In May I had the privilege of attending the CAFO Summit. It was an incredible time where foster and adoptive parents, professionals, pastors, lay leaders, non-profits and organizations came together to be refreshed, challenged, and grow so that we can better love the children in our care, honor everyone in the adoption triad, preserve first families when possible, and seek justice for the fatherless. I met people from literally all over the world.
One of the sessions I chose to attend was called Becoming Fluent in Difficult Stories: How to Manage the Tension Between Hope and Hard. It was led by Beth Gukenberger, and after the session I went and immediately bought her book.
Listening to her was like a balm to some parts of my heart that I didn’t even realize were wounded. One of the stories she shared was something she learned from a mentor as they were a young couple, living in another country, started an organization and were fostering and adopting children. Everyone had an opinion and something to say. She felt like she was constantly having to explain all their life decisions. As she started to explain why they had a new car, her mentor stopped her and said “you don’t have to explain anything.” Her mentor then took her inside and told her to think of people like a home. Anyone who lives inside the home (ie family), gets to be involved in decision making, gets to share their opinions and deserves an explanation. Anyone on the front porch (ie your inner friend circle, accountability, those outside of your family who are really close to you), they are allowed to speak into your life, share their wisdom, warn you when they think you’re making an unwise decision or encourage you to take that leap of faith. They get explanations. Anyone in the yard (ie surface level friends, social media friends, other parents you chit chat with at the park, acquaintances) and anyone beyond (ie strangers you meet at the grocery store, your kid’s soccer games, etc.) you do not owe them a thing. They don’t get to have opinions on your life choices, because they aren’t on the front porch.
You literally felt a release in the room. One woman even spoke up and tearfully said, “So when I’m out, and people ask me if all those children are mine because I look so young? I feel like I have to explain…” You don’t owe them an explanation. And your kids are hearing your responses. You shouldn’t have to explain how your family came to be, you are simply a family.
This was simultaneously freeing for me, and something I’ve wrestled with ever since.
I feel like my whole life, I’ve been labeled as the one who just “does things differently.” I never knew whether to take that as a compliment or a judgement. I didn’t set out to “do things differently.” I never actively sat there and thought hmm….everyone else seems to be doing it this way. I’m going to go in the opposite direction, just because.
If you know me at all, you know that rebellion just isn’t my personality. I’m much more of a rule-follower. I’m a planner, I’m Type A, I like lists and I like to know what is happening next. I like a good 5 year plan. So all these ways I am “doing things differently”, it’s not me. It’s simply how I’ve been led. And I’ve fought most of them.
Growing our family through adoption when we have no fertility issues, all the healthy foods and essential oils and toxin free lifestyle, the homeschooling, having a child with sensory processing disorder, this very blog and the plans I have to launch a shop on this blog, every single one of them has been questioned. Multiple times.
When we first started the adoption process, we knew we were going to have to fundraise to bring our son home. There was no question and no other way. We weren’t excited about the task, but knew what God was guiding us to do. Because of that, we felt it was important to be incredibly transparent. After all, people were giving of their own money to help us fill in the gaps we couldn’t and bring our son home through various fundraisers. We had to self promote through the blog and social media outlets. It was uncomfortable. And boy, did people share their opinions about what we were doing.
“Japan? Why are you adopting from Japan it’s not a third world country. Is that even a need?”
“Why are you adopting internationally when there are so many kids here in the US that need homes?”
“Why can’t you just pay for this yourselves? If you were pregnant you wouldn’t be asking people to pay for your hospital birth.”
Then we came home...
“Aw you’re so lucky you got an actual baby! He won’t remember anything!”
“You’re so lucky you missed the newborn stage. Seriously, you didn’t miss much.”
“Are you guys going to have your own kids?”
“What happened to his real mom?”
“Is he yours?”
Then when we were struggling even more at home, and knew in our gut it wasn’t normal toddler behavior.
“Sensory processing disorder? He’s just being a 2 year old boy. Every 2 year old has meltdowns.”
“It’s just a phase. He just needs to grow out of it. It’ll pass.”
With the gluten and dairy free diet, the essential oils and toxin free living.
“If he’s not anaphylactic, how do you know it’s an actual allergy? Is it really that bad?”
“Do those really work? I think it’s all a placebo.”
“How can you tell it’s working on him, he can’t tell you.”
“Ugh, you’re just trying to sell me something.”
