Love That is Enough
I still frequently run into the idea, somewhat to my surprise, that ”love is enough” when it comes to overcoming the very real challenges faced by many children impacted by adoption and foster care. Don’t get me wrong – love is essential. Of course I’m not talking about the sentimental notion that borders on magical, but rather the real thing – love in action.
As many adoptive and foster dads have discovered, what our kids need in order to heal and become all that God has created them to be is our compassion, our understanding, a willingness on our part to learn and seek help and a determined commitment to provide them what they need in ways that deepen our connections with them.
A friend of mine (Billy Cuchens) recently wrote this brief story and I think it illustrates this reality well.
A Temporary Delay
By Billy Cuchens
During foster care training, an instructor told Laurie and me, “Remember when The Beatles sang All You Need is Love? In foster care, forget about it. It takes a lot more than love. The children coming into your home are there as a result of some form of trauma and you’re going to need a lot more than love. You’re going to need patience, discretion, communication between spouses… I could go on and on.”
I thought about this a few months later when our foster care agency placement office called about placing a sixteen-month-old boy. They told us he had developmental delays, that he’d require Early Childhood Intervention, and that he had been diagnosed with Failure to Thrive – where an infant who fails to gain weight or grow properly for an extended period of time. Although we were nervous about what that meant, we believed God led this child to our home and accepted the placement.
Once the CPS worker dropped him off, we learned within just an hour what they meant by delays. He was very small, still in nine-month clothes, and only weighing 18 pounds. While his body was bone thin, his belly protruded from malnourishment. He was unable to walk and even his crawl was stiff and awkward – one hand made a fist and the other flat. His cry was soft, almost silent, even though tears streamed down his face, as if he’d already decided nobody was listening and gave up trying to be heard.
I remember my wife rocking him in her lap and crying. “Are you worried that he has too many problems?” I asked.
“No, this is the son God has given us.” Her bottom lip quivered. “My heart is just so broken for this little one. How could someone do this to something so precious?”
We spent the next few days reading books on where a sixteen-month-old boy should be developmentally. It took several days before he’d let me pick him up, so he spent practically every waking moment with his new mom as she worked with him on speech and walking and, within a few days, he took his first steps. A few days later, he gave us his first smile, a chipmunk smile with two big teeth on the top and two on the bottom with round cheeks. He even learned the baby sign language for “please” and “more.”
Laurie also paid special attention to nutrition and researched what foods would be better to help him gain weight while still nourishing him. Every hour, we fed him a combination of nutritionally dense foods and a liquid diet of Pediasure. To her delight, getting him to eat was no problem. He ate like a garbage disposal – beets, brussel sprouts, etc. After a few weeks on his mom’s diet, he put on weight and soon grew into the proper clothing size for his age.
I thought it would bother me that he attached to Laurie so quickly but not me. But in recalling some of the horror stories of attachment from our training, I was just glad he was attaching to Laurie. I figured with enough patience and compassion, sooner or later he’d attach to me. Once he did, he clung to me like any son would cling to his daddy.
We gave him his new name, Isaac. He continued to progress far beyond what CPS, our agency, and even his mother and I thought possible. In fact, he’d progressed so quickly that Laurie asked the ECI specialist to reevaluate him. They determined that he no longer needed any help and that, in a shockingly short amount of time, he had caught up to target for his age in every area. Even his asthma symptoms went away over time.
Ten months after coming home, we went to court and finalized Isaac’s adoption. Even now, he continues to have some behavioral issues. The trick for his mother and me is deciphering which issues result from past trauma, which are typical boy behavior, and which are bad habits he’s picked up from us. At first, we feared the unknown. I think we both wondered how we’d be able to care for a high needs child. But we figured it out – with a lot of love, patience, compassion, etc – and we can look into the future knowing that whatever may come up, we can figure that out too.