[Preface (because what’s one of my blog posts without one): I don’t expect to be popular by my thoughts on this issue. And it’s okay if you disagree. And I won’t be rattled if you don’t like me. But be forewarned, you’ll find it hard to pigeonhole me. And please, for Pete’s sake, if you’re going to make a point or argue or post a comment, please please please actually read the actual words I’ve actually written, not what another blogger advocated or what your Granny said or what your friends think. Deal? Stellar.]


Oh my GAAWWWWDDD, you’re thinking. Another post about LEGGINGS! Eye roll! Eye roll!  Well, before you get your tight little pants in a wad or Duggar skirt all ruffled, read on. (Because really. Do you think I’d actually write an entire post about a clothing article? Psha.)

I have this personal blogging rule for Hot Topics Du Jour in which people have already gabbed ad nauseam. Even when I do have quite a few thoughts on a matter, I choose not to blog on every one. For one, if it’s already been said, then it’s already been said. And I can’t stand plagiarism of thought. It’s boring. Useless. And offers up nothing that hasn’t already been offered. But secondly, I don’t presume that anyone cares about my opinion on any given topic (though having a blog obviously necessitates a smidge of said presumption, yes?)

So like I was saying, I’m not going to write just to write or post just to post. Too much clutter in cyber world already. BUT BUT BUT, when I think that I might possibly maybe somehow be able to put forth an entirely alternative angle to a given matter or provide a platform for discourse about something that nobody wants to talk about, then you’ll probably find me huddled up with my laptop after the kids are in bed and pounding away my thoughts on the keys.

So no, this post is not about leggings. Or Spandex. Or cleavage. Or pantylines. Or tight jeans. It’s not about what you should or shouldn’t wear. Or what you should and shouldn’t care about. Nope. Not at all. This ain’t a sermon. And I am not the self-appointed head of the Modesty Task Force.

But ever since some poor Mommy blogger wrote about why she stopped wearing leggings and it went even more viral than California measles (Lord bless), I haven’t seen one single Facebook friend or blogger offer up the approach to modesty that I will here. I’ve been reading. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been curious.

My Personal Preference for Modesty

I’ll tell you up front: I’m a huge proponent of modesty. Huge. In fact, I’m personally quite “prudish” compared to most of my friends. I love style, clothing, and self-expression (heck yeah, I do!), but for almost all of my childhood, most of my teen years, and all of my adulthood, I’ve been careful about what I wear. (I haven’t always been consistent, but I’ve tried. My apologies for my previous mishaps and naïvetés.) And these days, well, I feel very strongly that modesty is a lost art.

{And not that my personal rules matter, but for those curious who will ask anyway, let me save you the time. I personally choose not to A: show cleavage, B: wear tight pants without covering the butt, or C: wear bikinis. Because A: I wanna keep private parts private. B: It draws attention to a place to which I don’t want attention drawn. C: It feels like public underwear. (But that’s just me. Feel free to cheer, judge, mock, or find areas of contradiction, hypocrisy or utter ridiculousness.)}

As far as my own “prudish” rules for myself (and our daughters), I know I’m not alone on that. I know these standards are true for many of you, that a lot of women care about modesty. And if I ask you Why?, I’ll probably hear something about how we don’t want to make men lust. How we don’t want our clothing choices to be stumbling blocks for our brothers in Christ. How we don’t want to distract men or bring them down to a base level. In short, I’ll probably hear how you don’t want to cause our male friends to sin.

And then I have other friends whom I super duper love who fall on the other end of the modesty spectrum. Who believe that women aren’t responsible for men’s actions (in deed or thought). Who say that as long as they are comfortable in it, they don’t care what anyone else thinks. Who say as long as their husband says it’s okay, then it’s cool with them too. A few years ago I had a friend tell me I should dress sexier since “you have such a nice body, Heidi! Why do you hide it?” (Thanks, single friend. But I don’t think my husband would agree that I’m hiding it from the the only person who needs to see it.)

An Alternative

But somewhere in the midst of the legalism, the sexism, the mockery, the shaming, the free-for-all, the finger-pointing, the immaturity, and the whole crazy debate, is an altogether unique perspective. And one that I’ve had yet to hear a single person put forth. But one that seems so entirely obvious and instinctive to me.

Modest Feet

There is an alternative motivation for modesty here.

To be honest, I popped out of my mom’s womb a screaming feminist. Now, I come by it honestly, as both my parents (who are also followers of Jesus) claim the label as well. I’ve got a passion for justice flowing through my veins. It’s part of who I am. It’s how I’m wired. How God made me. And how my mind thinks. I see injustice where others might not, and I.MUST.ADDRESS.IT and DO something about it. {I realize this comes with a Hello, I’m a Freak tag on my back, but it’s okay. Nice to meet you.}

So when it comes to gender equality and oppression, I react strongly. It’s my God-instilled filter. My lens for looking at the world. But it’s not just in my DNA. A lifetime of some pretty wicked experiences of being mistreated as a girl or a woman (or being witness thereof) have compounded a natural penchant for gender justice. What experiences? Well, here’s (just a fraction of) the running tally. I have faint memories as a very little girl of being molested by a relative. Recent events have caused these to resurface. I was exposed to extremely pornographic magazines in that same relative’s bedroom when I was in only second or third grade. When I was in third grade I learned about sex when a classmate (a foster child) told me her dad tried to make her have a baby when she was two.

When I was in sixth grade, I learned that my mom (who suffered from eating disorders for decades) had been violently raped at the age of twelve by two men. That same year I first became the object of severe sexual harassment from a slew of boys. That would continue in two other schools through the tenth grade by entirely separate groups of boys. I had my clothes pulled at. My backside pinched. My bedroom windows peered into. I went on a few too many first-and-only dates with guys in high school who only wanted to talk about my body and attempt to take advantage of it. I was reputed to be either a snob or a game-player by guys who were forced to accept NO as an answer (because I am a stubborn girl, apparently). When I was seventeen I dated someone, though nice and genteel, whose primary focus was the shape of my figure.

But it gets worse. Ten years ago a very good friend was convicted of molesting his daughter. I also learned that he was extremely sexually abusive to his wife, my best friend at the time. At times he made inappropriate comments to me. I’ve heard a few-too-many catcalls as I’ve walked by groups of men. I’ve been hit on by married men.

And that’s just ME. My own little world. A microcosm of a far larger picture and problem.

But macroscopically, the assessment is even worse. Sex trafficking is rampant. Sexual crimes on college campuses are a very real concern. Men are addicted to porn like never before (and it’s more readily available than anytime in history). And much of primetime TV should carry an R-rating (if not worse).

Little girls are now wearing sexy panties. (I mean, what is THIS?) Blow jobs are commonplace party favors in the seventh grade. And teenagers no longer just make out. Sexting is all the rage and sex tapes are popular and considered “entertainment.”

And as if that horrific list is not enough to highlight a significant (and sick) problem in our society, Fifty Shades of Bullcrap Gray is now opening at the theater. The cover of the newest swimsuit edition of Effing Sports Illustrated just came out. (Seriously. Don’t go looking at it.) I wish Magic Mike would use his “magic” and just disappear. And Facebook has been known to ban certain photos of breastfeeding women while buxom women baring nearly all is TOTALLY OK AND ACCEPTABLE. (After all, what’s sexy about a nursing mom? Sigh.)

Like anyone with ears, I have a lifetime of hearing females degraded and sized up. I’ve seen girls oppressed for being girls. And women abused for being women. I’ve argued against sexism in the Church for an entire lifetime and been criticized because of it. AND I KNOW THAT MY EXPERIENCES ARE NOT AT ALL UNIQUE. I repeat: MY EXPERIENCES ARE NOT AT ALL UNIQUE. In fact, I think I was spared a great deal of more extreme mistreatment and abuse, a feat that I can only attribute to the grace of God. And I bet almost every one of you female readers has your own litany of abuses and near misses. Despite what anyone says, THIS ISSUE is no small thing.

My Primary Motivation, Like it or not

So what does this catalogue of damaging history and current realities have to do with my propensity towards modesty? What does all of this sexual perpetration, oppression, and perversion have to do with my feminist take on this topic? EVERYTHING. For me at least, EVERY SINGLE BIG AND LITTLE THING.

Now, I suppose if I were more conservatively fundamental (or fundamentally conservative?) and far more Sunday School-like, I would give the noble (but for me, far incomplete) explanation that I don’t want my brethren in Christ to falter because of my plunging neckline or hiked up skirt. And if I were wanting to sound selfless and thoughtful and super spiritual, I would tell you that it is my honor as a woman to put my male friends’ purity above my own need for self-expression and choice.