With this blog…
“So…what are you really doing, what’s the point of this whole thing?”
“Why do you care about social media?”
“Aren’t you scared to go public with everything? I mean, you know the dangers right?”
With choosing to homeschool…
“How is he going to be socialized?”
“Why did you decide this so early? You haven’t even tried preschool.”
“How do you know how to teach him? Do you have a degree in education? Aren’t you afraid he’s going to fall behind?
These are comments and questions I’ve heard over and over again (and many more). Why am I sharing all this with you?
Because here’s the tension I’ve felt like we’ve lived in since we started the adoption process in 2013: We were kind of forced to open the door to our lives at that point, and never felt like we could shut it because so many people have followed our family’s story since then. It has been really hard to draw that line between the front porch and the yard. And it’s not just online, sometimes I feel like I can’t even step out the door without being asked a question that requires an explanation of our family or my decisions. But…
I also love sharing our story, because we didn’t write it. None of this was planned or pictured. It’s a story I can now see that was being written for me long ago. I can literally look back and see the many ways, things that happened that I didn’t understand then, but see clearly now, he was preparing me for this. For marriage, for motherhood, for parenting my son specifically, for homeschooling, for parenting a child with sensory processing disorder, for writing and authoring books and resources because of my experience and education, for sharing our story! It’s impossible for me not to share, because in sharing I get to proclaim all the great things He has done in and through us, not because of us.
But, I’ve also learned the need to put up boundaries these past few months. I’ve learned I don’t have to justify, I don’t have to take those punches to my gut, that those opinions are just that, opinions. It’s hard to sift through. It’s hard not to take those questions and then question everything I’m doing, all the decisions we are making for our careers and our family. That metaphor from Beth’s mentor made me realize, the only way to drown out the noise is to discern who is in the house and on the front porch.
Why does this matter? Why am I telling you this? Let me talk to you mamas for a second. I bet you’ve struggled in some way, shape or form, with comparison. I bet you’ve experienced some judgement-from other moms, family members who did it different than what you are doing, social media “friends” who only see the highlight reel. If you are a foster/adoptive or special needs mama or multi-racial family or have step-children, I see you. I know the stares you get, the invasive questions you are asked, the assumptions that are made, because I get them too. Whether you have biological children, foster/adoptive children, special needs children, step-children, hear me loud and clear.
This is important, because you are modeling for the children in your care how to respond and create healthy boundaries.
I do not ever want Kai to feel like he has to answer the question “what happened to your “real mom”?” He has every right to both correct that language and say that he doesn’t want to share that information, it’s personal to him.
But if I myself do not model that kind of response, if he hears me telling pieces of his story or blasting every detail, then what I’ve modeled is there is no barrier from the front porch to the yard.
If he has a friend who does nothing but put him down with subtle blows and make him feel bad about himself, I want him to have the strength and discernment to move that person off his front porch and into the yard and say “no more”, or better yet, have the ability to discern who earns the right through built trust and faithfulness to even be on the front porch in the first place.
I want him to be at peace with the fact that he isn’t going to be everyone’s Chick-fil-A sauce, and that is good and ok. He can stand confidently and boldly in who he is in Christ, and the unique ways that God made his personality and gifts, and wove is story together.
It is inevitable that people are going to say ugly things. It’s already happened. It’s inevitable he’s going to get invasive questions. It’s inevitable that people are going to question his decisions when he’s really dedicated to something. And my hope is that now that I’ve learned this, I can model, the ball is in his court. He is in control of what he shares. He can proclaim the great things that the Lord has done, but also doesn’t have to give every single detail of his life or justify every decision he is led to just because someone else doesn’t get it. He can respond with grace while also shutting the door when needed. He can educate in a way that is strong but not judgmental. My hope is that he learns, what we say in his affirmations every day, that God has a plan for His life. His identity is found in Jesus. He runs his own race. That he will listen to wisdom and surround himself with life-giving people, but ultimately be obedient to what He is called to do, because his approval is not based on man.
So I encourage you, women and moms specifically, take a hard look at your house and front porch. Is it time for some spring cleaning? Is it time to shut some windows for a bit so that you can heal your weary soul? Is it time to open up those windows and doors a little more, maybe extend that front porch and trust the people who truly love you and are for you? Is it time to be more bold and throw off fear and doubt, and just go for that thing despite what everyone else is going think about you?
It’s worth it, and so is teaching this to the little (or big) ones in your care.