Friday, June 21, 2013

Our NOT So Happily Ever After

If you are reading this post instead of the Our Happily Ever After post, then you want the gritty, real, messy details about what it's really been like to transition into life with three new kids from a different country.

If you prefer to only know the happy, "life is perfect" details, you will want to skip this post and read the Our Happily Ever After post.

You've been warned.

This morning when my alarm rang, I leaned over to turn it off and then started to cry.
I simply didn't want to face a new day.
Sometimes I give myself a choice and allow myself to sleep in.
But this morning I didn't have the choice, so I wiped my tears, took a deep breath and got out of bed.

Since we've been home, so much has happened.
When people ask me about how the adjustment is going, I usually respond,
"We couldn't have expected it to be much better."

And it's true.
There are a lot of good things (read the Our Happily Ever After post if you don't believe me!)
I should feel happy and blessed and excited that things are going well.
Some days I do.
Some days I don't.

Many of the challenges were expected.
To a certain extent.
Some of them are harder to deal with than I expected.
Some of them are not as bad as I expected.
Some of them were a complete surprise.

I've learned a lot over the last 112 days.
The biggest thing being that I still have a LOT to learn.
It's overwhelming and scary and difficult.

I find myself wanting to escape from the overwhelming, scary and difficult.
Sometimes I look for errands I can run by myself just to get out of the house.
Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom for long periods of time just for fun.
Sometimes I hide in my closet or under the covers and pretend I don't hear children calling "MOM" over and over again.

All of our children are AMAZING individuals.
But I'm not perfect.
And they aren't perfect.
And parenting is HARD!
Especially when you are expected to be the mature adult and you feel like having your own temper tantrum...

Here are some of the hard things we've been dealing with:
  • Our Ukrainian kids only like about 3 types of food (potatoes, bread and mayonnaise).  Americans like variety.  This has made mealtime difficult.  Especially since ALL our kids feel a need to express how they feel about the food I serve.  I try not to take it personally, but when I take a lot of time trying to come up with meals and ideas for food that they may like and there are lots of complaints, it's hard not to get a bit frustrated.  As a result, I'm not cooking meals nearly as much as I was when we first arrived home from Ukraine. 
  • I was SHOCKED that one of our Ukrainian children displayed a sense of entitlement.  Our biological children know that this is an area where I have little patience.  And since I wasn't expecting an orphan to get ticked at me every time I said "no" to buying whatever their little heart desired (or letting them do whatever they wanted), it caused some interesting drama in the beginning.  We're still working through things in this area, but it's been a challenge!
  • I have one child that either worships the ground I walk on or wishes my death by shooting lasers out of their eyes.  There is never a middle ground.  And the feelings toward me can change in an instant.  I started noticing that every conversation I had with this child would start out positive and would suddenly shift to a negative/angry/complaining place.  I would dread every time this child asked me a question because I never knew how to respond in order to keep things from going crazy.  With my biological kids (especially now that they are older), I've gotten used to actually conversing with them.  With these kids, it's like parenting toddlers all over again.  Especially with the language barrier!  It's been hard, especially when I'm not looking at a toddler.  Sometimes I want to say, "Grow up and act your age!"  But that wouldn't help, so I have to try to act MY age instead.  Believe it or not, this is actually really hard for me.  *sigh*
  •  Sometimes I wish for my previous simple "I know what to expect" life.  Not that I wish our Ukrainian kids were out of the picture, because I don't!  But I crave the feelings of stability and comfort and ease that I had before we jumped onto this crazy adoption train.  Every day is a new adventure with new lessons to learn and new challenges to figure out.  It's exhausting.  I feel guilty that I struggle to enjoy each moment with my new amazing family.  Many days I feel like I'm just enduring until I can get the kids to bed (which is usually quite late at night with teenagers!)  I find myself wondering if it will ever get back to that comfortable and more often than not, enjoyable place again...
  •  I am not as patient with 7 kids as I was with 4 kids (not that I was overly patient before).  
  • We haven't used real plates since March.  I realize this is really bad for the environment, but I just don't care right now.  There are still so many dishes!  I grew up in a family with 8 children and we never used paper plates.  However, I can't for the life of me figure out how we didn't have stacks of dishes in the sink all the time!  Until I figure that out, my current family will likely continue using paper plates (there were some great paper plate coupons at Costco this month!)
  • I don't know how to give my kids everything they need.  I'm talking about their emotional needs here.  Someone told me that I need to realize that it's okay if my relationship with my Ukrainian kids is different than with my biological kids.  They told me that it will take time to love them all the same, and that it will take time to create a relationship and history with my Ukrainian kids like I've already established with my biological children.  They tried to comfort me by telling me that what I'm giving them, even if it's not what I originally envisioned, or is different than what I give my biological children, is still better than what they had.  This concept is still really hard for me to accept because I thought I would be capable of being more than I currently am.
  • I have realized that God has a vision for me.  He is trying to recreate who I am.  I recognized this early on in this journey, but I didn't realize how much reconstruction I needed.  Sometimes I feel energized and ready to take on whatever He throws at me.  But much of the time I HATE IT!  It hurts.  It's hard.  And it's not like I was a bad person before, was I?  :-)  I've realized that He has a vision for me to become something different than what I've been trying to become.  I'm not supposed to fit the mold that I was trying so hard to fill.  This is a painful process.  This is a scary process.  This is a vulnerable process.  And I'm having a hard time really looking in the mirror at who I am and realizing just how much I need to change to become who He wants me to become. 
We've had some amazing experiences since we've been home.  As challenging as things have been, the Lord has been SO evident in our lives.  I have never had so many spiritual experiences.  I have never felt so guided and directed in my life.  He is constantly there waiting to help me.  He is constantly forgiving me for throwing my own temper tantrums or growing impatient or hiding from my kids.  It's been such a growing experience.  It's changed who I am.  It will continue to change me.

