I know you have all been wondering. Especially with all of the drama of the first few months you’ve been wondering because this past month has been very quiet. I’m holding my breath quiet. We’ve made some changes around the Ray household which have served us all very well. So let me share in the hopes it may help others.
As with bio children, no two teen ex-orphans are the same. We have 6 bio’s and 4 adopted and not one of them is like the other. It makes for an interesting mix of personalities. So to treat them all the same, or like a friend’s adoptive teen just isn’t feasible.
When we brought Vlad home we needed him to not only bond with our family but we thought it important that he learn English, at least some, prior to thinking about public school. At that time our two bio’s left at home had been home schooled their entire life (8th and 6th grades). We just put Vlad into the mix. However, we soon found that adding in a non-English speaker took up an enormous amount of our time and energy and soon our other two were spending more and more time alone. It was quite frustrating. None of them were being served well.
Summer came and school went out the window. We were dealing with stage two of Vlad adjusting and it wasn’t pretty. The anger in him came out constantly. Against us, against the other teens and against the world. He was so angry. Most days he left and spent his time at the park doing parkour, which at least kept him out of trouble and made him tired out at night. Sometimes even too tired to argue.
So then it came to September and he begged to go to public school. He was desperate to make friends and we relented. Then the other two asked and we were so worn out from 6 months of Vlad that we caved. We needed the break. My business needed me. My sanity needed it. Our local high school has an amazing ESL teacher and program but Vlad was still so far behind. He struggled so much but at the same time was adamant that he loved it. So he stayed.
By winter break I was feeling somewhat rejuvenated so when a friend asked us to host we agreed. Two boys. We had no intention of adoption again. There was no money for another adoption and I couldn’t see going back to Ukraine again any time soon. Before the boys went back in January a family had stepped forward for one of them and we agreed to adopt Yuri. So then it started all over again.
I won’t go through all of the last year of fundraising (which funded about $10,000 of the $50,000 we needed), the piles of paperwork for two governments and various agencies and the travel, 11 weeks in Ukraine. Most of you have been with us on that part of the journey. We came home with 3 teens on September 5th of this year.
The first few weeks were nice. We home schooled with the idea that all of them would be home at least 6 months and then we would re-evaluate to see who, if any, were ready to go. We did not want to make the same mistake as we made with Vlad. However, and it’s a big however, we didn’t hold to that. I think we were just worn out. We had been on the adoption merry-go-round since August 2012 when it all started with Vlad. Three trips and a total of 15 weeks in Ukraine, and now 4 more teenagers to go with the 2 we already had. I was exhausted.
I also work Arbonne and having 3 teens at home all day long, doing my best to home school was taking a toll that we couldn’t afford. It’s our income and it was not getting the attention it deserved. Tom was doing his best but he was worn out, too. So much chaos in our home and we both were craving some peace and quiet. When Yuri, who speaks better English than Vlad did when we sent him to school, asked to go we said yes. Two days later he was enrolled. He would come home day after day excited and happy. A good decision. However it made Anna and Daniel want to go. They wanted to meet friends. So we relented. Something we should never have done.
It sent Anna over the edge. It was so overwhelming to her that she just didn’t know how to handle it. To come from living in an orphanage to a family, then a school of over 2,000 students was just too much. If you are part of our private Facebook group you’ll know the details of her escapades. Running away, staying out all night, being defiant more than I’ve ever seen, having to call the police, screaming at police officers, asking and begging to go to another family, lying about being abused so she could go someplace else and more. What a roller coaster. Then Daniel started in. Running away, finding him the next day because a police officer called from a town 30 miles away, being completely defiant, breaking things and lying about it, stealing and more. Whoa! What had we gotten ourselves into?
I thought I was exhausted before but all this just magnified it ten-fold. Many, many sleepless nights keeping watch at the front door. Out driving around looking. At the police station making reports. I never imagined any of it.
Thankfully the people at the school know us and we had the other teens there as witnesses to confirm there was no abuse and it was all a story. Thank goodness Vlad was in school that day and when they called him down he said Anna is crazy, my parents are good and they don’t hurt anyone ever. Then Yuri said the same thing. That would have been a whole new level of problems.
After all of that we talked with her ESL teacher over lunch one day and decided to bring Anna home to school. She needed to be in a much smaller surrounding, away from potential bad influences, to bond with us as her parents and learn English. Talking with Anna, she agreed, thankfully. And she started smiling almost immediately. I think the weight of the world was on her going to school and she didn’t know how to handle it.
She has now been home over a month and is a different girl. She smiles all the time, hugs me several times a day, jokes with Tom and proactively helps out with the chores. She is the first one to start cleaning up. She spends from 9 am to 2 pm every weekday doing English and math unless she is hanging out with me cooking, sewing or doing errands. She almost never leaves the house anymore unless she goes somewhere with me.
Daniel is still in school and seems happy. Since Anna is settled so is he. And I think getting so far away on his bike and being hungry, cold, tired and scared has gotten through to him. He has been very good since and even jokes quite a bit now. I can make him laugh over just about anything.
Some of the other things we’ve done are these: we close the kitchen after dinner is cleaned up. No more late night snacking. No one leaves the house without permission. If you’re late coming home by even one minute you go nowhere the next day. (This one took them coming home late and us keeping our word – now they are not late anymore). The house is clean or no TV or internet and even then only TV on weekends in the evening. Internet only if all school is done, including Rosetta Stone English by ALL four of them. They get on each other. We moved all the Ukrainian boys into one room. Vlad was not happy at first but now he’s fine with sharing his room. It has given Garrett a much-needed break from hearing Russian constantly.
So I’m holding my breath as I say this but I think we are through the worst of it. They’ve all settled into the routine of our family and there haven’t been any arguments in weeks. Winter break was calm. Even Katherine is starting to joke with them again. My kitchen is clean all the time now and they ask before they go anywhere. They are saying please and thank you. And I get a lot of hugs these days.
I guess my point to this whole thing for those of you bringing home teens is what works for one, is completely wrong for another. And you do your best but it doesn’t mean you’re always going to make the right decision. Parenting is a hard road, no matter what. Dancing around, trying to do your best for adopted teens is much harder. I question myself constantly. Is this right? Am I being too hard on them? Am I not being hard enough? Giving them some leeway because of their past circumstances but not wanting to make things worse.
Getting advice from others who have been in these shoes is priceless. Especially those who have made it through the storms. Thank you to all of you who have helped us. And a huge thank you to Alex Krutov. He was an orphan in Russia and never adopted. He aged out and lived on the streets and now gives talks about his experiences. He talked with Anna on the phone and talked with Tom and I. Amazing what he lived through. We are so thankful to him for spending the time on the phone with all of us. He has written a book about his life called “Infinitely More” that I recommend all adoptive parents read.
He also gave me a couple of movie titles that he suggested we watch with our Ukrainian teens: “Lilly Forever” and “Children of Leningratsky”. This would show our children what they “missed out on” by being adopted because most teens from orphanages have this fairy tale view of what their life would be like once they got out of the orphanage.
He recommended to read the following books, “Beyond Consequences”, “No Drama Discipline” and to look into the training by Karen Purvis.
Hopefully some of this will help my friends in the trenches. I know some have it pretty good and some others have it much worse than we did. Every day my prayers are for you.
For those interested in watching the two movies Alex recommended they are on YouTube: