The Tough Stuff

12 Apr

Ah, this journey called life. It’s a romantic picture, isn’t it? Long peaceful stretches of road, triumphs at the top of difficult mountains, sharing the burdens with our travelling companions, and all the while drawing ever closer to the sweet oasis of our destination.

In our little family’s journey, welcoming our boys home was a wonderful, joyous occasion. We had them home in time for Christmas and in time to meet my brother and sister-in-law who arrived the following week for a visit from Canada. We were able to bring them with us to our mission’s biennial conference in the Ethiopian countryside. The timing was ideal for enrolling Teddy in school after the Christmas break. It was bliss.

It was the calm before the storm.

We knew the storm was coming. We expected it to be bad. But we also expected that if we pushed hard, we could keep travelling through it and eventually the sun would shine again. After all, life is a journey and we would just keep rolling along!

The odds were stacked against us right from the start: adopting an older child, adopting out of birth order, language and cultural barriers, being a bi-racial family, and on and on and on. We did the very best we could in order to prepare for the worst, even while optimistically thinking that our “worst” wouldn’t be as bad as all that, and we would strategically use our preparedness to plough through the difficult phase and then we would be fine. We read books, talked to other adoptive families and counselors, and did on-line research.   Our extended family was supportive. We had supportive neighbours on our compound in Ethiopia where we were to live for six more months after we got the boys. We had great school support – both at the school the kids attended in Ethiopia, and the one they would attend when we moved home to Canada. We were as prepared as we possibly could have been.

But it was way harder than we expected.

We had this unspoken expectation that it would be hard for a finite amount of time. That we would endure the worst of it for the first year or two and then things would begin to get better. We still envisioned the “someday” picture of being a stronger, more loving family for having overcome such difficulty. We were not naïve about the ups and downs that would come, but we fully expected to see a gradual progression in a positive direction – not this swirling downward spiral like one gigantic, cosmic toilet flush.

I cannot look back over the collection of heartbreaks that we’ve accumulated in the past four years without feeling like I’ve been walloped in the stomach with a fence post. It makes my head spin and sucks the breath right out of my body. This, what we have right now, is not what God intended families to be.

However, this is what God intended for our family for right now.

That is hard to write. I have wrestled with that a lot. A lot! I have asked myself the same questions many times over. Did we make a mistake? Did we mishear God? Did He make a mistake? Did we mess up His plan? Are we not good enough parents to fulfill His plan?

For a long time, I boldly claimed the promises from God’s word that I thought were due us. I can’t tell you how many times I quoted Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 and Philippians 1:6 to God Almighty and begged Him to get on with it. My prayers went something like this: “Lord, You began this good work in us, in our family. You chose Teddy for us and You chose us for Teddy. I cannot see right now how You possibly thought this was the best match. But I believe You are in control, and I know Your plan is perfect. I choose to trust that You are still at work on this because today there is nothing good in this that I can see. We are a mess. We have failed so badly. We can’t fix any of it. So please, God, please work something good out of this. And do it now, because we cannot take any more. You’ve said You won’t burden us with more than we can bear, so FYI, we’ve reached the limit. It needs to stop and it’s up to You. Please.” Sometimes I whispered, sometimes I yelled, sometimes I silently rocked back and forth in a corner. Always I cried.

It’s hard to say which phase has been the worst. There were months of violent tantrums that had me clutching Teddy in a full-body hold for an hour or more while he kicked and spat and bit and tried to bash the back of his head into my face. Sometimes Pat would take that job while I tried to keep the other kids calm and sheltered, but I was the one with training in Non-Violent Crisis Intervention. I was marginally more capable of restraining myself as well as Teddy. Marginally. So more often than not, it was me hauling our thrashing boy outside – away from our other kids, away from our furniture and belongings, and into the line of sight of our neighbours where there was at least some measure of accountability.

Gradually, the physical tantrums subsided, but in their place came verbal assaults: screaming and swearing and threatening. After some counseling and interaction with police, I think we are better equipped now to deal with those outbursts more stably and rationally, but it sickens me to admit how easily and how often we were sucked into combat against our son in those months of verbal warfare. We have this inherent notion as parents that we need to have the last word in order to make it clear to our kids that what they’re saying or how they’re acting is unacceptable. We also feel like we need to show them – the child who’s acting out and the children who are witnessing the altercation – that we as parents are the ones in control. And so, when the verbal assault escalates, we engage. There is a compulsion to “win” so our kids will learn. But I’ve had to realize that they don’t learn from that, nor does anybody win. Even now, when things start to get heated, I go through a ferocious internal battle between my fight instinct and my resolution to walk away.

We have spent a year doing educational and psychological testing and counseling in order to address the difficulties that Teddy was having in school. The results of these tests have revealed that he is struggling with learning disabilities that are way beyond his earlier ESL (English as a Second Language) issues and far more complex than our initial assumption of dyslexia or some other comparatively simple challenge. We have learned that he is a couple of years older than the date that we picked for him when he was adopted, which is of course the date that is firmly established on all of his legal documentation. So his body thinks he’s two years further into manhood than what his birth certificate indicates. Conversely, we have also learned that he is psychologically underdeveloped. So his integrity, sense of responsibility, reasoning skills, – you know, anything that has to do with wisdom and maturity – those are all many years behind.

All of these factors have contributed to four years of mass confusion and conflict. We have made so very many mistakes in how we’ve dealt with various situations because we just didn’t fully grasp what exactly we were dealing with. As the details of the picture come into clearer focus, we see more and more where we went wrong, but we are frequently bewildered at what on earth might have been a possible “right” way to do things.

I’ll say it straight out: we really don’t have any idea what we’re doing. With our other children, as difficult and stressful as it is sometimes, there are at least a few things that we can logically work through in order to reach a reasonable resolution. When most children suddenly exhibit an objectionable behavior that is new and different from how they’ve always acted before, we can generally get to the root of the problem – or at least narrow it down considerably – by considering a few possible factors. Is she stressed about school work? Is adolescence messing with her hormones? Is she overtired? Has she just had a bad day? A few simple questions or some mandatory quiet time before a calm conversation are often all that’s necessary to figure out what’s wrong and how to deal with it.

Not so with Teddy. When he is instigating conflict, we don’t know if it’s a boy thing, a cultural thing, an adoption/abandonment/attachment thing, an adolescent thing, a school thing, an integrity thing, an anger-at-all-of-the-above thing, or what! And if he knows what it is, he’s not about to tell us because we are Personal Enemy Number One. There are no calm discussions or simple questions. Probing and prying are not allowed. Any and all inquiries are received as accusations.

And so, we flounder around, trying to parent surface stuff without understanding the underlying issues. Add to that his delightful response to every single thing we do as parents: deeper anger and hatred. You see, logical discipline and consequences have yet to produce the fruit of repentance or submission or any form of respect or humility in Teddy. He does not bear any concern or responsibility for the way he acts and treats other people. His default mode is ignoring or dismissing rules and expectations. And when that isn’t enough, he has no qualms about adding a hearty dose of deceit, manipulation, and blatant lying.

Let me be clear: we are not trying to place blame on him for the dysfunction and trauma that led to him being an orphan. We are very aware that he has had to deal with way too much horror and pain. The effects of his suffering and loss are deep and multi-layered and far-reaching and lifelong. We get that adopted kids have to cope with stuff that kids who are raised in their biological families never have to face and rarely have to think about. We know in our heads that part of their coping mechanism is to push away their adoptive parents and siblings and to fight against love and acceptance and boundaries. We can see that his seven-year-old psyche is in conflict against his fifteen-year-old body amidst his thirteen-year-old peers. We get it.

But there is no how-to manual to guide us through it. And there is no armour to protect our hearts from the fall-out. It sucks. It hurts. It is toxic. It has interrupted our journey.

The storm has blown in and it has been stronger and more violent than we ever imagined it could be. It has whipped us around, obscured our vision and thrown us off the road. And now our vehicle is upside-down in a ditch somewhere and nobody knows where we are. We are mangled and bleeding and we know we should move, but the pain keeps us frozen in place. We are suffering.

I know that we are not blameless in this. We have made huge mistakes in our parenting. We have been angry when we should have been merciful. We have floundered in our consistency. We have tried and failed and given up on too many different strategies. We have shut down emotionally.

I know that Satan is not seeking to trip us up or fool us or bruise us. He is seeking to destroy us. Satan doesn’t just want us to fail. He wants us to annihilate ourselves. He is using past and present pain to fill Teddy’s head with evil lies about responsibility and respect and love.

All of this is so far beyond what we expected when we began our adoption journey. It is so far beyond what I can put into a casual conversation when you ask us how we’re doing. It is so far beyond what I feel capable of handling, nevermind handling well.

But God is bigger and stronger and already victorious. As much as He is grieved by our current suffering, He is still in control. He still has a plan. It’s a perfect, meticulous plan and it is for our good! And maybe – no, most definitely – this suffering that we’re going through is for a purpose that’s much bigger and better and way beyond the little bubble of time and space that is visible to us.


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22 responses to “The Tough Stuff

  1. Laura

    April 12, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    I wish there were words that could help…if there were you’d be reading them right here.

    “And maybe – no, most definitely – this suffering that we’re going through is for a purpose that’s much bigger and better and way beyond the little bubble of time and space that is visible to us,” — Hold onto that Truth.

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency. We have prayed for you in the past, but will definitely continue to pray…often and hard.

