We have had Marquis in our home for just over a year. We took an almost two year old from the foster home he'd known since he was a couple weeks old and invited him to become family with us.
Family is a fascinating thing. It's one thing when you simply understand it through the lens of blood relatives. There's something that links us together but often times something we take for granted.
But seeking family with a stranger? It's devastatingly hard work. I'm so thankful Shaina had laid out some clear boundaries and structures and values that made us distinctively "Thompson". By us having predictability and consistency in who we were as a family, it has given Marquis a clear framework of what family means and how to Thompson. We are not perfect by any means, but the guy was uprooted from everything he'd known and what he'd known hadn't been particularly stable or structured (biggest understatement ever on the Foster Care system!)
Being born into a family is pretty simple.
Being grafted into a family is far less so. It takes guts, grit and grace. Those first weeks, when Marquis had a strong aversion to Shaina and bonded overly strongly with me were challenging. He cried most of the time. He slept awful. And he had habits and routines that were "un-Thompson". Before he came to us, he was allowed to fall asleep watching tv and then someone would carry him to bed. If he woke up, he'd come back out and watch more tv until he fell back asleep and repeated the process. He had a scarcity mentality with food. So anytime it was in front of him he devoured it in fear it would be taken or run out. He was used to having a toy in one hand and some kind of unhealthy food in the other, while walking around and playing or watching tv. Thompsoning was a little different than that. We had a bed time routine with prayer and stories and snuggles and then rest. Thompsoning at mealtimes happened around the table with no screens.
And I will be honest, as we battled constant crying and zero sleep consistency, we contemplated whether family could really happen with a stranger. We wondered if maybe we were in over our heads and needed to evaluate if we should pursue adoption (he was placed in permanent custody of children services shortly after we took him in). And Marquis, as a scared almost 2 year old with all his relationships, boundaries and expectations being overhauled had to decide if he would enter into the process with us or sabotage the one thing we were seeking to provide for him and the one thing he desperately needed: Becoming Family took guts for Marquis and for us.
There is a plethora of opportunities to quit, bail, or compromise. I find myself repeatedly tempted to give in...to be inconsistent...to change the standards and values of our family to accommodate or excuse Marquis' behavior. What I mean by this is something more than just showing grace when Marquis doesn't Thompson well. That is necessary and appropriate (and gospel!). Instead what I mean is that once a bar had been established and Marquis repeatedly was choosing to not rise up to where the bar was set, we had the choice to either lower the bar of our family values or through consistent grace and truth remain steadfast on where the bar had been set. The former is easier. The latter is better. If what it means to be a Thompson is specific, attainable and good, then keeping the bar unwaveringly set there is important. If it is an unrealistic bar that perpetuates failure and fear and inadequacy, perhaps we should reevaluate. I have heard it said that we reap in years 5 through 12 what we have sown in years 1 through 4. I believe it. And we have watched both our kids rise to the bar. This commitment requires GRIT from both parents and kids. We have to be willing to have a degree of sticktuitiveness in order to see the outcomes we desire to see.
But don't miss the caveat. Marquis is two. He pushes limits, fails at self control, breaks rules, pinches, bites, doesn't share, talks back, doesn't listen, etc. etc. etc. Of course kids will fail to measure up. Of course they will have off days/weeks/months! How we handle this their failures is crucial. Will we do nothing and let the bar be compromised and confused? Will we respond with sternness, overreaction, or anger and cause the bar to be tied to fear and anxiety? Neither are great, but parenting day in and day out seems like this roller coaster of inconsistency. One day I'm tempted to laugh and enable. The next day I'm tempted to scream and line up every wooden spoon and remove every toy in the house to use consequence as the behavior modifier.
Neither are the better way. Guts and grit isn't enough to parent well, especially parenting kids from hard places like foster care and adoption. It's guts. It's grit. And it's grace. Set and maintain the bar. That's what parents MUST DO. But when they fall short, can we follow through with them in such a way that communicates, "You are loved and trust between us is going to be reinforced through this encounter" AND "The bar hasn't changed, isn't changed and mustn't change."
Invitation. I'm 100% for you. (Even when I tell you not to poop in your swimsuit, you do it anyway, then you lie about it, then I don't notice that said poop has fallen out of your swimsuit and after I get you all cleaned up and bathed and put to bed and then I come down to hang your swimsuit outside to dry and then step in the said poop that had fallen out and end up with it caked all over my foot...hypothetically.)
Challenge. I'm 100% for who you need to become. (A young man who walks with integrity and consistency and security in who he is and who God has made him to be...and who doesn't feel the need to poop in his swimsuit anymore.)
As much as this lesson can benefit us in our parenting...it is really a lesson I am learning about CHURCH.
Family takes guts, grit and grace. If you find yourself going from one place to another seeking where the grass is greener, maybe you should consider watering your lawn.
A number of people have quit churches I've been a part of (C3 included) because the family component didn't happen quickly or deeply for them.
What I'm learning with our son who was a stranger and with a church full of unchurched, dechurched and badly churched folks is that FAMILY never happens that way!
It happens through Guts (have the courage to know and be known!) Grit (have the sticktuitiveness to commit to a people for more than a few months!) and Grace (have the patience and love...even when they end up causing poop to be on your foot).
Because there is nothing better than when it clicks for someone that they are a part of a forever family.