First off, may I say that I. LOVE. JEN. HATMAKER. The woman is amazing. From her funny but relate-able stories (are your kids going to be black??? And yes, that has happened to us too) to her words of wisdom both in how to survive before AND after adoption, Jen has me laughing and crying in the same five minutes. Everything she says in her blog is how Abe and I feel. Check Jen out at:
@jenhatmaker on Twitter
The following post is taken from Jen's latest blog post called "How to Be The Village".
Nov. 2nd, 2011
Sometimes being ever-so-slightly in the public eye is rough. With a
mouth and discernment problem like mine, you can imagine. I basically
offer my life on the altar of criticism daily, then douse the sacrifice
with plenty of fuel to make disparagement a lay-up.
instance, Brandon and I attended a Halloween party last weekend with the
theme “Heroes and Super villains.” Our friends came in such costumes as
Captain America and the Joker and Kim Possible. They were all very
polished and adorable. We came as washed-up, possibly strung out
Superman and Supergirl complete with ripped fishnets, smeared makeup,
and pistol tattoo drawn with Sharpie. We may or may not have had unlit
cigarettes dangling from the corners of our mouths.
choices are often met with disapproval from the watching masses, as you
might well guess. I know you wish I would only dress up as Little Bo
Peep or Mary Mother of Jesus, but Brandon and I are very, very silly and
immature, and I’ve been trying to tell you people this for some time.
usually I am grateful for the connection to the greater world, if only
through social media and the miracle of emails (plus embarrassing
transparency). For example, just a few days ago, I received this email:
good friends just returned from Ethiopia last night with their two
little boys. Ok, they've had their "airport" moment and we were right
there with them. What are some things we can do
now to support them in the "real life" journey without overstepping our
boundaries? Thank you so much for your transparency and honesty. Everyone can benefit when you share from your heart.
was so moved by this email. Having benefitted from a community that
practically smothered us with support throughout our adoption journey, I
am so grateful for all the other good friends out there, loving their
people and asking how to help. Since reading this email, I’ve been
marinating on her question, and I’ve decided to write this Field Guide
to Supporting Adoptive Families. (And it will be brief because I will
try to remember that this is a blog and not a manuscript and the rules
of blogging include succinctness, so that is exactly how I’ll proceed
today, except for the exact opposite of all that.)
Let’s break this down into two categories:
Supporting Families Before the Airport
friends are adopting. They’re in the middle of dossiers and home
studies, and most of them are somewhere in the middle of Waiting
Purgatory. Please let me explain something about WP: It sucks in every
way. Oh sure, we try to make it sound better than it feels by using
phrases like “We’re trusting in God’s plan” and “God is refining me” and
“Sovereignty trumps my feelings” and crazy bidness like that. But we
are crying and aching and getting angry and going bonkers when you’re
not watching. It’s hard. It hurts. It feels like an eternity even though
you can see that it is not. It is harder for us to see that, because
many of us have pictures on our refrigerators of these beautiful
darlings stuck in an orphanage somewhere while we’re bogged down in
bureaucracy and delays.
How can you help? By not saying or doing these things:
timing is perfect!” (Could also insert: “This is all God’s plan!” “God
is in charge!”) As exactly true as this may be, when you say it to a
waiting parent, we want to scratch your eyebrows off and make you eat
them with a spoon. Any trite answer that minimizes the struggle is as
welcomed as a sack of dirty diapers. You are voicing something we
probably already believe while not acknowledging that we are hurting and
that somewhere a child is going to bed without a mother again. Please
never say this again. Thank you.
you going to have your own kids?” (Also in this category: “You’ll
probably get pregnant the minute your adoption clears!” “Since this is
so hard, why don’t you just try to have your own kids?” “Well, at least
you have your own kids.”) The subtle message here is: You can always
have legitimate biological kids if this thing tanks. It places adoption
in the Back-up Plan Category, where it does not belong for us.
