When you choose to adopt a child your first thought is not “I am bringing a neglected and traumatized person into my home.” After all we adoptive parents are trying to make a family or add to a family. We are doing something good for the child and for us. The key word here is family. We want these kids to come in our lives and we want them to live happily ever after. We bring them home to be part of our unit and we don’t expect anything can go terribly wrong . We are told – or should have been- of all the risks of adopting these traumatized children. We read the articles on RAD( reactive attachment disorder) , ADHD , spectrum issues, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – on and on. Yet why would we ever think they would be part of our child that we lovingly bring home to our family? We didn’t. We rationalized that our child was coming home too young to have issues. Or we could fix them if they had anything come up.
Not all adopted kids end up with severe issues. We have three children who came to us through adoption. All three are very different but two are related by birth mother and were under five when they came home but they weren’t babies. Those two experienced more trauma and neglect than my first child who came to us as a baby. They have had trauma related issues as a result. Ozzy shows the most issues of the three. We cannot ignore the fact that adoption is traumatic. Things the child faces before we get them and then finding themselves in a strange new family -many never had one- and those who had one may miss the ones they had or may have suffered in the hands of that family- can you imagine how this effects a child? Can you imagine being plopped down into a family- but to you they are strangers and you may not even speak their language? We also can’t forget the neglect, the abandonment, the possible exposure to drugs and alcohol as a fetus – any of them can effect an adopted child. Sometimes adoptive parents find they have a child that never responds in love to them. The parent might have tried everything they know but the child cannot respond in kind- but the parents persist and try and love them anyway. It can hurt – but its what we do.
I have written before that I wish I had been more prepared for mothering these kids when they came home. I had done fine with”L” our child we adopted at eight months, I had no reason to think I would have issues with the next two we adopted. I was in for a shock. I learned early on what trauma and neglect can bring and early on I also realized that we needed help. So we began seeing a therapist to help us navigate the journey of parenting broken children. We added a psychiatrist when Ozzy was only 5. It took me years to know I was doing the best I could. I felt inadequate and guilty for not clicking with Ozzy. I made mistakes along the way and still do but I know now that I didn’t make Ozzy have these problems he has now. His issues came with him and all we can do is try to help him and love him. It’s not always pretty but we try.
This has been one of the biggest challenges of my life- parenting this child. I sometimes feel that I can barely hang on. My husband and I become mentally exhausted trying to get him help- in school, in therapy, with the psychiatrists. Some days it is phone call after phone call topped by email after email. Then its dealing with the behaviors at home and knowing how to properly respond to each issue. We didn’t think we would be dealing with this. It is hard at some moments- but he is our child and even if we don’t like him sometimes- we definitely love him. Yes we do love him and want what we all want for our kids- for him to have a happy life, one where he can support himself ,have a family- have love. So we dig and fight trying to get that for him- sometimes we may want it more than he wants it for himself. Its what we do as parents- not for any pats on the back but for the ability for our kid to be able to have a life. Will he? I don’t know. I think so- he has huge gifts. I pray for him all the time.
I think that it’s important that people understand that many behavior modification tactics that work on bio kids don’t work for adopted kids. Our kids often have no cause and effect understanding, if they are detached they don’t have the need to please their parent. You can’t impose the same consequences or rewards on these kids. They just don’t respond to these things the way kids who are attached and who were properly nurtured since birth will respond. We know this because we have tried them many of them.
Parenting these kids can be exhausting. So many of us stay quiet about what’s happening inside our family. If it is shared or becomes apparent there can be issues. Friends and even extended family sometimes pull away out of fear for their own kids safety or bc they feel discomfort of watching the issues of the child and the reactions of the parents as they try to gain some control over the uncontrollable. Who would understand why a family would have all their kitchen cupboards locked and every bedroom is locked and the parents carry their kitchen knives and any other sharp instrument to work in their car in a Tupperware container, or that there is an in/house surveillance system installed to monitor the child’s movements at night to ensure the safety of the child and the safety of the rest of the family? Who would understand that theses parents know all the local cops by name and are called regularly? Who would understand when a child repeatedly threatens to kill himself and others, rages at their family members one minute and the next is acting like nothing happened? It’s scary and off putting and when you are on the outside its ever so easy to judge – so easy to pull away. Sadly when you are parenting the hurt child you can relate to all of these things when you hear about them. I know I can. We have not dealt with all the things I have mentioned but I can understand them all.
When you are on the outside its so easy to think you could fix this child and you might feel that clearly the family has no clue how to parent at all. It’s easy to play backseat parent. “if I was them I would do this or that…” And I don’t blame people who aren’t parenting these kids for thinking we are doing it all wrong – and on the outside it might look like that. But I think in order to better understand what these parents of the hurt and neglected and traumatized kids are dealing with it would be good to read a bit about it. I’ve posted some links below that might be of help to the ones on the outside. And if you are parenting one if these kids and feel at a loss or guilty or confused read them too. You will at least understand how some of these kids end up with huge issues.You will know you are not alone.
Sadly living with this in your family often isolates the family from others. It can pit grandparents and uncles and aunts against the traumatized family. Oh yes – I did say traumatized family- when you parent these traumatized kids the entire family unit becomes traumatized. Sometimes the hurt kids pull family apart by using their keen skills of manipulation. These families don’t need to be abandoned. The thing they need the most -love and understanding (and maybe a little respite care) – is usually the last thing that is offered to them.
I am thankful to have found a support group that has made me feel not so alone in the struggles we have with our son. I know for a fact I am not alone and for that I’m grateful. I’m thankful for my support group where I can talk about the issues in a safe and caring place. I’m thankful that I can get information from those that have been down the same road. Navigating the mental health system for adolescents is daunting. Understanding legal ramifications is also overwhelming. I’m glad I have a group whose hand I can hold. Many people don’t have this much.
Adoption begins out of a person(s) wanting to love another. Not one person that I know who has adopted ever thought they would be the person they are with their hurt kid. We see the worst of ourselves sometimes but I can tell you we also see the best. We are resilient and though some may think we are evil and mean bc we have to lock down our home or not let our kids have a phone or laptop -we are not evil – we do this bc we love. We love even when we are hated and hit and spit on. We love even if we have to let our child go to residential treatment, or even to another home. We get burnt out and mad and even hateful sometimes but we chose all this because of love. Sometimes it ends up just being too much for the parents and for the child. Sometimes it ends up ok. But we want you to understand a little more about what we deal with and how this happens and what the kids have to deal with in their hurt lives. We don’t want you to turn your backs or abandon us. If my kid had cancer you would rally around me because you understand that. So if you have a friend with an adopted child that is having a hard time- read some of the links I provided below. It might make a difference.
**Authors note- this is not an article to suggest that adoption is a bad thing. Adoption is a wonderful thing. This is how we chose to make our family and I believe God brought us together.. My family is wonderful. I love all my kids with all my heart. If asked, I would be honest about being very aware of issues that can come up with adoption. This is an article written to provide more understanding of the trauma that adopted children have and the issues that can occur. This is meant to help people who are not dealing with these challenging kids to understand where their issues stem from. it is written to help people come together not drive them apart. It takes a village to raise a child and in some cases it takes a city. If you know a family who is struggling be part of the city.
Thanks for reading…
Article by an adoptee:
Articles about early childhood trauma:
For All of us: