By the way, for those who care….see that lovely green background? This photo is almost SOOC, I only converted to jpeg and resized and sharpened for the web. That creamy bokeh is the grass in our yard. This photo was shot with my 85 mm lens at an aperture of 2.2. See why I love this lens?!
I recently read the book No Riding Bikes in the House Without a Helmet. It is about a family with four biological children, who then end up adopting five more children. All of the children were older (from age 4 to teens), four from Ethiopia.
When I closed the last page of the book, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities between our families. Before our Liberian children ever came home we were given a great piece of advice: Don't have any expectations for the first year. Every adoption (or birth of a baby) is filled with expectations of course. But with adopting older children (and in our case teens) we knew we needed to keep this in check. We didn't know these children, of course we needed to not let our "expectations" and preconceived notions of what they would be like, get in the way. After a long discussion we agreed that our only expectation for our adopted children the first year is that they would learn to live in our family.
Our first year flew by. We came to the end of that and discussed our agreement not to have any expectations of our children beyond allowing them to adjust and learn to live with us. That strategy was a resounding success. We (and they) had survived a year living together. That was something to celebrate!
So Chuck and I discussed year two. What would our expectations be fore year two? Since our children arrived home in October, our anniversary of their arrival coincides closely with the beginning of our school year. Academics were still a struggle. In fact, no measurable progress could be seen after a year. But that was okay. We all survived the first year and academics seemed secondary. But for year two, we wanted to see some improvement. In the beginning language had been such an issue (they spoke English in Liberia, but with a strong accent and it was heavy with Liberian colloquialisms). So we began year two, doing essentially the same schoolwork as year one, but this time I put on a little more pressure to get the answers right and correct mistakes. To our Liberian children schoolwork = getting the workbook finished. No matter if ALL the answers are wrong even. As long as the workbook is finished, their schoolwork was done. This is honestly still an issue. The prevailing attitude was (and is) well, if I miss 17 out of 20 answers that's okay, I can just go back and fix them tomorrow.
Year two came and went and we were up against year three. Our goal for year three? To have our children listen and follow directions. To have them think ahead (ie, if I have an all day Scout event on Saturday, I need to ask permission to go, and let mom know I need to pack a lunch- this because we don't normally keep portable lunch supplies in the house). Time after time, permission wasn't asked (but since Judah's going, I can go right?) and lunches weren't packed (but that's okay, someone always shared). It was mind-numbingly frustrating. Time after time we went over: ask permission, let mom know you need to pack a lunch. And time after time neither were done. In fact, resentment built up because we were "being mean". Being mean by requesting that a child ask permission and let me know if they needed a ride, or lunch. After all, if they forgot a lunch, or coat, or book, someone always loaned (or even gave) them one, so what's the problem?
Planning ahead included things like, if I need to be at the pool at 3:00 and it takes 20 minutes to drive there, I better be ready by 2:30 or 2:40 (not 3:00)….Weekend long trips would arrive, with our children having no idea what time they should be ready, or when they were meeting or where.
As we come up on year four, I feel like we've been a dismal failure helping/training our children on those two points.
What I hope Keziah and Boaz learn at Job Corps (and Ezra learns at school) is that they need to think and plan for themselves. They are 17, 19 and almost 19, I won't always be there to pack a lunch, call to clarify what time we're meeting, or to let them fix their mistakes on their schoolwork. The time has come that they need to begin to "own" some of these things themselves.
I love my adopted children dearly. But the more we asked of them (you need to ask permission, you need to plan ahead) the more tension it caused. Tension that affected our relationships. I felt that I could either not expect anything from them (ie, make their plans, double check times, check on lunches) and have things go smoothly…or make them do those things and have tension and resentment.
Which brings me back to the book I read. This family, it seems, had very few, if any expectations of any of their children. Sneaking out? Well, kids do that. Drinking beer at a party? They're teens after all. Stealing? Make them repay and ask them nicely not to do it. What I saw in that book were very similar issues to what we have dealt with, but with an "anything goes" type of attitude. While I'll admit that philosophy has crossed my mind, I don't believe it would serve my children well in the long run. In order to get and keep a job, you need to be honest and follow directions. You need to be dependable and know what time works starts. I consider those important life skills.
So what was the point of this long, rambling, post? Not a whole lot, beyond recognizing our struggles in another family. All in all, I consider our older child adoption a success.
Our children adjusted to our family and we love them.
And some days, that needs to be enough.