Friday, August 14, 2015

A Letter to Our Friends and Family...

Dear friends and family,

Warning: This is a long but important post. Grab a beverage and settle in.

It is almost time to return to Ethiopia to bring Kena home. We hope he will be home before the end of August. As we prepare to bring Kena home, we would like to share some of our thoughts on some parenting decisions we are making. We want to help you understand how you can help us begin our new life with Kena as a family of six.

In Kena's short life, he will have gone through many significant changes and life altering experiences. While he may not consciously remember the events, he will still experience immense loss when we bring him home, including feelings of grief and trauma. He will soon experience the loss of familiar and comforting nannies, as well as the sights, smells, and language of his orphanage in Ethiopia. He will likely struggle with feeling safe and secure, and he may lack the ability to trust that we will meet his needs. Kena has not experienced God's design for family while living in the orphanage, and his world is about to turn upside down.

Throughout our adoption process, we have read books, attended conferences, and listened to stories from other adoptive families. One thing we hear repeatedly is that parenting a child from a hard place is very different than parenting a child from birth. Children who come home through adoption have experienced interruptions in the typical attachment process. The loss of a biological mother and birth family at an early age is a major trauma on their little hearts. He has spent more of his life in institutional care than anywhere else. He is a 20 month old baby boy with wounds that God has entrusted to us to help heal. The good news is that we can now, as Kena’s parents and by God’s grace, rebuild attachment and help him heal from these emotional wounds.

Everything around Kena will be new and he will need to learn not just about his new environment but also about love and family. The best way for us to form a parent/child bond with him is to be the ones to hold, snuggle, instruct, soothe and feed him. For the first few months home, Donny and I will need to be the only ones who hold, feed, bathe, comfort, and change Kena. We need to teach him that we are his people, his parents, and that we will always be there to care for his needs. As our love and care of him repeats over time, he will be able to learn that his parents are safe to trust and to love deeply. We are, essentially, recreating the newborn/parent connection. Once Kena starts to establish this important bond, he will then be able to branch out to other healthy relationships.

It will help us immensely if adults limit with Kena what is typically considered normal, physical contact with a baby/toddler. This will (for a while) include things like holding, hugging, and kissing and just seeking any kind of real attachment relationship with him. Children from orphanage settings are prone to attach too easily to anyone and everyone - which hinders the important, primary relationship with parents. Waving, blowing kisses or giving high fives are absolutely appropriate and welcomed! We want Kena to know that the people with whom he interacts are our trusted friends and family, but we also need to differentiate that we will be the ones who are always there for him as his parents. Please don’t try to meet his needs. Please redirect him to us.

"A well-tended newborn is fed, cradled, and soothed when he cries from hunger or crankiness. This scene plays out hundreds of times in the first month of life alone. Through this exchange, the baby learns to trust that his needs will be met and that he can rely on people." (from The Connected Child).

We have been professionally advised that it is best that Donny and I solely meet every need--quickly and consistently. Until he has learned that WE are his parents, we will need to be his primary caretakers at all times. Although it may appear that we are spoiling or babying him, we are not. You may wonder how long this will take, but the timeline is different for every child. We will follow his lead and trust our instincts as his mom and dad. After meeting him a few weeks ago, we learned that he is apprehensive and hesitant and even fearful in new situations. This confirms even more that we need to really work on developing trust and consistency with him and trust the Lord to bind our hearts.   

For the first few weeks or even months, it will seem as if we are kind of cocooning our family in our home. It will be our time, as a family of 6, to huddle in together and start fresh. We need to teach Kena that he has a stable, calm and predictable environment to live in. Donny will be working from home more often the first few weeks Kena is home, so he can establish himself as “Dad” for Kena. As I stated above, we are starting from the beginning and establishing a connection similar to a newborn/parent. 

"Children who come from hard places don't overcome their history in six weeks; it can take years before new, improved life skills and attachment take permanent root for these children." –from The Connected Child

A brief note about his story – Kena’s life has been hard, but there are obvious strands of God’s love, protection and redemption in his past. We will protect his story, and we are choosing not to share the details of his life before he was matched with us. It is his story, and we are blessed to be a part of it. We will wait to share more with him when he is older, and we pray that the gift of his story in the future will be used to help him see God’s kind and protective hand in the midst of the brokenness that came so early in his life.

We cherish each of you and the role you have played in our adoption story. You have helped us grow our family, and there is just no way to thank you enough for that. We need you. Adoption is restoration, redemption, healing. It is work. It is a different kind of parenting as it's parenting on the front lines of children who come from very hard places. While we wanted to offer some boundaries on how we will approach our early months with Kena, please don’t fear making a mistake that might threaten our attachment with Kena. We will give lots of grace just as we hope you will give us grace as we enter into this new phase of our lives.

I will follow up soon with more about how you can practically help us through this transition. Please keep praying for us. We know the Lord has brought us to this point, and we need to continue to rely on his grace and power to parent Kena in a loving and secure way. Please pray he will bond to us. Thanks again for your love and care. We can’t wait to bring Kena home, and we thank the Lord for this gift of our new son.

With love and thanks,
Donny and Kim (and all of us) 

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