And while it’s true that I don’t want to be “that woman” who is seemingly okay allowing our men to stumble around like primal fools, I’m also just not that noble. Or selfless. Or thoughtful. Because to be truthful, while those are worthy motivations, I suppose, they’re just not mine.

And yes, I personally believe that breasts and butts should be kept more private, so no matter the company I’m around (even if only women), I’m going to err on that side of modesty.

But STILL that is not my motivation. I do not choose modesty primarily for the benefit of others or because I have a certain rulebook on what I should or shouldn’t expose outside of my bedroom.

No, I choose modesty because I am a feminist. Plain and simple.

Now I know some of you are gasping for air right now or waving your metaphorical (or literal?) finger at me or dropping four-letter words or screaming “Hillary” (Oh no!) or “heretic”(Egad!) at me, so let me calm you down a bit. It’s really not that alarming.

Feminism for Real

Because the truth is, feminism—no matter what any news network, preacher, or Christian author tells you—is merely the belief that men and women are of equal worth, value, and potential. The conviction that both genders bring to the table intellect, personality, and strengths. That neither sex should be oppressed. So for anyone who claims the title, a feminist refuses to allow women to be treated as less than by anyone of the opposite gender. (Such being the case, the label is fitting for any man or woman with those convictions.) And let me be clear, because this is seriously important: Just because you don’t agree with all of the beliefs of some who bear the name feminist doesn’t mean you have to eschew the title. (After all, don’t you still call yourself a Christian even though some people who wear that label give that name a really really really bad connotation or have beliefs with which you don’t totally agree? Me too. And exactly.)

So for me, I choose to dress modestly because I demand respect from the male sex. (You better believe, I do.) I choose to not reveal parts of my body to the world because refusing to do so forces men to notice my intellect, to hear my words, to treat me as an equal. EVEN IF THEY DON’T WANT TO.

Now of course (because I can already hear your argument), I can’t ultimately control how a man views me. That he can still lust after me even if I’m in a burqa. That men will simply use their imaginations. And even though those are true statements, those are extremely weak arguments against modesty.

If I know a man would rather see my chest than simply imagine it, WHY would I show it to him and allow him that satisfaction? If it’s possible that a man would hope to see my shape in too-tight jeans, then WHY would I give him that pleasure? If it’s likely that men would be more impressed by my body than my mind, WHY would I share my sexier elements with them?

For me it’s all about power. Not that I want power over any man, but I definitely don’t want them to have power over ME. And having been victimized enough by the selfish whims of men (even if just in their minds), the LAST thing I want to do is to give them any more of my God-given power. No, I will be empowered by the way I dress, walk, carry myself, and engage with the opposite sex.

For the moment a man (besides my husband) finds pleasure in looking at my body, I am no longer Heidi Weimer. I am an object. And the moment I become an object is the moment I am no longer empowered. It is the moment I become oppressed. Because even if you don’t realize you are or disagree with the reality, you are oppressed the moment you are an object to another. And I REFUSE TO BE OPPRESSED as far as I can control it.

Am I responsible for men’s lustful thoughts or persuasions? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is a young woman “asking for it” if she shows up half-clad to a frat party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If a man is focused on my outfit at church instead of on the Lord, is the burden on me? ABSOLUTELY NOT. (Let’s just clear up that once and for all, mkay?)

BUT BUT BUT! If I KNOW that some men will be degrading me in their mind (because some will), objectifying me with their imaginations, and finding pleasure in my body parts, you better believe I’m not going to give them that visual opportunity. NOT because I’m so concerned with their personal struggles (you choose to lust, people), but because I’m absolutely concerned with my own power and control. And, I have a slight issue with men feeling superior over women, exerting their power or demanding control over them.

Bottom line is, I’m going to do everything in my power to force men to look me in the eyes, pay attention to my words, hear my thoughts, notice my intellect, and treat me as an equal. If they do choose to treat a woman with baseness in their lustful thoughts, that woman is not going to be me AS MUCH AS I CAN HELP IT.

Yeah, Right.

“Oh, come on, Heidi. That’s totally ridiculous. And honestly, it sounds like you’re just ashamed of your body because of your personal experiences of being objectified and mistreated by males so you think you have to hide it.” Wrong on that, sweet sister. I have no body shame. I have never really struggled with body image issues. I don’t cover up because of any embarrassment of my female physique. (Heck, I’m darn proud of this womanly figure that grew and birthed and nursed four babes for the better part of nine or so years.) And I am more than happy to unveil it to the only one who deserves to experience its magic powers. (Yeah, I said it. You’re welcome, Kirk.)

“Well, Heidi. It sounds like you have a trust issue with men. They’re not all like that.” Yes, it’s true. On both of those statements. But I’ve had nearly four decades of good reason for any suspicion and skepticism on my part towards men. And I’m no ignorant fool about the state of women in our world these days. But do I think all men are out-of-control lust-o-maniacs? IN NO WAY. I’m married to proof that nobler ones are out there. Men who treat women with dignity, in their minds, with their words, and through their actions. In fact, some of my closest friends are male. I trust them. They treat me with equality and dignity, and I do the same them. I feel incredible gratitude for the truly good and godly men God has placed in my life. (You know who you are. Thank you for existing.)

“But OhEmGEE! You’re totally judging those of us who don’t mind a little cleavage!” No. I’m not. I’m not telling you how to dress. I’m not treating you as less than me. And I’m not condemning your choices. (That being said, I do have six sons. So please keep your boobs away from their eyes. Gracias.)

So What, Then?

What’s my responsibility, then, as a woman with this particular M.O.? What do I actually do to implement these personal convictions? Well, for starters, I’m going to be careful about how I dress. Obviously. I won’t obsess, but I am going to lean over, look up and down in the mirror, and do a little spin-around before I exit the privacy of my bedroom.

Secondly, we’re teaching our kids to respect women. We train our boys to hold doors for women. Because women are helpless? No, because they’re deserving. Like royalty. In our family, it’s “ladies first.” Our boys understand that females (no matter how old) should be treated with respect and honor.

Third, I (try my best to) practice what I preach. With few exceptions, I won’t see R-rated movies. Because I’m sheltered and can’t handle it? No, because I’m well aware and refuse to. We’ve taught our sons to turn their heads when women aren’t properly covered. I love me some Katy Perry (seriously, I think we would be besties), but you won’t find my sons watching her close-ups on TV.

Fourth, we teach our girls that their bodies are their own and no one has a right to them, whether mentally, visually, or physically. We don’t tell them to keep covered up because there is anything shameful about their bodies. No, we teach them modesty in what they wear because we don’t want them to experience inevitable degradation by boys or men. Likewise, we teach our boys to look girls in the eyes, to avoid those who make that more difficult, and to not watch movies that capitalize on women’s bodies.

Fifth, I (hope to) demonstrate by my own clothing choices that a woman can look absolutely in style and perfectly current and wear totally rad outfits without having to appeal to her sexy side. As the mom to five daughters (four teens/teenish and one tween), it is rewarding to see my girls walking out the door looking super cute in their individual styles, yet not using their changing bodies to make a statement to the world. No, their “statements” reveal that they are confident girls who are comfortable in their own skin who don’t need to bare it to prove it.

Miss Independent

And finally, we make sure ALL of our kids are surrounded by and exposed to strong and mighty women who use their minds and gifts to make a difference. I firmly believe that if our girls and boys see the true value of women as people, they will be less likely to believe the lie that women are only as appealing as their bodies are sexy. My middle school daughters spent a year studying Sixty Significant Women in World History, a curriculum I wrote for them. They’ve written letters to Hillary Clinton, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, and other important figures. We’ve promised our kids that we will drive all the way to D.C. whenever the first woman is inaugurated as President. And we make sure our kids sit under and listen to powerful women preachers and teachers.

But does it really matter?

So who cares? Are we making too much of this? What does it really matter what I wear? Does the issue of modesty really matter when there are supposedly far more things to get angry about than leggings? Of all the important matters in this world—poverty, trafficking, war, disease, hunger, and lack of clean water, should we even really be talking about this?

My justice-driven mind hears you and understands. I mean, when it comes down to it, leggings are far less urgent of an issue to tackle than other seriously tragic realities facing our world today, right? Obviously. That’s an absolutely gigantic DUH.

And the focus on modesty can make us so uncomfortable, because too often we feel judged by those advocating for it, like the Pharisees are out in full force and anyone in a v-neck top is subject to stoning. Legalists have a flippin’ field day with this issue, and those of us who work hard to make sure all feel welcome in the Church get nervous (and even angry) when there’s any chance of finger-pointing or ostracizing of others who don’t necessarily live (or dress) exactly like we do.