When we flew to Ethiopia with our first travel group from our agency,
out of 8 couples, we were the only parents with biological kids. The
other 7 couples chose adoption first. Several of them were on birth
control. Adoption counts as real parenting, and if you believe
stuff Jesus said, it might even be closer to the heart of God than
regular old procreation. (Not to mention the couples that grieved
through infertility already. So when you say, “Are you going to have
your own kids?” to a woman who tried for eight years, then don’t be
surprised if she pulls your beating heart out like Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom.)
3. For those of you in
Christian community, it is extremely frustrating to hear: “Don’t give up
on God!” or “Don’t lose faith!” It implies that we are one nanosecond
away from tossing our entire belief system in the compost pile because
we are acting sad or discouraged. It’s condescending and misses the crux
of our emotions. I can assure you, at no point in our story did we
think about kicking Jesus to the curb, but we still get to cry tears and feel our feelings, folks. Jesus did. And I’m pretty sure he went to heaven when he died.
happy to field your questions about becoming a transracial family or
adopting a child of another race, but please don’t use this moment to
trot out your bigotry. (Cluelessness is a different thing, and we try to
shrug that off. Like when someone asked about our Ethiopian kids, “Will
they be black?” Aw, sweet little dum-dum.) The most hurtful thing we
heard during our wait was from a black pastor who said, “Whatever you
do, don’t change their last name to Hatmaker, because they are NOT
Hatmakers. They’ll never be Hatmakers. They are African.” What the???
I wonder if he’d launch the same grenade if we adopted white kids from
Russia? If you’d like to know what we’re learning about raising children
of another race or ask respectful, legitimate questions, by all means,
do so. We care about this and take it seriously, and we realize we will
traverse racial landmines with our family. You don’t need to point out
that we are adopting black kids and we are, in fact, white. We’ve
actually already thought of that.
nothing is the opposite bad. I realize with blogs like this one, you
can get skittish on how to talk to a crazed adopting Mama without
getting under her paper-thin skin or inadvertently offending her. I get
it. (We try hard not to act so hypersensitive. Just imagine that we are
paper-pregnant with similar hormones surging through our bodies making
us cry at Subaru commercials just like the 7-month preggo sitting next
to us. And look at all this weight we’ve gained. See?) But acting
like we’re not adopting or struggling or waiting or hoping or grieving
is not helpful either. If I was pregnant with a baby in my belly, and no
one ever asked how I was feeling or how much longer or is his nursery
ready or can we plan a shower, I would have to audition new friend
Here’s what we would love to hear Before the Airport:
kind, normal words of encouragement. Not the kind that assume we are
one breath away from atheism. Not the kind that attempt to minimize the
difficulties and tidy it all up with catchphrases. We don’t actually need for you to fix our wait.
We just want you to be our friend and acknowledge that the process is
hard and you care about us while we’re hurting. That is GOLD. I was once
having lunch with my friend Lynde when AWAA called with more bad news
about Ben’s case, and I laid my head down on the table in the middle of
Galaxy Café and bawled. Having no idea what to do with such a hot mess,
she just cried with me. Thank you for being perfect that day, Lynde.
questions are welcomed! We don’t mind telling you about the court
system in Ethiopia or the in-country requirements in Nicaragua or the
rules of the foster system. We’re glad to talk about adoption, and we’re
thankful you care. I assure you we didn’t enter adoption lightly, so
sharing details of this HUGE PIECE OF OUR LIVES is cathartic. Plus, we
want you to know more because we’re all secretly hoping you’ll adopt
later. (This is not true.) (Yes it is.)
you say you’re praying for us and our waiting children, and you
actually really are, not only does that soothe our troubled souls, but
according to Scripture, it activates the heavens. So pray on, dear
friends. Pray on. That is always the right thing to say. And please
actually do it. We need people to stand in the gap for us when we are
too tired and discouraged to keep praying the same words another day.
you can, please become telepathic to determine which days we want to
talk about adoption and which days we’d rather you just show up on our
doorstep with fresh figs from the Farmer’s Market (thanks, Katie) or
kidnap us away in the middle of the day to go see Bridesmaids.
