when words are triggers (adoption/foster)

words can be triggers
Risa’s daughter, Ashley, screamed every time she said, “Sit down.” It didn’t matter if it was dinner time, snack time, bed time, or movie time, Ashley broke down.

The question could be asked, is this simply defiance? If it’s in several areas, it could be, but if a child’s experienced trauma, their behavior won’t fall in line as some would expect. There will be defiance from a traumatized child.

In Ashely’s case, the breakdown usually takes place when certain statements are made, like, “Sit down.” If Ashely were able to define how she’s feeling, Risa could ask her what’s going on. Chances are she’s done this, and she’s not getting a response. There a few reasons for this. Either Ashley’s too young to verbalize how she feels or she can’t put it in words because she doesn’t understand. Or, she has repressed the memories that are triggering the fear of the words, “sit down.” Or, those memories are too frightening and she does everything she can to bury them, therefore she’s not able to talk about them.

It’s impossible to know everything that happened to our children before they came to us.

We don’t know if they were with their birth mother at all times, if all of the workers in the orphanage were kind, if Grandpa yelled, if their birth father was abusive, if their mother left them with strangers. So, we don’t know what happened to Ashely before she arrived at Risa’s home. Maybe someone screamed, “Sit down!” before they abused her. Maybe those words surrounded something that happened to her brother. Maybe those words are the culmination of all the fear she experienced in her former home.

If your child is responding similar to Ashley, there are some steps you can take to help them work through this fear.

First, use other directives instead of those trigger words. Risa knows that the words, “sit down” create fear. Whether Ashley shows fear in her face when they’re said or not, something is brought up in her mind that causes anxiety in her. We don’t want Ashley to feel this way, we want to build trust, so Risa would use other words like, “Have a seat,” “It’s time to eat,” or, “Pop a squat.” Whichever works.

Second, try to find out what happened to trigger that fear response. Above I listed a few reasons why Ashely may not be able to express her feelings. Maybe your child is doing the same as Ashely, so here are links to some posts that will help you create trust with your child so they can open up to you.

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child

These posts will help your child open up to you:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Third, remember that your child’s been through trauma, whether they’re an infant, a toddler who lived in a foster home in a foreign country, a child who was “well taken care of” in an orphanage, or a child who had great foster parents before joining your family. All of these children have been removed from their birth mom or birth family, all of them experienced trauma. And with all of them, we don’t know the WHOLE story.

Although we don’t know the whole story and need to have compassion, we still need to have expectations and consistency. Ashley has a meltdown each time Risa asks her to do something. Notice, Risa isn’t supposed to say, “You don’t need to sit to eat dinner, you can walk around and do whatever you want.” She still has expectations. These expectations need to fit reasonably within what your child can actually do, but they need to be present. Risa also needs to be consistent by following through with what she says.

Does your child break down at certain times? Have you been able to nail down the cause? Do these tips help you make a plan to reach your child and reduce anxiety? I love comments, so please share your thoughts.

I hope to see you next week. You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links. Feel free to share this with anyone who would benefit. Have a great day!

our semi-open adoption

our semi-open adoption
There are all kinds of open adoptions. I know several families who’ve adopted and none of them have the same relationship with the birth families. Last week in the post, Birth Family Relationships, I talked about how different contact can look for each family. Connections with birth family can be done through the exchange of letters and pictures (although you will hear others say this isn’t an open adoption, I consider it a semi-open adoption), meeting at the park for play dates, having the birth family over for holidays or a fun day, phone calls between the birth parent and the child. (I would suggest reading the post I linked to above, as it gives tips on how to know what type of birth parent interaction is best for your family.)

Our daughter, Payton, came to us through foster care. Her bio mom, Susan* was homeless most of the time Payton was in our care. Part of Susan’s parenting plan (set of requirements she had to fulfill before getting custody of Payton) was that she gain safe housing, a job, write a letter to Payton, and show in supervised visits that she could care for Payton. She wasn’t able to complete any of these requirements.

Towards the end of Payton’s time in foster care we sat down with case workers and made a plan for future contact with Payton’s bio family. In her case it included extended family members as well as her birth mom. Because Susan hadn’t been able to stay in one place, the case workers set it up so that we would correspond with Payton’s bio aunt Jana* through the Department. We agreed (as did they) to send letters and pictures twice a year to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and DHS would then forward those to the aunt, Jana, who would share them with the birth mom, Susan. The bio family was also welcome to send gifts to Payton whenever they wanted.

We heard from Payton’s bio family on her first birthday after her adoption. The family included a photo, gift, and card, in which her cousins wrote, “I hope you have toys to play with.” I kinda felt like taking a picture of Payton’s room and sending it to them. Her bio mom had included a short note in the card.

