Because I’ve been wanting to tell you more about that book

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m working on a book about adoptive motherhood, but I didn’t want to get too deep into talking about it until I’d actually signed a contract to write it.  Well, that day came.  Last month I signed with Thomas Nelson–happy dance!!– and have a December deadline–eek!

Making donutsThis is the book my wonderful agent Angela Miller has been asking me to write for years, and for years I’ve been hemming and hawing and vaguely thinking that I need to be further along this journey before writing about it.  Finally I realized that a perfect-sounding, happily-ever-after, tie-a-bow-on-it end of the story might not come til heaven, and that’s not what other mommas need from me anyway. We’re all a work in progress, parents and kids alike.  The story that really needs telling is about God’s faithfulness along the journey, not some illusionary ‘perfect ending’.   And so I’ll be sharing how God is using the twists and turns of my own journey to grow my faith, to teach me more about Him, and more about mothering my precious ones—yes, exactly here when things look lumpish and I can’t quite see the end of the journey.  Are you there right now too?  Good.  Then we’ll keep each other company.

AmpAlong with sharing about my story, I also want to better equip mommas for this important job.  Mothering children who’ve experienced loss can be hard, but it feels more doable when you’ve got insight and tools and ways to cope with the tough days.    Since different things work for different folks, I’m going to continue to ask for your help and your input.  I’m truly touched each time someone takes a moment to share your insights along this journey. The more you can share about your experiences and your successes, the better this book will be.

This week I’d love to hear your thoughts about helping newly adopted older kids settle in. As much as I tried to prepare myself for challenges when adopting our older girls, I don’t think I truly had a grasp on how hard this life change would be for them.  I started out feeling very compassionate towards them.  But once they’d been here a year or so, there was a part of me that expected them to move on already, and felt frustrated we were still working through the same stuff.

The longer I walk this road with my kids, the more I realize that grieving great loss is a life-long journey, not an experience it is possible to tuck away neatly after a few months.   My recent reading of Daniel Siegel’s book The Whole-Brain Child gave me a lot of new insight, and also a renewed compassion for the way a child’s past impacts his future. I wish I’d read the book much, much earlier.  (Praise God for being there to redeem my feeble efforts!)

What about you?  Have you brought home a child older than age 2 on homecoming?  What worked well in those early months and years home?  What helped you connect?  What was hardest?  How did you make it through the most difficult times?  What do you wish you’d known from the start? Please share your thoughts below, or write to me privately and anonymously if you prefer.  mary dot owlhaven at gmail dot com .  I so much appreciate your wisdom and your sharing!


  1. Mary –
    I just went to the Empowered to Connect Conference put on by Show Hope this past weekend in Chicago and ‘The Whole Brained Child’ was one of the few books they had for sale. If you haven’t already been to an ETC Conference I would highly recommend it in light of your writing this book. Fabulous insights to think of while raising our children.

    As far as your questions about bringing home a child older than age 2, my oldest-at-homecoming-daughter was only 22 months when she came home, but she still needed so much attachment work when she came home. She did not have behavior issues and is lovely and sweet, but needed the more subtle skills of learning to accept and be comfortable with intimacy rather than simply being cared for. It is still a work in progress. Although it took six years, she was finally able to give me a kiss on the lips a few months ago. A sweet reward.

    One thing Karin Purvis said at the ETC Conference was that with older children, for the first 2 years a child is home, your child needs every bit as much time and attention as if you had just brought them home from the hospital as a newborn. Wise words.

    Blessings on your new book endeavor! I look forward to reading it ;).

    • Thanks so much for writing! Yes, I have heard Karyn Purvis and some of the other Empowered to Connect folks speak. Good stuff. I pretty much want Karyn Purvis to come live at my house 🙂

  2. Congrats on the contract!! I look forward to reading your book when it comes out! We are in the process of adopting (not matched yet) and will probably be bringing home older girls, so I know that I’ll appreciate all the wisdom and insight that you share.

