Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rage, Grief and Defiance in the Older Adopted Child, Part 1

---This post continues with my series, The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly: Realities of Older Child Adoption. Click on the link above, titled "Older Child Adoption" to read the first several posts in this series.---

Imagine with me for a moment, that you're an orphan. Abandoned as a newborn, you've spent years in an institution, deprived of the loving nurture that you so desperately need. You are ignored and ostracized at school, so you sleep through most of your classes. You are undisciplined and unloved, so you lie, cheat, steal, hoard, manipulate, scream, hide, and bully in order to survive. You are unattached and ignored, and you scratch and rock at night in order to simply feel something.

 Now imagine with me that tomorrow morning you wake up in a new place. In a different bed, in a strange home, with disgusting food, surrounded by unfamiliar people speaking a language you don't understand. They tell you this is a family, and you've always wanted a family, but you haven't the slightest clue how to survive in this environment.

They take you out and you are constantly overwhelmed. Your first time in a store, you play under the racks of clothing like a toddler. You make noise in church, unbuckle in the car, and run out in front of cars in parking lots.

You lie about absolutely everything because it feels safer that way.

You are slowly stripped of your lifelong survival skills, as your new family teaches you a better way. Truth replaces lies. Work replaces cheating. Kindness replaces bullying. Sharing replaces hoarding. Snuggles on Mommy's lap replace the rocking. And eye contact replaces the hiding.

In many ways, you begin to love your new life, the shock of the change starts to wear off, and a bit of sparkle returns to your eyes. The food starts to taste better, the people aren't quite so weird, and the new language slowly gets easier.

Its not that you really want to return to the old life--you don't--but you still long for the familiar, the comfortable, the only way you've ever known.

And so you grieve. Not every day, just sometimes. Like when you get a letter from a friend from your orphanage. Or when your mother expects you to do something you never had to do before. Or when you watch your siblings, with their seemingly carefree life and you start to wonder, "WHY ME? Why wasn't I born into this family? Why wasn't I adopted as a baby? Why does everything have to be so hard for me?"

You act out, because it's your only survival skill, because you miss your old home, and because you're furious that life is NOT fair.


Everything I wrote above is true for our Johanna. Things are going pretty well most days now :), but we've been through some dark, long, heavy grieving and raging times as well. The worst of it shook our family to the very core, and sent us sobbing to our knees.

Please understand that we empathize completely with our sweet Johanna. She did not choose to have to face these struggles. We know God has an amazing plan for her life and we are just one of the parts of the process. :)

That being said, I would be lying if I said this has been easy. It's been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It's been exhausting, confusing, and downright painful.

BUT! The lessons the Lord has been teaching me, the fruit in Johanna's life, the strength of our family in the midst of everything makes it so so worth it.

There are reasons families aren't coming forward in massive droves to adopt older children. There are reasons older children are disrupted in much larger numbers than younger children. I personally think part of the reason for this is lack of education, preparation, and support. Very few people talk about the really hard things, in part because they don't want to hinder others from adopting and in part because they are afraid they will be judged if they admit that things are not always perfect.

Adopting a child from a hard place is just that: HARD. It is also quite possibly one of the sweetest life experiences you could ever have.

Families need to be prepared, equipped, and supported, long after the adoption has been finalized.   In an effort to offer support, understanding, and education for other families, I'm going to elaborate on some of the behavior challenges and coping techniques regarding rage, grief, and defiance in the older adopted child.  


I'm sure there are fancy definitions for the kind of rage I'm talking about here, but this is the word that comes to mind for this behavior, so I'm using it. :) It's not always an "angry" rage, as many times it can be a mourning, sad kind of rage.

Raging (in Johanna's case) involves any (or all) of the following: screaming, scratching, self-harm, hateful words, inability to calm down, tantruming, kicking, throwing things, and running away.

Picture the worst toddler tantrum, on steroids, for hours, and you have a tiny glimpse into the world of a raging adopted teen. :)

The combination of an inability to control her emotions and not being taught much of anything--coupled with the frustrations of life--combine to create the perfect storm.

If you're familiar at all with the teachings of Dr. Karyn Purvis (if you've adopted, you should be!), you'll remember the "flight, fright, freeze" brain mechanism that happens during stress for our kiddos. Unattached, unnurtured brains react unusually to duress.

Anyway,  Johanna goes to all three. :) Sometimes she runs (very far!), sometimes she cowers in fear, and sometimes her eyes go blank and she freezes up.

Most of Johanna's raging seemed to coinside with a period of grief and defiance. I think the "honeymoon" had worn off and she began to mourn the loss of her old life in China. She struggled defiantly with learning to obey and learning important life skills (like brushing her teeth or learning to read English). No one in her life had ever made her do much of anything, and she fought this transition HARD.

 It was several months of daily raging.  Various things would trigger it, anything from being asked to do a "difficult" math problem, to being told to wash her hair correctly, to being disciplined in any way for anything. Even a simple "Johanna, you did wrong." could trigger a raging tantrum. Getting injured, losing a game, being teased, getting sad, being nervous, being forced to make eye contact, being overstimulated or overtired, etc, etc, etc.....

Basically, any time her emotions were affected, she would start to shake her head, kick, and scream. Loud, open-mouthed, horrible-sounding screams. If I didn't give in and cater to her every whim (I didn't), they were even more unbearable. The longest tantrum lasted six hours. Yes, six long hours of uncontrollable screaming, kicking, and throwing things.

The rages were daily at their worst, sometimes multiple times a day, often late into the night. We were exhausted and our other children were beginning to be very angry at this child who was literally controlling our entire family with her screaming.

I knew much of this was normal, but I truly wasn't sure how many more months I could take of the screaming. I tried all of the traditional parenting tips I had accumulated over the years, most of which didn't work. I scoured the internet and my adoption books, called social workers and researced everywhere for what to do when your child quits anything "hard", lies about absolutely everything, and screams for hours and hours on end.....

