Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
But, with a month remaining for Reece's Rainbow's Angel Tree, we wondered if there was more that we could do for our sweet Christmas angel.
Last week I sat down with my little "Board of Directors" and we decided that we would sell Christmas goodies on Morgan's behalf. We determined what goodies we would make and sell and then we got to work. We made fliers and order forms that we handed out to friends and family so that they could help us in our efforts and we gathered our supplies.
My mom is an Intervention Specialist and AP History teacher at a local Catholic High School. On Monday, she went to work, armed with our fliers and order forms and shared Morgan's story with her coworkers and students. Several orders were placed and last night we got to work filling them.
We decided to deliver the goodies personally, so this morning I loaded the kids into the van and we drove over to the high school and met my mom on her lunch break. We began distributing goodies to those who had purchased them and each time we delivered a goody, the kids sang a Christmas carol to the recipient (their song of choice was "The Shepherds Carol").
While we were singing, another teacher heard us and invited us into her classroom to sing to her students. When the kids had finished singing, we explained that we were raising money for Morgan's grant fund by selling Christmas goodies. After sharing this with the class, the teacher turned to her students and asked them how they would feel about donating their "collection" to Morgan's grant fund. I soon learned that this class had been collecting money throughout the month of December that they planned to donate to a charity. The class wholeheartedly agreed that the money should be given to Morgan and I watched, humbled, as they passed their collection jar around the room one last time before handing it to the kids.
Before we left the school today we had collected almost $300 for Morgan's grant fund and my children were excited and amazed at how many people had given so generously to "their" boy! What a testimony!
Life is so much sweeter dipped in chocolate and filled with Christ-like love!
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
I love her because she is not afraid of being radically different from the rest of the world. I love her because she doesn't settle for the mediocre. I love her for plainly stating things EXACTLY how they are!
She recently wrote a post on her blog entitled, "How to Be The Village." I laughed. I cried. She took the words (that I can never seem to find) right out of my mouth.
She breaks this "Field Guide to Supporting Adoptive Families" down into two categories: "Before the Airport" and "After the Airport."
Our family is firmly in BOTH stages at the moment and, because I can never seem to find the words (or the time) to tell it exactly as it is, I'm going to let Jen do the talking for me:
Supporting Families Before the Airport
Your friends are adopting. They’re in the middle of dossiers and home studies, and most of them are somewhere in the middle of Waiting Purgatory. Please let me explain something about WP: It sucks in every way. Oh sure, we try to make it sound better than it feels by using phrases like “We’re trusting in God’s plan” and “God is refining me” and “Sovereignty trumps my feelings” and crazy bidness like that. But we are crying and aching and getting angry and going bonkers when you’re not watching. It’s hard. It hurts. It feels like an eternity even though you can see that it is not. It is harder for us to see that, because many of us have pictures on our refrigerators of these beautiful darlings stuck in an orphanage somewhere while we’re bogged down in bureaucracy and delays.
How can you help? By not saying or doing these things:
1. “God’s timing is perfect!” (Could also insert: “This is all God’s plan!” “God is in charge!”) As exactly true as this may be, when you say it to a waiting parent, we want to scratch your eyebrows off and make you eat them with a spoon. Any trite answer that minimizes the struggle is as welcomed as a sack of dirty diapers. You are voicing something we probably already believe while not acknowledging that we are hurting and that somewhere a child is going to bed without a mother again. Please never say this again. Thank you.
2. “Are you going to have your own kids?” (Also in this category: “You’ll probably get pregnant the minute your adoption clears!” “Since this is so hard, why don’t you just try to have your own kids?” “Well, at least you have your own kids.”) The subtle message here is: You can always have legitimate biological kids if this thing tanks. It places adoption in the Back-up Plan Category, where it does not belong for us. When we flew to Ethiopia with our first travel group from our agency, out of 8 couples, we were the only parents with biological kids. The other 7 couples chose adoption first. Several of them were on birth control. Adoption counts as real parenting, and if you believe stuff Jesus said, it might even be closer to the heart of God than regular old procreation. (Not to mention the couples that grieved through infertility already. So when you say, “Are you going to have your own kids?” to a woman who tried for eight years, then don’t be surprised if she pulls your beating heart out like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)
3. For those of you in Christian community, it is extremely frustrating to hear: “Don’t give up on God!” or “Don’t lose faith!” It implies that we are one nanosecond away from tossing our entire belief system in the compost pile because we are acting sad or discouraged. It’s condescending and misses the crux of our emotions. I can assure you, at no point in our story did we think about kicking Jesus to the curb, but we still get to cry tears and feel our feelings, folks. Jesus did. And I’m pretty sure he went to heaven when he died.
