A few days ago I was really discouraged to read an article that was posted during National Adoption Month that talked about a dark side of the adoption process that most people don’t realize is as prevalent as it is. The article told the story of a family who “gave back” or “gave up” their adopted child. The correct term for this is dissolving an adoption, or disruption if it happens before the adoption is finalized, but I couldn’t find either mentioned anywhere. The behaviors described in the article were very typical of any child who has been through a trauma. My heart cracked in half and tears flowed out of my eyes as I read comment after comment commending the family for making the right decision to “give up” and saying that we shouldn’t judge unless we have walked in her shoes and that anyone would have done the same thing. My heart is torn today because I don’t want to judge other families, and maybe God really did have a better plan for this little boy, but this issue is so, so dear to me that I feel I have a responsibility to speak. Especially because it is November.
You see, I actually have been in those shoes. I still wear them, seven years later. The difference is that I will never take them off.
I do know what it is like to be frightened and know that you need to separate one child from the others because he might be dangerous to himself or someone else right now. I know how to restrain my child so that his hands and legs are bound and he can’t hurt himself or his sisters and my head is tilted with my chin in his neck so that his flailing head doesn’t smack me. I know the difference between times outs and time-in and we have been to the attachment specialist and read all the books. I know who the best therapists in our county are, and I know who takes our insurance. I know what it is like to be on the phone with the school guidance counselor, considering whether you need to seek emergency psychiatric treatment for a minor.
There are holes in my son’s bedroom wall at this moment from tantrums had. There was broken glass on the floor last week from a picture frame thrown. Our iPad doesn’t work because it was smashed against the foosball table in a moment of rage because Siri doesn’t always understand the dialect of an 8-year-old. Those behaviors are all very typical for children who have been through trauma.
I read the story of J and I thought of W, the teenage boy in Tampa who was responsible for my husband’s heart change and convincing him that he wanted to adopt. W had been in an adoptive family for ten years before that family decided to dissolve his adoption. Ten years, and then they sent him back to foster care. We heard him speak in one of our parenting classes and literally beg us not to do that to our child. Ever. No excuses. And I won’t. Even though we have all the excuses.
Truth be told, it is just never an option for me. It is not on the table. But I know that not everyone thinks the same way I do because Child Welfare.gov says that up to 25% of all adoptions may end in disruption. Up to one out of four, thinking they have found forever, only to have it pulled away. All of our social workers did everything they could to try to avoid it. They warned us about all of these behaviors in advance and trained us well, but sometimes it still happens. The reasons vary, and those stories, they are not mine to tell. I know that not everyone has the same supportive husband that I do or a mother with a Ph.D. in counseling who is willing to move into the house. Sometimes we get stronger when we are in the midst of trials, and sometimes we break. We don’t know who we will be until we are there.
The thing about adoption that everybody tries to tell you but you really have to learn for yourself is, you have to be strong. It might not look pretty all the time, especially if you adopt an older child. It will not be like you imagined. You will get hurt, there is no “if.” Emotionally, for sure, and maybe occasionally physically. But it will also be worth it. And, if I can be completely truthful for a just minute, it was never really about you anyway. These children are not sociopaths, they are just angry. And, honestly, they have every right to be. They will break things. But those things? They are just things. And these children? They are just children. And they are ours now. Yes, the hard days are there, sometimes more often than not, but so are the good ones. They are there too. Our kids are silly and playful and they love Star Wars and fishing and turning the front yard into a miniature golf course.
I stood in a courtroom and I swore an oath to treat my son exactly as I would if I had carried him in my womb and that is what I will do. Forever. There is a birth certificate in a fireproof safe with his name on it and mine that looks just the same as the ones I have for my biological daughters. He is ours. Warts and all. And we are his.
The last time my son threw a tantrum, he broke a framed picture that was on his desk. That one hurt me more than the expensive iPad did because it was the picture from the first day we met him that he shattered. I sat on his bedroom floor and I cried while I was picking up the pieces. It is always my job to pick up the pieces.
I thought of my grandmother and the time that my little sister broke her antique crystal candy dish. It was a family heirloom that had been brought over from Germany, and one of the only things that my grandmother had left that belonged to her family, who had all passed on by then. I thought my sister would get in trouble. I thought my grandmother might cry. Instead, she just calmly picked up the pieces and threw them away. Later I asked my grandmother if she was sad and she looked at me, confused.
“Honey, it’s just a candy dish. Your sister is a child.”
I find my strength to stay in the women who came before me, who knew that children, even at their worst, are more precious than antique European crystal. I remember the teenagers who begged me to stay because their parents didn’t. I think of my students who were in foster care and the stories they shared with their eyes cast down. I tell myself that I am proving to my son that I will be here, forever, no matter what he does to push me away. He may be strong-willed, but I am stronger. I lean on my husband, who it would be impossible to do this without. And we pray. We pray that God will use our son and his story and the difficult times in our lives to touch other people for His glory. I realize that none of my children, the one who is adopted or the ones who are biological, actually belong to me. I am only shepherding them. But I was the one chosen for this job, and I will see it through, no matter how hard it gets.
I don’t think I could do it any other way.
So, how do you stay even when one of “those” kids get to be especially difficult?
You remind yourself of all the reasons that you are the lucky one because you get to be their mom.
If you’re struggling with bonding with your adopted child or dealing with difficult behaviors due to trauma and special needs, I wrote a post about our visit with an attachment specialist and what to expect in your first appointment.