Our attachment was already new and in-process and the screaming did nothing to encourage my attachment to her. The natural boundary between mother and child that prevents abuse, even when you're angry was not always there, and I felt overwhelmed and guilty with my own feelings of anger and frustration. I loved her, yes, but there's only so many loving feelings that flow when you're holding a kicking and screaming child in her room for three hours while your other children call for Mommy outside the door.

Even in the midst of the darkest, loneliest days, God was molding, teaching, and equipping me to parent our sweet girl. He was teaching me some life lessons that I needed to learn, and He had not forgotten about us. Over the months, as I learned and utilized some techniques and methods that helped Johanna, God filled my empty heart over and over again with love for her.

Johanna is not perfect. Her upbringing and past abuses have left their mark on her life, but God is in the miracle business---HE IS THE REDEEMER---and He is redeeming her beautiful life for His glorious purpose. She has come SO far over the past year and a half and is such a gorgeous redeemed treasure!

We have no regrets for following God's call, even when the "going gets tough".

Next time, I'll share some of the wonderful techniques that have helped Johanna learn to control her emotions, obey, and succeed in so many other ways. (I was hoping to put it into one post, buuuuut, you all know how "wordy" I can be, lol.) 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Toddler Photo Shoot: Funny Out-takes :)

During our family Christmas photo shoot last week, we posed the three toddlers alone for some shots.

The out-takes tell a story all their own.....;)

"Girls, why don't you give your brother a kiss on the cheek??"

Lyssie and Gabbey lean forward to kiss Ethan.

He promptly spits in Lyssie's face. (Oh, yes he did! LOL)

Look closely at the expressions on their faces below:

Gabbey backs up from the spitter, hoping she's not about to get spit on.

Lyssie begins to pout and cry.

Ethan finds his actions utterly hysterical.

Daddy and Mommy correct the spitter and the pouter and the girls try again to give their brother a kiss.

Now Ethan's not so sure about the kissing.

"Okay, guys, how about you just SMILE instead?"

And there you have it! :)

Thank You and Changes

Dearest Friends and Family,

Thank you to those of you who prayed and encouraged our hearts last week.

We faced some really big decisions that affect our entire family's future.

There is an amazing peace from God that we made the correct decision. We are facing some pretty major changes coming our way this next year and we are extremely excited about them!  I wish I could publicly share all that the Lord has been doing in our lives.....but this blog is just that: public. And I need to wait a little longer to share all the details. :)

One change that I can share is that we had to put our adoption plans for Africa on hold. Our hearts are still just as passionate about orphan care as they ever were, but we won't be pursuing an international adoption right now.

Our God loves us, His unworthy children, so much more than any of us deserve. The immense joy that comes from wholehearted, abandoning faith is beyond description. Just when our hearts were aching because of our change in adoption plans, the Lord opened some doors we had been praying fervently about for quite some time! His ways are not our ways, and I'm thankful.

I know I've started several series over the past few months, and I'm doing my best to work on each one as time allows. We had company for almost 2 weeks in November and that, combined with the heavy decisions on our hearts, has made my blogging time next to nothing. :)

I've had many requests for some practical examples of Grace Parenting, as well as more detailed posts on the older child adoption series. My goal is to work on both series in the next two weeks. Stay tuned and thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and patience. :)

With Love,

Monday, December 3, 2012

Decisions and Prayer

My husband and I will be making some very major decisions this week. These decisions affect our entire lives.

I'm not at liberty to share all of the details just yet. When I am able, I will gladly share.

In the meantime, if you are a believer, would you lift the Bergey family before the throne of grace this week?

We are praying specifically for direction, wisdom, clarity, and complete surrender.

Thank you, dear friends.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grace-Parenting, Part 3: Momma's Heart Matters

Remember back before you had children, when you would see a child at Wal-mart, throwing themselves on the floor in a full-blown tantrum over the candy isle....and you would think to yourself, "MY children will never act like that!"???

I was like that, too. :)

I began my parenting journey determined not to raise "Wal-mart brats". LOL

In all seriousness, though, my passion became my downfall.

As I began to share earlier in this series, I had a huge paradigm shift a little over a year ago.

You see, the way we respond to our children comes from what lies deep within our mothering heart.

The attitudes of your Momma heart highly affect your parenting style, and the choices you make in dealing with your children.

It's like the tea-bag illustration: When the water is boiling (and your children are misbehaving!), what is inside the tea bag (your HEART!) WILL come out.

How we view our children, the way we think about them, the plans we've made for them, and the responsiblity we take for their actions all play into the parent-child relationship and affect our choices for discipline.

Our thoughts matter, and the way we think matters.

We need to constantly evaluate the thoughts of our hearts, to see if they line up with Biblical principles regarding our children.

Tonight, I want to share one of the little "golden nuggets" of thoughts that, when I discovered it, revolutionalized my parenting:

It is not my job to MAKE my children obey, but it is my job to HELP my children obey.

At first glance, this may not seem like such a big statement, so I'll explain in today's post why this helps me with Grace-Parenting and next time I'll show you how I apply this in our day-to-day life.

Children should obey their parents. God instituted the authority in the home----and the children are clearly not in charge. Let me make it clear that I believe this and our children understand it to be true in our home. :)

That being said, I do not believe I need to "win every battle" with my child, because I am no longer at war with my children. So many Christian parenting books/teachers will push this thought: Win the battle of wills with your child because otherwise you'll "lose" the war.

The problem with this style of teaching is that it immediately puts you and your child on OPPOSITE teams. It is a "you vs. them" mentality. This drives you to be "on guard" for mistakes, disobediences, etc, because you have to "win" this elusive WAR against your little child. With this mindset, discipline naturally becomes harsher, swifter, and less understanding. Momma is afraid to extend grace because surely GRACE won't win the war??!!

On the other hand, let's look at the thought above again:

It is not my job to MAKE my children obey, but it is my job to HELP my children obey.

Instead of thinking it is your job to MAKE your child obey, focus on the fact that it is your job to HELP your child obey.

----MAKE says, "Do it now because I said so."

----HELP says, "Let's do it together."