We didn’t hear from them again for three years. Yeah, three years! I had been sending photos and letters (although I’ll admit I would sometimes go a few months off the target date). Then in January of 2013 I got a call from Payton’s post adoption worker, Marge*, who I barely have any contact with. She said another case worker came to her, saying she was Payton’s bio aunt and she had a gift for Payton. WOW!

So, Jana had got a job at DHS working on children’s cases. For those of you who are looking into doing foster care, please don’t let this deter you, this is an extremely odd case.

When Marge called, she was at work and whispering over the phone. It was weird, and I felt very unsettled. Jana knew our names, which had been intentionally kept private through the process and afterwards (hence the reason why correspondence was done through DHS), and knew Marge was our post adoption worker. More unsettling.
what open adoptions look like

A little backstory. When Payton was place in foster care (she was in five homes, including one failed attempt at placing her back with bio mom within her first nine months of life) this bio aunt, Jana, had been contacted and asked if she wanted to take Payton. She declined, she was pregnant and couldn’t do it.

After Payton was in our home for a few months we were notified that Jana wanted custody of Payton. At the time our county had their brain screwed on, and they denied the transfer, saying that Payton was bonding with us and another move wouldn’t be good for her. (Payton had also been tossed around, living in different homes constantly, and dropped off with strangers while with her bio mom.)

Of course Jana wasn’t happy about the decision, and when she showed up, knowing our names, and talking about us at DHS I was shocked, and worried. I was put on edge and looking around every corner, wondering if someone was going to show up and try to take Payton. Unfounded fear, but it was there.

Marge called again from her cell after work and asked if she could bring the present Jana had left with her. I said she could. Marge was floored that Jana knew our names, who she was, and felt it wasn’t right that Jana had approached her the way she did.

Because there was so much trauma prior to Payton coming into foster care and then through the time DHS worked on reunification, we chose not to tell her where the gift came from, nor the cards and pictures. (Her diagnoses are listed below.) It ended up being a good thing we didn’t because there were three years between the correspondence. In the end it would have caused more trauma for Payton if she’d known.

When Marge brought the gifts in January 2013 she said that bio mom had another baby. The baby had just turned one. This just might have something to do with the reason the family was reaching out to Payton. But, I wish it wasn’t only because of the arrival of another baby that has a birthday very close to my daughters.

In those years when we didn’t hear from the bio family, there was some relief for me. When your child has PTSD, what was diagnosed as Reactive Attachment Disorder (you can read about that here), Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and a mood disorder, all because of her former life, it’s scary to keep that door open. At least for us. It was even scarier and upsetting when the door had been closed (their choice) and they opened it again. Lots of emotions circled, and circled that January right before Payton’s birthday (January 31). Not something I wanted to deal with days before my daughter’s fifth birthday.

When I opened the cards from the bio aunt, Jana, I was put at ease a little. The fear about her showing up faded quickly with the words she wrote, it conveyed that she wanted the best for Payton and she knew she was with a good family who cared about her. She gave me her phone number in case I ever had any questions about their family. She was kind. The note from Payton’s birth mom, Susan, was short and nice, telling Payton about her new bio sister.

But, what if Payton had contact with them before? What happens when they drop off into oblivion? How does the hurting child feel? Those memories of neglect come back. Those feelings of not being important come roaring in.

This year I was certain we would receive another gift and card from them. We didn’t. It’s now May, and it’s been sixteen months since we’ve heard from Payton’s bio family.

My husband happened to run into Payton’s birth mom, Susan, at the grocery store last week as I was working on these posts about birth families. It’s the first time we’ve seen her outside of DHS in 2009. She now lives in our area, and had her daughter with her. Susan called out to Justin in the store, and they chatted. I was concerned about how her and her daughter were doing, but Justin said both looked good. I’m really glad.

Each adoptive family makes their own choices as to what the openness will look like. Your open adoption may not look like your friends and that’s okay. Ours is a story of how there can be ups and downs in open adoption, but that you always need to take into consideration your child and your family.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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birth family relationships (adoption/foster)

birth family relationships
My cousin, Dawn*, and I were teenagers when we sat on her living room floor flipping through a photo album. On the first page my Aunt Deidre* was pictured with a big smile, holding a precious baby with an adorable beauty mark on her forehead.

That day, Dawn shared with me that her mom had offered to give her birth mom’s information to her when she turned eighteen. My Aunt had told Dawn she could contact her if she wanted.

Like most families with adopted kids, I never saw Dawn as being adopted, although I knew she was, it never stuck out in my mind. So, when she brought this up I was a little surprised, and many questions surfaced in my mind about how her mom must feel, about how difficult it would be to say, “Here’s your birth mom’s name, if you’d like to contact her.”

