Recently, I have been in conversation with wise, kind, adoptive moms about the reality of raising kids with histories based in trauma.
There is so much hurt associated with it.
Theirs and ours.
A few of these women expressed that no one in the adoption community ever voiced just how hard this journey can be. How much discord broken children can bring into family dynamics.
And I realized, I might have done a disservice to fellow adoptive moms. I share my daily struggles with my closest friends, but I am not so quick to share with the public-at-large. I think before these new, raw conversations, I would have said I was protecting the privacy of the kids or that I didn’t want to sound like I was complaining.
But as I examined my true motivations, I think I was protecting myself from judgement. Or worried that I would scare people away. Or make people think we are sorry about our adoptions, which we are NOT. Not even a little bit.
So what actually happens after kids move in?
Some children have a “honeymoon” period. I wish we did. We did not. We skipped that step. I know others have been so fortunate.
We went straight into a whole lot of turmoil. I wanted to have those gushy-fuzzy-warm feelings when we adopted. But, I really did not. Part of it may be I am not a mushy, squishy kind of person. And part of it is that adoption is hard.
Every single adoption involves the destruction of a family, that is the reality.
Adoption is born of brokenness.
And I missed this truth, especially when we adopted older children.
I think I wanted them to move in, be happy, and realize that their life had improved.
And that didn’t happen. Far from it.
They moved in, furious, raging, snarling, weeping, stealing, lying…
One of them really, super, hated my guts. I know this because he would write on his school papers (while refusing to do his assignments): Dear fake mom, I hate you.
Not one single adoption has EVER, EVER, EVER turned out how I planned it in my mind.
Every adoption, I try not to maintain ideas about what it should and should not be like. Because I am always wrong. Without fail…utterly, horribly wrong.
And I grieve the loss of what I thought it should have or could have been.
Not one single child has been adopted into our family untouched by prior tragedy.
At some point the kids in our house started talking, and what I would hear crushed my spirit
When are you going to smoke weed?
I get THREE meals a day??!! YEEESSS!!!!
Are you going to kick me out now?
Don’t forget, you aren’t allowed to kill me, my caseworker said so.
My grandpa used to hit me with a belt. That buckle really hurt.
Sometimes it was the things they didn’t say. It was the blank, vacant stares. The way they startled when I would move too fast. The tears over spilled drinks. The food hoarding. The money stealing. It was hiding when they thought they would be in trouble. It was ducking down in the car and crying when they saw a police car next to our vehicle. The scars. Emotional. Physical.
And oh, how I grieve the injustice of it all.
For their losses. Their tragedies. Their learned, misplaced trust. For the loss of what I thought was normal. I grieved because I wanted a perfect rise-from-the-ashes story.
I wanted from death to life. Defeat to victory.
But, the truth is that my children may not ever completely escape their past.
Chances are it will affect them. Always.
And I grieve. Again.
The behavior alone was crippling for a couple of years. We did almost nothing outside of our home. We spent the majority of our time managing behavior. Adjusting consequences. Enforcing consequences. Counseling. Psychiatrists. Doctors of all kinds. Readjusting according to specialists’ recommendations. Readjusting again when specialists’ recommendations didn’t work.
In those years, the behavior could be debilitating at worst. Annoying at best. We just kept praying and plugging away. Chipping away at harmful behaviors. Reinforcing appropriate behaviors. It was exhausting. I was sure we were housing future criminals and it would never get better. But it did.
What do these kids need?
My children desperately need consistency. Never wavering, totally inconvenient consistency.
They also need me to be calm. Which I am working on. Sometimes I panic a bit when a child (with zero filter) announces to strangers in the store: I was in foster care. My mom likes drugs and I know lots of curse words, but my new mom says I can’t say them, so I try to remember. But sometimes I forget. I am never sure if the response should be, “Oh, what a kidder…heh heh” (weak smile). Or tell the kid to zip it. Or just walk quickly away pretending I heard nothing.
They need stability. Never-give-up attitude. Swift forgiveness. Time to heal. Grace during setbacks, there WILL be setbacks. Fun. Discipline. Direction. They need every good and noble attribute you can bring to the adoption table.
What I have found is that they need everything I have to offer. And when all I have is consumed, they still need more. And that wholly devastates me. Because my mothering may never be enough. And I have to be accepting of that possibility.
Aspiring Adoptive Families. Let’s Talk.
I tell you all of this not to deter you. But to give you a realistic idea of what may happen when you get into real life with a new child that has lost everything. Because while you may be excited and happy and thrilled with a new child, the new child comes in lost. broken. hurt. traumatized.
And it is so easy to fall into the trap of being angry and resentful when your child doesn’t fit the mold you set forth for him or her. And I promise you, newly adopted children never fit in quite the way our assumptions dictate.
The chaos made me doubt my capabilities.
I doubted the goodness of the world. The goodness of God.
I doubted that I would be able to raise functional children.
I still doubt frequently. And I think that is okay.
What is not okay is to fixate on the injustices dealt to us, the parents, by these children.
Because life is not fair, we have already learned that lesson.
It is not okay to become bitter. To become unforgiving.
It is not okay to constantly give in to doubt...instead of clinging to hope.
Because there is always hope…There is always hope.
Hope for healing. For new beginnings. For laughter and attachment.
Hope is what will keep you going.
When your resources are gone.
When you are so tired you decide 1PM would be a superb bedtime.
When the child you prayed for WILL NOT STOP SCREAMING.
When your teenager runs away.
When doubt eats away at what is true.