----MAKE puts you at war, on oppostie sides of the battle.

----HELP puts you as the coach on the same team.

----MAKE encourages harsh discipline when the little one doesn't instantly obey.

----HELP encourages help instead of harsh discipline.

----MAKE means Momma is personally offended when the child chooses disobedience.

----HELP means Momma can embrace the opportunity to guide her child towards obedience.

----MAKE teaches the older children to be harsh with the younger ones when they don't listen to them.

----HELP teaches the older children to be kind, gentle, and patient with their younger siblings.

----MAKE leaves Momma feeling frustrated and guilty when the "battle" is over.

----HELP leaves the Momma and child working together towards sweet obedience.

I am mostly talking about the five and under crowd when I'm using "help" vs. "make". By the time most children are school-age, they have learned basic obedience or are easily motivated by creative consequences. There are times, however, when HELP is still the best discipline tactic for the moment, even with older children. :)

The next time your little one disobeys a direct command, take a deep breath (breathing always seems to help, lol!). Then, while you decide what course of action to take, remember these words:

It is not my job to MAKE my children obey, but it is my job to HELP my children obey.

When Momma's heart is filled with gentleness, long-suffering, kindness, forgiveness, patience, and a willingness to HELP, it is much easier to teach her children to obey. :)

Next time I'll share some practical illustrations with both our young and older children on this topic.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Worth Sharing...

---Brent posted this on his Facebook status this afternoon. It stirred my heart, reminding me of the why behind what we're doing. I wanted to share it here, too.---

An adopted child doesn't depreciate like a car,

doesn't wear out like clothes,

isn't short lived like a nice meal.

 He or she lasts far longer then a retirement pension

and gives so much more than a 401K.

He or she DOESN'T even HAVE to have a college education to be happy,

he or she just needs you.

He or she gives far more warmth than a fur coat,

is far more worthy to root for then your favorite sports team

and is far more thankful than the movie star you dream to meet.

The adopted orphan is better to cuddle up to than your favorite book on a cold day

and is more lovable than your favorite pet.

Your orphan is far more rewarding then what you had planned before you adopted them.

Now... go get them.

What are you waiting for?

Potty Training Tips

After the more "serious" nature of the Grace Parenting series,( part 1 and part 2 ), and (part 1 and part 2 ) of the Realities of Older Child Adoption series, I thought it would be fun to change gears today and talk about something a little less, shall we say, HEAVY? :) (And YES, I will be coming back to both of these series soon!)

How about potty training?

Yes, I finally potty trained little Miss Gabriella Mei.

I normally potty train my little ones right around their 2nd birthday. This triplet thing is a whole different story, though! I will admit, I waited until Gabbey turned three because I just didn't feel like doing it sooner. :)  (Public places are what make it challenging for me. Imagine three curious toddlers exploring public restrooms. Just.Plain.Yuck.)

But, it was time, so we plunged right in (no pun intended!) and Gabbey is now completely potty trained (with the exception of overnight).

Over the course of my parenting years so far, I have run the gamet of potty training experiences.

Eliana was trained at 23 months. With Nathaniel and Noah, I did infant potty training (also known as Elimination Communication) so they only used diapers part-time as babies. They were diaper free by their 2nd birthdays (but I hadn't changed a poopy diaper since they were under 6 months old---the best benefit to EC!)

Ethan's 2nd birthday fell soon after we brought Gabbey home from China (and right in the midst of our adoptions of Johanna and Alyssia), so I didn't attempt him until a few months after his birthday. (Actually, he was trained during Brent's trip to China for Lyssie. Initially, I was trying to train Gabbey that week, too, but it was just too much potty on the floor that first day so I put her training on hold until further notice. :))

Lyssie's foster parents used EC with her, so she actually came to us diaper-free day AND night (at 23 months). With all of the changes in her sweet little life, she regressed those first couple of weeks and had quite a few accidents, but she quickly went back to being accident-free (except for occasional trips to the park---the great outdoors seems to trigger her outdoor EC habits and she just goes!).

Just for fun (because I don't claim to be an expert, just a Momma with alot of potty experiences, lol), I'm going to share the potty training tips I've utilized over the years that have saved my sanity. :)


This is self-explanatory. If your toddler won't sit or stay when you tell them to, they're not going to listen when you try potty training. They have to be able to listen to basic commands and follow them pretty consistently first. :)


No half-hearted potty training will work quickly. If you go back and forth, or don't have the time to fully commit, WAIT. You're not doing yourself or your toddler any good if you aren't ready to be consistent. :)


I truly think the invention of pull-ups is what keeps toddlers in diapers until they're too old for them. The first day we start potty training is the last day I put a diaper on my toddler (with the exception of bedtime). Seriously, this helps. If MOMMA knows the toddler has underwear on, she will be MUCH more vigilant to help them keep dry. :) Don't put a diaper on in the car and tell the little one to "just use the diaper this time". This is WAY confusing to the child. Underwear and clothing feel gross when they're wet and that nasty feeling will trigger the "hold it!" mechanism.Trust me on this one.


Potty training should be FUN----don't have a negative spirit with your toddler! Stay patient, kind and calm. Give tangible rewards, sing and act silly when there is success, and praise, praise, praise your little one! :)

Okay, now that I've given some "tips", I'll share exactly how it works in the Bergey house. I'm sure potty training looks different for each family---there's truly no "right" or "wrong" way! :) This is just what works best for us.

