For a couple of days this week, my house was filled with the screams and cries of a small, angry Chinese boy, fourteen months old. I don't know if he was sick, tired, grieving, or all three. But I know I could not make him happy, try as I might. I am not unfamiliar with this frustration, this inability to satisfy my offspring. There was a time in recent years when my older daughter and I struggled and fought daily. Over everything. She cried and whined. I yelled and punished. And we got nowhere. There were days I honestly did not like her, and I was sure the feeling was mutual. Now, more than a year later, our relationship is marked by sweet tenderness and great affection. All that to say, I did not become a parent so I could make my kids happy all the time, though it's nice when it happens. And to quote my husband, "I did not adopt this boy so I could win any popularity contests." Presently our younger daughter is, to say the least, a challenge. She was majorly ticked off that we left her for two weeks and then came home with a new baby. She is getting into all sorts of mischief, one episode of which necessitated a call to poison control. I fear she is turning my hair grey. Sigh. There are moments I do not like her much. But we have two years of history, not counting the nine months she grew inside me. (More on that later.) We are attached. We are bonded. I am crazy about her, mischief and tantrums and all.
So it's hard not to feel horrible that a few days of inexplicable screaming from Jiushu sent me to the dark place it did. I want to delight in him. I want to feel love for him. I do not want to feel like I'm babysitting or watching a child in the church nursery.
Last night our friends came over for dinner and backyard fun with their four (biological) children. I shared a bit with mom Sarah about how things are going, and later felt the need to apologize for maybe sounding too negative. She responded wisely and beautifully:
"No need for sorrys. This is a huge life-changing thing you have done, and it is okay for it to be this way. This relatively short season of getting to know each other, adapt, and grow your love for each other is your womb time. With a biological kid, for moms it is very passive and generally automatic. Yet deep connections are formed. They make the stress of a newborn doable despite it being very hard to assimilate a little life to a whole new world. You just get to do womb time with Jiushu on the outside with two-way opinions and outsiders looking on. But, I have every confidence that a new life will be birthed out of this time. So nourish physically, provide a protective, comforting, and safe environment, and allow time for unseen connections to bind your hearts together. It's gonna happen..."
I read (and reread) a few blog posts this morning which strengthened my resolve to be transparent and honest. Here's one post in which a mom shares openly about her panic just after being matched with the boy they would eventually adopt...a fantastic testimony. And the comments on her post encouraged me as much as the actual post! Statements like these:
"When you get home you may regret your decision to adopt...you might even feel like you made the biggest mistake! But that this is normal and to be expected."
"Don't try to analyze/evaluate how you are feeling at every given moment. Just go with it and know that bonding takes time - like months and years, not days or weeks."
"I think that adoption is a terrifying thing. It is part of the emotion that makes us lean in to God. Begging Him for His strength and clarity. Thanks for being vulnerable in posting this. People need to talk about these feelings more...I think these feelings come to almost everyone at some point in their adoption journey."
Whoa. So if I don't expect J to fully attach to us in a matter of days or weeks, might it also take a bit longer for us to attach to him in a way that feels warm and genuine? I'm happy for the people who say they felt instant love and connection upon meeting their new child. I'm sure it happens that way for some. But please do not think that defines "normal." Many are afraid to write about their true emotions after adoption, or after childbirth (or marriage, or taking a new job, etc.), for that matter. And small wonder, when criticism is freely and publicly offered.
As for me, I've decided I want to be a truth-teller. I want to help other parents normalize their feelings, even the raw, ugly ones. But most of all, I want to bring my fear and weakness to the feet of Jesus, letting Him refine me and clothe me in His strength. I am selfish. He gives generously. I get agitated. He is slow to anger. I am confused and clueless. He is perfect wisdom. I make mistakes. His grace covers me. My love is weak. His love is oh-so-strong. And because I am His, I have access to all that He is.
Which means this little family of mine--every one of us--is going to be just fine.