If you haven’t checked out Reddit’s Adoption community, it’s time. Here’s an example of the amazing support you’ll find in the adoption sub. This post, written by a parent who’d like to be anonymous, is in response to a heartfelt plea from another adoptive parent. I’m telling you…go: Reddit.com/r/adoption
As an adoptive parent, I feel for you and appreciate that this is incredibly hard. And hard in ways that are triggering. And hard in ways that are deeply despairing.
We fostered a 9 year old with the intention of adoption and finalized last year (2 years later). He had been through a lot – the adults around him have consistently failed him. Instability, violence, abandonment, inconsistent schooling, serious felony activity.
Our first months were actually very harmonious. As we built trust, it got very intense. Defiant. Screaming. Running out of the house. School refusal.
This is where I get you. Holy crap this is the hardest thing I’d ever seen or done. I’ve never been good at self-care, had some of my own unprocessed issues, and could not get a hold on how to help him. I was depressed and desperate. But a few things helped.
My suggestion is that you immediately need to embrace two thoughts.
- It is harder for her. Majorly. Exponentially. Crisis level. Imagine going through what you are now with fewer words available, less brain function, less history of what success looks like, no ability to reach out, no one to talk to who knows you well, little understanding of self, no books to read, nothing. Navigating all this. It’s major. It’s bigger than those of us who were not adopted can possibly understand. I’m not saying you don’t know this, but it’s gotta find a way in.
- Your self care now has a major goal. It’s for all of you. And it’s tough. It may be the hardest thing you ever do, but you all need this.
1. Am I mentally healthy enough to make this child a major priority – right where she is at?
2. Are my therapeutic interventions working? Are they focused on getting me and our family to a healthier place?
3. Can I get the help I need to get regulated and strategic enough in my response to create health?
4. What environment do I thrive best in? (Assume that is one that is relaxed, trusting, comfortable, where you can let loose and be real.)
5. Can I create that for her too?
The system really blindsided you in a sense. That is awful and they need a course correction, but the good news is there is a lot of information out there that will clarify what these kids go through. It’s always been there. You just have to go get it. Like now.
Please seek out adoption-competent and trauma-responsive therapy if that’s not who you are already seeing.
It may truly be that you need to let her go, but get a heck of a lot of adoption-competent and trauma-responsive help. Be an open book with therapists, tell them exactly what is happening – especially the hard stuff, even when you lost your $%&.
Her actions are absolutely to be expected.
I hear that you were surprised and unprepared. And I feel that big time. But this is heads up textbook for what she’s faced/facing.
She isn’t going to be able to verbalize it for a long time. But it has to come out somehow. All that sadness, and shame (misdirected of course). All that anger from being separated and disconnected from what she knew. The lack of control. The mystery and being rudderless.
She is using her body and voice to shout I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE VERY MAD. I DON’T KNOW YOU. I’M IN PAIN.
It will not be logical or linear. Not her job. Not possible.
Our therapist early on told us our only job was “to be a soft place to land.”
This was a major shift for us. We are all told parents must be tough, disciplinarians, correct every off behavior, teach respect. I believed all of that. And it’s not without some merit, but so much is overridden here.
We decided we had to lead with “soft” and “soft place.” When we deviate from that, things get worse.
It was a slow start.
And we did that through self-care, tons of reading, getting our triggers 30% more in check, and remembering we were not parenting a typical child in most ways.
He is developmentally much younger. It sounds like she is, too.
Regarding consequences: she’s too young and too traumatized to learn that way. They (counselors) need to be helping you find other methods. She has not had agency. Things won’t land the same way.
I’d also do a lot of reading around auditory processing and trauma. Can she understand the countdowns you mention?
Are they working?
If they aren’t working, ya gotta pivot.
The pivoting is exhausting, but worth it. And some months, we suck at it. But now about 2 years in, we’ve learned several things:
-Isolation makes it worse; we only walk away to calm down or self-care and then we must come back. Time outs = no.
-Telling him he can’t go somewhere doesn’t work at all. He’s used to disappointment, punishment, disconnect. Not a help.
The pivot is almost always to getting to the calmest place possible.
Not reacting with intensity.
No raised voices.
No shaming (read everything you can on shame and consequences).
-Rigid thinking is a brain thing. Inability to self-regulate is developmentally appropriate and staying inconsolable, intense, etc. is both the reality of small kids, and also connected to trauma. Had to learn this over and over and over again.
This goes doubly for kids who have been exposed to drugs in utero and have had brain issues.
-Remembering it’s about him. It sounds weird, but remembering it is about him, his process, his need for love and trust where there had not been any, his growth, his stability shifted things for me. I have to be the adult. The one who either gets my !@#@ in check or finds another responsible adult to be regulated.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have and sometime have a lot of challenging thoughts and fears. I still screw up, and I still need to focus on me, but it’s freed me to get myself on my own track of learning how to parent a child who has been through adult-created hell and to have him on his own track of building ease and comfort and trust.
-Respite. I had to find ways to take breaks. Sometimes a parent handoff to my spouse, sometimes calling a friend, sometimes just breathing while he is watching a movie or at school.
-Read. I’m a moderately regular reader, but now read pretty much constantly. The information we need was not given to us. The books on trauma and care of kids whose adults have failed them weren’t relatable until I was deep in. Now they are a godsend.
And read everything you can by adoptees. The happy, the angry, the bitter. These voices may not be speaking directly from her experience, but over and over again, I get insight into his behavior and needs from listening to folks who have been there.
This is the big secret in the process that agencies still don’t get.
Adoptees who are sharing what life has been like for them are peerless as our educators.
Shifting our focus to read books by adoption therapists and adoptees has been essential. And focusing our reading on trauma and child development.
This is one of the very best.
Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues.
There is a website called Land of Gazillion Adoptees. No, they are not writing for us, but their words and resources, to me are part of trying to understand what his voice might say were he not his age and still with so much fresh pain and challenge. Love me through it. Respect my story. My privacy matters. I’m not magically healed because I have a new pillow and home. It has to be ok for me to feel rage. (Please pardon the putting words in mouths of others – but these are what I have heard that have shifted how I parent).
I just want to say that walking away if you know you are going to have to fake a robust investment in her health, if you can’t parent this child, may be quite humane.
She needs adults who want to get on track ASAP and who can work on it literally every day. And it’s undeniably exhausting.
I wish you peace and for her, so much comfort and safety and health.