Sometimes we need you to make us laugh and remember what it feels like
to be carefree for a few hours. If you’re not sure which day we’re
having, just pre-buy movie tickets and show up with the figs, and when
we answer the door, hold them all up and ask, “Would you like to talk
for an hour uninterrupted about waiting for a court date?” We’ll respond
to whichever one fits.
Supporting Families After the Airport
went to the airport. The baby came down the escalator to cheers and
balloons. The long adoption journey is over and your friends are home
with their new baby / toddler / twins / siblings / teenager. Everyone is
happy. Maybe Fox News even came out and filmed the big moment and “your
friend” babbled like an idiot and didn’t say one constructive word
about adoption and also she looked really sweaty during her interview.
(Really? That happened to me too. Weird.)
How can you help? By not saying or doing these things:
mean this nicely, but don’t come over for awhile. Most of us are going
to hole up in our homes with our little tribe and attempt to create a
stable routine without a lot of moving parts. This is not because we
hate you; it’s because we are trying to establish the concept of “home”
with our newbies, and lots of strangers coming and going makes them
super nervous and unsure, especially strangers who are talking crazy
language to them and trying to touch their hair.
do not touch, hug, kiss, or use physical affection with our kids for a
few months. We absolutely know your intentions are good, but attachment
is super tricky with abandoned kids, and they have had many caregivers,
so when multiple adults (including extended family) continue to touch
and hold them in their new environment, they become confused about who
to bond with. This actually delays healthy attachment egregiously. It
also teaches them that any adult or stranger can touch them without
their permission, and believe me, many adoptive families are working
HARD to undo the damage already done by this position. Thank you so much
for respecting these physical boundaries.
the next few months, do not assume the transition is easy. For 95% of
us, it so is not. And this isn’t because our family is dysfunctional or
our kids are lemons, but because this phase is so very hard on everyone.
I can’t tell you how difficult it was to constantly hear: “You must be
so happy!” and “Is life just so awesome now that they’re here??” and
“Your family seems just perfect now!” I wanted that to be true so
deeply, but I had no idea how to tell you that our home was actually a
Trauma Center. (I did this in a passive aggressive way by writing this blog,
which was more like “An Open Letter to Everyone Who Knows Us and Keeps
Asking Us How Happy We Are.”) Starting with the right posture with your
friends – this is hard right now – will totally help you become a safe friend to confide in / break down in front of / draw strength from.
not act shocked if we tell you how hard the early stages are. Do not
assume adoption was a mistake. Do not worry we have ruined our lives. Do
not talk behind our backs about how terribly we’re doing and how you’re
worried that we are suicidal. Do not ask thinly veiled questions
implying that we are obviously doing something very, very wrong. Do not
say things like, “I was so afraid it was going to be like this” or “Our
other friends didn’t seem to have these issues at all.” Just let us
struggle. Be our friends in the mess of it. We’ll get better.
we’ve adopted older kids, please do not ask them if they “love America
so much” or are “so happy to live in Texas.” It’s this simple: adoption
is born from horrible loss. In an ideal world, there would be no
adoption, because our children would be with their birth families, the
way God intended. I’ll not win any points here, but I bristle when
people say, “Our adopted child was chosen for us by God before the
beginning of time.” No he wasn’t. He was destined for his birth family.
God did not create these kids to belong to us. He didn’t decide that
they should be born into poverty or disease or abandonment or abuse and
despair aaaaaaaall so they could finally make it into our homes, where
God intended them to be. No. We are a very distant Plan B. Children are
meant for their birth families, same as my biological kids were meant
for mine. Adoption is one possible answer to a very real tragedy… after it has already happened, not before
as the impetus for abandonment. There is genuine grief and sorrow when
your biological family is disrupted by death and poverty, and our kids
have endured all this and more. So when you ask my 8-year-old if he is
thrilled to be in Texas, please understand that he is not. He misses his
country, his language, his food, his family. Our kids came to us in the
throes of grief, as well they should. Please don’t make them smile and
lie to you about how happy they are to be here.
do not disappear. If I thought the waiting stage was hard, it does not
even hold the barest candle to what comes after the airport. Not. The. Barest. Candle.