 DAY  1: Bring out the new "special big kid" underwear, set up a treat jar, take away the diapers, and make a BIG, BIG, BIG deal about how the child is now going to get to wear big boy/girl underwear and go potty on the toilet.
Put the new underwear on the child, along with just a loose t-shirt. (This will save on laundry!) Give them a full sippy cup of liquid. (I don't usually give mine juice, but will do so for potty training as they'll drink more this way and need to "go" more.)
Explain the process in detailed, child-friendly language. ("You're a big girl now! You get to go potty on the toilet like Mommy does. When you feel the potty start to come out, tell Mommy right away!" etc)
Keep the child near you all day long. (I kept Gabbey on my lap or within 3 feet of me all day the first two days.) This way you can watch their body signals closely and instantly catch accidents. Keep track of how often they go, what they do right before they go (try to hide, wiggle, make a face, etc). Communicate that their potty "needs to come out!" and that is what they are feeling. Remember that your toddler is not used to controlling the muscle that keeps the potty IN, so it will come out unexpectedly at first. Rush to the toilet, even if the accident already occurred. (Gabbey pottied on my lap twice the first morning, lol.)
Take them potty about every hour. (My rule of thumb for potty training is that if my toddler is not staying dry for at least one hour at a time by day 3, they're not ready. Wait a couple of months and try again.) On day 1, let them sit on the potty for about 5 minutes each time. I give one "treat" for each potty attempt on the first day and two "treats" for each potty success. If they want to sit on the toilet more frequently, I say yes, even if that means they get more jelly beans than might be good for their teeth. :) I want them to WANT to sit on the toilet.
Expect several accidents on day 1. (This is why you keep the toddler near you so you're not cleaning up hidden messes.) Don't give up just yet! Day 1 is supposed to have accidents! Keep them in underwear and do laundry frequently if you need to. :)  All of mine have had their first success in the toilet sometime on day 1.
DAY 2: Keep yourself motivated, because today you are likely to gain much success! DON'T put a diaper back on your little one, even if you have to leave the house. Just pack several changes of clothes and deal with the accidents if they occur.
Continue taking the child to the toilet every hour or so (if they're already having successes, you can start to "space" it out a bit more, just a few minutes each day).
Continue to praise, praise, praise!
Continue to keep the child close to you all day long. Truly, this makes all the difference. You will find yourself in a continual cycle of cleaning up messes after the fact if you don't keep your child close. :)
Once your toddler is able to potty when you put them on the toilet, only reward the potty successes. If they start to regress (due to family stress, being away from home, new baby, etc), bring the treat jar back for a short time to help motivate them to try again. :)
DAY 3 and BEYOND:   Stay consistent. Even if your little one has occasional accidents, don't revert back to diapers. :) Let your toddler go back to playing away from you and see if they still stay dry. Gradually add time in between potty trips. A 2 to 3 year old can usually "hold it" for about 2 hours, depending on their liquid intake. Once they are consistently using the toilet, offer treats only when they either tell you they need to go or use the potty independantly. (With the exception of Alyssia, mine were all around 3 before they could go independantly. Alyssia was 2 and a half when she stopped needing help in the bathroom.)
----As for our little Miss Gabbey Mei? She had 4 accidents and 3 successes the first day, 2 accidents the second day, 1 accident the 5th day (we were at a restaurant for lunch and forgot to take her), and NO accidents since that time. It's been a full two weeks and she now stays dry for 2 to 2 1/2 hours at a time before she comes and finds me to let me know she needs to go. :) If she's wearing "easy" clothing, she can take herself to the bathroom, too! So proud of my littlest munchkin. No more diapers in the Bergey Bunch----must be time for another baby. LOL......

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PART 2 of The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly: Realities of Older Child Adoption

In this post I finally began blogging about some of the harder aspects of Johanna's adoption.

I started with Birth Order and the affects of adopting a child that instantly became the oldest of our seven children. Truthfully, this aspect of the adoption was more difficult for our biological children than it was for Johanna. She seems to enjoy being the oldest most of the time. (occasionally she is very sad that she wasn't a baby when she was adopted)

Today, I'm going to talk about the "negative" (in quotes on purpose, because clearly these behaviors were unavoidable in the beginning) BEHAVIOR issues we've faced so far.

Johanna spent 14 years in a public institution. She was fed and kept warm and clean, but she was not nurtured, loved, or disciplined. Our children's moral compass is set in motion by the parents and without that ruling sense of right and wrong, it becomes all about survival. The behaviors I'm about to describe are a direct result of years of neglect, abuse, and self-preservation.

This is the Johanna at the beginning of our journey. Many of these behaviors have been overcome by lots of love, hard work, and perseverance; some of them still remain, but we're working on them. :) I'm going to list the behaviors, then highlight and explain some of them.

Social Behaviors:

Lack of eye contact with adults

Inappropiate contact with men (this only happened a few times, hugging men at church, etc)

Running around wildly

"Spacey" look in her eyes

Overstimulated easily in public places, ie Wal-mart or church, amusement parks, large groups of people

Inability to play with other children, especially with regards to role-playing or group games

Lack of appropiate "stranger" boundaries/bonding outside the family

Physical Behaviors:


Sensory processing difficulties

Inability to "read" her body's signals and needs (ie hungry, thirsty, tired, overstimulated, need to use the bathroom, etc)

Self-soothing behaviors like rocking, nail biting, fingers in her mouth, head banging, scratching (until she would bleed!)

Difficulty "calming down" once stimulated; bedtime was a great challenge for many months

Coordination challenges, such as jumping

Struggled to tie her shoes

Hoarding of her things (EVERYTHING she owned was kept on her bed for about 6 months and NOBODY was allowed to touch it)

Cheating with schoolwork

Emotional Behaviors:

Anger when told "no"

Inability to control her temper
Uncontrollable crying, screaming, or raging, depending on the situation

Toddler-like emotions: giddy when excited, throwing herself on the floor when disappointed

Only coping mechanism for stress: RUNNING AWAY FROM IT---literally running and hiding


Habitual (daily) lying

No empathy for others


Quite the list, isn't it?  The thing is, Johanna is not just a list of behaviors. She's the product of her upbringing. We can't erase those years but we can help her begin to heal. And we are SO PROUD of how far she has come in just a little over one year. :)

I will be honest and say that if someone had showed me this list of behaviors before I traveled for Johanna, I would have been very overwhelmed. I'm so thankful now that we stepped out by faith and trusted the Lord's leading and not "man's" intuition. :)

I expected many of these behaviors, but a few really pulled the rug out from under me. We've been through some dark days but the "SON" is still shining in our hearts.