4. We’re happy to field your questions about becoming a transracial family or adopting a child of another race, but please don’t use this moment to trot out your bigotry. (Cluelessness is a different thing, and we try to shrug that off. Like when someone asked about our Ethiopian kids, “Will they be black?” Aw, sweet little dum-dum.) The most hurtful thing we heard during our wait was from a black pastor who said, “Whatever you do, don’t change their last name to Hatmaker, because they are NOT Hatmakers. They’ll never be Hatmakers. They are African.” What the??? I wonder if he’d launch the same grenade if we adopted white kids from Russia? If you’d like to know what we’re learning about raising children of another race or ask respectful, legitimate questions, by all means, do so. We care about this and take it seriously, and we realize we will traverse racial landmines with our family. You don’t need to point out that we are adopting black kids and we are, in fact, white. We’ve actually already thought of that.
5. Saying nothing is the opposite bad. I realize with blogs like this one, you can get skittish on how to talk to a crazed adopting Mama without getting under her paper-thin skin or inadvertently offending her. I get it. (We try hard not to act so hypersensitive. Just imagine that we are paper-pregnant with similar hormones surging through our bodies making us cry at Subaru commercials just like the 7-month preggo sitting next to us. And look at all this weight we’ve gained. See?) But acting like we’re not adopting or struggling or waiting or hoping or grieving is not helpful either. If I was pregnant with a baby in my belly, and no one ever asked how I was feeling or how much longer or is his nursery ready or can we plan a shower, I would have to audition new friend candidates immediately.
Here’s what we would love to hear Before the Airport:
1. Just kind, normal words of encouragement. Not the kind that assume we are one breath away from atheism. Not the kind that attempt to minimize the difficulties and tidy it all up with catchphrases. We don’t actually need for you to fix our wait. We just want you to be our friend and acknowledge that the process is hard and you care about us while we’re hurting. That is GOLD. I was once having lunch with my friend Lynde when AWAA called with more bad news about Ben’s case, and I laid my head down on the table in the middle of Galaxy Café and bawled. Having no idea what to do with such a hot mess, she just cried with me. Thank you for being perfect that day, Lynde.
2. Your questions are welcomed! We don’t mind telling you about the court system in Ethiopia or the in-country requirements in Nicaragua or the rules of the foster system. We’re glad to talk about adoption, and we’re thankful you care. I assure you we didn’t enter adoption lightly, so sharing details of this HUGE PIECE OF OUR LIVES is cathartic. Plus, we want you to know more because we’re all secretly hoping you’ll adopt later. (This is not true.) (Yes it is.)
3. When you say you’re praying for us and our waiting children, and you actually really are, not only does that soothe our troubled souls, but according to Scripture, it activates the heavens. So pray on, dear friends. Pray on. That is always the right thing to say. And please actually do it. We need people to stand in the gap for us when we are too tired and discouraged to keep praying the same words another day.
4. If you can, please become telepathic to determine which days we want to talk about adoption and which days we’d rather you just show up on our doorstep with fresh figs from the Farmer’s Market (thanks, Katie) or kidnap us away in the middle of the day to go see Bridesmaids. Sometimes we need you to make us laugh and remember what it feels like to be carefree for a few hours. If you’re not sure which day we’re having, just pre-buy movie tickets and show up with the figs, and when we answer the door, hold them all up and ask, “Would you like to talk for an hour uninterrupted about waiting for a court date?” We’ll respond to whichever one fits.
Supporting Families After the Airport
You went to the airport. The baby came down the escalator to cheers and balloons. The long adoption journey is over and your friends are home with their new baby / toddler / twins / siblings / teenager. Everyone is happy. Maybe Fox News even came out and filmed the big moment and “your friend” babbled like an idiot and didn’t say one constructive word about adoption and also she looked really sweaty during her interview. (Really? That happened to me too. Weird.)