  2. mel

    April 12, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    amazing that you can even write about this Anita. What an eye opener. Keep it coming…you are being groomed for so much more sweetie. I will be praying.xo

  3. Sue Balfour

    April 12, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Wow Anita, I had absolutely no idea about any of this. Not surprising though as it is not something that you run around talking to people about.
    I cannot image what you and your family are going through but I do know that God does and as He reminds me, I will pray for you.

    I wonder Anita what you and your husband think about the battle that we are in against the principalities and powers of this dark world and the fact that satan uses his army of demons to torment and harass everyone but especially he is targeting our young people in these days. The reason I mention this is because on Sat April 28th from 9-4 my sister and her husband (Pastors of Freedom House Church and Healing Centre-Guelph) are holding a seminar, “Releasing Our Young People For Kingdom Living”, about this very thing. As I was reading your post the Lord told me to tell you about this. If you think you may be interested just let me know and I will email you a copy of the flyer.

    Know that you are not alone in this battle against the enemy and you are right, he is out to KILL. He does not want the youth of today to fulfill God’s plan but his own agenda however we know Who the Victor Is!

    God Bless you Anita as you seek to train your children up in the way they should go!

    Love In Christ

    • Jacquelyn Campbell

      April 17, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Can I get that information about April 28th? Is it open to anyone?

      • Sue Balfour

        April 17, 2012 at 10:38 AM

        Yes Jacquelyn it is. If you give me your email address I will forward the poster to you. The cost is $20.00 and this also includes your lunch. You can email me at and I will forward the info to you.


      • Sue Balfour

        April 19, 2012 at 11:22 AM

        Hi Jacquelyn
        Not sure if you saw my response on the 17th so trying again. If you would like a copy of the info for this seminar you can email me at

        Sue Balfour

  4. Shannon Smith

    April 12, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I’m praying Anita. You’ve put into words something that is hard for any parent to express. The pull between what our heart wants for our family and the harsh reality of the life we actually live sometimes. We can trust that God is there through it all encouraging us, consoling us and leading the way!

    Thanks for being real!

  5. shelby somers

    April 12, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    I love you. You kicked your pride to the curb and let everyone in to see your emotional “junk drawer” and confessed your inability to get or keep it clean because more and more junk keeps getting stored in it.

    I wish I had a magic wand to wave and make it all better. Healthy. Worthy of showing off with gleaming pride. Where IS that magic wand?!?!

    What I DO have is access to the ear of our Father who loves faithful and fervent prayers from His children on behalf of their brothers and sisters. I will continue to bend that ear for your family and wait to watch Him do His thing. Whatever His thing is going to be in this situation. I’m praying it’s going to be BIG. Satisfyingly HUGE. Large enough to have it bring an it-was-worth-it joy.

    You are a hero. Flawed and lovely. A beautifly mess of someone working it out and being real. You are MY hero.

    Love, love, love!

  6. lookingpositivelymedieval

    April 12, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Wow! You are such a strong and brave person for sharing that. I had no idea. The only way I know to respond is to let you know that we will pray for you, your family, and especially Teddy. Stay strong, Anita!

  7. Clara

    April 12, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    Dear, dear Anita. You are such a gift. One of Satan’s tools has always been ‘secret’. Satan has convinced us to keep all our pain ‘secret’. Don’t tell anyone because they will think badly of us. And certainly don’t share our pain because no one wants to hear it, no one cares. So we live in a world of pretense (secret) because it looks and feels better that way. Well, it doesn’t feel better. It drives us ‘mad’ and very often, it drives everyone around us ‘mad’.

    Thank you for your gift of honesty, your gift of transparency, your gift of humour, your gift of love, your gift of being what Jesus made you because He doesn’t make mistakes. Many would have given up by now. But you are not a giver-uper Anita. You are not a quiter. And most of all, you care. That is truly a gift from God.

    I think God for putting you in my life. Keep the words flowing.

  8. Clenize Amaral

    April 12, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    Anita, having a son with a learning disability is already so difficult (and I know this first hand…), That I can’t imagine dealing with more than that. We love them and want the best for their lives, but in my case, I often feel like a failure, because I have it in my head that if I worry enough, cry enough, try enough, I will for sure be able to fix him! Wrong! God made them the way they are, life and circumstances change them, physically and psichologically, and we need to keep reminding ourselves that He is in control, and even though we love our children, He loves them more. I’m not going to pretend to know everything you are going through but just want you to remember that you are never alone.
    Easier said than done? Definitelly…. But we have an awesome God and He will take care of you and your family.
    Hang in there! I’ll be praying for you. Love ya!

