You may already be familiar with Reddit. Have an interest? Reddit probably has a running discussion; it’s a treasure trove.
(Careful…it can be addicting. Hilarious kitty pics are hard to ignore.)
If you have Adoption connections, I’d like to recommend that you join the Adoption group* (sub).
If you’re part of the Adoption Triad (an individual who was adopted/fostered, an adoptive/foster parent or a biological parent) or if you’re considering fostering or adoption, it’s a great place to hang out.
Many members who were formerly adopted or in foster care provide excellent advice for adoptive/foster parents with honest questions. I won’t list user names because there are too many (and I’ll end up accidentally leave someone out), but believe me, if you have a concern, someone can help. It’s also a great place to talk with other parents in similar situations.
*I feel as though the sub has gotten a bad rap recently; if you get a negative response in one (or more) of the comments, just ignore it. Most of the time, individuals posting negative views are dropping in to stir the pot (you can click the user name to see their post history). Most of the truly active members are incredibly helpful and truly care about making life better for our kiddos.
Also, keep in mind that negative comments often source from a well of deep grief and loss, so if someone’s acting like a jerk, they are probably hurting.
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.
If you’re part of an adoptive family (or know one), I highly recommend checking out https://www.reddit.com/r/Adoption. The community has almost 4500 members (birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted children are all welcomed).
This is a recent interaction I had with one of the members. If you have experience with RAD, please chime in!
How long did it take to bond with your child before she started to really see you as parents? What are your current struggles?
I’ll be honest; if we had to do it all over again, I would ONLY do it if we were guaranteed to end up where we are today with these two kids. We went through hell on earth the first two years, and year three wasn’t much better. If/when we do it again, we will probably open our home to teenagers at risk of aging out of the system who truly want a family. That will likely happen after these two are grown, but we’ll see.
The last two years, we’ve seen steady progress in both kids; our son has PTSD, high levels of anxiety and may be on the autism spectrum (think Asperger’s, even though that’s not technically a diagnosis anymore). Our daughter has RAD and has been a tough nut but we’re seeing a few cracks.
We’ve had them almost 5 years; our three-year adoption anniversary is this month. We saw glimmers of hope throughout the last year; I’d say she’s 80% “with us” at this point. Prior to that, she was very angry at their bio mom (they’re siblings) and took a lot of that out on me.
If you and your wife are each other’s best friend and can work together as a united front, it’s possible you can beat RAD. It’s difficult to separate RAD from the child; you have to remember that the real enemy is the illness. If you can rescue a child from RAD, it’s a beautiful thing. We’re starting to see it.
On the other hand, RAD is tough; getting a diagnosis can be very difficult (we went through several counselors who had no RAD experience and accepted her “angel” act). Her goal (stated verbally) was for everyone to see her as “sweet.” We finally found a play therapist and an in-home counselor who both recognized the situation and gave us great support. Good counselors are necessary and a support system is key, as well.
She actually called us Mama and Daddy within a very short time, which we thought was a good thing. Looking back, we realize she made superficial attachments very quickly, but real attachment didn’t come for years. A few weeks after arrival, she shouted at me, “You don’t know me, and you WON’T know me, because I won’t LET you know me!” She spent a long time keeping that promise.
We still have some struggles with her inability to allow me to be close to her (she does better with Hubby), but I think our greatest struggle is preventing her from hurting herself or doing anything possible for attention. She will tank her grades, trip and fall, make her whole class wait for her, wear dirty clothes, create a rats nest of her hair, walk into furniture…there’s a whole list. I have serious concerns about her teen years, when she realizes other ways to get attention.
Every single day is a challenge. Sometimes I envy parents who have “easy” kids, but then again, they don’t get to have days like today. They don’t get the honor and joy of the amazing summit experiences. Someone said nothing worth having is easy…and I believe it. I would go through the last five years again just for the last 48 hours.
(I wrote this one today, if you’re interested. https://hypervigilant.org/2016/05/08/happiest-mothers-day/ ) You can also find stories about our family in other posts. I started the blog specifically for other families starting the process, because we had very few resources. I wanted to make the blog a place for individuals to find hope and know they’re not alone.
You’re not alone. You can save a life (or maybe more than one). It will NOT be easy. But it will be worth it.
Join the conversation on Reddit!
My guest author for the day, who would like to remain anonymous, is a friend from Reddit. His comment in our discussion about adopted children reuniting with birth families caught my attention, so I asked permission to repost.
The author as a child, with his adoptive mother. Photo credit is his.
I added the bold below; what are your thoughts on this perspective?
I think your description of the adoptive mother’s commitment and how you would find it complicated for a birth mom to get emotional traction with your child is an important insight for adoptees who are on the hunt for bio connections.
In my case, I was always curious, but in the end I waited many years for my Mom to pass. Then I waited ten more years to make sure my feelings for her would not be damaged, and even then, my children were concerned to not have their grandmother leave their affections.
I think the youthful rush to find an original mom is misplaced, and reflects a ‘grass-is-greener’ attitude, which in fact is exactly the wrong message for everybody.
I have now connected with my bio mom, and some siblings, and we visit and enjoy each others’ company. But I have no illusions; the bio mom did not raise me, and my siblings and I never had to be part of the same family growing up. We have fun, we respect each other, and connecting is pretty easy. But also I am 1500 miles away, and we can all modulate and control our contact.
These re-connections are frequently unsuccessful, and there are many support groups for those who have found their bio parents only to discover they are still not wanted or that there are some very good reasons that the adoption took place. The point is, the person with the commitment and the emotional investment is the adoptive parent, and it is rare for an adoption not to work.
In the end, there is no substitute for good and committed parenting. I read your lines, and that is what I see: a good person, a good parent, have your feet on the ground and are focused on the right things. That covers the ground for producing fine children, and ultimately that is why we are here.