This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Adoption and Faith

I have few people I can talk to about this who "get it" so I hope this doesn't sound disrespectful.

A fellow Mommy Blogger at This Work Stinks recently wrote a post that made me question how I'm raising my children, in particular in regards to their faith. This mom is helping her children remember what God wants them to be, "take off the old self and put on the new."* If they misbehave she asks them if that was loving and what God wanted them to do. (I am majorly paraphrasing and probably mangling what was a great post - Sorry Mom In The Trench!). I love this idea and wish it was the way I raise my children, but I have a question for her or anyone else out there with an opinion (you know who you are!).

First some background:

When I was a child growing up in the "bible belt," religious doctrine was thrust upon me by my dad and grandmother. I was also taught that it was all or nothing and I must believe exactly what my fundamental Southern Baptist Grandmother said was right or I was going to hell. I was not allowed to question anything or even be undecided.

(I want to clarify that my mom, aka Grandma, was not a part of this. She lived her faith quietly and we did not really talk about it. She took us to church, but allowed us to make up our own minds.)

My family hammered at me constantly to believe exactly the "right" way until finally my stubborn, contrary (after years of hearing that stupid nursery rhyme I figure being contrary was inevitable) nature kicked in and I shut down all communication on the subject by telling them I was an atheist. I had made up my mind. As you can imagine this was not a popular statement, but it was definitely easier than listening to lecture after lecture designed to force me to accept by rote their beliefs. I just would no longer listen to them on the subject. Obviously this was more about religion than faith, but I felt unable to disentangle the two.

My grandmother lamented and tried to talk my favorite cousin into swaying me away from "the dark side." She drove my dad nuts doing the same thing. Kudos to them for only having one or two discussions and letting it go. Of course Dad's "discussion" was to tell me the story of a man who was dying and went to each of his sons to tell them he loved them and would see him again on the other side, except his last son who didn't believe in God, to whom the dad said, "Goodbye." Subtle Dad.

Hubby and I got married (almost 16 years ago!) in my mom's church, but neither one of us was particularly religious. I just wanted a church wedding with a real "non-tacky" wedding dress! *grin*

About 5 years ago I started feeling that something was missing and I wanted to try again with God. It was very hard. I wanted that "child-like faith" to build on, and felt like I was trying to force myself to love someone. Kind of like if someone told you that not only did you have to believe in Santa Claus again, but you had to LOVE him. Belief in someone you've been told doesn't exist, with the beliefs of others being a conflicting, often antagonistic, mess is not exactly easy. At the same time though, I craved the "magical thinking" there's someone out there who can fix everything if you believe hard enough. That loves you unconditionally.

Someone once told me that a woman's relationship with God often mimics her relationship with her father. Well, as I mentioned before, I'm pretty sure I had an attachment disorder and I didn't trust my dad or any man.

I didn't have a lot of faith in anyone and God seemed less than useless in that he couldn't even give me direct support or advice (at least I didn't think so). I had never felt what I had heard others with extremely strong faith talking about, that "knowing" that God was there and cared about them and was involved in their lives. Deep down I thought God may have existed once, may still exist, but certainly didn't get involved anymore. I needed to stick my fingers in the holes in His hands, but He wasn't there in front of me.

Some of this was pride too. I didn't want to be caught believing in something that didn't really exist. Some of it was fear. What if I don't believe, and he really exists and I've just condemned myself. And some was just convoluted. If I'm believing just so I won't go to hell, does that count? How do I know I'm believing because I really believe or just because I want to, or am I just covering my bets in case it is true....

I read The Case for Faith, and it helped me answer a lot of my questions and resolve some religious points that seemed mutually exclusive. It also led me to some other books like Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis that helped me to decide it was best to "Fake It Until You Make It" in regards to having faith and believing in God. After all, what did it really hurt? This eventually became a major philosophy in my life, but more on that later.

When we decided to adopt it was more of a coicidence that the adoption agency was a Christian one and then we were presented with a dilemna. The agency required a reference from our family pastor. By a sad coincidence the pastor who married Hubby and I to each other had recently passed away, so we used that as an excuse for not using him as a reference and got a reference from a long time friend who talked more about our Christian values than our beliefs.