  9. Kathleen Wells

    April 13, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    I am glad now that Andrew’s dog has me up at this early hour, & I have had the time to read your heartfelt “Blog”!!! We will continue to pray for you ALL!!! I am sure you have tried EVERYTHING…….. but….have you looked into a “Big Brother” relationship for Teddy? & perhaps Respite Care for the other family members, including yourselves??? (Yes, I know you have family nearby) Love you, hope to maybe see you next week, (briefly). I will especially pray for God’s protective care over your family!!! PS..Obviously, your WRITING ability has NOT been harmed!!!!! Love you, Kathleen!

  10. desertmessenger

    April 14, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    I cannot fathom what you have been through; what you are going through. But God has given me some promises to stand on, perhaps they will bless you as well.

    Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

    Psalm 16:8 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

    Praying over your family today.

    • Anita Neuman

      April 14, 2012 at 4:39 PM

      Thank you for your prayers! And those verses are perfect! Blessings on you and your family.

  11. Rhonda

    April 26, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    Wow Anita. You really know how to put your heart into words. Thank you for showing us your bruises. I pray that God will continue to give you the wisdom, patience, and strength you need every second of the day.

    I’m sure you have read every book there is, and that you have an entire shelf-full left unread because your life (like mine) does not leave room for all the reading we wish we could do. I’m currently reading “Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Matter” by Gordon Neufeld. It’s an interesting perspective on attachment that I have never heard before, but that makes a lot of sense. It describes, in its worst case scenarios, some of what I see in your post above. I hope it is helpful if you find yourself able to give it a skim.

    May God bless you, and keep you sane.

    • Anita Neuman

      April 27, 2012 at 7:26 AM

      Thanks, Rhonda! That book sounds very interesting. I’ll check it out!

  12. barnabasfarm

    August 22, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Just saw your reply to my creeper/stalker comments, which frees me up to comment on THIS. (thanks – great timing 🙂
    HoKeyPETE! I get it. Boy, do I ever get it. Interestingly, our son’s nickname is “Bear” (short for Bereket) – might have been a mistake. Silly of me, since I’m a horse-person with full knowledge of how important choosing a horse name is. Like: never name your horse “Buck.” The other side of that coin..never name it “Angel.” It appears we may have fallen into the ‘Buck’ side of Teddy Bear, and you’ve fallen into the ‘Angel’ side. huh.
    No advice or Godly wisdom here. I’m still busy wiping my bloody nose from the unexpected cross-check, and looking around for somebody to be getting a penalty. I guess it’s my version of the abdominal fence post.
    But I am trying to keep in mind that around here it seems to go in seasons. Storm, reprieve, storm, reprieve. Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to get all of the kids consistently on the same storm/reprieve schedule. Since there are 9 kids altogether (4 adoptees) the storms tend to overlap a bit. huh.
    and huh. again.

  13. Anita Neuman

    August 22, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Oh mercy, I cannot even fathom coordinating the storm/reprieve schedule between 9 kids!!! 2 of our 4 are adopted, and 1 of those we got as an infant, so we haven’t had the same drama. The one is quite enough, thank you very much!
    I’m so glad we’re “reacquainted” now. You can comment wherever you like. 🙂

  14. Susan Garrett

    August 24, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Dear Anita,

    I have only this week stumbled onto your blog. I will be praying for your son, Teddy, and the rest of your family.

    My aunt and uncle adopted a 3 1/2 year old son from Siberia about 20 years ago. As he got older, he was diagnosed with antisocial disorder and attachment disorder. He acted in many ways like Teddy. As he got older, the behaviors grew worse, and he was a danger to his sisters. My aunt and uncle tried everything. They sent him to a military boarding school, he was in psychiatric treatment for about a year (inpatient), etc. They are Christians also and did everything they possibly could do to help him. Eventually, he was committed to a home for persons with personality disorders because he was a threat to his family, himself, and others. He tried several times to kill his sisters without remorse or feelings of guilt.

    I hope that Teddy improves and is able to live a normal life. Just keep your other children safe. These children that do not have loving parents in their earliest years suffer much and shut down emotionally. It is like can’t respond in a normal, loving way because of their early trauma, abuse, and/or neglect. I will pray for Teddy and your family. I sincerely hope all works out better for you all than it did for my aunt and uncle. I know you are doing everything you possibly can do for him. He is a lucky young man! Hang in there!

    Love in Christ,

    Susan from Ohio, USA

    • Anita Neuman

      August 24, 2012 at 4:43 PM

      Oh, dear Susan, thank you so very much for your kind encouragement and prayers. I really appreciate it! And thank you for taking the time to share your family’s experience. It’s helpful to hear others’ stories.

  15. Wendy

    October 6, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    Thanks for being so open and transparent. I didn’t know you we’re having such a difficult time. Will pray for your family.

    • Anita Neuman

      October 6, 2012 at 10:08 PM

      Thanks, Wendy! Lots of ups and downs around here. But God is good all the time.


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