I don’t suggest reading this if you don’t want your family to change. This will ruffle feathers, they’ll go flying, but this is so important if you want your family to do well, if you want your child to heal and your family thrive. I’ve avoided writing this because I don’t want people to get mad and run, but if I don’t write it, families may falter, and that’s not my desire. All of the time I spend on Lovin’ Adoptin’ and speaking is with a goal to help families. I’ve tackled dozens of other topics on adoption and foster care, on how to help traumatized children do well, but this one topic I’ve avoided because it’s not popular, and frankly, I don’t think families want to hear it.
Why don’t they want to hear it? Because it requires hard work, it requires change, it requires selflessness. What is it that I’m talking about? Being with your family, being present whenever you’re needed. I’m talking about putting your desires aside and focusing on those of your family,
specifically the needs of your traumatized child.
I know there are many parents out there who feel they aren’t taking care of themselves, and the focus in adoption groups and adoption and foster care related articles is to take time for yourself. While it’s important to take time for yourself, there needs to be balance. I’ve written about that, however, today my focus is on both parents.
One family sticks out in my mind when I think of this topic. This family, I’ll call them Sweney, ranted about how their daughter, Adia, who they adopted from another country (where she was deeply traumatized multiple times), wasn’t bonding with them. They couldn’t understand it, they felt like they’d done all they could to meet her needs, yet she was unhappy. Problem number one, they blamed her. I’ll talk about blaming more in depth another time, but this family placed all responsibility on this girls shoulders, they expected far too much of her and didn’t go the distance on their end.
How is it that they didn’t go the distance on their end? Her actions, none of them violent or defiling by the way, were screaming that she wanted attention and time. The little attention and time they gave her wasn’t rewarded, so they did less. They wondered why she wasn’t happy, wasn’t obedient, wasn’t appreciative. What was her problem?
It wasn’t her problem, it’s not something she needed to fix. We shouldn’t say, she isn’t bonding. Does she really have a mental choice? I don’t think so. Sure older children can make the choice at some point, sometimes, to be kind to their adoptive or foster parents, however, can they make the choice to bond? Ponder this question for a bit if you will.
First, for young Adia, not nearly enough time was given for her to overcome her grief and pain. Second, what was the family doing to help her heal? Were they giving her opportunities in America? Yes. Were they providing a nice room, toys, clothes, and good food? Yes. But, is that enough? You can read more about the question that circles adoption and foster communities about love being enough here.
While you can follow all the advice I’ve written here on this website, if you don’t have a key piece, you’ll have a really hard time bonding with your child.
That key piece is being a unit, one that’s dedicated to your child who’s been neglected, abused, disappointed, abandoned. That’s what this family was missing.
Here’s what their family was like. Dad golfed any chance he got; weekends, holidays, afternoons. When football, hokey, soccer, or leaf picking was on, he was watching. When he was asked to watch the children, he sat in his recliner watching…you guessed it, sports. Is watching sports wrong? No! Is watching sports and ignoring your family okay? No. Is it okay to miss a game or two? Probably not for some. Could they incorporate their children into watching the sports, make it a family event? Maybe.
Now to Mrs. Sweney, she was a runner. She ran every morning for a couple hours, and she was involved in the activities she was interested in. I can give her some slack here, as this was all she did. She took care of the kids, she cooked, cleaned, and even did the yard work. She was the responsible parent. I don’t mean to knock on the husband of this family, but he really needed to step up and do something.
Although Mrs. Sweney did everything, she wasn’t an affectionate mother, and she lacked consistency and expectations. But then, I don’t blame her so much when I think of all she was carrying, her husband acted like one of her children.
The Sweney’s decided to send Adia to a group home because she wasn’t bonding. Wonder why. The day they were to drop her off, mom drove her, and Dad had something “more important to do.” At the end of Adia’s stay, Mom and Dad were invited to join her for a week. While there, Dad went hunting. The last thing Dad needed was time away.
Sending Adia off wasn’t what they needed to do. They needed to make their family a priority, especially their adopted daughter. Mom and Dad need to be a team and invest in their child. Their time needed to be spent together.
There’s a period of time after adopting or after a foster child joins your family when families need to put complete focus on that child.
It requires parents to put aside their hobbies and interests and converge on what the traumatized child needs. It’s not easy, but it’s so rewarding when you see what pain a child’s been through and the light on the other side.
I can’t tell you the joy I’ve felt when my daughter healed and wanted to dress like me, wear jewelry that looked like mine, wanted ME to walk her to class, while she held her head high, proud of ME, her mom. Or when she wants me to hug her and hold her when she’s sad, when she’s upset at me but can turn it around quickly and talk about what’s going on. The joy when she wants me to volunteer in her class and doesn’t yell that she wants me to go away. Joy, pure joy, but it takes work to get there. You can also see an article I wrote about how our children were tore down quickly, but it takes time to build them back up.
*Sports isn’t the addiction for everyone, I encourage you to look at your life and see what might be taking the focus away from your kids. Is it yard work, cooking, pinterest, volunteering outside the home, work?
*I’m not saying anything the Sweney family did was wrong on its own, but when it’s combined it can be detrimental to the family, especially to the traumatized child.
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I am a birth to five therapist for families in foster care. Reading your blog has helped me to remember that I am not alone.
Good, I’m so glad!
So easy to judge and so easy to ignore the role of those who do the assessments of PP’s without enough experience, skill or independence from an agency that does adoption. Couldn’t agree with you more on the need for parents to step up. My adult adoptee heart bleeds for Adia in a placement that will only further abuse because the adopters just don’t get it. She is one of so very many, such tragedy and so wrong.