When I first came into hosting, I had an insatiable thirst for information. I wanted to know how everything worked. I read the assigned readings, I read the message boards, I read memoirs of Ukrainian adoptions, and I reached out to adoption agencies. I wanted to know from start to finish exactly how it all worked and what twists and turns were possible in our journey. I also started reading about children from trauma, what it was like to be in an orphanage, and tried really hard to get a picture of what their lives were really like. I needed answers for my questions like “If the statistics are true, and their outlook is so bleak why would anyone say no to adoption?”. There are many good reasons why kids don’t want to be adopted, and it is not my job to make them feel otherwise.
Teenagers are not well known for their excellent ability to make life long decisions with insight and experience. That’s why in America you can’t even get a tattoo until you’re 18, you certainly can’t decide what your future will be. The orphan’s world is very small, and very predictable. By our standards the story of the orphan is tragic and sad, to them, its all they know. If you can separate your own emotion about the situation from the actual facts, insight will grow. Many of the orphanage directors take their job very seriously. They do the best they can for them with the very limited funding they get. They message the kids on social media, they say “I love you”. They love the kids deeply and they are the only family some kids have ever known. Some of the kids can’t imagine leaving their small world of comfort and diving into a strange new culture with strange people, often they have no insight into their reality when they turn 16. Even some adults don’t understand that when you do not make a decision, you’re making a decision. These kids have grown up with no dreams for the future, it’s not beyond possibility that at 14 they haven’t considered what they’re doing with their lives when they age out, my own kids can’t even decide what they want for lunch. Alina told me “Sometimes the family just isn’t right for you”, there is much truth to that.
People that know me know I’m not an overly emotional person. I wasn’t the type that fell in love with my 4 biological babies immediately, and I still don’t expect my step daughter to call me mom (although she’s with us 24/7/365). I’m not overly sentimental and I don’t feel pressured to have the ‘perfect’ family portrayal. I didn’t expect to fall in love the minute I met Alina, and I don’t care if she ever hugs me or calls me mom. Wanting these things would be my stuff, and it wouldn’t be fair for her to feel pressured to meet my needs. Whatever relationship that develops should happen organically, I can’t be the one to plant seeds and force opinions. My job this summer is to serve her, not force her to learn things that she has no interest. I won’t drag her to restaurants when she shows me she’s overstimulated, force her to repeat words in English while I video tape, or take her to a church in which she hates. This summer isn’t to teach her things I wish she would learn about, it’s about providing her with the American resources to do her soul searching and find out who SHE is.
People have messaged me with various comments through this journey. Comments of support and love, comments of jealousy, comments of disapproval, and comments of curiosity.
I continue to go through this journey pondering what questions I can answer that aren’t being asked. The questions Alina doesn’t know how to ask. The questions prospective families don’t realize they’re wondering. The questions I’m asking myself subconsciously.
What is it like to add a 6th child, especially one that doesn’t speak English? This is probably the most common question.
Anyone with 5 children (or more) understands when I explain that adding one more child is very similar AND very different to the rest all at the same time. All of my kids have similarities and differences to each other. Bella and Ollie are the bookends to our family, and they have very similar personalities. They’re quiet, they want to do their own thing, and they don’t like when there are too many people around, but Ollie loves to sleep, and Bella never did. Millie likes to have lots of attention and be loud and crazy in the pool, Alina also shares this, but unlike Millie, she doesn’t like crowds. While they all have different personalities, they all share something in common with at least one of the others. In learning to guide each of them, the children need some very different guidelines. None of my children react well to blanket arbitrary rules. While Bella has had unlimited time on the internet, Lori has required a very rigid process to earn her internet time. She needed guiding based on how to structure her time and responsibilities and learn to be appropriate when interacting with friends online. Bella always was motivated to get her work done first, and wouldn’t have needed a limit on the internet because it would have caused a power struggle with a kid that didn’t need the rule. Bringing another teenager into our home, one that has had minimal guidance and rules, it has not been as much of a challenge as I initially thought. I work hard to make rules on a case by case basis to help guide my kids toward success, not so I can impress my friends that I live a certain type of life.
In parenting a child whom has never been parented you must be flexible and lower your expectations, low like non-existent. Realizing this is only 10 weeks and the lessons you enforce should be sustainable safety rules. There is no point to limit internet activity then send them back to un-monitored world. It is much more useful to gift them passion to learn and skills to use the internet for knowledge, fill their banks of dreams, and teach skills safety that can be applied to their lives. Picking your battles, saying yes to everything possible, and just letting the kids relax to figure out how to make decisions, learn what they like, and find out what they want to explore. Children can’t learn anything when they’re stuck in survivor mode. This summer is to let them decompress, and work through their own process to decide what they want for themselves, with no pressure or expectation from anyone else. My biggest success will be to make her comfortable.
My challenge this summer, the lesson I want to get out of hosting is to learn as much about Alina as I can with as few words as possible. This isn’t so I can change her world and adopt her. You can’t save anyone that doesn’t want to be saved, and she doesn’t know what she wants. She’s 14, she’s in a totally new world, and she is the type of kid that will offer me whatever idea she thinks makes me happy. I refuse to make her believe I want anything from her, including adoption. I’m not saying I’m closed to adoption, but it is not my goal or priority. Watching her blossom and figure out what she likes, giving her the opportunity to learn about things she enjoys, and watering her growth is my goal. I want her to grow in all the directions she desires, not manipulate her into a little bamboo pot the way I think is best.
Practicing my non-verbal communication has been exciting. I have used many techniques I learned when working with the developmental disordered non-verbal kids. Learning how to SHOW someone you care through THEIR love language, not your own is invaluable. I use it in my job, I use it in my personal life, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to show love without words. Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Seriously. Read it.
Every child has a different process. Some like to hide and watch cartoons, some want to force feed you peanuts until you pop. Our job isn’t to put demands, rules, and expectations on them, our role is to wrap them in love and allow them to grow their own wings, and send them off in whatever direction they want to fly. This is their story, we are lucky to be reading one chapter and providing them resources to grow. Practice identifying root causes of behavior and give them what the behavior asks for, don’t ask them to conform to the behavior you prefer. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. This is the time to cocoon yourself in your own world and focus on embracing the challenge we face, with the community available to hold your hand when you have fears. Some kids want hugs, others want to be left alone. None of it is a reflection of anything you did or did not do. This is them, working through their own journey. Be supportive in the ways they need, not the support you wish you could give.
This is my best advice to enjoy your summer and have a happy and realistic ending.
Steph is a nurse, mother, and advocate. Comment, Like and Share!