  3. Catherine says:

    I am looking forward to your book! We just got home two days ago with our 2 1/2 year old, so sounds like I could stand to read this chapter ;). Congratulations!

  4. Congrats on the book contract!!
    Have so many ideas/thoughts, as we brought home a 2 1/2 year old, and a 4 1/2 year old sibling set. Biggest thing I learned, it takes almost as many years for them to acclimate as they lived in their birth country(huge revelation for me!!)
    No matter how well they are doing in english expect them to understand a lot less than they appear to understand, for a few years(2+). Stick to concrete concepts, even if they seem to understand more, and use as few words as possible.
    Sleep next to them/near them for as long as you can, it may be the only time they relax with you for a while, and it will foster a close relationship, plus you will be close by for those late at night, darkness inducing tears/questions.
    Allow them to be little, babyish even for a while, they had to be “big kids” and responsible for a long time, well before they would have here in the US, so give them their babyhood/pre-K childhood back.
    If you can keep them home for a year, homeschool them, even if it is hard, and you may not want to be together, do it anyway.
    Tell them daily that God has a plan for their lives here, He is working His will in their lives, and your own, and He is doing a good work in them, through them.
    I am sure there is more, I will write later, 🙂

  5. Congratulations on your book contract! I am so excited for you and glad that I’ll get to watch (and cheer you along) as you move through the next several months.


  6. Kate in NY says:

    We adopted a 6 year old boy from Ethiopia about 8 years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long already!). We had heard the oft-repeated advice of “begin as you will continue” when adopting older children, and we took it to heart. I was absolutely paralyzed by the idea that any “bad” behaviors we let slip would be absolutely entrenched forever more. One night, my new son refused to sit down to eat his dinner. He did the Ethiopian finger wag and said firmly “Abi no sit.” My heart froze. How could I let him stand at the dinner table? I had to act quickly, or this would escalate, I was certain of it. I took his dinner and REFUSED to let him eat until he was sitting. Strong willed and stubborn, he would not eat that night, and simply stood there while the rest of had our dinner. The next night, sure enough, he sat.

    But did I really “win” that battle? And if so, at what cost? Thinking back now, I wish I had not taken that early advice so seriously and concretely. Yes, I think parents should “begin as they will continue” in the sense that if you do not generally buy your kids everything they want at Target, or let them stay up until midnight watching movies, or buy junky cereals, etc. then you should not introduce those behaviors early on. But I’m not so sure about the other stuff. Maybe I should have let Abi eat standing up that night. He had been through an incredible trauma and now he was in a new house in a new country with a new language and a new family, and if eating standing up gave him one little ounce of control over his life, was it really necessary for me to “break” that will? There were literally hundreds more such incidents over the months (fine, years) to follow.

    If I had it to do again (ah, hindsight!) I would have put more emphasis on the “big picture” stuff – kindness to siblings and others, cooperation in the family, respectful language – and less on the minutiae – on the following through of every single rule. I would have spent more time on loving my new little guy, and less on being so fearful that I was going to lose control if I let anything at all slide.
    Maybe better advice for parents adopting older kids would be “Stay flexible, and pick your battles.”

    Can’t wait for the book, Mary. I will think about this question, and let you know if I come up with any specific strategies that worked during that challenging transition time.


  7. Thanks SO much for sharing your thoughts, Kate!

  8. Oh my goodness, I am so excited for you!!! I can not wait to read your book!

    Wow, after bringing home 6 children (4 of whom were over 2) I think the more I know, the less I know, if you know what I mean. LOL!

    Each child has their own unique and individual personality and each of them processed and handled things in their own unique ways. Even our 2 who are biologically brothers (and came from the same situation) were totally different and are totally different in their way of acclimating.

    I believe the best piece of advice I received was from a friend who had adopted 4 older children, 2 from disruptions. She told to me to always seek to set the children up for success. For younger children this meant keeping them very close by so I could help learn to play and interact with their siblings and to be safe. I found with our older children this may mean finding an outlet for their talents to balance out the struggle of learning English and schoolwork.