How can you help? By not saying or doing these things:
1. I mean this nicely, but don’t come over for awhile. Most of us are going to hole up in our homes with our little tribe and attempt to create a stable routine without a lot of moving parts. This is not because we hate you; it’s because we are trying to establish the concept of “home” with our newbies, and lots of strangers coming and going makes them super nervous and unsure, especially strangers who are talking crazy language to them and trying to touch their hair.
2. Please do not touch, hug, kiss, or use physical affection with our kids for a few months. We absolutely know your intentions are good, but attachment is super tricky with abandoned kids, and they have had many caregivers, so when multiple adults (including extended family) continue to touch and hold them in their new environment, they become confused about who to bond with. This actually delays healthy attachment egregiously. It also teaches them that any adult or stranger can touch them without their permission, and believe me, many adoptive families are working HARD to undo the damage already done by this position. Thank you so much for respecting these physical boundaries.
3. For the next few months, do not assume the transition is easy. For 95% of us, it so is not. And this isn’t because our family is dysfunctional or our kids are lemons, but because this phase is so very hard on everyone. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to constantly hear: “You must be so happy!” and “Is life just so awesome now that they’re here??” and “Your family seems just perfect now!” I wanted that to be true so deeply, but I had no idea how to tell you that our home was actually a Trauma Center. (I did this in a passive aggressive way by writing this blog, which was more like “An Open Letter to Everyone Who Knows Us and Keeps Asking Us How Happy We Are.”) Starting with the right posture with your friends – this is hard right now – will totally help you become a safe friend to confide in / break down in front of / draw strength from.
4. Do not act shocked if we tell you how hard the early stages are. Do not assume adoption was a mistake. Do not worry we have ruined our lives. Do not talk behind our backs about how terribly we’re doing and how you’re worried that we are suicidal. Do not ask thinly veiled questions implying that we are obviously doing something very, very wrong. Do not say things like, “I was so afraid it was going to be like this” or “Our other friends didn’t seem to have these issues at all.” Just let us struggle. Be our friends in the mess of it. We’ll get better.
5. If we’ve adopted older kids, please do not ask them if they “love America so much” or are “so happy to live in Texas.” It’s this simple: adoption is born from horrible loss. In an ideal world, there would be no adoption, because our children would be with their birth families, the way God intended. I’ll not win any points here, but I bristle when people say, “Our adopted child was chosen for us by God before the beginning of time.” No he wasn’t. He was destined for his birth family. God did not create these kids to belong to us. He didn’t decide that they should be born into poverty or disease or abandonment or abuse and despair aaaaaaaall so they could finally make it into our homes, where God intended them to be. No. We are a very distant Plan B. Children are meant for their birth families, same as my biological kids were meant for mine. Adoption is one possible answer to a very real tragedy… after it has already happened, not before as the impetus for abandonment. There is genuine grief and sorrow when your biological family is disrupted by death and poverty, and our kids have endured all this and more. So when you ask my 8-year-old if he is thrilled to be in Texas, please understand that he is not. He misses his country, his language, his food, his family. Our kids came to us in the throes of grief, as well they should. Please don’t make them smile and lie to you about how happy they are to be here.
6. Please do not disappear. If I thought the waiting stage was hard, it does not even hold the barest candle to what comes after the airport. Not. The. Barest. Candle. Never have I felt so isolated and petrified. Never have I been so overwhelmed and exhausted. We need you after the airport way more than we ever needed you before. I know you’re scared of us, what with our dirty hair and wild eyes and mystery children we’re keeping behind closed doors so they don’t freak out more than they already have, but please find ways to stick around. Call. Email. Check in. Post on our Facebook walls. Send us funny cards. Keep this behavior up for longer than six days.
Here’s what we would love to hear or experience After the Airport:
1. Cook for your friends. Put together a meal calendar and recruit every person who even remotely cares about them. We didn’t cook dinners for one solid month, and folks, that may have single handedly saved my sanity. There simply are not words to describe how exhausting and overwhelming those first few weeks are, not to mention the lovely jetlag everyone came home with. And if your friends adopted domestically right up the street, this is all still true, minus the jetlag.
