I Would Rather Be A Family

I feel myself on the verge of tears very often this week.

Let me preface this post by saying things are good. Really, really good. When I think back to what my life felt like 1 year ago, or even 6 months ago, I am thankful that we are no longer there. Those were the days when I would put my head down and push through until bedtime. Those were the days when the HARD outweighed the GOOD by about 10:1. Those were the days that we were dealing with loads and loads of crap from our children’s past.

The thing is, we are through the worst of it. Much of the crap has been, if not removed, at least made manageable. Much of the hard has been replaced with sweet. I feel as though most of the crazy in my days stems from the fact that I have 6 children and life is busy. I am no longer in constant crisis management mode.


I am now catching glimpses of the long road ahead of us …. and that road travels straight uphill and is full of potholes.

I am now dealing with the long-term effects of pain and loss and suffering.

I am now realizing that raising my children who came to me from hard places is NEVER GOING TO BE EASY.


Oh yes, there is love flourishing here. There is joy in the midst of pain. God promises beauty from these ashes.


God does not promise easy. And, I think I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by that. There is no easy in sight. I will never enjoy the same kind of carefree parenting that I used to know. Because now I have seen the inside of my children’s hearts and that knowledge pains me.

One of my children constantly opposes me. No. I mean it. Constantly. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, they know that I am not right.

“Did you get enough to eat?” I ask innocently.

“Why you need to know? Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t.”

“What is your homework assignment for today?” I ask.

“Why you always want to know my homework? You should know already. Stop asking me.”

“I am picking you up early today for a dentist appointment,” I say as they exit the minivan.

“WHAT?!?! You pick me up early and I don’t get to learn. Then I be stupid FOREVER!”

“Your hair looks beautiful! Can I take your picture? You look so cute.” I try bracketing my request with a compliment.

“STOP! You always want to take my picture. No. No pictures.”

Today I said, “Bless you, honey!” after a sneeze.

The response? “I did not sneeze. I coughed. Don’t say bless you.”

It is exhausting. I sometimes feel like there are landmines all around me and no matter what I say or do, I know I am going to mis-step and blow something up.

I think that for the first year, I knew to expect hard. I woke up each day and armed myself for battle. I fought because that was what we needed to do. Fight for our children.

But, I mistakenly assumed that the fight would end.

And now here I am, looking around at the dirty, littered battlefield and realizing that this is where we are going to be living our lives. There is no end.

I read a blog about this period of time for the adopted family. Jen Hatmaker put words to my feelings….

1-1½ Years
The shine has worn off, and you are in the hard work of stabilizing. You’ve exited the near constant therapeutic position where practically every word and every moment has something to do with felt safety/needs/affirmation/redirection/acknowledgement of loss/keeping the schedule predictable/therapeutic words/tantrum interruption/attachment. You can go entire hours like some sort of normal parent. All the fuss surrounding your adoption has receded, and now you are deeply in the trenches.
For us, this section of time was almost as difficult as the first six months but for different reasons. When they first get home, you’re simply in survival mode. Your head is down, your entire life is in the weeds, it is chaos, anarchy. Everything that used to take up your time is shoved in the corner doing who knows what. The transition is brutal and pretty much every part of your life is a hot mess. But you knew this was coming and your people are keeping the wheels on because they were ready too, and it’s like wartime.
The first six months of the second year is tricky, because you’ve emerged from the madness and now you realize: THIS IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY HARD FOREVER. This is a difficult season of learning first-hand what abandonment actually wrecks in a child’s heart. The hemorrhage has been cleaned but now you can see the scars. The grief isn’t as manic, but you realize it is deep, way deeper than you thought. You begin to understand just how much has yet to be overcome and how ill-equipped you are to see it all through. You learn that in many ways, this is the work of a lifetime and abandonment is a permanent part of their story.
It feels terrifying and overwhelming. Because when the kids are screaming and thrashing, that is behavior you feel you will get past eventually. You can weather that storm. But once you see their broken hearts sitting there quietly, still suffering, you hit your knees.
Here is the truth: Brandon and I struggled with burn out during those months. The work was so exhausting, and we figured out it was never going to not be. Tension between your bios and adopteds crescendo (because they are out of the weeds and into normal family life so now everyone feels free to ARGUE AND MAKE US CRAZY). This was the worst part. I preferred the early days when my bios treated Ben and Remy like darling new pets, and the new kids hadn’t learned to annoy their big sibs.
It is selfish and embarrassingly human, but we were just tired. I felt irritable and resentful. I wanted it to be easier already and it wasn’t, at least not in the ways I thought. Parenting wounded kids is terribly challenging, which you know in your head going into adoption, but starting your second year, you really know it in your life. It’s hard, like maybe forever hard, and you feel that because you are a human, not a robot, and that’s just true. There are some tears in the bathroom during this stage.



