when your adopted child doesn’t fit seamlessly into your life, what will you do? (adoption/foster)

To this day Dimitri’s bones ache when the winter cold settles in. As that chill cloaks him, memories of a frozen Uzbekistan scene play through his mind like a horror film. His father laying on the concrete floor of an abandoned building, drunk, and nearly dead. He’d wrapped a thread bare blanket around his sister, but her little feet protruded from underneath. His other sister sat watching those who must brave the harsh winds pass on the street, fur Ushanka hats, coats, and boots layered their bodies, warding off the sting of ice. Then it had come time for him to scrounge up something for dinner, but the chances were slim, they hadn’t eaten in two days.

Stories like this one are plentiful in the adoption community, whether a child came from Russia, Africa, or America, they all have their stories. They may not be exactly the same, but they all contain great heartache.

What is a child to do with that pain? Do they know how to be a well-behaved daughter or a perfect sibling? Will they fit seamlessly into their adoptive family within one year of meeting them? What about a child who hasn’t attached within two years? I don’t believe children are given enough opportunity to get past the anguish they have been through, and brought with them.

As I have said many times, our hurting children have developed a new way of living because of their previous environment. You may see different stages of behavior and say, “He wasn’t like this before.” When our children come to us, they may be quiet and reserved, as time passes they may try to be controlling because they have a need to dominate situations or they feel everything will fall apart if they don’t. (Their previous life did, so why wouldn’t this one?) Then you may see outbursts of anger and a complete breakdown of behavior – this can be a sign that they’re beginning to get comfortable and they are SCARED. Our hurting children want to replicate the chaos in their brain because it makes them comfortable if their outside environment duplicates what’s inside. So we can see that our hurting children exhibit behaviors for a reason.

In the past week I’ve mentioned the Reuters investigation The Child Exchange a few times. Why? Because it’s shocking. But shocking as it is, I feel the thoughts the adoptive parents have expressed there are more common than we want to think.

I believe part of the problem stems from our society. We are living in a “me” world. (Don’t worry, I live in the same “me” centered universe too.) Soon after we adopted our daughter, my mom said to me, “When you and your brother were little, I didn’t have date nights or weekend getaways.” True, they didn’t. But truer still is the fact that mothers can do a better job raising their kids if they can have some time away (especially if you have hurting adopted children – but always be careful how much you leave your kids and /who/ you leave them with).

This mindset, the one that says we need date nights or a break, can be taken too far. I say, everything in moderation. We can begin feeling that life is about us, and if you have a child who’s difficult, it can turn into ideas such as, “This is not what I signed up for,” or, “This child is taking too much of my time.”  Parents can even place the needs of their biological children above their adopted ones.

In The Child Exchange, Gary Barnes said he gave his adopted daughter, Anna, to another family because he lacked the finances to provide therapy, and that therapy would have been inconvenient. First, I wonder why therapeutic parenting couldn’t have been done in the home. (That’s why I do what I do – I want to help parents care for their children in the home. Yes, sometimes outside therapy is needed, but a majority of an adoptive parents success is accomplished in-home.)

My second problem with his statement was the inconvenient part. Really?? (By the way, this couple did not have other children.) It was too inconvenient for them to provide therapy for their hurting daughter? I am simply flabbergasted.

Third, they didn’t have the finances? I wonder if they’d had a biological child who went missing, what they would have done to get that child back safe in their arms. What assets, time, and effort would they have put into finding that child? It should be the same for an adopted child, because they are essentially lost without our help. They need us to move heaven and earth for them, they must be treated as our children because that’s what they are. If we don’t treat them as such, I can guarantee they know it, and their actions will speak volumes against us. This is a LIFE, and I can’t stress how important it is to put our child’s needs first.

Other adoptive families give reasons why they can no longer care for their child; he puts spaghetti in his pockets (well, he has food issues, and was probably starving before he came to you), she hides in the closet and won’t come out (really, is that the worst she throws at you?), she sneaks out her window (kids who are just being kids do that too). What I’m saying is, look at your child’s behaviors and decide that you can handle them, because that’s how you’ll make it through. If we begin to believe that we can’t handle our child’s behavior, that they’re too wild, too whatever, we slide down the slope of self-preservation too quickly. You can make it through this. There are hundreds of thousands of teens who are doing well and have bonded with their adoptive families. It takes a parent who is dedicated to doing everything they can to help their child, and a commitment that communicates, “I am never going anywhere and neither are you.”

When my husband was in ministry many moons ago, we went to a counselor, Louis McBurney (he has since passed), and his greatest question for us was, “And then what?” If you think something is so horrible, ask yourself that question. If your child hordes food in his room (there are solutions for this behavior that help), and you are angry and at your end, ask yourself, “And then what?” This means, what will be the outcome if your son stashes food in his room? The answer: The room will begin to smell. And then what? Answer: We might get mice! And then what? Answer: Well, I guess I could have him clean it. Yep. And that behavior of his will continue until you get to the bottom of his fear regarding food. (And the answer is NOT locking the fridge and cupboards.)

The point here is that often it’s not as bad as we perceive it to be. We are tired, we are worn down and worn out. But when we think clearly (and follow advice from this blog – insert smiley face), we can see that our problems can be overcome.

Believe me, I am not immune to problems. Besides having a child with multiple diagnoses stemming from her early neglect, I have a son with Autism. Autism can be extremely difficult, and one aspect that makes it such is my son is constantly changing. There is always an obstacle to overcome.

We are constantly having to problem solve; how do we potty train a child who doesn’t talk or use sign language, or understand the words, “Come and tell me when you have to go potty.” What do we do when he’s suddenly frightened by his room, but we can’t communicate through words that it’s safe, how do we take care of his sensory needs when we can’t go outside and swing?

If you have a hurting child, problem solving is part of your daily life, and the issues our children present can be solved. I know this post isn’t encouraging, but I desperately want to see families staying together because I care immensely about adopted children. They have been through hell and deserve to have a wonderful life. I also care about you, the parent, and I know that if you don’t follow through with your commitment to your child, you will ridicule yourself and the guilt will pester you. You won’t feel better if you don’t do all you can. And you CAN do it!

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