2. If we have them, offer to take our biological kids for an adventure or sleepover. Please believe me: their lives just got WHACKED OUT, and they need a break, but their parents can’t give them one because they are 1.) cleaning up pee and poop all day, 2.) holding screaming children, 3.) spending all their time at doctors’ offices, and 4.) falling asleep in their clothes at 8:15pm. Plus, they are in lockdown mode with the recently adopted, trying to shield them from the trauma that is Walmart.
3. Thank you for getting excited with us over our little victories. I realize it sounds like a very small deal when we tell you our kindergartener is now staying in the same room as the dog, but if you could’ve seen the epic level of freakoutedness this dog caused her for three weeks, you would understand that this is really something. When you encourage us over our incremental progress, it helps. You remind us that we ARE moving forward and these little moments are worth celebrating. If we come to you spazzing out, please remind us where we were a month ago. Force us to acknowledge their gains. Be a cheerleader for the healing process.
4. Come over one night after our kids are asleep and sit with us on our porch. Let me tell you: we are all lonely in those early weeks. We are home, home, home, home, home. Good-bye, date nights. Good-bye, GNO’s. Good-bye, spontaneous anything. Good-bye, church. Good-bye, big public outings. Good-bye, community group. Good-bye, nightlife. So please bring some community to our doorstep. Bring friendship back into our lives. Bring adult conversation and laughter. And bring an expensive bottle of wine.
5. If the shoe fits, tell adopting families how their story is affecting yours. If God has moved in you over the course of our adoption, whether before the airport or after, if you’ve made a change or a decision, if somewhere deep inside a fire was lit, tell us, because it is spiritual water on dry souls. There is nothing more encouraging than finding out God is using our families for greater kingdom work, beautiful things we would never know or see. We gather the holy moments in our hands every day, praying for eyes to see God’s presence, his purposes realized in our story. When you put more holy moments in our hands to meditate on, we are drawn deeper into the Jesus who led us here.
Here’s one last thing: As you watch us struggle and celebrate and cry and flail, we also want you to know that adoption is beautiful, and a thousand times we’ve looked at each other and said, “What if we would’ve said no?” God invited us into something monumental and lovely, and we would’ve missed endless moments of glory had we walked away. We need you during these difficult months of waiting and transitioning, but we also hope you see that we serve a faithful God who heals and actually sets the lonely in families, just like He said He would. And even through the tears and tantrums (ours), we look at our children and marvel that God counted us worthy to raise them. We are humbled. We’ve been gifted with a very holy task, and when you help us rise to the occasion, you have an inheritance in their story; your name will be counted in their legacy.
Because that day you brought us pulled pork tacos was the exact day I needed to skip dinner prep and hold my son on the couch for an hour, talking about Africa and beginning to bind up his emotional wounds. When you kidnapped me for two hours and took me to breakfast, I was at the very, very, absolute end that morning, but I came home renewed, able to greet my children after school with fresh love and patience. When you loved on my big kids and offered them sanctuary for a night, you kept the family rhythm in sync at the end of a hard week.
Thank you for being the village. You are so important.
Thank you Jen for taking the time to, once again, be a voice for adoptive families and their children!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It is humbling.
Remember that goal we set to get Morgan's grant fund to the $500 mark by the close of the giveaway?
Well, we blew that out of the water!
In fact, in the past 24 hours alone you have donated over $500!
I do not know yet the current total of Morgan's grant (donations via Chipin must be entered by hand so it may take a few days for them to show up in Morgan's fund), but I can tell you that it is well over the $1000 mark!
I am humbled by your generosity. I am grateful for your willingness to stand upon the rooftops and shout for those who do not have a voice. I am blessed to be surrounded by so many of the Lord's faithful servants.
Thank you all for standing with me this month in defense of the fatherless!
YOU. ARE. AMAZING!
And now, what you have all been waiting for! The winners of our Adoption Awareness Giveaway are. . . . . . .
($100 Amazon Gift Card)
I am humbled. I am amazed. I am inspired. Thank you ALL who donated, shared and prayed. Together, we ARE making a difference in the lives of orphans throughout the world!