In the next few posts, I will try to "highlight" the most challenging moments of the past year, in the hopes that our story can educate, equip, and encourage other families to not only consider one of these precious older children, but also to persevere when the "going gets tough". :)

Next posts will cover "Teaching Through the Communication Barrier", "Defiance and Discline", "The Reality of Raging and Grief" and more. Please feel free to comment publicly or email me privately if you have a question you'd like to see addressed in this series.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I received quite a bit of feedback regarding a musical instrument for Johanna--thank you!

Several of you suggested the piano. Just to clarify, I play the piano, and taught private lessons full-time until my home started filling up with many small children. :) I teach both Johanna and Eliana piano lessons, but I was looking for another instrument that would blend nicely with the violins and piano. Unfortunately, we only have one piano, and Mommy claims it when we're doing music together....:)

One lovely reader offered to send a lap harp to Johanna---what a blessing!!!!!

Shhhh! Johanna doesn't know yet, and will probably receive it for Christmas---if Mommy can wait that long to see the joy on her face when she opens it!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly: Realities of Older Child Adoption

Not everything I write about is easy to share.
In fact, some of it is very personal and therefore very difficult to talk about in such a public way.
For that reason, I have waited until now, until I had clearance from the Lord and my husband, to share the deepest thoughts of my heart with you.
I have been approached more times than I can count about the realities of older child (and out-of-birth-order) adoption. Families want to know more than the feel good, mushy stuff that's fun to blog about. They want the GOOD, the BAD, and the downright UGLY.
Naturally, it is the most fun to share about the GOOD and most of what I have shared the past year has pertained to the good. :)
Today I will address the BAD and the downright UGLY, in the sincere hope that I can be a blessing and an encouragement to other mommas on their parenting journeys (one of the main purposes of this blog!).
And just because no blog post is fun without pictures, I'm including lots of pictures from Johanna's 15th birthday party this past July. :)

Let me start by saying this: Our Johanna is a treasure beyond words. We do not fault her for the challenges that accompany her adoption, because she did NOT choose to be an abandoned, she did not choose to be an orphan, and she did not choose to be institutionalized for 14 years. We are committed to being her "forever family" and are thankful for the immense blessings she has brought to our family.

There were some days this past year, where it felt like Johanna had always been a part of our family, where the bonding was effortless, where the children blended beautifully, and where we all found it easy to love each other.

But there have also been many, many days where none of the above was true......where the challenges of language and culture, birth-order and behavior, teen hormones and toddler maturity were overwhelming, exhausting, frustrating, suffocating even. Where I had to wake up in the morning and fake loving feelings for this child. Where my heart broke into a million pieces as I saw the affect she was having on the younger children. Where I wanted to scoop her up into my arms, run away with her, and start her life over so she wouldn't have to overcome so much and it wouldn't be so so so hard.

"Mommy, it's just not fair! The other children got to be with you as babies and they learned how to -----fill in the blank here with whatever we were working on----when they were little. It's just SO HARD for me to learn it now."

Please believe me when I say that we have no regrets. There is no doubt in our minds that Johanna was and IS meant to be in our family. For the most part, we've been able to see the light through the darkest days, with the exception of one very long weekend which was the one and only time the word disruption entered our vocabulary. (More about that later.) We are even more committed to making this work on all accounts than we were before we adopted her, because now we've heard her laugh, we've wiped away her tears, we've mended her hurts, we've watched her blossom---and we love her to the moon and back.

I want to talk first about BIRTH ORDER and how our adoption of a child older than the rest of our children has affected our family.
You will find most people (agencies included) will discourage "adopting out of birth order". I won't go into the science behind birth order, but I do think it's important to consider this topic.
Adopting Johanna immediately bumped Eliana (10) out of her firstborn position in our family. And while she completely agreed to the adoption and went out of her way to welcome Johanna and share her family with her, it was still very hard in the beginning. I remember Eliana coming to me privately numerous times to discuss this. She would repeatedly ask me, "Mommy, even though Johanna is the oldest now, will I always be the first one to come out of your tummy?" and I would reassure her over and over again of my love for her and her "place" in our family. After a TON of work, effort, guiding hearts, teaching, and loving, Eliana and Johanna are now pretty much inseperable. They play, work, dream, and plan like true sisters now.
One of the things I didn't think about in advance was that Johanna would get to do everything "first", before Eliana. Younger siblings are raised with the acceptance that they are not "first" in line for anything----they won't get older, drive, get their ears pierced, graduate, attend college, etc, FIRST. But the oldest child knows from the time they're little that they will be first. Especially given the fact that Johanna came to us very, very immature (therefore not earning priveleges by "right", just by "age"), it was hard for Eliana to accept the fact that Johanna would be doing "everything" before her. As Johanna has matured over the past year, and the girls have become "buddies", this has become less of an issue.
Nathaniel (8) has also struggled with accepting Johanna as his "older" sister. Keep in mind that for many months, Johanna acted less mature (in just about every area of life) than Eliana did. This really bothered Nathaniel and caused him alot of frustration. He takes it very personal when she is disrespectful to "his" Mommy and he felt left out and overlooked when caring for and teaching Johanna took so much of my time. Even though we as adults can completely empathize with the reasons behind Johanna's behaviors, empathy is a learned behavior and one I have had to continually work on with my children. I have been working on creative ways to strengthen Johanna and Nathaniels' bond.
It truly is a balancing act, parenting the various needs of each of our children, isn't it? :)

Our younger four children have accepted Johanna with open arms (well, Gabbey didn't take to her immediately, but she loves her now). Johnna came to us with ZERO ability to relate to young children. They frustrated and angered her and she even hit them a few times. This is an area where she has shown incredible growth. She is now able to completely care for the young children in our home. She can feed them, bathe them, dress them, take them potty, put them down for a nap, play with them, entertain them, discipline them (minor, appropiate reprimands when she is in charge), teach them, and love them. It's kinda scary, really----she sounds JUST LIKE me when she takes care of the littlest ones. Patience, role-playing, and modeling good parenting skills definitely paid off in this area.