Exactly that.

But it is also this….

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Isaiah 61:1-4

It is glimpses of healing, the fleeting sweetness of praise instead of despair, of joy instead of mourning. It is the promise that He will restore the places long devastated.

And so I focus on the beauty instead of the ashes. I grab ahold of the praise and don’t let go in the midst of the despair. Because loving these children from hard places is a privilege that has been granted me. And that means loving ALL of them. Accepting EVERYTHING.


It is remembering that my children are a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor!

It is when Leah chatters on the way home from counseling and as the words pour out she says, “In Ethiopia I was scared to go home because I knew what was waiting for me. But here, I’m not scared. It is different. In Ethiopia I take all my words and shut them off. I put them down deep into my heart. They made me sad. But here, I am such a talker. I talk all the time.”

It is when Naomi pulls me close for a bedtime hug and exclaims with joy, “I used to be scared to go to sleep. I always dream bad things. I dream about snakes. I dream about hyenas eating me. I dream about mean man chasing me with a knife. But now I don’t. I not scared to go to sleep. I don’t dream bad things anymore. I dream good news. Always good news.”

It is when Leah asks, “Would you rather have all the money in the world, and lots of friends and a big house and food every day and any toy you want….or would you rather have a big, loud family with lots of kids and lots of noise? Because I would rather have a family.”

I would rather have a family.

Standing here, looking up at the road that rises before me, knowing that I will ALWAYS be living with the fallout of pain and loss….even still, I would rather BE a family.




6 thoughts on “I Would Rather Be A Family

  1. Valerie Ayabe

    Dang it. You did it again, Natalie.
    I don’t know how you find time and energy to breathe, much less to write so beautifully, but here I am again. In tears, thanking God for you. …and Scott, too.

  2. Rebecca

    So well said my friend:) Adoption is so hard but oh the wins are SWEET! I always say adoption is the worst of times and the best of times then the worst of times and on it goes! BUT GOD! Love you and your amazing family.

  3. Janet

    I’m laughing at the one who insists on opposing you…and wondering what he’d do if you tried at that point to correct his grammar….

  4. Chastity

    I know you don’t know me but your comment of “I’d rather be a family.” resonates with my recent life. I was found unconscious in my bedroom by my 4 children and it didn’t look good. Without the gory details…the doctors were pretty much going to life flight me out to donate my organs. But my mother in law had a very spiritual experience at that time. For years I have lived with chronic pain that can’t be explained. I miss out on a lot because it just hurts too much. My mother in law felt me asking her “why she would want me to come back to a body so filled with pain?” But then she got the impression that he Lord was letting me choose. Since surviving this experience and walking out of that ICU on my own in 2 1/2 days (I believe in miracles for sure) but I have often wondered how I contemplated that decision. I was probably so pain free at the moment, so close to the Lord, so within reach and I chose to come back to pain, more tests, but most of all…”I’d rather be a family.” That is the best way I could ever word why I made the choice I did.

  5. Lisa M

    You have chosen not to sit on the sidelines of life… You are out there playing in the game, getting hurt, and also being abundantly blessed. You are giving all the glory to Him who called you to this mission. You are choosing to think on things that are lovely, and pure and excellent… Your story is inspirational and I hope you get the opportunity to share it with even more people someday. You are a blessed woman.

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