The Villemure Family:
Thank you for allowing me to introduce my growing family. In 2006, after nearly 4 years of infertility treatment and many losses, I gave birth to my very sweet Connor. The pregnancy to bring Connor into the world was woven with fear, despair and loss because I lost his twin at 10 weeks into the pregnancy. He is my medical miracle baby born thru a very costly procedure called egg donor in-vitro fertilization. Prior to Connor's arrival my then husband was not very open to adoption. Meaning he would entertain conversations to pacify my need to be a mother. Shortly after Connor was born my marriage dissolved and I evaluated my life and my goals and desires. For 18 months I considered what I wanted. I knew I wanted to build my family but I felt carrying a pregnancy to term was too risky for Connor to be without a mom because I nearly lost everything by having Connor naturally. Thank goodness for my wonderful doctors, they literally saved my life.
Since having a natural born child would prove too risky, I began to consider adoption again. I fought a good fight to convince my ex-husband this was how God intended for my family to be formed. I soon began researching and felt the adoption world slipping thru my fingers, I settled on Guatemala then is closed, China was already closed, then I settled on Kyrgystan and just prior to making a decision on agency it closed... I was losing heart and direction. Then one afternoon I spoke to an agency with a program in Bulgaria and I immediately found my heart. Within a few weeks I saw my sweet Elina's profile. The moment I saw her I knew, my heart sang but I needed to spend the weekend to really know that I would be the best mother for her. That I had the ability to parent a child missing both legs, one above the knee and the other below the knee. I am not certain what the driving force was fate, destiny or pure heavenly intervention, but Elina was meant to be my daughter I know that with every ounce of my being. She came home in March 2010 and was a little over 5.5 years old, she spoke little English, but I could see that she was going to add spice to my life. Elina is now 7.5 years old, she is my spunky monkey. We have found our way thru the valley or grief and pain in a little ones heart who lived with changing shifts of caregivers for 5.5 years. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain and the terrorizing fear that a child goes thru when their walls come down, when they want to trust but don't have the capacity to understand what trust is. I can attest that it has been over 4 months without an adoption meltdown. Knock on wood... I really hope I didn't jinx it! Elina now has the ability to connect her actions with how she emotionally feels and even find the source of her poor choice. For example, choosing to ignore, recently when she received a time in after being asked to pick her coat up about a half dozen times I asked her to find the source. She ended up connecting her behavior to having multiple caregivers and ignoring their requests, her words "Because why should it matter mom? They walked away and the next person didn't know what they told me so I would ignore their requests too."
So now that I feel Elina is very secure in her attachment and her place in our family, I have decided to step onto another path of adoption. I debated on domestic, going to Bulgaria or possibly Russia. I felt as a single parent I could only parent a healthy child, that ruled out Bulgaria. So Russia or domestic, which one? I have struggled with the decision for over a year now. Then I looked at Reece's Rainbow for the hundredth time in a week and saw a little boy and I began to explore the adoption of a HIV+ child. I saw him as my child, he looked like my Connor, my little boy who welcomed "sister" home with open arms. Another family stepped forward for him before I made a final decision and I ran the other way into the domestic realm. No matter how many agencies and facilitators I spoke to I know my heart was in international adoption and one day my friend Viviane began asking me about this SN child or that one. That conversation led me to Reece's Rainbow again and soon I looked into big blue eyes and knew "Danny" was my son maybe I should have stopped there but I kept looking and I was sweet "Dante". I struggled with the decision for two days of which boy I would choose to be my son. I barely slept, couldn't concentrate, kept looking into their eyes asking something to stand out as a reason to pick one or the other. Then on the third night I went to sleep with a finally prayer for God to guide me in my decision. I "gave it up to God" and I woke serene and knew the answer. Both boys were my sons, there was no reason to choose as God had intended both boys to be my sons. My son is on cloud nine to be getting two brothers. I find it ironic that in September, before I began discussing adoption with my children, that Connor brought a preschool project home of a hand and arm cut out of brown construction paper, the hand cut out was the trunk of the tree. Connor placed a green leaf on each of the branches (fingers) they said mommy, sister (he only calls her sister not Elina), Connor, Matthew and Jacob. So I asked, "Connor, who is Matthew and Jacob?" Connor responded, with a duh Mom don't you know expression, "They are my brothers." What was I thinking?