Johanna asked me the other day, "Mommy, do you think I will be a GOOD mommy?"
 I truly think she'll be a great mommy someday.

Well, this post is getting long and I've barely scratched the surface of what I want to say. I guess I will just have to split this into several posts. :)

I'll close with one of my favorite pictures: Johanna and Eliana with their "best" friends, Elise and Emily. Such sweet, beautiful girls.....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In case you were wondering....

November is National Adoption Awareness month, in case you didn't know.

That means I have an excuse a reason to post even more about our Father's heart for the fatherless. :)

I'm also working on a long-awaited update post on Johanna. It should be up tonight or tomorrow. I finally feel liberty to share some of the challenges we've faced, adopting an older child out-of-birth-order. If you've been curious (or even came out and openly asked!) about how the past year has truly been, stay tuned for the next post.

Eliana (10) and Nathaniel (8) have their first violin recital this month. This means we've been working extra hard and long on their practice times. Johanna wants to play an instrument, but we don't feel she's quite ready for the violin experience.....any ideas for a very simple, easy-to-learn (maybe without professional lessons) instrument we could give her for Christmas? I would prefer something that would blend nicely with the piano and violins. We do have a penny whistle, but Johanna struggles with blowing it correctly, due to her repaired cleft lip and the damaged muscles. Ideas, anyone???

I'm headed back to my draft of Johanna's update. More later!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Parenting with Grace, Part 2

(In Part 1 of our series, we discussed the three types of mothers and introduced the topic of Grace Parenting. You can find Part 1 of this series here.)

In Part 2, I'm speaking from my heart to the more law-driven mothers. Later, we'll address the more permissive mindset and the need for balance between the two.

 If you don't fall into the first category, you might be wondering what in the world is she talking about? But I do believe some of you, like me, have been taught to parent very authoritatively, and henceforth very harshly, and can relate to every word I'm writing.

This post is for you.

I Thessalonians 2:7 says, "But we were GENTLE among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children;"

Especially notice the words gentle and cherish...can you picture in your mind a nursing mother hearing her baby cry, picking up and snuggling her helpless newborn?

Do you have this same attitude of gentleness with your 3 year old? Your 8 year old? Your teenager?

This attitude of You are a precious gift from God and I will cherish every hug, every disobedience, every victory, and every failure because YOU ARE PRECIOUS to me and to God?

Are gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, restoration, humility, and sweetness the key parenting words in your toolbox, or do you find yourself using authority, harshness, inconvenience, annoyance, discipline, and punishment more?

Keep in mind that this verse in I Thessalonians was not speaking about being gentle with children---it was a statement to the Thessalonian church---"We (the leaders, the authority) were gentle among you".  If gentleness is preferred between church leaders and church members, how much more should it be preferred between mothers and the sweet little ones God has entrusted them with?

I Corinthians 13 explains how our LOVE should be: 
longsuffering and kind, humble and unselfish, calm and slow to anger, thoughtful and considerate, rejoicing in truth, thinking no evil, and never failing. 

I will freely admit that I spent the first few years of my parenting experience applying the love principles of I Corinthians 13 to adults and not children.

Forgiveness, second chances, endurance through trials, focusing on the positive, and restoration? Wasn't that just for grown-ups?

Weren't children supposed to obey the first time, every time, no questions asked, with a smile and a "yes, ma'am" or face a swift and consistent consequence?

There was no doubt that I loved my children with every ounce of my being, that I cherished being a mother and was passionate about being involved in every aspect of training and nurturing the little ones entrusted to me. But I was focusing on the outward behavior, the instant obedience at any cost, and in the midst of my passion, my good intentions, and my deepest sincerity, I was missing this attitude of grace and I was teaching my children to live under the law in a "works" based environment where Mommy was only happy if they fulfilled my "law".

Verse 11 of I Corinthians 13 says, "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought  as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Children are supposed to be childish. :)

Simple, I know. But deep, too.

Because, once again, in Jesus' kingdom, things are backwards:

*We want our children to be like adults when Jesus said He wanted the adults to be like children.*

Children are supposed to be children: They're supposed to think, act, understand, and behave like children. Lovingly, gently, and consistently trained, they WILL eventually, gradually, "put away childish things". But I've learned that obedience doesn't have to be obtained by the harshest, strict methods that some might endorse and that I once practiced.

If you're a law-minded momma like I once was (and occasionally still struggle with being), you may find your really great intentions fueled by FEAR. You know exactly what I mean---you're afraid your child will grow up and rebel against the things of the Lord, you're afraid to raise a "spoiled brat", you're afraid of what people might think, you're afraid that if you allow this behavior you'll ruin your child for life.

I was once ruled by these overwhelming fears.

They drove me to extremes in my parenting style because I was trying so hard to do everything just right.

But you know what?

Grace is extended to mommas, too. :)

I found forgiveness at the feet of my Jesus---and the strength I desperately needed to change the areas He revealed to me. Slowly, as my mindset shifted from law to grace, and my parenting style changed, I started to see the fruit I had been trying to cultivate in my children for years!

Children are alot like flowers. Flowers need rain---but they will wither and die under a harsh downpour. Children need discipline----but their spirits will wither and die under a harsh parent.

Both the flowers and the children will THRIVE under a gentle and nurturing touch.

(If you've read my blog for any length of time---or know me in real life :)---then you know I am not encouraging a child-led home with no order or discipline. I believe in teaching and training my little ones just as much as I always have. We'll touch on the practicalities of gentle Grace Parenting in a later post.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Guest Post by my 10 year old daughter

I came home from a trip to town a couple of days ago and found this blog post ready on my computer. Without any help from me (she came up with the title and content completely on her own!), Eliana (age 10) had written this, sharing her perspective on life in a large family. It's so precious, I just had to share it here.

