On our first date in 2006, my husband and I revealed to each other that we both felt it was our purpose in life to adopt children. Maybe not the most common topic on a first date, but it set the stage for the journey our family would take so many years later.
When our biological son turned 6, we recognized that he was old enough to understand what it would mean to bring another child into our home. So we decided to start looking into our family’s best path for adoption. After talking to multiple adoption agencies, family friends and friends-of-friends, we learned about orphan hosting. Hours/days/weeks of research lead us to realize that orphan hosting would be a great fit for our family
We decided to host two orphans from Ukraine for the month long 2019-2020 winter hosting session – a 10 year-old boy and 7 year-old girl who were siblings. Since I have a strong connection to my Ukrainian heritage, we thought it would be easier to connect. Also, after getting advice from previous host parents and doing even more research, we thought we were prepared, mentally and physically, for their visit. We put up signs with Ukrainian and English translation for everything from where they could get snacks and how to use the toilet. We practiced basic Ukrainian words and phrases so we could communicate with them.
We looked into the best places to take them to maximize their experience. We had all the safety considerations covered. Even our extended family sent gifts to place under the tree and we bought/collected clothes in multiple sizes to be sure it met their every need. My husband and I looked at each other and said “we got this”.
We quickly learned that we didn’t. They didn’t speak Ukrainian – at least not the Ukrainian that Google translate gives or the Ukrainian my father spoke as a child. In fact, we couldn’t communicate with our host daughter at all. Most of the communication was through her brother, who was able to use Google translate to some degree. But, as most siblings do, he would torment his sister whenever possible – misrepresenting what we were saying, fighting with her, and often making her cry (which she perfected)…all normal sibling behavior. Neither kiddo had any of the interests that were described in their bios. Also, both kiddos let their emotions run wild and didn’t have basic coping mechanisms when frustrated, angry, or sad. To make matters worse, we so desperately wanted them to feel accepted, we didn’t lay out basic ground rules that our family uses to show each other respect (and I mean the most basic – no hitting, no kicking, no lying). They didn’t even want to leave the house or go to any of the places we had meticulously planned. Towards the middle of week two, we realized we had made every rookie mistake and felt like we were failing these two kids who had already been through so much. There was only one person in our family that had the right approach – our 6 year-old son.
From the day the orphans arrived, our son did exactly what we should have been doing. He had no expectations of what the experience should be. He took every moment for what it was. He let them play with his toys and didn’t worry for a second that he would have to use non-traditional forms of communication. In short, he treated them like typical kids.
Our concerns and frustration had nothing to do with the orphans but with our own expectations. Fortunately, this was easily rectified. We (finally) put some ground rules in place and enforced discipline when needed (mostly reduced tablet time and occasionally a time out). We abandoned the information we got about them in their bios and figured out their interests through play. We learned to communicate through a daily routine and A LOT of charades. By the third week, the only concern that remained was what would happen when it was time for them to leave.
Our plans to rehost and adopt them did not work out. It was a painful 12 months before we learned that both kids were with a family in Ukraine, happy and doing very well. We understood that this was a possibility, but never would have expected the impact they would have on our family.
Our family’s purpose, to adopt, has not waivered. We hosted again during the 2021-2022 winter hosting session, and for the first time through Frontier Horizon. This time, we focused on completely different things. We still got them some clothes, snacks and a few gifts. But we allowed ourselves to make mistakes and roll with the adventure. We experienced all the emotions. At the end of every day, we looked at each other and said “we got this”. And, we did.