So let me introduce you to my boys "Danny" and "Dante".Please follow along on our journey and post comments on their blog: http://withloveourgivingtreegrows.blogspot.com/
I have begun fundraising efforts, please help my boys come home. Maybe buy Pampered Chef items for gifts for Christmas, purchase puzzle pieces for the boys to know you were part of their journey, or donate to their grant funds on Rainbow (tax deductible and paid directly to the agency for their fees).
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Valerie already addressed this in another set of blog entries and I must admit, she was spot-on in her observations. Adopting out of birth order is something that prospective adoptive parents should consider. However, no one is truly an expert on this any more than the parents, who should evaluate their own family architecture and individual personalities, needs, and developmental states.
In our situation I feel the fact that our first three children were triplets made a lot of “normal” transitions much easier for our children to bear. Namely, they were used to sharing everything including the love and attention of parents long before other adoptive children were introduced into the mix.
As the provider of the family, can you share how you dealt with the mountain of adoption fees? Was that part a struggle (coming to terms with it and how you would raise the funds with all the expenses a large family already incurs)?
“Waste your money and you're only out of money, but waste your time and you've lost a part of your life.” ~Michael Leboeuf
Ever since the first utterances of the concept of international adoption, money has been a concern. Money was a major concern for the adoptions of Evan and Joshua – Joshua’s adoption in fact would not have been impossible without the support of family members who supported us through some tough times as I was still trying to get on my feet with my career here in Ohio. Over the years coming up with the money has grown easier as my career has progressed and things have become more stable as we’ve been able to pay off adoption debt.
I will emphasize that at times the financial strain was significant, and the reality of international adoption is that they are expensive and often times it causes you to do things that a normal person would not do (like flying to Ukraine with $10,000 in your pants.)
How did we pay for adoptions? Well let’s break it down – we have completed 5 adoptions which included 6 overseas trips (1 to Uzbekistan, 2 to Ukraine and 3 to Bulgaria). We’ve expended roughly $60,000 (not including current adoption). At the peak, we had amassed around $25,000 in adoption related debt (YIKES!) in the form of an adoption loan and credit card debt. Some people import cars – we import kids – it’s all about perspective.
How do I cope with it? Well, I can’t really say that it’s anything magical. There are four main sources of paying for an international adoption – let’s take a look at them.
1 – Your own two hands. Want to adopt? Get a better job, get a second job, do whatever it takes to make the money on your own without going into debt. During our adoptions I did a few different things to raise money by working a second job – in one case I purchased the IT assets of a company going out of business and sold all the equipment on eBay, Craigslist, and at hamfests (if you don’t know what a hamfest is google it.) It took some investment but I was able to make about $10k in profit with only $2,000 invested. Did we avoid all debt in our adoption efforts? Heck no. But it was better than relying only on the other three sources.
2 – Talk to your family. Hopefully your family is supportive of your endeavors and is willing to support you in some way – be it child care, financial support, fundraising assistance, etc. If your family can afford to provide financial assistance, ensure that they funnel the money through a non-profit (such as Reece’s Rainbow) or make use of tax laws that permit gifts to children – these will help family members benefit from their donation. Across the 5 adoptions we’ve done, approximately 10% of the funding came from family members – in most cases it was in response to a specific need (i.e. paying for flights).
3 – Fundraisers. I loathe fundraisers, but that’s because I’m a guy and I’m all prideful and such about not collecting handouts from friends, family, etc. However there is a reality to this – in many cases friends, family and even people who only know you as a distant acquaintance on facebook are genuinely interested in supporting you in your adoption efforts. Fundraisers can be an excellent way to say to those around you “hey, I know you may or not be interested, but if you are, we’re doing a fundraiser and would appreciate any support.” We were always amazed at the blessings and support offered by friends and we raised around $10,000 across all five adoptions. I’m not an expert on running fundraisers, but Val is – so if you need help determining how to raise funds talk to her.
