This is last post of my Older Child Adoption series and it is a beautiful one. My hope has been that something shared would spur hearts toward bringing home an older child. The only requirement? Love.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Written anonymously by a precious adoptive friend…
In July 2015 we saw a photo of a beautiful 13 year old girl in China who needed a family. From the night that we saw her photo, we knew she was something special. Something about her was more like a daughter, more like a sister, more like our own. She is our 3rd child from China and our oldest of 6 sweet kids!
In many ways I think bringing home a 13 year old child is much like bringing home any child in what it demands of you as mom or dad: flexibility, an open heart, understanding for their pasts hurts and how that is affecting their current behavior, lots of love and affirmation, lots of patience, a time of “cocooning”, flexible expectations, etc… Though deep down in their hearts the needs are the same, things look a little different when your child is 14 and not 2.
Like our two younger adopted children, when she first came home, we kept her world small. We slowly began to include things like church but we followed her lead as to what what that looked like. She sat with us until she was ready to go to her class and when she was ready, I joined her in her class for a few weeks (It was actually a lot of fun and I loved being a part of the middle school class! Not only was it fun, but it deepened our relationship as well as her trust in me!). Similarly, in the same way that we didn’t rush our other two little ones off to a Mother’s Day Out program soon after coming home, we are also keeping our newest home too. We homeschool her only now which has been the biggest blessing! She and I are together all day which is what she needs right now. We keep things light and work on English (to include spelling and reading) and we have a Mandarin-English speaking tutor coming three times a week to help with other subjects. And yes, this doesn’t allow for a lot of “me” time, but I see it as an investment. All that I pour into her now is building a foundation of confidence and security that she can build on. Three months in and I see fruit from this daily!
Because she is 14 and not 2, we miss out on sharing some of the sweeter moments that you might with a younger child (co-sleeping, using a baby carrier, giving baths and tickles and snuggles), but I think that her older age actually lends itself to some wonderful and unique opportunities for bonding that are so meaningful and that I am enjoying so very much. Throughout our day, I include her in as many things as I can, from making meals, to playing with our two year old, creating our grocery list, planting flowers, etc… We study together, go for walks together, paint together, do crafts together, and so much more! There are so many wonderful ways to bond with older children! I think one of the best things for her heart (and easy to do!) is planning something new with me, something she’s been a part of from the start. Spending an hour at Hobby Lobby getting supplies to make a new wreath for our family’s front door, looking at hotels online for a little summer vacation in a few months, helping me behind the scenes as we prepare a surprise for her brother’s upcoming birthday… Planning allows her to be a part of something new which helps fill the void of the things that she has missed these many years. There is something special about being a part of planning a new activity or adventure which will in turn become a cherished memory. I see a light in her eyes when we are in “planning mode” that contrasts sharply with the sadness in her eyes that I see when we look at old photos of the family without her. Planning something new does her heart good!
Also, because she is older, I also talk to her about everything!! We are two girls, who like most girls, love to talk! We don’t let a language barrier lead to wasted words around here! It would be so much easier not to try to struggle through charades + simple english + google translate to talk about something small like a movie she watched one time in China or what my Bible study was about last night, but we persevere and the investment is so worth it! We spend hours a day talking and over these last few months we use the translate app less and less. It makes us more like any mother and teen daughter and sometimes even like any two girlfriends. We giggle, we ask questions, we gesture like nobody’s business – We will be charades grand champions one day, I tell you! – and through it all, we bond. And all this talking about movies and roller skates and how to make a ribbon flower have laid the foundation for her to trust me to talk about the harder things like not having a mother for 13 years and the frightening things she saw at the orphanage, and how she wants to trust Jesus for her salvation. Had I closed the door on conversation because it was too hard, so much would have been lost. The depth of our bond has quickly become so deep because she can share so much through conversation. Were she 2 and not 14, we wouldn’t have this special opportunity!
While some things are easier with a 14 year old, other are harder. Books and blogs will tell you of things like quirky behaviors and bad habits and fears that are rooted so deeply – we experience those here too, though her transition has been nothing short of remarkable and I thank God for how smooth is has been. The things that stands out most to me though is not the behaviors that come as a result of 14 years alone, but the hurt. It is a deep hurt that rocks her heart and defies her understanding. With our littler ones, we knew that though we missed 2 or 3 or even 4 years of their lives, we would still have their childhoods ahead of us. I don’t have that. She doesn’t have that. And to me that is the most difficult thing to accept. We will never have photos of her in pigtails. Never talk about her first day of kindergarten or ballet. Thirteen birthdays passed without a photo, without a present from us and a prayer over her for the coming year. All of that is lost and in it’s place is suffering and abandonment and longing. She told me one day that she felt she would always have a hole in her heart; she would always be scarred. I felt a new ache in my heart that day. I know that God can absolutely heal her heart but I also know that some hurts are only dulled this side of heaven. And it’s that realization that brings me to my knees in prayer over her little child’s heart enclosed in a 14 year old body. It challenges me to love more deeply, forgive more freely, smile more joyfully, hug more tightly that I did even with my other two. Her sweet little soul just soaks it all up! I know she wants to be whole. She wants to be healed. She wants to be fully mine and in my heart she already is. In time I hope she realizes this and feels it securely in her own heart too. I feel pretty confident she will! And while 14 years of pain can’t be easily or totally erased, she and I choose to look ahead optimistically to 62 years of life together (I plan to live to be 100 😉 ). We cry together about the hard and smile together about what God has in store for her future. She’s coming to trust in His goodness and that is like a balm on both our hearts.
She was my first teenager, jumping ahead of our 10 year old biological daughter. I was nervous about these precarious teen years I hear so much about! But instead of a difficult and disgruntled individual, I have instead fallen in love with a joyful, optimistic, smart, funny and beautiful daughter and friend. She was our biggest leap of faith when it comes to adoption but she has been the most precious blessing! I have heard it said many times that mothering is God’s work; it’s holy work. I understood intellectually but could never quite relate it to my own day to day. Now, though, I understand that in my heart. Getting to hold her hand while the Lord heals her heart is truly is the greatest privilege. I feel that weight of holiness in watching Him at work, always through the Holy Spirit and sometimes even through me. I realize He has given me such a great mission in being her mom. I am humbled that God trusted her to us and thankful every day that we said YES. The joys of her victories are simply unmatched!
My children and I often remind each other, ‘No one gets left out!”
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.