But in our quest for inclusion (which is a worthy ideal), in our aim to ensure that even the worst of sinners feels welcome crossing the threshold of our churches, in our goal to counterbalance the stone-throwing of the religious elite, we must be careful we don’t swing the pendulum the other way and tell ourselves that anything goes. Should a stripper be welcome in my church? Yes. And they most definitely are. But it doesn’t mean I need to expose my own body just because I don’t want her feeling judged.

Because while it’s true that justice and mercy and grace should be on our breath and apparent in our actions, personal holiness should be in our hearts and obvious on the outside. And just because we humans are prone to judging based on our exteriors, it doesn’t mean we neglect those matters altogether. We can have strong convictions and live accordingly without judging others for their own (or lack thereof). It can be challenging to keep that balance, yes, but Jesus expects no less.

Because ULTIMATELY…

As in all facets of my life, in every area in which I can make a difference, I strive to hasten the day when His Kingdom comes and His will is done. On earth as it already is in Heaven. When the lion lies down with the lamb and men and women live in harmony and mutual respect. When girls aren’t subject to harassment from pubescent boys and teenage girls don’t know what date rape is. When girls aren’t trafficked and women aren’t prostituted. When a man can look a woman in the eye and see her as the apple of God’s. When females aren’t comprised of body parts but instead intellect and passion and curiosity and will. When debates over leggings don’t explode into arguments over a false dichotomy between two extremes that do more to bring women down than elevate them. When women are valued because they are HUMAN BEINGS.

I believe that day is coming, and though it might not be until Jesus comes back to make everything right, I will live my life with that day in mind. Every action. Every thought. Every choice I make. All in an effort to support that ideal.

And if you want to join me, come on board. Let’s march on together as women and men, feminists and those-who-believe-in-equality-but-are-scared-to-call-themselves-feminists. Those who are willing to listen, open to changing, and striving to understand. Let’s figure out how we can most effectively hasten that day. Together.

Come one, come all. In those pesky leggings or long denim skirts or anything in between.

Because we’ve got some work to do, in our hearts and in the world. And we’ve got some matters to consider. Strap on your boots. Let’s go.

“…by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl.”
-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“…The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”
-Emma Watson, #heforshe Campaign

CAM03876~2

Nearly a year ago, and with much trepidation, I posted about my journey to my firstborn child. It clearly resonated with many, many people. I received emails, comments, and messages from hundreds and hundreds of people (mostly young women, devastated and afraid) around the world. The most particularly humbling and rewarding one for me personally was an email from a young woman in Mexico, pregnant, devastated, and afraid. She was planning to have an abortion, but after reading my own testimony, she chose life instead. That God would use our journey floors me. And since I believe that actual lives will be saved every time this story is shared, I’ve decided to repost it every year on Sanctity of Life Sunday. That, my friends, is today.

You can read an excerpt below, but for the full post, please click HERE.


 Dear Young Woman, Devastated and Afraid,

I know you. I know who you are. I know how it feels. I know exactly what you are thinking. Life as you know it—no matter what you decide—is forever changed. Forever altered. Because now, well, now there is a life growing inside of you. A LIFE. Dependent on you even as it is ever so tiny and completely unplanned. You want to rewind. You want to at least press pause. But you can’t. Because it happened. But this is not what you wanted. Not what you want. And now your happy-go-lucky world is spinning off its axis. You are in full-fledged crisis mode. Humiliated. Ashamed. Afraid. Devastated. You curl up in a fetal position—of all things—and soak your pillow with your tears. You dream of drifting into oblivion. But you can’t because This. Is. Real…

To read the full post, please click HERE. And as always, please repost and share with anyone you feel might need to hear this today.

ultrasoundBran

Preface: I want to reiterate (again) that I am a huge ginormous proponent of adoption. It is messy, yes. But it is beautiful. It is redemption. And I also want to be clear that not all adopted children exhibit behaviors that are troublesome or traumatizing. Many are well adjusted, happy individuals. They are surviving and thriving. (Thus no one is writing about them.) And I’m thankful that some of those individuals live in my home and share my last name and call me Mom. Not all older child adoption situations are traumatic. But many are. (Older being a very loose term, ranging from older than a fetus to actual teenagers.) And that is why I share our story. That is why I write what I know. Because you just never know what you’re going to need to know. And you better be ready. Now. So yes, this is a doozy of a post. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s going to take you a few to ingest and digest it all. But hey, it’s cheaper than therapy. And I kinda think your marriage is worth a few minutes. So grab a cup of coffee or a big ole’ Diet Dr. Pepper. Pull up a chair for your spouse. And hang on. This just might change everything.

OH, man. Oh man oh man oh man OH MAN. What I, in what can only be deemed a most severe case of underestimation, thought would be an honest post of simple solidarity for adoptive parents of children of trauma, garnering at most two to three thousand views, ended up being a hot poker to a very raw nerve in nearly 60,000 people and counting in just one week. {If you haven’t had a chance to check out THE post, now would be a good time.}

And while much was said that could have been said, one blog post written in (somewhat of) a hurry cannot adequately cover the different types of relationships nor fully express the degree to which those relationships are affected as part of the fallout from raising kids of trauma. Friends, family, relatives, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, church members, school administration and teachers, counselors, therapists, co-workers, neighbors, and on and on and on. Seems no relationship is untouched by the havoc wreaked incessantly by the trauma exploding and oozing from some adopted children.

But there is one relationship that in my opinion and experience (combined with the testimonies of tens and tens of friends who have been there as well) is battered more than any other. One relationship above all others takes the beating that no one ever sees coming. One relationship is collateral damage…time and time and time again. That relationship? MARRIAGE.

And while those who have been there done that totally understand and are either shouting AMEN or wiping away tears or both (Here Here!), those who have yet to walk the hard, hellish, lonely road of parenting kids of trauma would be keen to take a listen. Because if you have plans to, are in the process of, or are currently parenting adopted kids of trauma, IT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL ALL UP IN HERE. (Like, really real.) I only wish someone had been this honest with me many, many moons ago.

Now I won’t profess to be an expert, but after nearly a decade of adoption under our belts, I can share a bit of our testimony from the trenches, some warning lights along the way, what to do and what to most definitely avoid, and yes, how your marriage can actually recover from life in the boxing ring, even if you still live there.

I share our story not because I’m under any presumptive illusion that my readers are dying to hear the dirt on us or that we’ve done most things right. Rather, I pray and trust that you can relate just a little (or a lot), learn a bit about your own marriage, avoid our mistakes, and find hope in the middle of the hell of raising a child in the trenches of trauma. Because I’ve seen too many adoptive friends’ marriages end in heartache. Too many people struggling to survive. Too many husbands and wives no longer seeing eye to eye. Too many former best friends and lovers despising each other. Enough is enough. And ULTIMATELY, I WANT YOUR MARRIAGE SAVED.

Our Story: the nutshell version

We found our other halves in high school. Best of friends. Fell in love.

Senior Prom. Awkward pose.

All at warp speed. Went to college. Wedding. Baby. More babies. Normal suburban life.

True Love’s Kiss.

Husband had a typical job and decent career. I had plans to become a doctor when our youngest entered school. Our marriage was great. Sometimes better, sometimes not so much. But best of friends and committed no matter what. And for the first ten years, there weren’t a whole lot of whats.

The Original Five

The Original Five: Justice, Heidi, Brandon, Isabella, Kirk

But then a little more than eight years ago, God dropped adoption into our lives. And very long story short, within a year we went from being a typical family with three little blonde kids to a transracial adoptive family of eight. Suddenly we had a teenager down to a two-year-old and everything in between.

Our first Fourth of July with six kids in tow

Life was moving fast. And though our heads were spinning, the kids were doing really well, so we (logically…duh) adopted again. Within eighteen months, this husband and wife who had originally planned to have only two (or three) kids IN ALL, had gone from being the happily married and mostly-effective-yet-always-improving parents of three kids to the treading-above-the-water parents to nine, six of whom were considered “older” adopted kids. {I KNOW. It’s CRAZY. But Jesus asks us to do things that are quite psychotic, yes? YES.}

And then, just a few months into parenting our newly adopted child of severe trauma and reeling from the increasing effects of all that that entails (like I said, you might want to read this first: Dear Adoptive Parents…), I found out I was pregnant. Yes, friggin’ PREGNANT. With my tenth child. A big ole’ woops. Total surprise. I cried for three days solid. I mean, it’s common knowledge that everyone in the trenches of adoption and trauma needs a BABY to ease the stress, of course. (That’s sarcasm, people. Don’t go making babies to take away your troubles, ‘cuz that’s just INSANITY. But do feel free to pursue, um, associated marital “stress-relief” to escape reality, even if for, um, a few minutes. I know, easier said than, um, done, but it might be the only kind of bliss you experience for a very, very long time. Did I just say that out loud? Crap.)