Never have I felt so isolated and petrified. Never have I been so
overwhelmed and exhausted. We need you after the airport way more than
we ever needed you before. I know you’re scared of us, what with our
dirty hair and wild eyes and mystery children we’re keeping behind
closed doors so they don’t freak out more than they already have, but
please find ways to stick around. Call. Email. Check in. Post on our
Facebook walls. Send us funny cards. Keep this behavior up for longer
than six days.
Here’s what we would love to hear or experience After the Airport:
for your friends. Put together a meal calendar and recruit every person
who even remotely cares about them. We didn’t cook dinners for one
solid month, and folks, that may have single handedly saved my sanity.
There simply are not words to describe how exhausting and overwhelming
those first few weeks are, not to mention the lovely jetlag everyone
came home with. And if your friends adopted domestically right up the
street, this is all still true, minus the jetlag.
we have them, offer to take our biological kids for an adventure or
sleepover. Please believe me: their lives just got WHACKED OUT, and they
need a break, but their parents can’t give them one because they are
1.) cleaning up pee and poop all day, 2.) holding screaming children,
3.) spending all their time at doctors’ offices, and 4.) falling asleep
in their clothes at 8:15pm. Plus, they are in lockdown mode with the
recently adopted, trying to shield them from the trauma that is Walmart.
3. Thank you for getting excited with
us over our little victories. I realize it sounds like a very small deal
when we tell you our kindergartener is now staying in the same room as
the dog, but if you could’ve seen the epic level of freakoutedness this
dog caused her for three weeks, you would understand that this is really something.
When you encourage us over our incremental progress, it helps. You
remind us that we ARE moving forward and these little moments are worth
celebrating. If we come to you spazzing out, please remind us where we
were a month ago. Force us to acknowledge their gains. Be a cheerleader
for the healing process.
4. Come over
one night after our kids are asleep and sit with us on our porch. Let me
tell you: we are all lonely in those early weeks. We are home, home,
home, home, home. Good-bye, date nights. Good-bye, GNO’s. Good-bye,
spontaneous anything. Good-bye, church. Good-bye, big public outings.
Good-bye, community group. Good-bye, nightlife. So please bring some
community to our doorstep. Bring friendship back into our lives. Bring
adult conversation and laughter. And bring an expensive bottle of wine.
the shoe fits, tell adopting families how their story is affecting
yours. If God has moved in you over the course of our adoption, whether
before the airport or after, if you’ve made a change or a decision, if
somewhere deep inside a fire was lit, tell us, because it is spiritual
water on dry souls. There is nothing more encouraging than finding out
God is using our families for greater kingdom work, beautiful things we
would never know or see. We gather the holy moments in our hands every
day, praying for eyes to see God’s presence, his purposes realized in
our story. When you put more holy moments in our hands to meditate on,
we are drawn deeper into the Jesus who led us here.
last thing: As you watch us struggle and celebrate and cry and flail, we
also want you to know that adoption is beautiful, and a thousand times
we’ve looked at each other and said, “What if we would’ve said no?” God
invited us into something monumental and lovely, and we would’ve missed
endless moments of glory had we walked away. We need you during these
difficult months of waiting and transitioning, but we also hope you see
that we serve a faithful God who heals and actually sets the lonely in
families, just like He said He would. And even through the tears and
tantrums (ours), we look at our children and marvel that God counted us
worthy to raise them. We are humbled. We’ve been gifted with a very holy
task, and when you help us rise to the occasion, you have an
inheritance in their story; your name will be counted in their legacy.
that day you brought us pulled pork tacos was the exact day I needed to
skip dinner prep and hold my son on the couch for an hour, talking
about Africa and beginning to bind up his emotional wounds. When you
kidnapped me for two hours and took me to breakfast, I was at the very,
very, absolute end that morning, but I came home renewed, able to greet
my children after school with fresh love and patience. When you loved on
my big kids and offered them sanctuary for a night, you kept the family
rhythm in sync at the end of a hard week.
Thank you for being the village. You are so important.
friends, what can you add? What has been helpful or hurtful? How has
your community helped you raise your children? What do friends and
family need to hear?