Then Dawn expressed that she didn’t want to search out her birth mom. She said she didn’t need to talk to her or go looking for her because, as she said,

“My parents are right here.”

Dawn is now in her early thirties, and her love for her adoptive mom shines. She still has not searched out her birth mother, and doesn’t have the desire to.

I share this because these aren’t the stories that are circulated, the ones we hear about are those who go searching for their birth parents because they feel a void in their life, they feel there are unanswered questions, they don’t feel their life is complete. It’s great to hear those stories, but we miss out on the ones where adoptees are content and don’t feel the need to have a close relationship with their birth mom.

I came across another similar story last year. Justin and I shared our foster/adoption story at church for National Adoption Awareness Month and afterwards we welcomed any questions. I met Jessica* and later talked at length with her on the phone. She was adopted and is considering adopting.

Jessica asked questions and told me about her search for her bio mom, only because she wanted medical information. After traveling across states, trying to get records which are sealed, and hiring lawyers, she has yet to get access to her birth family information.

As we talked she came to a realization that hadn’t hit her until that moment on the phone, which was how much her adoptive mom went through emotionally. She said, “My mom is very sensitive, and I never realized until now how hard so much of this has been for her.” Jessica was referring to the beginning stages of her parents adopting her, to the pain her mother must have felt when Jessica expressed she want to look for her birth mother, even if the only reason was for medical purposes.

She cried and she told me over and over how close her and her mother are, how much she loves her, and how much our conversation showed her the sacrifices her adoptive mother had made. It wasn’t my goal in the conversation at all, but it’s what she saw, and really seemed to be what she needed.

Her love for her mom was enviable in a way, just as my cousins love for my Aunt Deidre.

I think both of these stories show that not everyone has a deep desire to be connected to their birth mom. If someones does, it’s perfectly fine, but those are the majority of stories we hear. Jessica’s and Dawn’s aren’t talked about, and it seems it’s becoming taboo to do so. Their stories are beautiful to me because I see deep love and a bond that doesn’t need replaced nor added to. It’s enough for these two women. We don’t hear these stories in the adoption community.
5 factors to consider in open adoption

I struggled for months about writing on this topic. I’ve seen open adoptions worked out in many ways. Some are extremely involved, with the kids spending the night with birth parents, and birth parents visiting for holidays and weekends. Some families allow the kids to talk to their birth parents on the phone, some meet at parks.

When considering what an open or semi-open adoption will look like, consideration must be made for how the child came to adoption, for it happens through many different avenues. Infants are adopted domestically, children are adopted from Russia where they may have been homeless for a time, starved, or abused. Foster children in the US have either been neglected, abandoned, or abused by their bio parents. Each situation need to be weighed individually to assess what involvement the child can handle with their biological parent.

I’ve seen families involve bio parents in their lives with weekly phone calls and monthly visits with the parent who abused the child. I don’t think enough consideration is given to the child when involving bio parents in these situations. I believe so much more harm is done and healing is halted when a child is confused as to where their loyalty lies. Likewise, sometimes children and teens can’t figure out a relationship where their bio parent abused them and yet they’re in constant contact with that parent.

Parents will complain about their child’s behaviors, wetting the bed, sneaking food, aggressive behaviors at school, manipulation, and yet they don’t look at the relationship the child has with their birth parent. These behaviors can definitely exist in hurting kids who don’t have a birth parents constant presence, but if adoptive parents don’t give the child time to heal and put the child first, they are fighting an uphill battle.

So much emphasis has been placed on the birth parents today that I feel strongly that children’s needs and desires aren’t being met.

We have a semi-open adoption with our daughter, Payton’s, bio mom and Aunt, and I’m glad for the way we’ve handled it. If it would’ve been done differently, Payton would’ve been damaged even more emotionally, and she already had a hard enough time as it was. Next week I will share what our semi-open adoption looks like.

Each family involvement with birth families will look different, and in all cases, there needs to be balance. Involvement with birth families will also look different depending on your child’s chronological and developmental age. What is your child saying to you (verbally and through actions) they want?

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more helpful information and links.

baby pics and family trees (adoption/foster)

Cute baby pictures and family trees: two conundrums out of many that can arise in school. What to do… A fellow adoptive parent received the request to submit a photo of her child for the eighth grade yearbook, and here’s her response, which she shared on the Forever-Families Facebook page:

Dear Mr. Principal,

Ah yes, the dreaded baby photo assignment. This is the earliest picture I have of DD (adopted daughter).

