Why hello there.
It’s been awhile.
I had to come out of hiding to share an experience with you….but first, a backstory.
We’ve had our adopted kids home with us for more than 3.5 years now. In some ways, we’re at the smooth sailing point. Everyone’s speaking English, I haven’t found poopy toilet paper in the trash can for years, the kids can make phone calls and log onto computers…it’s all good.
Except when it’s not. Last spring we started dealing with some majorly bad attitudes and melt downs. I don’t do well with drama and big emotions. We got into a cycle that looked like this:
- Kid would have a major meltdown about something completely irrational
- I’d lose my temper, and then feel awful afterwards
- I’d spend the next 20 minutes apologizing and trying to make it right again
We weren’t living in a happy home. Besides feeling guilty about losing my temper, I’d feel bad for not giving the kids that were behaving well the attention they deserved. I spent some time with the Lord and started working on myself, but the bad attitudes and disrespect weren’t improving.
This started to get between The Husband and I. He felt like we needed to step up the discipline; I felt that would be damaging.
Right before the holidays things got really bad, and in desperation I emailed a girl I kind of know who runs a large adoption ministry at Westside Family Church. She referred me to some therapists, but told me that she would prioritize getting on the same page as The Husband before changing therapy providers. And she also invited me to the upcoming Refresh conference!
Why does anyone need to go to an adoption conference?
Glad you asked.
Something we have learned is that even if an adopted child outwardly looks like a natural child, the make up of their brain is significantly different. For example, my biological children have had their every need met by me literally from the time they took their first breath. They have never been let down by adults (except for that time I served dinner on the pink plate instead of the orange one). When they have cried, grown ups have responded. This has allowed their brains to form healthy connections. They trust us. Even when we discipline them, they are secure in their attachment to us.
That’s not true for adopted kids. Each kid has a unique story, but no one’s journey to adoption is easy. Did you know that even if a baby is adopted from the hospital as a newborn infant, his brain is affected due to elevated levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the womb? Like many adoptive parents, we don’t know all the details to our kiddo’s story. But we do know that they have been let down by adults. They have been left by people they trusted. They have not always had their needs met. We’ve been working with them and loving on them and speaking truth to them for 3.5 years but do they feel fully secure in their place in our family? No.
So when we deal with behaviors, we have to do it differently than we might otherwise. I look at getting our adoptive kids to trust us as a straight line. If feeling secure and attached is on the right side of the line, they’re maybe somewhere in the middle. We try to make steady progress to the right, but every time I lose my temper and yell at them, they step back. Then we have family game night and they move to the right again…but then we forget to do something we told them we’d do, and they fall back again. It’s on our minds constantly because the price of screw ups is big. It requires us to be very patient and intentional and frankly, it’s really hard.
So the first reason why one goes to an adoption conference is because these skills take wisdom and training and understanding, and these conferences are chock full of experts in these areas. My adoption Bible for discipline and attaching to adopted kids is The Connected Child by Karen Purvis. I reread it leading up to the conference and I made The Husband read it too. One of the breakout sessions was led by a therapist who is an expert in this style (TBRI trained for my adoption friends)….why oh why does she have to live an hour away from us?! Whether your issue is navigating relationships with birth families, sensory issues, marriage issues, transracial issues…we covered it all.
The second reason is explained by the name of the conference itself- to REFRESH! The people who put on this conference are saints and they pampered us at every turn. Literally, there were pampering sessions you could sign up for. I got a trim/hair style. The sweet girl who did it was African American and told me she was doing “black magic” on my hair and that my husband “be calling the babysitter when I’m done with cho!” Afterwards I looked like I was going to an 80s prom, check out that hair!
And can I just say it was glorious to stay in a hotel, in a king size bed with no little humans, and do whatever the heck we wanted all night? We were done by 9PM Friday and you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to get some craft beer, some Pringles, and lay in bed and watch This Is Us. So that’s exactly what we did….and I ate the entire tube of Pringles. I veg like that literally never- like I can’t remember the last time I watched TV in bed- and in all honestly it was the best part of the conference for me.
But the other big reason to go to an adoption conference is because you’re surrounded by YOUR people. These people get it. When you start adoption, you’re naive and think love can heal everything and want that beautiful picture of your blended family. But it doesn’t always go according to plan. We were given paddles that say “Me Too” that you were supposed to hold up when you related to a speaker’s story. It’ s powerful when a speaker says something you can relate to- a child doing something terrible, or an awful thought they’ve had- and you look across the room and see hundreds of people with their paddles in the air. It makes you realize you’re not alone and that your family isn’t completely crazy.
It’s so encouraging to be surrounded by people with such cool stories. I met a lady who had 4 natural children, adopted 2 at separate times from Uganda, and then years later one of her adopted sons started talking about his old friend in Uganda. Turns out he used to care for this friend who had spina bifida and clubfoot. They ended up adopting the friend too! We met people who have fostered 200 kids over the course of many years. We met adult adoptees who have suffered terrible things, but now are encouraging others in their journeys. I’m not sure you’ll find a room full of cooler people than you would at an adoption conference.
And the sum of all that- the education combined with the pampering combined with the encouragement and support- allows you to step back and reflect on what big jobs we as adoptive parents have. It teaches us about ourselves and about Jesus- the parallels between how we pursue our adopted children’s hearts and how Jesus pursues our hearts are very clear.
So, adoption friends- join me next year at Refresh! This conference also meets in Seattle and Chicago.