Everything about that statement shouts red flags, proceed with caution, high-risk situation.
Everything about that reality brought challenge.
Everything about it warms my heart and reminds me that with God's strength, we can do anything.
But let's face it, it's been hard on so many levels.
I recently took a poll among a variety of adoption groups to see what one thing parents wish they'd known before beginning their adoption journey. (Join my e-mail list on the left to get the full list!) I got a lot of answers about what they wish they'd known to do differently during the process, during the travel (when international), and about how to prepare for the new realities of life--both good and bad. I am grateful for the raw honesty from those that adopted older children. We can't romanticize it because, quite frankly, it's just not the way it's supposed to be. Children in their late teens should be spreading their wings toward independence, but instead, they are having to learn for the first time what the concept of family really means and why they need to learn dependence first. When most teens their age are having to learn the realities of consequences that follow inappropriate actions, these teens just need the security of love and acceptance, of connection, no matter what. I'm glad these parents shared their biggest struggles with me to add to the list because it helps someone else go into it a little more prepared for the challenges ahead.
As I finalized my list and got ready to publish it in the resource guide below, I received one final response that spoke volumes of truth and really hit home with me.
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#25--I wish I’d known how little time I’d actually have to bond with an
older child, due to missing out on those critical childhood years
My son is now 18 1/2 years old, ready to embark on his senior year of high school. Part of me wishes I could give him the world, shelter him a little longer, protect him from all that life might throw at him. I wish I had more time to fill in all those gaps of the childhood he didn't get to experience like most children. Instead, as I acknowledged that yesterday marked only the third anniversary since he arrived into our home, I watched him drive on his own for the first time. I nagged him about checking his work schedule at his new job. I griped at him about spending his money frivolously because he will soon have to budget his money for gas, car expenses, his portion of an insurance premium, etc.
I spent the first three years of life with David feeding him, changing him, taking him for long walks, and cuddling next to him to read books.
I spent the first three years of life with Juan defining family roles, battling his desire for freedom and privilege against our own belief that we needed time to solidify as a family first. We battled his natural desire for independence against his unwelcome need to learn dependence on a parent in order to truly feel secure in our home. I stayed in constant contact with his teachers and counselors, making sure he stayed on the right path and took the right courses toward graduation. We exhausted ourselves by keeping up with forever-changing soccer schedules, school activities, and youth functions at church. I hounded him to make a study plan in order to complete a few extra online courses to catch him up at school. My heart was torn when I watched his growing level of disappointment in our financial decisions and our frugal way of living, "depriving" him of all that stuff he thought he'd get once adopted into a family.
He had high hopes and big dreams, and our lifestyle and standard of living didn't meet up to those hopes and dreams. The first year held constant battle and strife at every turn. Our worlds, including our expectations of each other, clashed with our new reality. Once the first year turned into the second, we finally started to attach to one another and gel as a family unit. We all knew our roles and settled into them. We found new adventures to embark upon together, and we began to enjoy one another in a new way. Our home language finally switched back to English, with an occasional conversation in Spanish from time to time.
Yet by the third year, we plowed through driver's ed., helped him get his license, prepared him for the responsibilities of working and managing money, supported him through an exciting soccer season in high school, guided him to keep a close eye on his grades in order to raise his GPA, watched him excel in his classes and pass his state exams, and literally heard him grieve over the reality of growing up.
I fed him and clothed him (provided his clothes and shoes), but we never took those long walks together nor did we ever have that chance to cuddle up together and read books like I did with David those first three years. I still see so many gaps. and a world of difference exists in my relationship with my two boys strictly because of the time I had to grow and attach with David as a child that I did not have with Juan. I can't change that. I wish we could spend time playing games, riding bikes, going for walks, reading books, and just having fun rather than prepare for adulthood by entering the workforce, budgeting, driving, passing tests, and thinking about financial aid and college options. It all seems too soon for it only being our fourth year together. But I can make sure that I use every opportunity I have over the next year to model, model, model, and hope he's watching intently.
When I get to feeling like I was robbed of precious time with him, I remember his older brother at the same age. Just two months shy of 19, he exited the system and walked out into reality--all alone. No job. No money. No furniture. No home. No family. I'm grateful to have the chance to walk Juan into adulthood, teaching him and preparing him in ways I couldn't do for his brother.
It's a challenge, and it's hard. But so worth it.