Having a Large Family, 3 Goals from Eliana Bergey

 1)   How we get anything done.  In a big family yes, it is hard to get alot done! What I do is I take Johanna into my room and we do our math together and turn our fan on so we can’t hear anything! These are just some things we do.
2)   What are some fun things to do in a big family. Here is an example. A few nights ago we were eating dinner and I said,“Hey guys, let’s hide from Daddy when he gets home!” They said “yes, yes!” “Ok,” I said, “When Johanna sees him I will get Gabbey, and Johanna can get Lyssie and everybody else RUN!” So we waited and waited, then he came in the driveway I said “Hide! Hide!” So all the babies were in Mommy’s closet hiding when they were supposed to be under the bed! J Anyway that’s just a ideaJ. They love to play hide and seek! And most of all they like to play under my bed!! Which they are not allowed to do!

3)    How I deal with all the noise.  In our house yes, there is alot of noise! How do I do it? I do not really know. We have 7 children, 3 babies and one more in Congo, Africa! So you ask me how I do it. We have a small house, so we can’t have it perfectly no noise! Sometimes yes we do make the toddlers be quiet, but sometimes we don’t! Here are some ideas for you (1) make a play area for your little ones.( 2 ) teach them when mommy tells you to be quiet you be quiet.( 3 ) give them blessings when they obey! Now don’t think our toddlers are perfect! Cause they are not! Yes we have had some timeouts here and there, but they’re learning! Now when I say blessings I mean reward them, say “Good job, you obeyed mommy- you get a 1 chocolate chip!”

  And if you’re thinking I have my own computer I don’t! I just
 asked my Mom if I could put it on her blog! Thank you for listening and I hope to write more soon! J

 Written by: Eliana Rose Bergey, 10 years old. I love children and my dreams are to have or adopt more children!
(From Mommy: Eliana has already begun writing her second post, one on older child adoption from a younger child's perspective. I can't wait to read what she has to share!)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Parenting with Grace, Part 1

(This post was initially meant to be Part 5 in my Finding JOY in Motherhood series....but due to its length, I've decided to just start a new series on this subject.)

By way of introduction....

Let’s say tomorrow you have a really bad morning. You wake up late and forget to have your devotions. During the morning rush, you snap at your husband when he asks you to make his lunch. Can’t he just make his own lunch for once? The dog spills his water, the toddler has more breakfast on his shirt and the floor than he does in his tummy, the four year old is shouting, “Mommy, there’s no toilet paper and I went number TWWWOOO!” and a battle over clothes is about to ensue with your teenager. You feel yourself hitting your breaking point, and you react angrily to your circumstances by yelling at everyone. Your guilt is immediate, but your pride is having a hard time admitting that you’re wrong, so you sulk for a while.

It’s only then that you realize your best friend has been sitting on the couch the whole time, observing your behavior. She chooses that moment to say, “Oh, my goodness. You are such a bad wife and mother! You nag your husband, yell at your children, and look at this house! It’s a pig sty! I bet you haven’t cleaned it in a month. And don’t get me started on your attitude. It’s lousy. Quite frankly, you’ll probably never be a godly wife and mother and I’m sick of being your friend.”

Sound like grace?

I don't think so. :)

Now, think how you would feel if your friend said these words instead....."Oh, my. It looks like yu're having a rough day. I bet you could use a hug. Being a godly wife and mother is hard and I know how badly you want to do a good job. Why don't I pray with you and then I'll watch the children for an hour while you take a little break, regroup and come again?"

What response would you rather receive at the hand of someone you love?

Today, we're going to begin a series on a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

I've eluded before on my blog the paradigm shift that occurred in my parenting style a few years ago.

You see, during the years of infertility we experienced before our first child was born, I spent hours upon hours researching Christian parenting and reading every book I could get my hands on about the subject.

Several of the most well-known Christian parenting experts promised that if I would just do A plus B, I'd get C-----the well-behaved children I desired to have.

Well-behaved, godly children.

Yes, that's what I wanted!

I was willing to do anything if it meant having my children love God and obey me. I was literally 100 percent consistent. I constantly looked for ways to train my children. I disciplined frequently, often for minor issues. I won every "battle", no matter the cost.

My heart was in the right place---I wanted to be the very best mother I could be!

But, sadly, I was missing what I now believe to be the most important aspect of good Christian parenting and disclipline:


Parenting With Grace

I like to think there are three kinds of mothers.

There are those who parent by the law, those who parent by permissiveness, and those who parent by grace.

Let me explain.

The mother who parents by the law is a determined momma. She wants to raise up a godly seed, and goes after her children’s behaviors with passion.

This mother keeps the rod handy and uses it frequently.

She has devoured every parenting manual that exists in the hopes of doing it all "right".

She often feels like a failure when her "consistent parenting" doesn't result in "perfect" children.

Yet not one sin goes unnoticed, not one disobedience goes unpunished. She has set herself up as the authority in her children’s lives, her rules are many, her goal, seemingly perfection.

Her standards for her children are commendably high yet her methods are rigid and authoritative. She lives in fear that if she loses a “battle” with her child, she has lost the “war” and ultimately, her success as a parent is based on her children’s performance.

The mother who parents by the law desires obedience above relationship and her goal is to make her children obey.

At the other extreme is the permissive mother.

She also wants to raise up godly children, but lacks the motivation to establish a plan. Her children have few rules, little structure, and even less discipline.

Intimidated by the work involved in parenting her children, the permissive mother finds it easier to avoid “battles” altogether by allowing the children excessive freedom.

The mother who parents with permissiveness desires relationship above obedience and remains continually frustrated that her children won't obey.

The balanced mother is the one who parents with grace towards her children.

 She realizes that obedience without relationship is merely OUTWARD compliance and that relationship without obedience is destructive to the child’s moral conscience and ultimately, their walk with the Lord.

This mother has experienced the amazing, forgiving grace through salvation in Jesus Christ and seeks to lovingly extend the same grace to her children by teaching them obedience in the midst of a gentle, nurturing, loving environment. 

She is quick to forgive and offer second chances.

She does not expect her children to reach perfection and is not shocked by their "childishness" nor offended by their mistakes.