0106-1

The Weimer 11 1/2: You can’t see him there, but Baby Dominic was growing in that hidden belly of mine.

So, back to the pregnancy and life in the trenches…My belly was growing but so was the trauma outside of it. Short of me actually getting arrested and going to jail, anything and everything of hell that could happen to parents of a child of trauma did. Darkness. Pain. Attacks. Rages. Violence. Panic. Running away. Police calls. False accusations. Threats. Therapists. Psychiatric interventions. I was home all day raising preschoolers and schooling some of our kids. Kirk was at work doing The Provider Thing. And the person whom we each had always relied on for understanding and camaraderie and respite (EACH OTHER!) was no longer fully available or even fully functional. In fact, I personally had nothing left to give. (Can I get a witness, trauma mamas?)

We were barely staying afloat as a family, and the co-captains formerly firmly at the helm were falling overboard and drowning in the sea of rages and trauma. Storms of life? Psha. Life was a tsunami. Sorry, kids. Grab a branch and hang on and hope that we all find each other if and when the waters eventually subside.

Meanwhile, a production company was filming a documentary about our family’s adoption journey, we were getting a decent bit of media attention, I was chronicling our story for a Christian magazine, and we were invited fairly often to speak at churches, adoption conferences, seminars, and the like, sharing our story and our testimony on older child adoption. (By the way, speaking and writing about our journey is still one of my favorite things to do. It pumps my blood. Because please tell me I didn’t just walk this road for the sheer hell of it. PLEASE DEAR JESUS NO.)

The Cracks

After our first adoption, I suffered a moderate bout of post-adoption depression, most definitely exacerbated by a three-month respiratory illness that I couldn’t shake. I felt like I was coming unglued. And I remember wondering if Kirk had confidence in me and thought I was doing a good job (something that had nagged me even before we ever adopted). After our second adoption, when all hell broke loose in our formerly typically calm home and I needed my husband more than I ever had or ever would, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I felt neglectful as a mom to our other kids, grieved that my life would never be the same, and more alone than I had ever felt in my life.

Yes, I had a husband. Yes, I told him my feelings. Yes, he witnessed much of the horror. But the bulk of the burden was on me as the mom. The intensity of the pain was on me as the nurturer. The disappointment. The embarrassment. The fear. The shame. On me. And no matter how much I talked, there was no way Kirk could ever possibly understand what that truly feels like. To be fair, he tried. He listened. He prayed. He checked in with me. But at the end of the day, most of the emotional, mental, and physical burdens were on me. And since marriage is a relationship in which burdens are to be shared, this lopsided weight-carrying began to drastically drive cracks into the very foundation of our relationship.

The Infamous Triangulation

Soon enough (it didn’t take long, really), our moderately strong marriage began to suffer the very real effects of parenting a child of trauma. As is often the case, I (the adoptive mom), bore the brunt of the mistreatment and abuse. No matter which birth parent caused the most pain for the adopted child, the adoptive mom tends to have the target on her back far more often than the adoptive father. There’s just something about that primal wound that doesn’t heal so quickly or easily, so the adoptive mom is the enemy.

So there I was, spending my days trying to educate and bond with a very troubled child, while Kirk was at work trying to keep food on our table. (I had quit a full-time teaching job to be able to tend to our new children’s needs, so money was extremely tight.) The control games, the eggshells, the rages started to hit the fan real fast. And I called my husband numerous times throughout the day just to vent, cry, and cope. He was a listening ear, but from thirty miles away was powerless to intervene or come to my aid during the day.

And therein lay the first opening for our troubled child to divide and conquer. Since Kirk wasn’t witness to the majority of the trauma at home (though over time he would see it all), it felt like my word against our child’s. And pretty soon I could see my devoted and loving husband starting to doubt some of the severity of our child’s antics. I could see him questioning me. Doubting me.

No longer was it us against the world; it was our child in between us, pitting one against the other. I mean, surely I must be triggering these outrageous reactions in our child. Surely I must be at fault somehow. Surely I must be provoking it.

Over many, many months and after many tears and hours of conversations (and Kirk witnessing firsthand what I had been experiencing all along), Kirk finally began to understand that our child was the master of manipulators. That they had seen a weak spot in our marriage and inserted themselves right in it. That there was nothing I could have done to prevent the behavior and abuse I was experiencing daily (and even hourly as more time passed). He started to come to my defense and stand up to our child, refusing to allow them to come between us and even very directly telling this child that “we are ONE. What Mom thinks, I think. What hurts her, hurts me. We agree on things. You will NOT abuse her and try to cozy up to me. We are ONE unit.” This was the infamous triangulation. And Kirk worked very hard and quite intentionally to dismantle it.

Kirk standing up for me and seeing the truth of the situation was crucial to our survival, as soon enough I would be needing to defend myself in a courtroom against all kinds of unjust accusations and slander from our troubled child.

Eventually we sought residential therapy for our child, and our family was able to heal for a year or so, welcome a new baby (Thank you, JESUS, for such timely gifts!), and move to a new-to-us home. A fresh start. A relationship reset. A needed respite.

Bankrupt

Life didn’t get a whole lot easier, though, after the child returned home. Much improved, but still very trying. A year later, we adopted yet again. This time a child from a disruption. More trauma came into our home. And over the years, we continued to face battle after battle. Our marriage continued to take hits. After all, who has time or energy or desire to check on the other when you can barely stand up as is? We were bankrupt in every way: financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Weimer Eleven

The Weimer Kids, all eleven

Money was nonexistent, and we owed thousands for years of therapy, hospitalization, and treatment for our child. (So many of you can completely relate. And for that, I’m truly so sorry.) God has always been faithful to provide, but the financial stressors combined with the sheer hell we were continuing to face wreaked havoc on what was once a strong and stable marriage.

Too many nights too often were spent crying and arguing into the wee hours of the morning. We were both drained. Exhausted from years in the trenches. And angry at each other for not being able to fix it. In the past we had always prided ourselves on the fact that we rarely disagreed or argued and certainly never fought, but life in the trenches with a trauma child or two pushed us to places we never thought we’d go.

We sought marriage counseling, hoping to have someone breathe life back into us. We loved each other, but we were battle weary. We just needed someone to look at us, two people in a marriage trying to recover from battle fatigue, and give us hope, to remind us that we are in this together, to help us remember that God has called the both of us to this ministry, that we have been “set apart” and marked for this. We desperately wanted someone to come alongside us as we tried to recover from the years on the battlefield.

But that ain’t what we got, folks. Instead, we got a “professional’s” opinion that we just plain had too many kids. That there was no way in our situation we could ever have quality time together. That we both signed up for this. And now since we made our bed, we were just going to have to lie in it. It felt like the equivalent of counseling a soldier home from a long deployment and associated PTSD and telling them, “Well, that’s just too bad. You are the one who volunteered to join the Army.”  (Yeah, that therapist totally sucked.)

We felt hopeless. Angry. Frustrated. But instead of throwing in the towel (as tempting as that was at times and sometimes actually considered), we joined forces. We vowed to renew ourselves and our marriage. We dove into the Word of God, looking for freedom and healing that only He can deliver. We reminded ourselves that we were in this together. That we loved each other. That God had chosen each of us for the other. We chose to remember that we were more powerful in the Kingdom together than we would be apart. And so we stuck it out.

In the Ring, Together

Looking back, all of these things that seemed to add pressure at the time probably actually saved our marriage. And no, I’m not speaking in hyperbole. Because you can’t leave your spouse when you’re the keynote speaker at a conference and the topic is perseverance. And you can’t move out when cameras are fairly regular presences in your home. And you certainly can’t call it quits when good people are coming out of the woodwork to support your family.

But honestly, we’re just now recovering from the trauma of the past several years. We’re just now filling up our lungs to full capacity again. We’re just now seeing tiny flickers of light at the end of this hellish road we’ve been traveling.

We certainly have our moments. Some days are better than others. We’re both still figuring this out. But now we’re doing it together. It’s not Heidi against Kirk, for “our struggle is not against flesh and blood [i.e. against our spouses], but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

In the Ring Together

If something or someone comes against either of us, they’re coming against both of us. We’re in the ring together. And if we get knocked down or even just a little shaken, we are getting right back up.Together. We’re going to keep getting hit. But we are still standing and standing still. We’re on guard. We’re ready.

