the bathroom in public place)
Look at those who are speaking to you
Place your napkin in your lap at meals
Push your chair in when finished
Mom enters/exits the elevator first
(remember, I have all boys, so chivalry was high on my list)
 
Now, did each of my older boys jump right into the plan I had? Colin did. Cameron was not all about the asking thing. He preferred to take what he wanted. (Very normal, by the way). Cooper, well Cooper was a pleaser, so yes. Connor, on the other hand, well, he jumped right into
"find my boundries" ville!
 
But, was it still valuable?  Absolutely.
 
Now, as I read over the many responses that others posted in response to this fb post, it also occurred to me that some of the most common "mistakes" that parents make when adopting an older child, especially for the first time, are things that are easily avoided if they only know different.
 
So, I am going to step out and share a few of the routines and expectations in our home that specifically apply to our older adopted kids.
 
Please know that much of this was "adopted" through trial and error, after many misfires and mistakes.  We did not have all of this in place when Colin came home.  We learned as we went, as most parents do.
 
But, Tom and I have found that many of these things have helped keep order and harmony in an otherwise loud and crazy household full of 5 active boys!
 
The first thing I want to tackle is the dreaded Technology question.


Our sons are greatly limited on the technology they may have. And, they must always ask permission to use anything. And use of the family computer is limited to school related work only on school nights.
We even require that they ask to watch TV.  
(Yes, I think that is important)
 
Our sons only use the internet in our living room. PERIOD.
 The only technology they are allowed to use in their rooms are hand held games
 (PSP, DS) 
that are pre-approved
 (and even then, very limited time usage.)  
None of our games are stored in their bedrooms.
 (Not only does this cut down on sneaking in a game when they shouldn't be, but it also keeps them from thinking of these devices as "their own". We have one DS and one PSP that are shared among 5 boys)
 
When it comes to computer usage, each child has a separate log-on that is filtered for their age level/ appropriate content.  Anytime one of them attempts to click on something or go to a website that is not approved,(almost always accidental) it blocks that attempt and sends me an email notification.  All my boys know that I keep tabs on their usage.  Their log-ons are also timed, so they will only work on certain days, at specified times and for a certain length of time.
 
Hibernation
 
I STRONGLY recommend keeping your new teens involved with the family, limiting technology and not allowing them to turn their bedroom into their only sanctuary.  
 
Yes, with all the change and the mental stress of learning a new language through immersion, there are times that they need to "clock out" and rest.  But, this can be a slippery slope.  I get the shivers when I hear of families adopting teens and handing then an Ipad and allowing them free reign in their bedrooms, not joining the family for events, or even meals.  This is not healthy for them in the long run.
 
If there is one thing I "wish I had known" when we adopted our first teen, it would be that we should NOT have been so timid in our parenting. We felt a little out of place and we were slower to require things of him for fear that he would be upset with us.  Once we got our "adoptive parent" sea legs, things have gone much smoother at home with our other children that have come home.  
What these teens need are PARENTS.
 
If you think for one minute that they don't need you hovering, you are wrong.  They need parents.  Every bit as much as your toddler needed your guidance, your teen does as well.
 
 
  That means keeping them close to you, not sending them away to their room every time they have a "mood" or get upset with you.  For us, when one of our new teens gets upset, his "go to" reaction is to head to his bed and sulk.  If I didn't know better, I'd say he could have inherited that from me!
 
Seriously, though.  It is important that they find their comfort in you, not in hiding.  When one of ours has a tantrum or a bad reaction to a parenting decision that they don't like, we require them to come stay with the family.  Sometimes, this requires going to their room, pulling back the covers and kindly asking them to come back downstairs to rejoin the family.
 
If they come, I see that as a win. 
(Smile not required)
This isn't about flexing your "I'm in charge muscles" so much as it's about helping them jump hurdles that they don't know how to navigate. 
(How many times as a teen did your
 "I'll show them" mentality
 end up depriving you out of something good in the end?)  I am simply suggesting that you help get them past themselves so that they can enjoy the benefits of family life.  They are not going to find those joys in the privacy of their bedroom glued to an I-pod, or I-pad, or I-anything!
 Help them learn to connect with their parents, and their siblings.  Find ways to redirect their energies to something positive. 
 
I can teach that later...
 
  Lastly, your kids are never going to be as open to learning as they are when they first enter your family.  While they may not like all the change, they do expect it and they are paying attention. Use that wonderful window when they want to do a good job to your family's (and their) advantage.  Model new behaviors and look for EVERY POSSIBLE opportunity to praise successes and to say yes.  If they have a need, say yes!!  If they have a want, (and it is possible, safe and healthy) say yes!!   They need to know that they can trust you to meet their needs.  As hard as it is to look at your teen as a deprived infant, in many adoptive scenarios, they were ARE.
 