4 – Debt. Debt is a four letter word. And if you go into debt, chances are your use of other four letter words will increase. This could include loans, credit cards, or anything of the sort. Like I said – we picked up nearly $25,000 in adoption related debt that was spread between a loan and a credit card. Remember those horror stories about credit card interest rates skyrocketing at the whim of the bank and credit limits getting cut? Well both of those things happened to us, and twice I had to call up the bank after they cut our limit after paying off several thousand on the card in preparation for purchasing plane tickets. Grrrrr. But we had no one to blame but ourselves… we made a decision to adopt, and to go into debt and we had to deal with it. The good news is that we knew the debt was an issue all along, and we had the fire, determination and the capacity to eliminate the debt very quickly. If you go into debt (or are in debt for any reason) I HIGHLY recommend reading any of Dave Ramsey’s materials – I listened to his show and it kept me motivated to pay off our debt. Ultimately, we paid off all of our adoption debt with the help of the recent change in the adoption tax credit and had enough cash left over to pay down most of our van loan and we stashed aside enough cash to cover our current adoption effort in full with only minimal fundraising – mainly because as I said above, family and friends have asked how they can help.
The money was always a struggle – as the one who earns all of the salary income in the home, I felt a huge burden that many times I felt Valerie did not understand. Making the decision to go into debt for an adoption was a tough one for me, but we were continually blessed as we went through the process. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that we have been blessed for our willingness to care for those who are in need of an eternal family.
What advice do you have as a father of 8 kids trying to make ends meet while trying to adopt?
Get Planning. Develop a plan for the adoption – break the adoption process out on paper (or in a spreadsheet) and start planning the various phases and steps. Set a schedule (I know, many aspects of the schedule are beyond your control – make it sequential) and lay out the finances – figure out what money you need and when you will need it. Figure out how you can meet the schedule and financial requirements with a combination of your own money, family support, fundraising, and last of all… debt. But if debt is required, make sure you have at least have a tentative plan for how to handle that debt on the back end of the adoption, and then once the adoption is complete attack and eliminate that debt with every fiber of your being.
Get an accountant. Seriously. Unless you are an accountant by trade there is no way on this green earth that you are able to stay fully up to date with 100% of the tax implications of having a family with a complicated tax situation. In our case we deal with mortgage interest, owning rental property, international adoptions, children with significant medical needs, numerous trips to philly for medical care, charitable donations and more. I pay less than $400 each year for my accountant to do my taxes and I can email him whenever I have a question – we’ve been audited twice because of our unusual tax situation and having a personal accountant in my court saved me countless hours of dealing with the IRS. Some people knock this idea, but in our situation I’m confident that the $400 I spend each year getting my taxes done is more than made up for in the amount of additional returns and minimized hassle.
Get frugal. Learn how to do more with less. I am a huge fan of Clark Howard (consumer advocate), Dave Ramsey (Debt Elimination Guru) as well as shopping online using sites like slickdeals.net and dealnews.com – we also have an Amazon Prime account (worth every penny even if you have to pay for it.) We shop at Sam’s Club for food and Goodwill for clothes for the kids (and for me to wear to work.) Valerie and I each have an inexpensive cell plan and we have no home phone service (I don’t like talking to people anyways.) We dropped dish network years ago and don’t miss it a bit – we have a Roku (Best. Thing. Ever.) and bunny ears – I get my manly dose of ESPN through watchespn.com. The key is figuring out what techniques for saving money work best in your situation and putting them in place. Sacrifice is to be expected while you’re adopting regardless of the number of children you have.
Get educated. If you can make use of educational opportunities or benefits at work, do it. Take all the training you can get. My employer has a 100% tuition reimbursement benefit so what little isn’t covered by financial aid is picked up by my company. Education was always important to me, but I was never willing to pay for it myself – In a few months I’ll be picking up by Associates Degree and I plan to continue on with my Bachelor’s degree and finally a Master’s degree – probably in IT Management. Education will always pay dividends – if your current employer doesn’t value your education and doesn’t want to invest in you perhaps you need to find a new employer – that way even if they don’t value you either at least the new company might pay you more to be unappreciated. Employment is a business relationship – if both parties are happy then so be it. If one party isn’t happy, it’s probably time to move on. Don’t be afraid of the change – embrace it.
I don’t have all the answers, and what worked for us will not apply to everyone, so your mileage may vary on all of this. If you think I’m off my rocker, well you might be right. If you’re a guy who is staring down the financial burden of international adoption, you are not alone – contact me or any other adoptive parent and find out all the tips and tricks of the process that can make all the difference.
Bottom line – Don’t let the money stop you. A life saved through adoption is priceless, quite a return on the investment if you ask me.
What are some of the activities you enjoy the most with your children?