Though we certainly never set out to have anything of value to say, Kirk and I could (and are planning to) write a whole book on how marriages can survive raising “trauma children.” (And not because we’re heroic, but because we’re precisely not. We just prefer our struggles to not have been for naught. Plus, based on the previous blog post response, there seems to be a market for it, right?) But I’ll save the rest of the nitty gritty for that occasion and cut to the chase.

So, IF you are married and IF you plan to adopt and IF that child or children might have any lingering effects of trauma (psst…assume they will), PLEASE take to heart not just the significance of the call but of the seriousness of the potential relationship fallout. In plain English, in simple black and white, here are the DO’s and DON’Ts for marriage in the trenches. GET. READY.

Marriage in the Trenches: The Do’s

  • Gird up. This is the phrase I kept hearing from God in the months leading up to bringing our own trauma child home several years ago, well before we even knew what we were fully getting ourselves into.Whether you’re still in the process or already home with your adopted child, it is vital that you get your armor on and are prepared for the attacks against your marriage. Plant your faces in the Word of God. Hang up sticky notes of Scripture around the house. Pray like never before. Both together and apart. For each other and for your marriage. Don’t wait until you’re in the thick of it. Gird up now. See Ephesians 6:10-20.
  • Know your weaknesses. Kirk explains it well: “No matter how strong or solid any couple believes their marriage to be, every marriage is flawed. No matter how shiny or polished or thick a couple might wish their marital armor to be, there is always a chink. Webster defines ‘chink’ as ‘a weak spot that may leave one vulnerable.’ The size (and area) of this weakness will vary by couple, but rest assured, there is an opening. Every marriage is flawed because every person is flawed. I know this. You know this. Satan knows this. If not given proper attention and care, Satan will use this weakness and exploit the literal hell out of it for his own sick glory. Only Satan can use a very troubled child with a very traumatized past as some sort of ‘infectious agent’ that can infiltrate what you once held dear and valuable and completely flip it on its head.” Whatever your relationship’s weak spots, know them and address them. You might not be able to eliminate them completely, but be aware. Like Kirk said, Satan’s going to attack you there. Be ready.
  • Be informed. Read up on adoption and trauma, and I don’t mean just the process. Check out honest blogs. Web sites. Books. Empowered to Connect Conferences. And this goes for both of you. A common mistake is letting the wife do all the research and giving her husband the highlights. But you both need to be informed. Together.
  • Have a plan. In hindsight, this is probably THE area we wish someone had told us about beforehand. Did we know adoption wouldn’t be a walk in the park? Mostly. But did we have any idea the impact it would have on our marriage? Absolutely not. We needed a plan and had none. I think of it like a fire drill. What kind of agreed upon plan do you have in place for your family should you awaken to fire alarms and the smell of smoke in the middle of the night? Agree upon a plan for your marriage, too. Between you and your spouse, come up with some pre-defined non-negotiables. For example, no matter how tough it gets, we will not turn on each other. No matter what, we will end the night in prayer. No matter what, we will sit and listen to the other. And DO NOT WAVER.
  • Surround yourself with a close network of friends. This is a tricky one, because even the closest of friends can turn on you and walk away. But it is so important that you pull your friends in close. Friends who know your heart and soul. Friends who can stick with you through thick and thin. Friends who mourn when you mourn and rejoice when you rejoice. And if you don’t have these friends, GET THEM NOW. While we’ve experienced a great deal of heartache over the years as friends have betrayed us and turned their backs on us, we’ve also felt the undying loyalty of a handful of friends (mostly couples) who have pulled in more tightly. Friends who we are certain would still stand by us and love us even if we made the worst of mistakes. Friends who love like Jesus does. Surround yourself now.
  • Build a prayer team. Another reason you need close friends is that you need a covenanted group of people committed to praying for your marriage. We credit the prayers of our friends and prayer warriors for helping us survive what should have ended most marriages. Ask people to commit to praying regularly, daily. Have them pray for you, over you, with you. This is where the battle can be won or lost.
  • Find regular time together, even if it’s late at night or early in the morning. Even if it’s thirty minutes watching Jimmy Fallon at the end of the day when all the kids are finally in bed. Do something mindless together. Something that you have always enjoyed. Something that gives you at least a few minutes of escape with each other. For about eight years now, Kirk and I have designated Tuesday nights as our Wing Night. Kirk picks up hot wings (on special on Tuesdays) and we sit in front of the TV (usually to watch the Duggars) after the kids have vacated the living room and gone to bed. That means we might not eat until 11 PM, but it’s OUR time, it’s OUR tradition, and it’s something small that we look forward to in the midst of what are often otherwise very difficult times. These small occasions help refuel your oft depleted tank.
  • TALK. Communicate with your spouse daily, regularly, often, always. Do not say Good Night without having had a conversation. Of course, this is good advice for any marriage, but it’s life or death for a marriage in the trenches. Especially when there is much to vent about or process, it’s so important to keep up the communication with each other. Yes, you’re often just trying to survive, but without talking to each other daily, you’re most definitely going down.
  • Speaking of communication, be available. Clearly it’s not as easy to talk during the work day, but as often as you are able to have an open line, do it. Kirk took multiple calls from me daily during the worst of the worst. Obviously that’s not feasible for everyone, but even if you can send a short reply text during a bathroom break, that readiness of communication is a lifeline for the person needing it. If your wife calls you in tears and begs you to come home from work because she just can’t take another second and is totally losing her mind, consider it an emergency (it is!) and do it. Remember, if she’s disrupting your day by reaching out to you as an emotional 911, she’s already at the end of her rope. Too many moms have found themselves in legal trouble because they just couldn’t take it anymore and snapped. Not many people can survive three-hour rage fests with their sanity entirely intact. Be available, and please take this oh-so-seriously.
  • Be faithful. Any weaknesses in this area will be primed for attack, so recommit now. Be ever so careful not to escape to the “calm” of another person outside your marriage. You’re already in the trenches. The last thing you need is an affair of any kind.
  • Remember whom you fell in love with, flaws and all. Kirk warns that it “might be easy to fall into the trap of accusing your spouse of ‘not being the same person you married.’ You might start to question your decision of being married at all, because you start to question to whom you’re married. If you find yourself going there, STOP! In the context where an adopted child is inflicting massive amounts of torment in the home, most of which might be directed solely at your spouse, this is NOT the time to be questioning or judging your spouse’s behavior. You might see a certain level of ‘ugly’ in your spouse that only a terrorizing child can awaken. When (not if) you see this, it is time to stand in the gap on behalf of your spouse.” You fell in love with this person. You love this person’s core. Remember that. Don’t let a trauma child change that. Ever.
  • Be sensitive to your spouse’s insecurities. Whatever insecurities (relational or personal) your spouse had before adopting will be heightened by the stress of parenting in the trenches. Be sensitive. Be aware. And be intentional about instilling security in them.
  • Believe your spouse. When they tell you about extreme behaviors they are witnessing that you have yet to observe, don’t doubt their word. Kids of trauma will often turn on the charm for one parent (usually the father) while unleashing a hailstorm on the other (usually the mother). Believe your spouse’s stories. They are real!
  • Find reliable and understanding babysitters. More than ever before, you will need time away with your spouse. If at all possible, find a reliable, trusted babysitter (or even just a close friend) who will watch your kids so you can take a breather with your spouse. But be sure they absolutely understand the importance of boundaries and not indulging the troubled child. And just a tip in that regard: Sometimes otherwise helpful grandparents might not be the best match for caring for your child of trauma.
  • Always, always, always defend your spouse. Another lesson from Kirk: “Traumatized children find great satisfaction in pitting one spouse against the other (that Infamous Triangulation). An all too common tale is this: Adopted child targets torment and bullying toward your spouse (often the wife) while cozying up to you (often the husband). If you even begin to see signs of this, STAND IN THE GAP for your spouse! You simply cannot allow and foster this sick and twisted and manipulative bond at the expense of your spouse. Failing to put an end to this unhealthy game invites resentment and distrust to alter that once-small chink in your marital armor into a HUGE gaping wound that, sadly, often leads to marital dissolution. You must put a hedge around your spousal bond. Kids of trauma are often very shrewd and will not miss an opportunity to insert themselves directly in the middle of you two. Your bullying child needs to hear from your mouth that you will not tolerate being ‘favored’ while they insist on terrorizing your spouse.” You KNOW your spouse. You MUST defend them, both to your child and to others. They will need it.
  • Stand on the front lines. I’m not keen on strictly defined gender roles, but men, you need to listen up here. You are to be on the front lines with your wife. And in a battle, you are to be taking the hits for her. Do not sit on the sidelines while your wife is under attack. Stand in front of her. Make it clear that anything that is meant for her has to go through you first. You are her first line of defense in the family.
  • Realize it’s not just HER. It’s too easy to think that you’re totally alone in the trenches, but tens and tens of thousands of blog views and hundreds and hundreds of emails, comments, and messages later, I can assure you that this is not just you. Men specifically, it is SO important for you to understand that the way your wife is responding to the pressure and pain of raising a child a trauma is NOT JUST HER. She is not some crazy, psycho bitch, though at times you’ll want to call her that. She’s not some weakling who can’t hack it. And she’s definitely not some poor deluded soul. No, she is reacting the way thousands of moms react to such very real burdens and trauma. She needs to know not just that she’s not alone, but that you KNOW that it’s not just her. She already feels enormous guilt and shame for not being able to fix her child or love them well enough. Realize that she’s totally normal in a not-so-normal situation.
  • Be equally engaged. Parenting should always be a dual investment, but that’s even more crucial in the trenches of adoption. Don’t leave it to one spouse to “take on that child.” Not only is that unfair and exhausting, but it sends the wrong message to that child. As much as you are able, be equally committed and intentional about parenting your troubled child.
  • Share burdens as much as possible. Physical. Emotional. Mental. Ask specifically what you can do to take some weight off their shoulders. And then listen to their response. And then do it. If she needs you to be more helpful around the house, do it. If she needs you to figure out the kids’ after-school schedules or make the kids’ lunches or cook dinner, do it. If she needs you to find a new therapist for your child, do it. Share the burdens. Don’t let the other person fall under the weight.
  • Praise your spouse to their face and to others as often as possible. Especially when so much darkness covers the home, accentuate the positive as much as you can. Let your spouse know they’re doing a damn good job. Brag about her to others. If she were a soldier deployed overseas, you’d be proud and publicly share it. Well, she’s fighting another kind of war and never gets a break. Boast about her. Build her up. Positive reinforcement goes a very long way, especially when it’s so tempting to just quit.
  • If you need one, find a therapist who understands and believes in your calling to adopt. There is no shame in needing a professional counselor to come alongside you as a couple to help restore and recover what has been lost in the trenches. In fact it can save your marriage. But more harm than good will be done if that professional does not support your calling to adopt. They need to wholly understand that this is a call from God, that it is ministry. If you get the impression that the therapist questions your decision in the first place or does not realize that God calls us to difficult roads oftentimes, then fire them and keep searching. Seriously. You need a therapist who is on your side as a couple, not someone whom you pay to tear down your family. (Heck, if you need to, share this post and the previous post with them.)
  • Speak life into your marriage. Look at your spouse in the eyes and tell them that you WILL survive this. Together. That beauty will come from ashes, even if those ashes right now are your marriage.
  • PRAY PRAY PRAY for your spouse. Constantly. Daily. As often as they come to mind, breathe a prayer over them.
  • Get a punching bag. And boxing gloves. Now. Click here: You’re welcome.

