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!