We did start attending a church though.

Over the years my faith has slowly grown and become less "fake it" and more "make it." Not coincidentally this is how my trust and faith in Hubby grew too, and was my philosophy with the adopted kids as well. I strongly agree with Katharine Leslie (a noted author on RAD) that no matter how much we would like to pretend it could happen, no one instantly falls in love with an older child. Infant features have a built in biological imperative that we love and protect them, but once they out grow that... there are no short cuts.

RAD kids work hard at proving themselves unloveable so it's no surprise that it is hard work. Older kids know you won't instantly love them when you've never even met them before (and they believe they are unloveable), therefore if we tell them we love them, not only are we are lying to them, but they know it.


And we're back!

My concern is that my children have very little faith (equal to the amount of trust they have) and I worry that if I push the concept of God on them, especially in terms that could be taken as implied criticism (would God like that?), that they will push away from God like they push away from me.

On the other hand, my kids don't learn by observation or role models, they have to learn kinetically (learning by doing) so maybe I need to do more in this area. I tend to be fairly quiet about my faith, because I'm just now starting to feel like I'm no longer a "newbie." Should I be living loud with my faith?

I don't encourage or discourage my kids' steps in the direction of faith. When Bear wanted to get baptised and Kitty followed along, I was happy, but didn't really believe much would come from it. Now, two years later, the three older kids are being confirmed (learning more about the church and committing to it). They are very gung ho, but I'm realistic enough to know that some of that is hanging around with other kids.

There are some things I do without giving my reasons unless asked: I don't allow PG-13 movies (or worse), even for my 16 year old. The kids and I only listen to Christian music (well, the kids are supposed to only listen to it). I'm a firm believer in "garbage in, garbage out."** (which is a great song by the way! You can listen to it here. Also, Slow Fade - be careful little ears what you hear!). The kids go to Sunday School every Sunday.

For a long time I made a committment to start attending Sunday School regularly too (church is hard for me - I get more from Sunday School), but one day Hubby told me he felt uncomfortable with me sharing in class, and all I'd said was please pray for our family - no details regarding why. (It's not a secret though - I'm just as open in real life as I am here!).

Hubby is a very private person, and he would probably hate this blog if he ever read it (he certainly can read it, but chooses not to). He knows I'm very open, but I think he prefers to live in denial. Me saying something in Sunday School meant he couldn't ignore it.

I stopped wanting to go to church, because I'm not good at censoring myself and one big reason I went was for the support and affirmation. Hubby didn't care either way. So now we sleep in on Sundays (we can certainly use the extra sleep). The kids spend almost every Saturday night at Grandma's (we really are amazingly blessed!) so they go to Sunday School with her.

So am I sending the wrong message to my kids? Should I be more blatant about my faith? Should I talk about what God wants them to do? I want my children to have faith, but I don't have very strong role models in how to give that to them. Especially Bear and Kitty. Am I doing enough, too much? WWJD?


*(Col 3:9-10) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

**Philipians 4:8 — “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

***"Train up a child in the way he should go:And when he is old, he will not depart from it."Proverbs 22:6 King James Version


GB's Mom said...

We live our faith, and to our children, it eventually becomes as natural as breathing. We never demand they believe exactly as we believe, but our faith as been part of our family.

Linda said...

Well our family is kind of like yours now with the whole church thing. I always went and tried to get the kids interested. Because dad didn't go, they didn't want to. Eventually I stopped too. It bothers me a lot. I have a 19 and 17 yr old who didn't finish confirmation, a 14 yr old who doesn't get it-not his fault, and a 10 yr old who sometimes goes to church with her friends because they invite her to fun programs. I feel like I have really missed the boat on this area in their lives. I grew up with a strong faith and feel that is in me. My oldest doesn't know if he believes. I read the books you mentioned too. Very good. Now that they are older it is harder to get them involved. I talk about faith at home, but I know I'm not doing a good job of it. The verse you posted about faith and hope is one I have been searching for for a long time! I read it in a card about 1-2 yrs ago and couldn't remember the words. Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

I have said it out loud, "I'm raising 4 "former Catholics." All the sacraments, Catholic school K-12, Mass every Sunday, etc. Ultimately it will be their choice, but I feel that at least I've provided the foundation. I could have done MUCH MORE, but at least they got what they got.