Marriage in the Trenches: The Don’ts

  • Do not EVER EVER EVER disagree with your spouse in front of your trauma child. And by EVER I mean NEVER EVER EVER. I don’t care if you think it’s a totally insignificant issue. Your trauma child sees ANY tiny disagreement as a win for them. It’s an opening for them to enter what they see as a crack and then work to divide. If you want to order pepperoni and your wife wants cheese, order both. If you want to eat at home after church, but your husband wants to eat out, by all means keep it between yourselves and figure it out. If your wife thinks your troubled child deserves a consequence, but you do not, I would suggest taking the wife’s lead on this. Any time it looks like you are “siding” with the child over your spouse is a potentially huge problem. Do NOT let the child witness your disagreement, big or small. It might seem like no big deal, but in the context of surviving marriage in the trenches of trauma, these “no big deals” to you are a HUGE big deal to your kid (and to the spouse you’ve come against). As I’ve already said, it is so so so important that your child sees the two of you as ONE united force. Teaching them how to lovingly disagree can come later.
  • Don’t be manipulated! I’m always stunned by the ability of kids of trauma to manipulate others with their charm and lies. And I’m even more stunned when that deception works on a spouse. Be smarter than your child. It is their goal to manipulate you. It has to be your goal to not buy it.
  • Do not escape into work, a hobby, a relationship, or anything else that will take you away from your spouse time-wise, mentally, or emotionally any more than you already are. Now’s not the time for weekend trips with your buddies. Golf might have to take a hiatus. You might even need to step down from volunteering at church for awhile, helping on the worship team, or working extra shifts. And by all means, if you are able, do not travel for work unless absolutely necessary.
  • Do not ignore the red flags. If your spouse lets you know that they feel disconnected from you, don’t feel “married” anymore, or feel detached, pay attention. Those are your warning signs that the boat is sinking. It’s not too late to save your relationship, though. But you have to act when your spouse is sending the S.O.S. Consider your spouse’s “meltdowns” as flares that you better not ignore.
  • Don’t take stress out on each other, but give grace for the other. You are both being pushed to the precipice of sanity, and you both require heapings of grace. Daily. Your circumstances are pushing you to the edge. Your stress levels are through the roof. Lean on each other for stress reduction. Work hard to not take it out on your spouse. They probably can’t take much more.
  • Don’t judge your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, or reactions, even if you think they are wrong. Nobody is perfect, and you’ll never see each other’s imperfections more than while living with an adopted child of trauma. Also, realize that you are ultimately the only safe in-the-flesh person in whom your spouse can confide. Judging, condemning, or criticizing how they’re coping shakes their very security.
  • Don’t blame your spouse for your child’s problems. Your child had those issues long before your family entered the picture. And had that child been adopted by any other family, those parents would be witnessing the same behaviors that you are.
  • Don’t EVER blame your spouse for the idea of adoption. No one (including your husband or wife) forced you to adopt. YOU signed the papers. So even if you were the more reluctant or less gung-ho spouse originally, you both agreed to adoption. It’s a done deal. Don’t throw it in their face that it was all their idea in the first place. It doesn’t help anything. Face your reality as is.
  • Don’t treat your spouse as the enemy. Your spouse may be a lot of things, but enemy is not one of them. They are your best friend, life partner, lover, and confidante. You are on the same team. If Satan can use this calling from God, this most difficult adoption, to turn the two of you against each other, he’s well on his way to winning the battle over your marriage and your child. He alone is the enemy. He alone is the source of chaos, confusion, and devastation. Give him the credit he deserves. Don’t believe his lie that your spouse is your enemy.

To the Finish…

If you’ve made it this far, HIGH FIVE, BABY. Major kudos to you. Of course, the reading is the easy part. Putting it into practice is where it actually gets real. But I believe in you, Dear Fellow Parents in the Trenches. I truly, truly do. Because if WE can make it, YOU can make it. And I’m not just saying that.

But it does take TWO. TWO imperfect and broken people committing to each other. Promising to try to see inside each other’s hearts. Looking for Jesus in the other. Trying your damned best every day to connect with the other. And giving grace when your best efforts are total fails. (Because often times, they totally will be.)

TWO people who have decided that NO MATTER WHAT, you’re in it for the long haul with your spouse. You have to be. Because long after your troubled child is either healed or grown (or in the best of cases, both), you’ll still have each other. And you’ll be able to look back and be proud that you never gave up. That you made it.

And YOU WILL. Sure, you’ll be scarred. Banged up a little. Scraped and bruised. But you’ll also be stronger. Tougher. Wiser. Better. Refined through the fire. And coming out smelling like the glory of God.

The glory of God. Together.

YOU CAN DO THIS.

Praying you to the finish,

heidi (& kirk)

Heidi and Kirk standing


***IMPORTANT! In the meantime, as always, this is your safe place to share your thoughts. Post anonymously or with your whole name. Find me on Facebook. Message me or email me. heidi@outofshemind.com But please keep in mind that since this is a sensitive, sacred, and typically private struggle, please post respectfully with your spouse’s privacy protected if need be and appropriate boundaries maintained. Whatever you do, though, know that you’re not alone. And if you end up never seeing eye to eye and saying good-bye to your marriage (whether your choice or not), know that God’s grace is still sufficient. And He’s still proud. Because after all, you said YES. And we’re still all in this together. SOLIDARITY, my friends. SOLIDARITY.


Testimonials from the Trenches

…because none of us is alone. {While these are all actual testimonials, for the sake of privacy I am choosing to keep these all anonymous.}

“When you are raising a child with trauma, it brings your past trauma to the surface. This is what caused the feeling of ‘need to escape’ for my husband. The feeling of not being able to control a situation, especially not being able to control or help your child, can wreak havoc on someone who has their own past trauma under the surface.”

