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.....


  1. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. All your girls are so beautiful just like their mommy!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to read more. I could have written the EXACT same things about our older child adoption.

  4. We have experienced all the good, bad and very very ugly as well...3 years and counting.
    It keeps me constantly seeking strength from the Lord.
    And on the many days when we doubt everything about ourselves, we 'take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.'
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. I love that throughout this post, Johanna is wearing a shirt with an anchor on it, and the anchor has a heart on it. Love, love, love the symbolism there. :) :) :)

    Thank you for sharing. I crave reading these accounts, because I think that we will parent our teen better if we're not surprised by her behaviors. Our adoption day is *a week* from today! Eeek!!

  6. Selina, I appreciate you sharing this. I know it was a long time in the making, but I pray that God will use the lessons that he is teaching you to encourage others. As you know, we too, adopted older and out of birth order, although our Tommy was a full 7 years younger than Colin when he came home, so there wasn't much competition--except for my attention. As each child has come home (and with two more on the way), it takes a lot of reliance on the Lord to juggle their needs in harmony. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this important subject. Angie

  7. Thank you for sharing! I am anxious to read more. Some days my girls are great sisters, but many days it's just hard!

  8. Thank you so much for being so open and honest. I think so many people are afraid to admit what you have so openly shared with your readers. I truly appreciate your transparency.

  9. From across the Atlantic ocean, thank you. On my process to prepare, this was so important.


I welcome any and all comments as long as they are Christ-honoring. Please let me know what you think!