A couple of months ago we got a flier in the mail about a marriage retreat geared towards adoptive families. I guess you could say I normally wouldn't get excited about a marriage retreat -- having to get in touch with feely-feelings, sharing TMI with people we don't even know, etc. -- but I cannot lie, the idea of two days (and a night) away from my wild-albeit-lovely children at a very nice retreat center, all meals and lodging paid, even the CHILDCARE paid -- well, it was kinda impossible to pass up. Being that we are adopting through the Great State of Oklahoma, this is a program offered up to families like us that is funded by state and federal grants. So, heck yes, I signed us up. My poor husband didn't really have much of a choice, haha.
Fast forward to yesterday morning when we showed up for the retreat: like I said, we didn't know anyone else attending, and if I'm being honest, we were wondering if it might be the same "caliber" *coughcough* of individuals that we met through other parts of this process. (Not to say that there aren't plenty of awesome people with hearts of gold that sign up to be adoptive parents, because there are, but there are also plenty of folk you could swear walked in from the State Fair. You know the type.) Regardless, those two phrases -- "no children" and "all-expenses paid" dangled temptingly in front of my weary eyes. No matter what, it was going to be more-than-likely a nice air-conditioned, quiet experience at the very least. So we marched confidently in.
Thank goodness we sat down at a table with another couple with whom we hit it off immediately. I just cannot tell you how refreshing it felt to sit down and automatically find kindred spirits who understand what dealing with the state can be like, what getting children through the state can be like, what being adoptive parents through the state can be like. We automatically just got each other. Throw in sarcastic wit and we were friends from minute one. We knew this would be two days we could sit through for sure.
Funny thing -- remember the brutal honesty in my motivations for signing us up, the "no children" and "all-expenses paid" phrases? -- well, just like everything else in this process that we have very much been blindly sailing through, we had no idea that you could earn credit hours for taking this course. Ha. So as an unexpected bonus, we received enough credits of annual required training to float us at least another year with the state should we decide to take on any more kids in the future. (Someone might be wanting a girl, just sayin'....)
Most of the classes were geared towards the marriage relationship as it applies to adoptive families because yes, being married as an adoptive parent puts a new spin on things. Did you know that while the divorce rate these days is pretty darn high, it's even higher with adoptive parents? I didn't know it either, but it's not too hard to believe. Adoption is hard, ya'll. It's awesome and amazing and rewarding, but it is downright HARD at times, too. Topics from our classes included ways to deal with conflict and resolution, making marriage fun (again), intimacy, and communication. For us especially it was a very good reminder that we need to establish regular date nights, something we keep saying we will do but just haven't made a priority. Now that there are three kiddos in our family portrait, it is more important than ever for us to remember who we are as a couple and not just as parents. Because let's admit it -- more often than not, I wear the hat of "exhausted FUN-SUCKER mama" and not the hat I used to wear as "fun-loving wife".
But there was also an afternoon session about parenting kids who've been through trauma. At first I was skeptical and didn't really see how it would apply to our situation being that the level of trauma our kids have experienced seems pretty minimal compared to some stories we heard from others, but it really ended up being something I needed to hear. There were a couple of lightbulb moments for me -- one of validation for me as the adoptive mother and taking a lot more flak from the kids than my husband does -- and another for dealing with my boys and some of the behaviors they've exhibited that might be stemming from trauma in their past. Honestly, these two lightbulb moments made the entire weekend worth it for me, especially because before leaving for the retreat Friday afternoon, I had pretty much hit my limit of stress for the week. It was a doozie of a week with dealing with the kids and various behaviors, and I really felt at my wits' end, with the bonus of high-blood pressure to boot. I honestly just wanted to get away from them for a couple of days, but by the time it was over today, I was ready and felt more empowered to come home and be a better parent to them.
I guess that's the thing -- while this experience these last four months has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, there have also been more than a handful of times that it has been one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've been pushed to what I thought was my limit as a parent, and I've been going through this pretty blindly. (Ha, that really doesn't sound much different than regular ol 'parenthood, now does it, but adoptive parenting is still a whole other ballgame.) Not that any kid comes with an instruction manual, but especially getting two older children that have their own history they come with, well, an instruction manual would be really nice. And while I use the word "I" in describing this, I don't mean like I'm a single parent. I've got the most supportive husband in the world (I really do), but since I am mostly a stay-at-home mom in between my part-time gigs, there are lots of time it's just them and me, and I'll be the first to admit, I don't always know what to do, how to react, etc. in a lot of situations that are new to me.
All that to say, it took me by surprise in how much I really enjoyed and also needed this weekend. We made some great friends that understand this whole crazy process, learned some valuable tools for marriage, received validation as parents of adopted kids, enjoyed some great laughs (there was a "Newlyweds Game" at the dinner banquet that was downright hilarious), learned more about our kids and how to best help them on their journey to become good citizens of the world, and a mostly importantly, we got a good night's sleep, baby.
High fives to the Great State of Oklahoma for the refreshing weekend and to the grant-writers of these United States for picking up the tab because this is one grateful, refreshed mama.
How was your weekend?