    We connected by spending time together and getting to know one another. I think that is what I would *try* and change. I felt such an urgency to connect and I wanted that attachment to happen instantaneously, but all relationships take time. I would encourage adoptive parents not to place that weight upon themselves or their children. I would encourage them not to look at every circumstance as an attachment issue, but to enjoy them in the good moments and realize in the hard moments that bad times and struggles are also a part of bonding. It doesn’t feel as good, but it’s true.

    The hardest part was and is not having answers for the hard questions. The loss that they have experienced in their lives and the resulting hurt that creeps in and out and knowing that there is no band aid or kiss that is going to make it “all better”.

    We made it through the difficult times through prayer,and through the Word, and praise, and friendships where people spoke truth into our lives and hearts.

    I wish I would have known that a marathon (and isn’t that what this parenting journey is :o) is run mile by mile. I think so many times I was worrying about mile 25 when we were at mile 1. I would have loved to have someone come along side and say, “You are doing great. Your stride for this part of the race is perfect. You handled that obstacle really well..” It would have saved me a lot of wasted mental time and energy and I could have just slowed down and enjoyed or persevered through the mile I was in.

    • Don’t we all need cheerleaders like that in our lives?? I just spent time with a friend yesterday and we talked about keeping our self-talk encouraging. So many times we focus on that one moment where we lost our patience instead of remembering the 10 times we answered wisely and therapeutically! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Congrats on the book. I’ve not yet adopted, but still have it on my heart to do so. I’m fully convinced it will be a sibling set from the foster system, which pretty much guarantees they will be older. I look forward to reading more experiences and this book when it comes out.

  10. I’m so excited to have found your site today!! We are foster parents and have been matched with a 4 and 5 year old sibling pair. Right now we’re just doing visits with them but I am terrified about what will happen when the honeymoon period is over! I have two bio children, was a elementary school teacher, and feel like a successful parent, but all of our foster kids have been younger and I am daunted by these older kiddos! I will be coming back to read these comments for encouragement and advice. And I’ll definitely be buying The Whole Brained Child upon your recommendation. Thank you!

  11. Melanie (and Joseph) says:

    I have my 10 year old with me right now and we would love to share a little piece of his story. These are his words….I moved into my new home when he was 7 and cried almost every night for a week because I was really afraid. I would only eat hot dogs with no bun and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now I like to eat just about everything. I started homeschooling and it was a lot better than it was to go to school. It helped me because I got to spend lots of time getting to know my new brothers and sisters (4 of them). My old name used to be Blake and my new name is Joseph after I was adopted on January 18. My mom made me feel safe and told me I was going to be alright. Other people outside of my family told me right away that I was a perfect fit for my new family and that made me happy. We live on a farm and my parents let me have my own animals to take care of which helped me be more responsible. When I wanted to be alone I would spend time with my animals and it helped me learn how to love better. Even though some things in my life were very hard, I trust in the Lord. He has a plan for me and He loves me. My special Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

  12. I’m just finding your blog due to A New Beginning posting your photo on FB. We are also using ANB for adoption (we live in Mtn. Home)…well, for our newest adoption and future adoptions anyway. We are finalizing on May 10th. So excited!

    We have 8 kids that are adopted (3 bio kids that are grown and married) and we are homeschooling the 8 at home.

    Glad to meet you and maybe someday we’ll meet at A New Beginning event.

    God’s Blessings

    • Oh and to answer your question – of our eight (5 girls 3 boys), seven were age 3 and older when we brought them home. The youngest came to us as a newborn. All are domestic adoptions. Three from different states…the others were local. We have two sets of sibling groups and two single adoptions. Praying for another sibling group to come along this summer.

      That’s it in a nutshell 🙂

  13. I have just stumbled on your website and I think I will be visiting quite often! I am a foster parent. I have adopted a sibling set of 5 (they are now ages 5, 6, 8, 9, 10). The three older boys came to us after they were 2 1/2, the younger two were under the age of one).

