If you had told me years ago that I would have twelve children, I doubt I would have believed you. But God’s plans are so much bigger than mine.
My husband, Russ, and I recently celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. We married in college and began our family a few years later. We loved children and believed they were a blessing. A big family sounded good; maybe we would have six kids, although that might be excessive. We were blessed to have those six and then we added one more in 2002.
Life was full, sometimes chaotic, and very good. While my husband taught university students, I taught our kids at home. Some days it felt like too much, but most days I knew I was doing exactly what I was called to do.
In 2006 I felt the Lord was starting something new in my life. I thought I would go to graduate school. Then a dear friend called to tell me she and her husband were adopting two little boys from Ethiopia. Something shifted in my heart as my eyes were opened to the orphan crisis.
We were not perfect parents, but we were good parents who loved our children and loved Jesus. We had something beautiful and wanted to share it with children who needed a family.
After months of filling out paperwork, being interviewed, having our home inspected, and jumping through many hoops, we were approved to adopt two little boys. We were also sponsoring a little girl at an orphanage for children living with HIV and were stunned when we learned the staff at her orphanage were hoping we would adopt her. We had no idea it was even possible.
Our carefully thought out plan of adopting two little boys was shifting. We learned all we could about HIV. Soon we found ourselves adopting three unrelated children through two different agencies simultaneously.
In February 2007 Russ and I traveled to Ethiopia where we met our children for the first time. We walked through the blue metal gates of the orphanage and our lives changed forever. Our daughter was five and a half. She was beautiful, with deep dimples and curly brown hair. One of our little boys was two; he was quiet and cautious. Our baby was just five months old and absolutely precious.
We didn’t know it then, but on that day we also met another little girl who joined our family sixteen months later.
Within days of arriving in Ethiopia, we knew there would be challenges ahead with our daughter, Kalkidan, who had experienced severe trauma and deprivation. We knew it would take time for her to trust us and begin healing. She viewed the world through her experiences of abuse and neglect. Her brain had been rewired to interpret people as threatening and her new siblings as competitors for all resources from food to love.
Parenting often leads us to our knees in prayer. The upheaval in our lives made us desperate for help. We cried out to God and he answered. Over time we created a team of support, including medical experts, therapists, and good friends who cared for our family.
A key turning point was discovering the work of the renowned developmental psychologist, Dr. Karyn Purvis. She taught that in order to build attachment, we had to disarm our children’s fear response and build trust with them.
More than twenty years into our parenting journey, Russ and I had to learn a new way of parenting in order to help our children heal. Our unexpected education included learning to connect with our children before we corrected them. Building trust through a variety of strategies became our goal. Meeting our children’s sensory needs was a key part of the process. We became keenly aware of the importance of drawing our children close rather than using timeout or similar methods that would create distance.
As we learned, we thought about how we had parented our original crew of children. We’d followed traditional Christian methods and our kids had done well. But we wondered how much more joy there would have been if we’d known about attachment-focused and trust-based parenting from the beginning.
You may not have children who joined your family through adoption or foster care, but many kids experience hard beginnings in life. A difficult pregnancy or birth, early medical trauma, extreme stress on the parents, and many other factors can create a higher level of need in a child. Some days you may feel in over your head!
In The Connected Parent, Dr. Purvis offers practical advice and powerful tools to build secure attachment in your family. I demonstrate how I apply these tools in real-life through stories about my family. You’ll gain creative new strategies to add to your parenting toolbox.
May you love your children well and parent them in such a way that they know the steadfast love of God. He is the best Father we could ever have. And remember, you’re a good mom, doing good work.
Lisa Qualls is the mother of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. She is the creator of the One Thankful Mom blog and a popular speaker at events for adoptive and foster parents. She mentors and encourages moms and dads using the methods developed by child expert Dr. Karyn Purvis.