 

Trauma has taken away our closeness. It has taken away friendships. It has taken away ministry like we used to know it. It has taken the fun away. We still work on it. Every day. We work toward good things. We work toward getting back the people we were. Only older, grayer, and hopefully, wiser. [He] is still my best friend. I can’t imagine life without him this side of Heaven. I pray I never have to. But trauma always interrupts, always sucks the life out of you, always remains. Trauma doesn’t let up so that you can focus on having a good marriage. It’s easy to take the stress out on [my husband], or [him] to take it out on me. We’ve done that. Then we have to remember that ‘we are not the enemy.'”

 

“My husband and I thought our marriage was over after 11 years of marriage and 18 years together. For the first four years after adoption, our daughter was the best at triangulating. She would rage all day with me, and when he walked in the door she suddenly became a charming angel. He did not see any of this behavior for five years. I was having to call him at work as we had just moved our family for ministry and didn’t have anyone. We were already highly stressed, and he thought I was losing it, and so did I. I was determined to get help and went to nine different therapists searching.

 

It took four years to get a ‘correct’ diagnosis and six years to actually find help and begin healing for our daughter. During this time, though, our marriage was deteriorating. I was on edge all the time waiting for the next bomb to drop, feeling as though I was living in a war zone and feeling like a horrible mom, because I had no time left for my other children or my husband. I was completely hard and cold most the time, for fear that if I let myself go there I would break and maybe never return. My husband could not understand why I couldn’t just get her to behave, because he wasn’t seeing it. I felt so alone. I had tried EVERYTHING, and I began to feel like the problem was me.

 

During this time my husband began self-medicating to numb through prescription medication and/or alcohol, which then hurt our marriage even more. I became depressed and began having panic attacks and struggled to even want to get out of bed. Once we finally got the right help and both were on the same page, he started to see the rages, lies, manipulation, etc. It got worse, though, before it got better, because now she was in RAD mode all the time…We were constantly stressed which meant me constantly nagging and him withdrawing, not to mention the financial strain this added as well. Our lives had literally turned into a war in our home, now not just with me. He felt out of control now too. We were suffering, and our other children were suffering. We withdrew from friends and family, because this would often trigger behaviors, and we were worried her behaviors would be picked up by other children.I often felt judged, and sadly, some friends withdrew from us.

 

Needless to say, God did a miracle beginning last April. He spoke to me three years ago ‘I make all things new‘ & that He did in 2014. My husband has been clean and sober almost a year, our daughter is healing (I would no longer consider her RAD), my husband and I are closer than we have ever been, and we just welcomed a NEW son. He certainly brought new life in so many ways.”

 

We have learned…that we have to figure out ways to get out and NOT talk about the kids. We also have precious few babysitters who truly get our kids and won’t be manipulated by our oldest child and his ways. So we don’t go out much. Grandparents are also a disaster, because they sweep in, try to help, do things that really harm kids from hard places (with the very best of intentions), and then they leave a huge wake of turmoil and sadness. And [we] are left alone again, with no one to help us, no one to buffer, no respite, almost no hope.”

 

Trauma has taken a toll on our marriage in communication in every way. It has driven us to necessary communication, even though we still love each other and cannot imagine life apart from each other. I have worried many times that he might have an affair–not because he is that kind of person–he’s NOT-but because who wants a chubby mess of goo like me when he can have someone without all the crap we’ve had to deal with?”

 

It’s hard to always be on the same page. (Triangulation, and we didn’t even know it.) And that is only ONE effect. We’re on over 19 years here, and seriously, we’re struggling just because we never, ever can have a conversation. ever. ever. Did I say ever?”

 

“It has been very hard on our marriage, but there are also times that I feel like we are closer because of it. We are standing as a strong front, together, in front of Him. I think anytime you are doing ministry with someone, the bonds grow deeper. I can feel that in our marriage.”

 

Your turn. Share away…

Update 1/14/15: After the popularity of this original post, I wrote a follow-up, specifically for those who are married and parenting in the trenches of trauma. If you find this original post beneficial, you will probably want to read the follow-up as well. You can find that by clicking HERE. Blessings, Prayer, and Much Solidarity, heidi

 

Update 1/4/17: A reminder that this post is for ADOPTIVE PARENTS in the trenches. If you are wanting to lecture, chastise, or empty your emotional trauma here and you are NOT an adoptive parent in the trenches, your comments will be deleted. There are countless other forums and blogs for you to do that in. I will continue to protect this as a safe space for ADOPTIVE PARENTS IN THE TRENCHES. Thank you for respecting that boundary, heidi

Preface: This is not a how-to-parent-older-adopted-kids blog post. This is not a why-kids-of-trauma-inflict-trauma post. This is not even a this-is-what-life-is-like-with-trauma-kids post. This is not a feel-sorry-for-us or toot-our-own-horns post. It’s most definitely not a rainbows and unicorns post. However, I want to stress that—no matter how hard adoption can be or sometimes is, I still believe in it. I’ve got an incredible husband and a slew of kids I call my own who agree. So this is not an anti-adoption post. On the contrary, this is a RALLY CRY for those adoptive parents in the trenches answering the call that others refuse to hear, being judged, shunned, and persecuted for their already very lonely and difficult road. This is a no-holds-barred, bare-it-all solidarity-seeking attempt. This is for you, adoptive parents of trauma kids, because you are most definitely NOT alone.


So I’m sitting here spitting nails. I’ll be honest about that from the get-go. And I’m typing a hundred miles a minute. And probably not going to edit a whole lot. BECAUSE ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. There is not a week that goes by that I do not receive multiple emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, or texts either from someone currently in the trenches or someone who knows someone who is. They’re at their wit’s end. They can’t take much more. They’re lonely. Grieved. And scared. And while I could spend forever trying to explain to those NOT in the trenches what it’s like down in the trenches, I’m not going to waste my time. Because the truth is, as you all know, that unless you have lived it, you will probably never get it. You just won’t. Oh, how we parents of trauma kids wish that weren’t so.

And if you’re reading this because your friend or family member passed it along, now’s your chance to erase your presumptions and shred your judgments and just take a listen and try to understand.

But if you’re reading this and already nodding, I’m trusting that you already get it. That you know what it’s like to step out of your comfortable American Christianity and choose one of the unwanted ones. The older, “broken” kids whom no one else said YES to. You know what it’s like to have that kind of compassion, faith, and willingness, that open heart and open home, that open-to-come-what-may. You know what it’s like to love the unlovable. To say yes to a call from God that no one else wants to hear or acknowledge. To take in a child of trauma. And you know what it’s like to be hated—and all but destroyed—by that child in return.

Trauma Kids

You wake up every day exhaling a supernatural prayer to inhale supernatural peace and supernatural strength, because it’s harder than hell to navigate this dark and untrodden road. You are depressed because darkness and strife have taken over your previously semi-docile home. You are scared because you never know what the day will hold—violent threats? police visits? psychiatric hospital? having to gather up your littles and leave the house in a moment’s notice—But the eggshells are a guarantee. Always the eggshells. So you’re always on edge. Anxious. Waiting for the shoe to drop. Because it always, most definitely does.

And you’re so damn tired of having to put your other kids on the sidelines while every ounce of your energy and every second of your time are devoted to the one who demands all. You feel like a neglectful parent because you see your other kids withering away, living in their own fear, sadness, trauma. You miss your old life and can’t even remember what it was like to just be you. And all because you said YES.

You’ve lost countless friends to the lies and manipulation. Countless. And you fear that those who stick around are susceptible to departure when the going keeps getting tougher than tough. Your church small group doesn’t understand. Your co-workers have no clue. Your mom group just gives you a collective puppy dog sad face and tells you they’ll be praying. You’ve been to therapist after so-called “expert” therapist, and their best suggestion is take a breath or read a book or play a game or—better yet—to take your six-months-pregnant self and rock your larger-than-you 14-year-old to sleep at night (true story). Or the worst, to flat out accuse you of totally sucking as a parent. You try to explain to your relatives what it’s really like to live with this child, but they don’t get it. No one does. Because all they see is the charm. The smiles. The public display of model behavior.

Teachers at your kid’s school tell you how sweet he is. Youth group workers gush over how precious she is. All the world feels pity for your “innocent” child. But no one seems to care or notice that life at home with them is sheer hell. And if you let them in on it, they don’t believe you or think you’re just not trying hard enough. They completely judge you. So you’re further screwed than you were before.