This sounds bad, but I love to work with them. I love doing yard work, and they seem to love it too. One day my son and I were cleaning off the back patio and he stopped, looked up at me and said “Dad, this is the funnest thing we’ve ever done.” For the past few years I’ve been the driving force behind a backyard garden – and I love to work with the kids in planting tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and sunflowers (one of my sunflowers topped 10 feet this year). I think the kids love it too, and I hope they have fond memories of eating cherry tomatoes right off the plant, or digging up their own carrots that they planted.
I also love opportunities to spend time with them individually – this provides a window to their personality and helps me get to know them better and focus on their needs. Each child is unique and while some of them enjoy doing the dishes with me, others enjoy going to Sam’s Club or Lowe’s.
A few of them enjoy watching sports with me and I capitalize on that as often as I can – sometimes I’ll get them up late in the evening so they can watch an hour or so of a ballgame with me.
How do you decide which child to give attention to at which moment and does the squeeky wheel always get the grease?
I do the best I can. I take a deep breath, sometimes I sigh, and then I try to meet their needs in the most logical order my mind can come up with at the moment. The squeaky wheel method does not often work for the children since both Valerie and I are adept at tuning out squeaking. A few of the kids are more prone to “bad days” and I often find myself trying to spend extra time talking to those children and trying to help them through their emotions. As often as possible I try to give them isolated time, away from the others so that the quality of the time is better for them.
How do you develop love for a child who is not your biological child, whom you did not see from the womb?
I don’t know… and I’m not the right person to ask. The process of developing that connection has been the most elusive aspect of the adoption process for me. At a functional level I am glad to be their father, and I am happy that they are in a family that loves them, and I would give the world for them, but that obviously does not instantly equate to a deep relationship based on love. This has been an internal battle for me which I often feel comes from deep-rooted mental variables resulting from conditions of childhood and my young adulthood. The only thing I can say is that time is the greatest healer. Without going into specifics of my relationships with my children I’ll just say that I am confident (and it is my experience) that time is able to heal many of these issues and even if the bond is not instant, that does not mean it will never occur. In some cases it may take years – and I think that’s ok. I’m not saying it’s purely a “fake it till ya make it” thing, but I don’t see any problem with saying (inside your own mind) – “I’m glad you’re part of our family, and I know that you and I may not bond instantly, but we’ll get there.”
I wish had the answer to this one, because it has seriously been 90% of the mental and emotional drain I’ve faced following adoptions and has caused me much consternation.
How does he handle the stress of work and then coming home? My hubby is overwhelmed by our kids constant want for attention after the constant need for him at work. /How do you deal with the chaos when you walk in the door at the end of the day and all the kids want your attention at once?
The biggest problem I have is that I work in a very large facility that is essentially a massive cube farm – a very, very quiet cube farm. So quiet in fact that I have to turn on a fan in my cube to prevent myself from going nuts due to the lack of noise. When I come home I am often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of noise that these precious children are able to generate! This may sound weird – but it’s so true.
One approach is to listen to really loud music on the way home in the car. This preps me for the audible onslaught that heads my way when I open the door.
Another option is to call home when I’m about 5 minutes away (I only have a 10 minute commute) and let the gang know I’m coming – this gives them time to scurry around and start cleaning things up before I get home, a clean house always calms me down – and nothing makes me happier and more calm than a back yard that has been cleaned up by the kids. If the backyard isn’t clean then I often try to rally the troops to fall in line which is generally met with only marginal cooperation – recipe for failure.
A lot of it is attitude though – sometimes when I know I’ve had a rough day I take a few deep breaths and remind myself to be patient and calm with the family. Once of my tactics is to have Valerie let one of the kids wait outside for me so that when I pull into the driveway I’m greeted by a nice big smile from someone that is genuinely excited to see me, a very refreshing moment that brings back fond memories of when I was a kid and I would wait at the bus stop for my dad riding home on the 17L bus which stopped around the corner from our house.
Lastly, if all else fails and I’m about the fly off the handle and go nuts I declare that I need a break and I retreat to my office to change my clothes and relax for a minute so I can cool off a bit. Valerie is generally supportive of such action and I generally try to afford her the same opportunity because sometimes when I roll in the door she’s near the edge of her own cliff of mental fortitude.