Friday, April 1, 2011

An Adopted Child's Foundations

Parenting Children You Don’t Know
            I vividly remember being overwhelmed at the strange reality of parenting children I didn’t know. I had not really anticipated how bizarre it would feel to have a mother’s love, and I mean real love, for a child living in our home who was a virtual stranger. How strange if felt to parent a stranger!

Faulty Foundations
            One of the issues Stephen and I faced early on in the adoptions of our older children was the reality that foundations had already been laid in their lives. And these were foundations laid haphazardly, not by loving parents intentionally building life-long values, rather they were structures formed by a child’s need for survival, by coping skills developed for self-protection, by ways of thinking formed in the chaos of lack. And then there were the giant holes where no foundation had been laid at all. Holes where unconditional love should have been, where tender memories that are the currency of deep relationships should have been, where a strong and stable identity should have been.

Fixing the Issues
        The way this issue of faulty foundations looked “where the rubber meets the road,” (that is, the way it looked in our home) was at first confusing and disturbing for me. I’m the kind of parent who likes to deal with issues right away, and deal with them until they are fixed. That approach has some serious weaknesses I came to find out! When you are loving and parenting a child whose behavior and way of seeing life has been formed by lack, or by orphanage codes of conduct, you are up against far more problems that need fixing than is possible to change in the first months or even years of life together. And remember, we are talking about behaviors that often stem from deep foundational realities.   

Be in This for the Long Haul                                                                                                        One of the things the Lord told me early on after our first adoption was this, “You need to be in this for the long haul.”  This is exactly what I heard Him say. I have come to appreciate this simple word from God over the years because it has freed us to be patient, to believe God for the deep deep foundational work that He is doing in our children's lives, knowing that He is aware of the years passing. Stephen and I came to realize that if we were to address every bad behavior each time it occurred, then our relationship with our children would be almost solely marked by the negative: pointing out what is wrong and requiring change, with very little room for fun and love and approval. 

 A Picture From God                                                                                                                       One day I felt the Lord speak to me about my frustration in having to let some bad behaviors go for the time being. I would love to share with you what He said to me. It gave us such freedom and also released a deeper compassion for our children, even in their worst behaviors. Often God speaks in pictures, and this is how He spoke to me.   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               He showed me in my mind’s eye a building, but the part I was seeing was the foundations under the building. I saw that there were these taller columns that were clearly full of holes, ragged in places, crooked and weak. And as I examined these I thought, “this isn’t good at all. There is no way these columns will be able to sustain this building for any significant period of time.” Then I realized that amidst the faulty foundations, even right up next to them, were these shorter columns that were in the process of being built. They were clearly well-made, strong, able to take the weight of a large building without strain, however they were not tall enough yet to reach the actual structure. 

What is God Up To?                                                                                                                               I felt the Holy Spirit show me that this was a picture of what He was up to in our children’s lives. The buildings sitting on the weak columns were the lives of our precious adopted children. They could not live good lives on these faulty foundations, but I saw God’s tender mercy and His beautiful love for them in the actual presence of these crooked columns. I realized that if we were to destroy these columns before the new ones we were building got tall enough to reach their lives, until they became something that our children could put the weight of their lives on, then we would, in effect, destroy the child while in the process of destroying the foundations. I became assured in my spirit that these bad foundations would come down in time, but also realized that we mustn’t go in with a parenting wrecking ball.

Yet, He Loves Us So
        I cannot express how freeing this was for us, for me in particular. We needed to allow some things to pass without “fixing” them. This was not poor parenting, but rather very intentional on our part. As I contemplated the picture God showed me, it became clear to me how God has treated me. How, looking back on my life, God never required me to change all that needed changing at once. How there are things I did and thought in the past that I never even knew at the time needed changing, yet He loved me so.

Over the years we have seen the solid, whole foundations replace the weak ones. We have watched as our children have tried out the new foundations, testing them to see if they actually work. Then, on occasion we have watched them try to go back to the familiar old foundations. As those began to crumble under them, causing them all sorts of trouble, they would choose to trust these newer columns, placing the whole of their weight on them and enjoying the security and safety they provide.

May we all "be in this for the long haul," always building strong foundations as we love and parent these precious ones.


  1. Beth,
    Amazing and soooooo true! Kate and I adopted our son 3 years ago at age 3. He is a joy and blessing all the time, but there are times when his foundation is just structurally different then what we have taught our 2 biological children. We are dealing now with the normal 6 year old lying issues. And recognize that due to his foundation we are going to have to approach the issue in a very different way then we did with our other son. Thank you very much! I'm so glad that you came an commented on our blog! I will be bookmarking your's and come back often!

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words! We have 3 biological daughters, so it has been interesting over the years to see the difference required in our parenting. One thing I know--it has made us even more intentional as parents than we ever would have been. As well as more prayerful and in need of hearing God's voice. All of this is needed to love any child, but needed more intensely we've found with our adopted children.
    I also appreciated your blog and will spend more time looking and learning there. Don't you think that adoption highlights the need to keep the marriage strong?!