And those of us who get it would all agree that reaching out for help often hurts worse. So we’re scared to speak up or reach out, because it’s often better just to suffer alone than have it piled on by others too.

Forget the fact that your other kids are perfectly decent, kind individuals (most of the time). Forget that you used to be esteemed as a wonderful parent. Forget that you used to actually teach classes on parenting and adoption and the like. Forget that people loved you and lauded you before. Before you said YES.

Forget the fact that you’ve spent tens of thousands of hard-earned and worked-for dollars just to bring this child home. That you’ve dropped everything for their redemption. That you have spent countless hours and dollars on therapy and treatment and hospital stays and literature and counseling and so on. That you and your spouse are drowning in debt because you will stop at nothing to help your kid. What choice do you have?

Forget all of that, because no one gets it. They don’t understand that adopted kids of trauma are often the most master of manipulators. By definition, they know how to survive by lying, charming, manipulating. They push away those that care the most. But you already know that. Because you live it.

If your kid had cancer, they’d stand up with you. If your spouse passed away, they’d rally around. But try to parent a kid of trauma who inflicts trauma at home, and it’s crickets, crickets, crickets.

Oh, my heart just breaks at the injustice of it all. And for the thousands upon thousands of you parents who just.totally.get.it.

You’re pushed away. You’re spat upon. You’re punched. You’re hit. You’re rejected. You’re lied to and lied about and often. You’re the scapegoat for all of their pain. You’ve supposedly ruined their life before you were ever in it. You’re screamed at, yelled at, and victimized.

You’re looked at with suspicion under a microscope. CPS questions your intentions. The world outside of your inner circle has painted you as a failure who just didn’t know what you were getting into.

BUT I’M HERE TO TELL YOU…

I have lived it and survived it and am here to tell you now, that those are all LIES. Because you’re doing a damn good job. You said YES when the rest of the world (and even the Church) said NO. You sacrificed EVERYthing. You put it all on the line. You gave all and still do. You risked reputation for the sake of redemption. (Hmmmm, Jesus, anyone?)

You chose this road in the first place because you have good in you. You have the love of Christ. A love for humanity. A love for the least of these. For the forgotten. You wanted to make an impact for eternity on the life of someone who needed you to step up. And so you did.

But right now you’re crying out and screaming Forget eternity!, because you don’t even think you can make it through today.

But you will. And you are sure to come out on the other side someday with fewer friends, less pretense, and more grit. You might not (probably won’t) have the storybook, fairytale ending. Others will swoop in to be your kid’s knights-in-shining-armor just when you’ve almost made it. Everyone on the outside will want to be your kid’s hero, to rescue the poor, troubled orphan that you supposedly “just couldn’t get through to.” And it will truly suck to accept it.



But the thing is, the truth is, those on the outside, those who swoop in to “save,” well, they have it easy. They have the relationship without the commitment (the very thing these kids reject). They have the hero complex without really getting their hands dirty. They can pat themselves on the back and feel like a savior when it’s on your back that the real burden lies. They haven’t sat for hours while your kid rages. They haven’t stood in courtrooms while they listened to false accusations. They haven’t had the bruises. The injuries. The heart pain. They haven’t been YOU.

And even if your kid never acknowledges it, even if they never come around, even if you never live to see their healing, even if someone else claims credit, YOU’VE DONE AN AMAZING THING. You’ve walked a painful road, but you didn’t have to. You knew it wouldn’t be easy. And you said YES anyway.

You’ve made tough choices for your kid when others just took the easy road. And your Heavenly Father is proud. SO VERY PROUD. Believe it!

So hold up your head. Raise your eyes. Gird up. You are an AMAZING PARENT. And if you have to wake up every single day and look in the mirror and say that out loud, so be it. You were never guaranteed the outcome, but that doesn’t change the kind of warrior you are.

You keep on keeping on. You, in the glory of His favor. He is PROUD.

And if and when your friends abandon you. If your family forsakes you. If the world judges your intentions and decisions. If you have nothing left but the cross you bear, know that Jesus smiles upon you. Because you are AMAZING.

You love well and you love hard. You are doing the nearly impossible. You aren’t getting a break from your ministry. There’s no respite for this battle. You can’t take a vacation from this pain. You can’t go home at night and simply call it a day, because your home is no longer your home.

And of course you already know that you can’t force results. Coerce cooperation. Or manipulate circumstances. So you simply carry on. Because you are a WARRIOR.

You should be revered instead of crucified. Rewarded instead of critiqued. Uplifted instead of judged.

But nothing is ideal on this side of eternity. Nothing is fair.

So until then, or until redemption rains down, HOLD UP YOUR HEAD and JOIN MY HAND and KNOW that you KNOW that you KNOW that you are GOOD. I’m serious. Did you get that? YOU. ARE. GOOD.

You said YES. Even if no one understands. Or hears. Or sees. It’s enough that Jesus does.

In the meantime…

Don’t back down. Stay the course. Don’t give up or in. And even if you have to disrupt this adoption or say you’ve had enough, you are STILL an amazing parent. No one will ever know what you know. NO ONE is your Holy Spirit.

And you must attempt the ABSOLUTE ONLY thing harder than the parenting job you’re already doing: Forgive those who mistreat, malign, slander, or betray you.

“The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” -Mark 15:3-5

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” -1 Peter 2:23

For those on similar roads, please cling to these verses. Jesus didn’t retaliate against the lies. He let God avenge. God will make right. He is the ultimate Judge. He IS justice. Lean on that. It will take you to a greater level of trust and faith than you ever thought possible.

And you will make it. More like Christ. Press on.

So here’s your chance…

You’ve got the mic. This is your platform. Comment away. You’re safe here. Share your thoughts. Raise your voice. Speak out loud. Don’t hold back. Post anonymously if you wish. Or find me on Facebook and message me. Email me heidi@outofshemind.com Just let it out.

And unlike other posts where freedom of comments will be allowed, I’m going to take the authority here (well, seeing as it is my blog) to turn off the judgers. If you don’t get it, don’t post it. If you are here to tear down, go away.

This is for solidarity. And solidarity alone.

Pass this on, re-post it, and do whatever you feel helps you survive. Share it with your loved ones, for even if they don’t understand in the end, at least they can know that YOU are not alone in this. That thousands rally around. Thousands in the trenches. Thousands walking the hard, hellish lonely road of adoption of older, traumatized kids. This post is for YOU. Only YOU. And it’s about time.

 

God never uses

Testimonials from the Trenches

I’ve been frustrated by this at our church. A church that is SO gracious to ‘sinners’ visiting and needing Jesus. Yet, when one of their own has a challenge, there is not the same support.” -Sandy

 

I think the hardest part is that until you have lived with that bullseye on your back people just can’t grasp the life you live. I mean I know that people have hardships and difficult relationships from time to time but to have it strung together for so long, so often. I mean, I can mark it down to the day and you can just see the path of destruction the enemy has left in our wake in a very strong attempt to destroy us.” -Bill

 

I was appalled at how little social service people, who work day in-and day-out with foster kids, understood the effects of trauma, the rages and the secondary trauma that families experience by welcoming this into their families. I am traumatized by their trauma.” -Monica

 

Most people (including professionals) cannot grasp the idea of ‘children’ mastering that level of manipulation and triangulation. Not to mention the idea of a child feeling completely threatened by the intimacy of a family. After all, what child would chose to be in foster care or on their own rather than be in a loving family? THE loneliest, abandoned, hopeless, etc. I have ever felt! -Melissa

 

“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words. When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.” -JESUS (in Matthew 10:16-23, The Message)

 

A few links. Because yay for education.

And a final—yet essential—note:

To those of you who DON’T walk this road, who AREN’T in the trenches, who haven’t parented a child as described, but YET haven’t abandoned, betrayed, or turned away…GOD BLESS YOU IMMENSELY AND FOREVER. We hold you close, dear, and high.

You can’t IMAGINE how just your “being there,” your validation of the pain, can be the very thing to keep our heads above the water. You are TRUE and LOYAL. And God will no doubt reward you for standing up when so few stood with at all. You are gems.

Keep standing with your friend. Listening to them. Trusting their testimony. Supporting their tough decisions. And whatever you do, I beg you, PLEASE please PLEASE do not sabotage their efforts to bring healing and redemption to their child. Your best intentions might be the worst of devastations. And know that if you choose to engage in activities and behavior that the parents feel is detrimental to their child’s longterm healing, you are forsaking a friendship for your own feelings. Please reconsider. I sincerely thank you. And the thousands of others committed from the beginning thank you as well.

To the finish,

heidi

Oh, and P.S. My apologies, but I was never before a cusser. Not until, well, you get it.