What to Expect When We’re Expecting (a 9-Year-Old)

1. I will cry all the time at the drop of a hat. I cried at church. I cried after watching a viral video of a high school student doing a Michael Jackson dance at a pep rally. I cried in the parking lot of a homeless church. Hopefully, after I meet him, I will cry less. But I make no promises.

2. We can’t share his picture or his name. For the first six months, until we finalize the adoption, we are legally unable to share his name or his face publicly. So you’ll see alot of back pictures. I could cover his face with a smiley face but that seems a little creepy to me,  like an ad for Wal-Mart. So, we’ll probably avoid that.

Always Low Prices. Because of the cheap labor that we exploit!

Always Low Prices. Because of the cheap labor that we exploit!

3. We will never share his story. Guess what? I don’t know all of your deepest darkest secrets, so I’m not going to share my nine-year-old’s dirty laundry with you. It’s not my story to share. I know that you curious cats (I am a curious cat myself) are probably dying to know all the gory details, but it’s just not something that we’ll ever do. All of the adult adoptees that I’ve “heard” from talk about how important it was for them to own their personal narratives. They can share if and when they want to. He will have that same right. If you forget this and ask me about it, I promise I won’t rip your face off. I’ll just say, “Oh, we’re keeping that private.”

4. Our kid needs lots of structure to feel safe. Please don’t undermine our parenting decisions. During the transition, he’ll be like Sandra Bullock in Gravity- free-floating in space with nothing to hold onto, panicking, and just grabbing at whatever stability and control he can take. So, when I say that he has to come sit next to me for 10 minutes at church because he broke the rule about kids being in rooms with the doors shut, please don’t say that I’m mean. When he chose to not do his homework and take the consequence of going to bed early and is now throwing a tantrum, please don’t tell me that it’s not a big deal.

His life has been out-of-control bonkers and so, like most kids from traumatized backgrounds, he might have mal-adaptive behaviors that he’ll use to get his “need to stay in control” met. He’s scared to let us have the control and so he might cry or lie or move like slow volcano lava to get you to pity him when we’re disciplining him so he can have some semblance of control.

Alex and I need to mean what we say and say what we mean. Gradually he’ll learn to trust that we’re safe and stable and we can start pulling him into our orbit so he can calm down. If you try to correct us or tell us how to parent, then he’ll feel like we aren’t in control and that will send him reeling back out into space. We’ll be firm but loving. Please trust that we have his best interest in mind.

5. Please don’t touch him without asking. One of the big lessons we’ll be working on is “You are in charge of your own body.”  As much as you want to dote on him and squeeze his cheeks and rub his head, he’s probably going to be wigging out around people for the first few months. If you see that he’s overwhelmed, maybe don’t squeeze his shoulder.

I’m super touchy so I know how hard this will be for me. Just this Monday,  I actually hit a friendly stranger woman on the shoulder with a towel at the korean spa to emphasize my emphatic point about the spa being so busy.  A simple “Can I give you a hug?” will suffice and let him know that you respect him enough to ask before you touch.

6. Alex and I need to be the ones that are meeting his needs. We have to be the ones in control. We have to be the ones that get him that extra doughnut, that bandage his knee, that comfort him when he is sad. He has to learn that these two adults right here are the people that he can depend on for the rest of his life. So, if he has a need, please let us handle it.

This will be especially hard for grandparents and aunts and uncles, I know. I KNOW! But, just trust me, that there will come a time when we will let you dote on him. It’s just not right when he gets home.

7. Watch what language you use. I promise you, he’s listening and absorbing. Don’t ask, “What about his real mom?” because

A) That goes back to it being an inappropriate, personal question which you won’t get an answer to anyway and

B) What am I, chop suey?

Alex and I are real people who have a real child which makes us real parents, last time I checked. We’ll be doing the dirty work of cleaning up vomit and making daily snacks. When you frame your question in terms of real vs. un-real, you’re not validating that we’re a family, a real family. You’re also not validating his experience that people can have two (or more) “real” families. I am his real mom. His first mom is his real mom. What you really mean is, “What about his biological (or first) mom?”, but, again, no matter how you ask it, that question will probably get you a “That’s private” answer. It’s none a ya business.

8. Along those same lines, please don’t say that he is “lucky” or “blessed” or “grateful”. This is a biggie. Guys, he’s had a really hard life and he’s only nine. He’s not lucky and I can pretty much guarantee that he doesn’t feel “blessed”. And, yes, we might be a super fun family and we can provide him with stability and unconditional love, but we will never ever expect him to be grateful to us for adopting him. When you read things written by adoptees, this is a common thread- about the burden of society expecting them to be grateful for being adopted. Yes, some of them are grateful all the time. Some are grateful about some things but not about others. Some feel really angry about being adopted. All of those are okay. It’s not up to anyone to tell any adoptee how they should feel about being adopted.

Many of our congratulations have included, “He’s a lucky kid!” We know what you mean- that we have a fun family, that we’re ready to love him like there’s no tomorrow, etc- but he’s going to interpret that differently than how you mean it. If you want to express something along those lines, then  you could say, “Wow! Your parents seem like they’re really fun!” or “Your mom and dad love you alot!” (Adoptees- weigh in here. Are those statements okay?)

9. He might act younger than his age. Guess what? He might not have been rocked in several years. Maybe he never got to sit in someone’s lap when he was sad. Guess what? If he wants to do that now, you’d better believe mom’s lap will be open 24/7 and I’ll probably be crying my little baby eyes out while I hold him. Kids from hurt places don’t really get to be kids that much because their lives just feel so out of control. So, we’ll let him be a kid. Eventually, that need to act younger will get out of his system and he’ll be able to move forward. Please be patient.

And…if you try to interrupt my snuggle time, I will cut you.

10. Please never use shame to correct behavior. He has felt enough shame, thank you very much. As long as the rules and expectations of behavior have been established, it’s easy to just say, “Hey. That’s against the rules and now there’s a consequence.”

Please, no “Act your age!” or “What’s wrong with you? Why would you do that?” Those things are generally not helpful.

11. We’re expecting the transition to be hard. Hope for the best, but expect the worst. We don’t know what this is going to look like. It might be okay or it might be super-duper hard. Because we wouldn’t want our lowest moments broadcast all over creation, we probably won’t be sharing these moments publicly with anyone. That doesn’t mean we’re not struggling though. I imagine it will mean a great deal for you to privately check in with us after he comes home. We don’t know yet what needs we’ll have- maybe someone to come mow the lawn or have dinner delivered or just some people to come sit with us on our back porch after he goes to bed. Please don’t be afraid to ask us if we need anything. We’re going to need you.

12. Last but not least, we dig your prayers. Specifically:

– for Alex and I to have endless compassion and patience for our son and for each other (and grace for when we don’t)

– for these two introverts to supernaturally get over our need to have “alone time” to recharge our batteries

– for our son to have peace

– all of us have fears about the change that is coming

A new friend who has also adopted out of the foster care system shared these verses with me, as she prays them over her daughter. I love it. My hope is that my son will eventually understand the depth of our love and God’s love for him. (From Isaiah 43)

But now, God’s Message,
    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
    the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
    That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
    trade the creation just for you.
“So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

7 thoughts on “What to Expect When We’re Expecting (a 9-Year-Old)

  1. This is a very helpful blog. You and Alex are prepared for this change and his grandparents are afraid to make a mistake. This helps me feel I won’t set back the process of adjustment since we haven’t taken any training. Loving all three of you. Nana

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