<weblink to picture of daughter in children’s home>

Most of her baby teeth were rotten. Her hair was wispy like a person who is undergoing cancer treatment. She is dressed in multiple layers of clothing because she had no body fat to keep her warm. She was Negative 15 percent for weight and Negative 5 percent for height. Somehow, I don’t think she would want to share this picture with peers despite that beautiful sparkle in her eyes. She is 5 years old.

We parents of children adopted older are all to aware of this assignment and related ones (family tree). We call it the “dreaded assignment”.

I’ve included some information below about the subject and highlighted a passage that applies  

“The problem with all of these types of assignments is that there are many children who simply cannot complete them, for any number of reasons, not just adopted kids without baby pictures, as is our situation. Kids in foster care, kids with parents in crisis, kids whose families can’t afford to take pictures, etc. all may be unable to provide pictures… “



In these links above there are suggestions to use instead of “baby pictures”.

But there will be no picture from DD for this 8th grade yearbook nor for younger brother’s next year.

Best Regards,


She received a kind response from the principal:

Thank you Elaine,

I will share this information with the folks who handle the yearbook. I believe that this is the first year they have done this in a long time. Perhaps we now know why.


I don’t believe we should blame teachers or schools for doing these projects, after all the majority of society isn’t adopted. However, I do believe teachers need to be aware of the students in their classrooms and make alternatives for these assignments so all children can participate without being reminded that they have a different beginning. Having open communication with teachers is essential in helping them understand your perspective, and remember they may not be familiar with adoption and this is why these assignments and projects don’t take adoption or foster care into consideration.

In the case of a family tree, parents have chosen to include both the adoptive family and the birth family. You can see examples of this in the links below. I have considered what I will do if my children are asked to create a family tree. (Please note, this is only my opinion for my family and our experience.) My children will create a family tree with our family being their “tree.” We come to this with a different perspective, we adopted from foster care, we haven’t been in close contact with our children’s biological family, so this works for us. We aren’t lying to our children, but we are their tree. It’s not a “blood related” tree, but it’s their tree.

Here are some other ideas to replace the traditional Family Tree:

Have you experienced these assignments with your foster or adopted children? How did you handle it? I’m sure others would love to get ideas, so please share.

If you have a friend or family member who is fostering or has adopted, please feel free to share. You can receive updates by subscribing in the upper right side of this website. Also, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook to get more links to helpful information.

the lies our children believe (adoption/foster)


It’s difficult to see through the anger, the hate, the attitudes. If our children have created coping mechanisms, it can be almost impossible to see through the smiles, the laughing, and the efforts they make to see us happy. What can’t we see through all of this? The lies our children believe; lies about themselves, the world, and others.

The experiences our children had before they came to us taught them that they are unloveable, unworthy, that they can’t do anything right. They learned that the world is a scary place, that they’d have to protect themselves because no one else would. They learned that adults aren’t trustworthy.

This makes it difficult when they come into our home because these lies that are circulating in their head don’t go away. There are no magic words to fix what they believe. (You can see here what I wrote about how we consistently tell our children truths: you’re beautiful, you’re smart, I love you, but it’s our actions that will make the most difference in the end.) Eventually our kids will see that we care about them and we’re dedicated to them, but it’s not a quick and easy fix. Why? Because these core beliefs have become a foundation for them.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who has cared for some hurting teens. She said that every time she told one of the girls, “I love you,” the girl would become very angry. The girl became angry because she hadn’t been loved by anyone. Sometimes parents think that if they just show the child love (as in affection and caring for them) the child will accept what the parent gives, and that doesn’t happen with many hurting kids.

The birth mother who was supposed to love this girl didn’t, or had no idea how to show it, and this young woman believed she was unloveable because of it. Because my friend was the next mother figure to enter this girls life, she was blamed. This girl probably thought, “How could anybody love me?! I’m unloveable! I don’t even like myself!” (You can read more about how and why hurting children blame their foster/adoptive mom HERE.)

Even those of us who haven’t experienced neglect, abuse, and trauma have lies we believe about ourselves, the world, and others. Can you imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself) if your foundational views of love and acceptance were rocked and broken at the core? How long would it take for someones love to change how you feel about yourself? Would it be easy to transform those thoughts?

There is absolutely hope for our children to accept our love, there is hope that they will feel better about themselves, but it’s important that we see how they view life. They don’t enter our home and put on a new pair of glasses and see the world through our eyes, it will take time and consistency on our part. Show your children you accept them no matter what they do, no matter what they say. Don’t avoid them and instill what they already believe about themselves, that they are unworthy. See their pain and work through it with them. (This doesn’t mean we don’t have consequences for behaviors, but it does mean that we have empathy for them.)

What lies do your children believe about themselves? How can you help them see the truth of who they are?