Albina asked me last week if I ever regret adopting them.

She said, "You took three kids!  That's expensive and lots of work.  I see that you are tired and stressed.  Do you ever wish you didn't adopt us or that you had adopted different kids?"

Here is my answer to that question:

This adoption has been the hardest thing I have ever done.  Taking on three more kids has been and continues to be exhausting.  It is stressful.  But there has not been a moment that I have ever doubted that these kids were meant to be in our family.  God had a plan for our family, and it included Albina, Alina and Maks joining us.  This knowledge is what keeps me going.  It's what gets me through the difficult days.  And it's what will continue to help me work through the challenges!

Not once have I questioned that the Lord had a part in this journey.
Not once have I doubted that He led us to these kids.
It has been made very clear that they are meant to be a part of our family.

And with that knowledge, what more could I ask for?

Our forever family in front of the St George LDS Temple.

 Note:  We haven't gotten professional family pictures since Isabel was a little girl (14 years ago).  When our Ukrainian kids were sealed to us in the St George LDS Temple, we hired a photographer to come and take family pictures.  Everyone was happy and excited to get pictures taken.  We got our individual pictures taken first.  Then we gathered for our first family picture.  Someone accidentally stepped on Alina's foot while getting into position.  She was mad.  As a result we do not have ONE family picture without Alina pouting, annoyed, angry or crying.  I struggle to look through the pictures without getting frustrated that every single one of our "happy" family pictures have one not-so-happy person.  
I will laugh about this someday, right?


  1. You're very brave, Shelly.
    I wonder how Jim feels. I know that there are things that give Dani stress that don't bother me at all and visa versa... and there are things that normally wouldn't stress me at all, but do because I know they stress Dani.
    Anyway, In the past year or so I've gotten to know a few men that married women that already had children. They're doing a great job as step-fathers, but as I think of them and you, in your situation - I'm impressed at how you're able to love, provide for, discipline and rearrange your life for a child that you didn't give birth to.
    I wish I lived closer so I could help (not that there's much I could do), but mostly so I could spend more time with you and your family. I'd probably make things more difficult... I do that sometimes>
    You've always impressed me. You're a great big sister, mom and woman. Just the other day I was looking at pictures of my kids and there's one with Eden and Ksenija and I thought Eden looked a little like you. She's a good big sister and I thought of how I want her to grow up and be like my big sister.
    Thanks for your example>

  2. Loved this honest post. I have learned so much from your example. I feel so much joy knowing that you are my friend. Thank you for sharing this....and we need to have some girl time in the near future! Love you!!

  3. I've been there sister. I'm four years in and things ARE better. Yes, we still have struggles but they're really not any more than the struggles I have with my bio-kids. They're just struggles I wouldn't have with my bio-kids because my import just doesn't have the social/family skills that I've been able to teach my bio-kids from birth. (We adopted at almost age 11)
    I remember that first year when I just didn't want to see his face. That I had screwed up the balance of our lives and it would never return to normal. What have I done? Like you, I KNEW he was our son. I KNEW this was God's plan. We were sealed almost a year after he got home. I thought having him sealed to us would be the "magical" cure. Nope. It helped. But we still had so much to work through and we continue to work.
    Please know you are not alone and if you every want to go back and read some brutally honest blog posts - visit my blog.
    Hang in there my friend! God bless.

  4. I LOVED this truly honest post. Shelly I am right there with you. I just got done talking to Mike 2 days ago about how emotionally draining it is and how much I am struggling. Your words beautifully expressed everything I am feeling. Thank you for sharing them. We really need to get together and help each other through this journey. I know for me it is so nice to know I am not the only one feeling these feelings. Your post validated my own feelings ad helped me feel like It is not about me, and I am not failing. So Thank you
    You are doing so much good. One day our children will recognize all that we have done to love them and they will reciprocate those feelings. I know it. The Lord wouldn't have given us these children if it wasn't meant to work out. I have to believe that or I don't think i could keep going. Stay strong :)

  5. I have been following Ukraine adoptions for years now. I have also hosted in the past. We did not end up adopting and I find myself at times longing for a bigger family. I am a stranger looking in, but I must say, I feel that you will long reap the rewards of adopting. You are getting 3xs the joy when there are joyful moments and 3xs the heartache when things get tough. But as we all know as moms, you have the biggest job right now RAISING children. Don't be hard on yourself because the vision you had may not have been realistic. Maybe dinner time is just ok now, but another area of your family life is better. Don't beat yourself up for not knowing how hard this was going to be. You knew it was going to be hard and you also knew you could do it and you aren't running away with errands, etc. you are taking care of yourself and giving yourself some rest! You are sacrificing right now for children that will bond with you and love you and be an asset to you in time. Don't be hard on yourself...accept the fact you are in the "sowing" stage in your family.

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  7. Hi Shelly,
    I've been checking this place every now and then, hoping to see a new post about how your family is doing. Would you consider doing a one year update?
    I hope things are less rough and that you can all focus on the love you all have for one another.
    Praying for and your family,

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