Her goal is to help her children obey.
I realize that there are many parents who struggle more with the need to discipline their children than the over-use of discipline on their children. The goal of this series is emphasize the need for a BALANCE between the two extremes.
Are forgiveness, grace, second-chances, mercy, gentleness, respect, and kindness ONLY for adults? Next time, we'll look at what the Bible says about GRACE. Then I will share how this Grace Parenting came about in our family and our new approach to child-training since our shift in mindset towards our children. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Just some sentences......

It's late on Saturday evening. Children are asleep in their beds. I rocked Ethan to sleep tonight, loving every second. (even if he didn't think it was bedtime yet) :)

I ate my favorite ice cream for dinner: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Ok, maybe I have more than one favorite ice cream. Depends on the day and my mood. I figure if I eat ice cream instead of dinner it is better for me. Ahem. Or not.

We had a really great week, which I needed desparately. We've completed nine weeks of school already! I love everything about My Father's World.

While running errands in town today, we listened to the entire two-CD set of "Elsie's Endless Wait" Life of Faith dramatized audio-book. Can I just say how wonderful the story was? I missed a few minutes of the story when I ran into Target to pick out a new journal and had to pause the CD so the children could tell me what had happened. I love my new journal. And I can't wait to start writing in it.

I finished reading a couple of books the Social Worker gave me to read. "Three Little Words" quickly became a favorite. It's the autobiography of a young girl who went through a ridiculous amount of foster care placements, including several abusive ones, before being adopted at 12 years old. Her perspective was interesting, enthralling and encouraging to me, as the momma of an older adopted child. Adoptive parents would do well to add this book to their library.

I spent an hour and a half on the phone yesterday with our family doctor's office. Scheduling nine physicals (a requirement for our homestudy) apparently is unusual, requires special permission, and takes half an afternoon to complete. At least the receptionist and I are on a nice first-name basis now. Oh, and we need TB tests, which require a follow-up visit....I won't even tell you how many trips to town I have to make to get all of this done. :)

Noah had chicken pox two weeks ago. Which translates to: the rest of our children should be getting it soon because I exposed them really, really well. "Kiss Noah again! One more hug!" LOL

My husband has lost alot of weight since January. He also started running, and motivated me to give it a try. I about died the first time I tried to run 1/4 of a mile. Happy to report: I can now run over 3 miles a couple of times a week---and I don't feel half-dead afterwards! Hubby is the real winner, though. Love that man so much.

Whoever said that Sundays are a day of rest clearly didn't have 7 young children. I'm still very thankful for a day of worship (even if I do often work harder than most weekdays!). I've got an egg casserole in the oven, ready for tomorrow morning.

This weather is so confusing for my children and their clothing choices. "Mommy, long sleeves or short sleeves today? Can I wear my tights yet? Jeans or shorts?" Today it was 85, but tomorrow's high is only 70. I'm never in a hurry for the seasons to change.....I enjoy each one. Well, I don't LOVE winter, but I don't hate it either. Change is always nice. My favorite part of fall is our yearly trip to Carter's Mountain for their apple festival!

And with that, dear friends, I'm signing off. Morning comes early around here for Momma on Sundays. :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Alyssia: The Difference a Year Makes......

One year ago in China, a heartbroken foster mama and daddy said good-bye to a spunky little sparkly eyed baby. The baby they'd found 2 years before, abandoned as a tiny newborn. The baby who had slept in their bed, been comforted by their love, and charmed her way into their hearts.
They handed the beautiful baby girl over to her new daddy.

One year ago, a heartbroken little girl had her world turned topsy-turvy overnight. While she gained her "forever family", in the process she lost everything she'd ever known. The foster parents encouraged her to love your new American "baba" (daddy) but she didn't desire a replacement.

In desparation, she clung to the precious few items she came with: her clothes, her snack cup, her water bottle, and her sparkly red princess shoes. She spent hours crying in frustration that she couldn't hold all of her special things at once.

She slept fitfully, her nights filled with terror as she would awake and realize that the new daddy was still here and her foster mama was not. She would pick up her things and head for the hotel door, hoping this nightmare would be over soon.

The new daddy had prayed and waited for the moment he could hold his new baby girl in his arms---but naturally, she wasn't as excited as he was. Back home in America, the new mommy was clinging to every skype call, every email, every picture that was contact with her precious new daughter. Her mommy's heart ached to hold and comfort her during this difficult time.
Slowly, the baby girl began to accept her kind new daddy. They connected over food, over bath-time, over long walks and a soft new pink blankie.

  Just when the new normal was beginning to be predictable, the new daddy took the baby girl on a very, very long airplane ride......
which brought her to the arms of a new mommy. (and six fun new playmates!)
Having experienced the "hand-off'" once, baby girl was having none of it this time around.
She seemed convinced that if she liked the new mommy, even a tiny bit, the new daddy would leave and she would be abandoned yet again. So she clung tightly to new daddy and pushed, fought, screamed and sobbed when new mommy came near.
For a very long time... 

Even on "fun" days--like her 2nd birthday, the tears were still there. Especially if new daddy wasn't sitting VERY close by.

Each day the new daddy would peel the little arms off of his legs in order to leave for work.....and each evening, sweet baby girl would run to the new daddy and not let go of him all evening.

The new mommy tried very hard but it still took a long time for the sparkly little girl to start to shine through again.....
Until, finally, one day the new mommy could touch new baby without being smacked in the face....
Until one day, new baby would even SMILE with new mommy in the same room.

Until one day, new baby felt completely comfortable with her entire new family and the tears eased.....the fears subsided.......the night sweats went away......the nightmares and screaming were gone.

 And the new mommy was SO SO happy to finally be able to LOVE and be loved by new baby.

Welcome to the Bergey Bunch, Alyssia. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to love your sweet little self. This year has brought many changes for us and for you, but you are such a brave girl. Your spirit is gentle, kind, and so very precious to each one of us.

Never forget for a minute: You are so, so loved.

Happy 1 year Gotcha Day, Alyssia!