Last year we added three kids to our family in five months. In March, we adopted our 9-year-old son from China, and then our two teen nieces came to live with us in June and September.
Let me tell you, I totally underestimated how difficult an older child adoption would be. We adopted our daughter from China at the age of one, and it was seamless. Instant attachment. This time, I felt like a tidal wave of fear hit me.
This little boy had a whole history, people he loved that he had to leave behind, and spoke a different language than me. His grief was so deep, and I felt myself backpedaling away from him after they left him with us that first day. Scott found me in the closet crying one day in Nanjing. He said, “But, didn’t you wait for this and want him?” I did. That was why I was so confused about how distant I felt from him.
The next few months were hard. I was frightened that we had taken on too much. I had to go through the motions of loving this child, as I waited for feelings of attachment to form. Language is so crucial, I’ve learned. It’s hard to know someone you can’t even talk to.
If love ever felt “nitty-gritty,” to me, it was after this adoption. I kept reminding myself of how afraid he must feel. How uncertain of our love. How scary to be uprooted from the only family you have ever known, only to be given over to people who look, smell, and sound nothing like you.
While trying to connect, I had to get my nieces settled into our home. He must have felt lost in the shuffle. But he is a little trooper, and we have made good progress. I know he is here for a reason and it was God’s plan for us.
Do you know where this left our marriage? The proverbial back burner.
Sometimes I would just sit on our bed, knees up to my chest, and stare out the window, wondering what in the world just happened to us. We had five teens and two 9-year-olds in the house. And I homeschool. If we had marriage issues, it didn’t really matter because we were simply in survival mode and I had no room to even freak out. My restless, worried heart tried to drag me down almost daily.
I would pray each night, “Please God, don’t let me keel over because I have a lot of kids counting on me. And I don’t want Scott to marry someone he likes better than me. Amen.”
Life was a total blur. When people would see me, they would comment on how TIRED I looked. That’s code for, “You look really awful.”
But I was just thankful if I had managed to get clean underwear folded and in my drawer. Beachy waves and mascara weren’t really on my radar, but I will admit that I had no idea who the woman was looking back at me in the mirror. I was a mess! People would ask how they could help, but I didn’t even know what to say. “Hire me a nanny? Come teach my child who doesn’t speak English how to read?”
One day I went to Scott and informed him our marriage was a wreck and we didn’t even know each other. He just laughed and said, “Babe. We have 9 kids.” He didn’t look too concerned. I said, “But we are drifting apart.” He said, “Just for now. It won’t stay this way.”
I guess he was right. Maybe total chaos was good in a way. It overshadowed our problems and the only thing we could focus on was getting food on the table, making sure nobody talked back, and getting the kids to their activities.
I tried to look at Scott across the room and think, “He is my comrade. We are in this boat together, and we are rowing as hard as we can to get to the other side with all of these kids safely on shore. One day we will have time to lounge around in coffee shops and catch a movie or dinner.”
I often think of something my friend, Jean, said to me years ago when I asked her if she ever got stressed or afraid of all of the “what ifs” that can hit in a large family. She said she tries to be “too busy during the day and too tired at night to care.” I am not glorifying total burn out, and I think self-care has its place, but keeping our hands busy can keep our minds from worrying sometimes.
How does this apply to you? Maybe this is just a reminder that a shift in perspective can help you get through a tough season.
View your spouse as your partner on this journey. Shoulder to shoulder is almost as good as eye to eye. It feels good to work towards a common goal. We don’t always need romantic, sparkling photos to prove we are in love. Satisfaction in teamwork is sometimes enough. Yes, check-in with each other to make sure you are both on the same page but know that raising kids in the chaos is sacred and beautiful and valuable.
One last thought — make sure to rest in Jesus each day. I never really knew how to do this, but lately, this is how it looks for me.
I make some hot tea, listen to worship music, and read my Bible. I do this for about fifteen minutes and during this time I ask God to help me not panic. My current favorite album is “Poets & Saints” by All Sons & Daughters, and the book I am reading is called, “Strength For The Weary,” by Derek W.H. Thomas.
I sit down and tell him honestly how I feel and ask him to protect me. He knows my needs and he knows I am frail and in need of peace.