    It is a difficult time to bond with children that are a little older, it is even harder not knowng if they will be living with you forever or not (I guess I should have mentioned that they were in my home as foster kiddos for the first 3 years and then the opportunity for adoption came along).

    Hind sight is 20/20 and I really wish I knew then what I know now. A lot more bonding and connections could have taken place. Not only do we have the struggles of having a large family (8 of us, we have issues with trauma from their past, and every day is a learning experience. Even after being in our home for almost 6 years we are still connecting and overcoming challenges.

    I look forward to reading more and can not wait for your new book! Congratulations!

  14. Oh, I am so going to pre-order your book as soon as it is available. I have read your Sane Woman’s Guide 3 times and I don’t even have children, yet! My husband and I are hoping to adopt a sibling group aged 2-8 and I have been reading so much to try to prepare. One thing I have not found hardly any information on is homeschooling adopted children. Particularly homeschooling approaches for a 5-8 year old who is starting from scratch in English and maybe in other things as well. I’d love material suggestions. Right now I’m looking at Montessori methods as well as methods for autism spectrum because I think there are some similarities between children with autism and older adopted children and some of the teaching methods used with children who have autism spectrum might be beneficial for adopted children.

    Another thing I have searched high and low for and been unable to find is clothing needs list for an older child. My husband and I do not have children and if we bring home an older child or children, I want to know how many t-shirts or play outfits, etc. they need. Especially for new parents, just basic needs lists would be great. What about a list of book recommendations for read alouds, or a list of movies a child new to English might enjoy? How about a basic toy list for different age groups so we could have some things on hand.

    These are all things I wonder about, but are things most people seem to assume we will know. I would be grateful for information of this sort as well as the practical everyday things.

    You are an amazing woman and I greatly admire you and you’re family!

    • HI Carolyn

      Thanks for writing! Here are some posts I’ve written about homeschooling over the years.

      My biggest tip is to go slow, read to your child lots and don’t get too stressed over academic stuff. It’s much more important to work on bonding and attachment, especially in that first year or two home. Here’s a list of story books we’ve loved over the years:

      As far as clothing, it is often hard to guess how quickly your child will grow at first and also hard to know what they like to wear, so don’t spend tons of money. I’d begin really with maybe 5 or 6 sets of simple comfy play clothes. Look for pants that have adjustable waists– even jeans have elastic and button tabs inside the waistband these days that makes it easier to customize fit. Little girls often like twirly skirts, and they’re easy to fit, so a skirt or two might be fun. Flip-flops (shoes) are forgiving, size-wise, at first. If you have friends with kids just a bit older, let them know you’re open to hand-me-downs as you first get their wardrobes set up. People with kids always have things their kids are outgrowing and are glad if they can be used again.

      As far as toys, keep it really simple. Most kids enjoy Legos, or if you’re adopting preschoolers, the larger size of Legos, called Duplos, are kid-safe, fun, very creative, and absolutely indestructible. Beyond that, I’d stock books and art supplies, maybe a stuffed animal or doll or two. (Don’t go overboard with stuffed toys though– people LOVE to give them as gifts and every parent I know feels like their kids’ rooms are swimming in stuffed toys.) If the kids are old enough, you will eventually want to buy them bikes. But during the preschool years, a good wagon is great to have, both for you to pull them around the neighborhood and for them to play with in the yard or driveway.

      Don’t feel like you have to know everything the day your kids come home– we all just learn as we go, and I’m sure you will do fine!

      Blessings, Mary

      • Oh, I forgot games!!!
        Dutch Blitz, Rummikub, and Phase 10 are great for most kids ages 6 and up
        Uno, Spot-It, Sorry, and Dominoes can be played even by preschoolers. Games are GREAT ways to bond, practice number recognition and all sorts of other skills.

        • Thank you so much! Been checking your other homeschool posts and making notes. We are filling out our application this week and so excited. Your reply was such an encouragement. Thank you!