As they are marching into adulthood I think I've got one "fallen angel" at this point, but I keep praying for him. And sometimes that's all we can do is pray.

Heather said...

I guess for our family, it's not only about the words. Our kids started going to church as soon as they arrived as foster kids. It's just a part of our routine. What I noticed is that they seem to have taken the sensory memories to heart - leaning on mom and dad, listening to music, etc. I think in the long run, those positive and comforting associations will keep church a part of their lives. Our church family has been so accepting, too, so it's like another home. They're actually disppointed if we have to mis even a mid-week service.

More than that, we give them the message that God has a plan for their lives, though it might not yet be clear what that is, and it might be a bit bumpy now. That He is watching over them and understands even when Mom & Dad or the world doesn't. We don't focus as much on "what would God want," although that is part of the message we give them.

I guess for us, too, faith is as much a part of our lives as eating and sleeping, so it wasn't a conscious decision. I do know that watching our children learn to believe has brought new meaning to the phrase, "faith like a little child."

Hmmm... looks like I could do a whole blog post on this too ;-)

Jessica Lynn said...

You are doing exactly what you know to do. There is no right or wrong answer. Your children will see God in your more than you could ever teach them.

shastastevens said...

I forgot to say that we can be careful not to get caught up in legalism. Hitting anyone over the head with legalism might change actions, but it will not change the heart. It may even create a hypocrite.

Also, the big print giveth, the small print taketh away.

Anonymous said...

I was raised with a Catholic mom and a don't-know-what dad (raised in Iran, father a doctor, they didn't believe in god, my dad just didn't know or find it relevant). I went through all the sacraments, and we more or less went to church. We pretty much stopped from about 4th grade until 9th, when my parents separated. At that point my mom started going more, and me with her, and through getting involved (sign language interpreting) I got really into my faith and learned a lot more about it.

My hubby was raised in a very very old-fashioned conservative Catholic family, the a good Catholic is a sheep who doesn't question kind. Mass every DAY not just every Sunday (they were homeschooled so could do this and had no other influences), altar boy, morning and evening prayers, prayers before every meal, dad who's a deacon, 8 kids, etc., etc.

We are both now at roughly the same place in our faith: no longer Catholic. Or at least, I'm not a Catholic, he's not a fan of the Church and doesn't know what he believes, but still finds comfort in the ritual. There in his heart, though? Not so much.

No matter how you raise them your kids will grow up and make their own hubby and I had pretty different backgrounds (lackadaisical to uber-Catholic) but ended up in about the same place. I think it depends more on their personality than what you do where they end up, unless your goal is for them not to question.

That said, raising kids to know a faith will work better than introducing it later: it's a lot easier to swallow the idea of virgin birth at 5 than it is at 25 (for example)! I think that's much of why different religions find each other so weird: they all have very very weird, unlikely stuff in them, but if you were raised in it it doesn't seem nearly as odd.

In your faith and live your life...and you know best how to raise your kids :-) Good luck!

*Thoughts from someone who's not a mom but has spent a lot of time thinking about religion*

Anonymous said...

I'd be sure to talk with them about what they are learning, what they are currently believing, encourage questions, point them to the people who can answer the questions ... with you not attending, you can't be sure they are learning what you hope they are learning without the discussions at home.

There are lots of ways of being spiritual, honoring God, etc. without actually attending services. But you have to work harder at creating ritual. (Which, as I recal from your Christmas post, you do work at). The question is, do they think you are "getting away" with something? You aren't spending the same amount of time they are, but you are learning, educating yourself, reading and talking with others about your beliefs -- and you can tell them that, should they ask.

shastastevens said...

The rest of my comment is on my blog.