It is highly likely that your child, especially if adopted as a teen, has spent most if not all of their formative years, fending for themselves.  They may not have had their needs met.  They may not have been kept safe.  They may only know "trust by manipulation", so use this time to establish an environment where you can give them lots of yeses!  Now, given all the "don't dos" that I just listed above, you may not see this as a complementary suggestion, but it really is.  Every roadblock that you can remove between you and your new child brings you closer together so that they can see you as their source of comfort, their provider, the one who cares, and loves and protects them. 
 
Pray for them often and lastly, don't wait to ask for help if you are unsure.  So often, it is hard to know if a certain behavior or reaction is adoption related, or normal, teen behavior.  Don't assume that things will get better all on their own.  Sure, they might.  But, if you are having trouble, don't walk through that alone.  Call your social worker.  In fact, keep calling until someone listens and offers help.  And, if your agency can't or won't help you in your post-placement transition, call Lifeline.  Their post-placement team is wonderful and each and every one of those men and women wants to be used of God to help families thrive! If you do not have resources in your community that are well trained in adoption attachment issues, please find someone who is!  Your family's success is important.  Your needs, along with the needs of your new children, matter!  Let someone pray along side your family and offer support services to get you through the tough spots.
 
They are so very worth it!
 
 
 
God Bless,
Angie

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day (Weekend)

Last Mother's Day I celebrated with two boys who had never celebrated Mother's Day before. Ever.
 
It was an especially precious day for me and for them.
 
This year?
 
I was able to share this special day with two more wonderful boys who were learning for the first time what Mother's Day is all about.
 
Most of my Mom friends will agree that the celebration of Mother's Day is more about the children being able to celebrate their mothers than it is about the Mother's getting gifts and special treatment.
 
For my boys, I wanted them to have the excitement of scheming behind my back and planning a special surprise for me.  It is the right of every child as far as I'm concerned.
 
And so they did.
 
In fact, part of the surprise this year was that my Mother's Day presents came a day early.
 
Last night before dinner, I was called downstairs from doing laundry to find this!
 
 
 
The kids were glued to me as I read their handwritten letters for Mother's Day.
 
 
 

 



 
 
 
It was funny that Tom chose a 101 Dalmatians card!  We do have a lot of little "puppies" running around these days!
 
 
It was not my finest hour, especially for pictures since I'd been cleaning most of the day, but it was, none the less, a sweet surprise.
 
 
 
 
It is not lost on me how this picture of 5 boys with their Mother is a small miracle, a part of God's master plan for their lives and I am very grateful (albeit baffled!) that God chose me to parent them.


In addition to the beautiful flowers and notes, I also received a hand written book of poetry from Cameron
 

See the rose in his hand?

Dedication page!  (We're still working on spelling)

Final page- Cameron's Story
 
and a new plant from Tommy! 

 


I promise I will try to keep it alive.
Today we enjoyed a wonderful service at church and then spent some time together as a family this afternoon.
 
Since I am such an expensive date, we enjoyed lunch out at our most frequented restaurant:
Sam's Club!
 
The only place in town where you can feed a family of 7 for $14! 
 
 
After a few errands including a fun trip to the Goodwill (another favorite stomping ground), Tom treated me once again and took all 5 boys to the pool while I enjoyed an hour completely ALONE!
 
Then, the treats just came on coming.
 
My darling husband treated all of us to a homemade steak dinner complete with enormous baked potatoes, fresh garden sweet corn and a fresh salad.
YUMMY!

 
 
 
I thought for sure Tom had finally made a meal the boys would not be able to finish. Clearly, based on Connor's plate below, I was proven wrong!

First to devour their dinner?  Connor!
 
Even Cooper was getting into his work, so to speak:
 
We're still working on table manners, but he tries so hard!
 
Now those of you who don't know me well, are probably very impressed. And.. those of you who do, well, you are just rolling your eyes because you know that Tom spoils me like this most every night!  But, to be fair, we don't have steak often.
(Don't hate!)
 
 
The peace de resistance was this:
 
video
 
Does it get any better than that?
 
Happy Mother's Day!
 


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Summit 9- a recap

Last week I was able to travel to Nashville to attend the CAFO annual
Orphan Summit9.
 
Dr, Russell Moore
 
It was hosted this year at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN.
 
I am so thankful for a husband who encouraged me to attend even though it meant being alone with 5 boys for almost a week!
 
So, my dear friends, Sharon and Laura, let me tag along with them and we had the best time ever!
 
Despite the 10 hour drive and the very late early hour that we arrived to our hotel, we were up at the crack of dawn to assist our "buddy in ministry", Dan Cruver from "Together for Adoption" set up for his pre-conference intensive class. Since our sweet friend Jess wasn't able to join us this time, we brought her as "Ipad Jess" to visit with all her friends.

 

Dan, Angie, Ipad Jess, Sharon & Laura
 
Once we finished there, we had a little down time to return to the hotel and relax. So, my good friends ganged up on me and decided I was in dire need of a makeover.  Specifically, I was told in no uncertain terms that my ever popular "bun" was to be replaced. Permanently!
 
So, the makeover begins...
 
 
 
After lunch, we all returned to attend our own pre-conference class taught by Dr. Karen Purvis.  It was a wonderful introduction into "trust-based parenting" and adoptive attachment.
 
For those who are considering adoption (of any kind), and especially older child or international adoption, I highly recommend that you check out her website and the book The Connected Child.
 
After our 4 hour class, and with brains entirely too full, we wandered into the exhibit hall to find the Lifeline crew.  We knew how much "Ipad Jess" would love to see Herbie & Dave! (For those who don't know, Herbie is the Executive Director of Lifeline and Dave is the International Adoption Director.  (Two of the best bosses I've ever had!)
 
 

 
 Some of our best times were each night in general session. 
 
Great worship, great encouragement and inspirational preaching.
 


 
 

We recorded 2 live radio shows for Family Life Radio. 
The hosts interviewed Michelle Bachman on Day 1


Congressman Michelle Bachman
sharing about her life as a Foster Mom of 26 children!


 
 
 

Dave Wood, Lifeline International Adoption Director

My awesome friend Sharon with Dave and Me.

 That evening, when we reconvened in general session, one of our sweet Lifeline Mamas joined us in the front row.  It was so fun to spend time with Ashley who, along with her husband, is adopting two older boys (twins!) from China soon.
 

 

So proud and blessed to be in ministry with these amazing ladies!

Sharon Lyon http://lyonessheart.blogspot.com/
Laura Lewis, co-founder of Journey Together Ministries
http://www.journeytogetherministries.org/ 


 
 The highlight of night one was the worship time with Stephen Curtis Chapman!
 

 
Stephen singing "Cinderella"
#notadryeye!
 
 
 

 
The second live radio broadcast from Summit9 was with Bishop W.C. Martin.
 
THE Bishop Martin from Possum Trot, TX!
 

 
He was incredibly humble and inspirational as he shared how his wife and he came to adopt a foster daughter in his very small town, caught the vision for caring for children in need and today there have been over 76 children adopted from the foster care system in his little church!
 
This older man was so cute sporting his sneakers, jeans and sportcoat that we just HAD to get a photo with him!
 


 
Then there is precious Adeye' Salem from
No Greater Joy Mom!  This precious mama of many has a heart of gold and along with her wonderfully supportive husband, Anthony, loves on her children and educates thousands on special needs adoptions!

 
It was hard to believe that the conference with all its incredible classes and exibitors could get any better and then...
 
Nicole C. Mullen trotted her sassy self out that night!  I mean to tell you I don't think I have ever seen a live performance so energizing than this one!  It was an amazing worship experience and she was in her glory as she sung of His glory!
 
She performed one of my all time favorite hymns-- To God Be The Glory
 
 
She brought her entire family along as well as many of the children that she mentors.
 
They were her backup singers and dance team and they were incredible.
 
On teen young lady did a recitation of Psalm 139 that moved the entire crowd.  Powerful stuff.


 
But wait!  There's more!
 
SERIOUSLY?
 
You guessed it. After coming down from a music experience like no other, in walks David Platt.
 
 David Platt, pastor of
The Church at Brookhills
in Birmingham, AL
 
David Platt who authored the renowned book
Radical
 
 
and he sits RIGHT. BESIDE. US!
 
Of course, we stalked him for a photo after he concluded his preaching!

 
and sweet Nicole stayed for several hours after her concert to sign autographs and take photos.

 



I was so tired physically at the end of those three days, but so incredibly refreshed spiritually!
 

 

 
 
Thanks to these sweet ladies, and my gracious husband, I was able to afford this little respite and recharge my ministry batteries.
 
Saturday morning, bright and early we headed for home.  It was a long 12 hours in the rain the entire way, but we shared our hearts, worshipped through music and grew closer together along the way. 
 
 
 
When I finally arrived home, my darling husband had this waiting for me!

 
 
If anyone is considering attending this next year, don't miss out!  It was worth every penny.
 
God Bless!
Angie