Family is forever…they say. Family is forever…you said. But is there a point, where love’s not enough and forever is too long? This is not what you expected or intended the day you chose to love a child who had been hurt, the day you chose to adopt. You never knew that their pain could trigger your own wounds, and how has this child learned to heap such hurt? Where did this small being learn to push every painful, tender spot in your own heart? How can one so small, pack so much anger and pain? How does that tiny mind masterfully calculate and manipulate every adult in their path? And my God, you thought you were prepared. You took the classes, you read the articles and you heard the first-hand experiences, but no one told you it’d be like this. NO one told you about the days you wished you could take it back. The days that the child seeks to destroy everything you have freely given. And you are broken down and tired; lonely and scared and you don’t even want to know what this is doing to your family. You don’t even want to lift your eyes up and see where this pain is carrying your family because all you can do is survive this moment. Because damn, you chose this and family is forever they say. Family is forever, you said. And deep inside you cry, I cannot do this forever…
Every week, I receive emails that break my heart. Crying hearts, broken homes and ruined hope. Words of broken joy and torn lives, and they speak of adoption trauma. And it’s trauma that has been inflicted secondarily. Moms and dads with good intentions and loving hearts choosing a child who is now spewing the hurt, the pain and the neglect of their tiny souls into a home. This post comes from a compilation of emails and messages I have received after writing ”How Adoption Destroyed My Life”. It is intended to be a “SAFE” spot for adoption trauma. It is a post intended to give words to what so many are afraid to share. I am writing this post and I am angry. I am mad because so many families have written to me out of despair and anguish and ruin, and it kills me that they feel so alone. It hurts that this is a very real issue, and there is shame and fear in the sharing. I am writing this to speak hard truths. These families are scared to death because they have chosen this and who can they tell about the loneliness and fear; what could they even say. They are silent because they can’t bear to hear the platitudes or the parenting tips, because it’s way past sharpening their parenting abilities or hearing that “all kids do that” or “God never gives you more than you can handle”. Because this is more than they can handle, it’s bigger, it’s uglier, and it’s harder than anything they’ve ever known. And they are sitting deep in this pit and standing at the top is the sweet child they brought home,…holding the shovel. And they can’t take it back. They are silent because if they say it out loud, they just may hear from others the very words they’ve whispered in their own minds during the darkest quiet, “you should quit”, “this is hurting you and your family”, “this is not worth it, you need to worry about your own kids”, “the stress is killing you, you don’t deserve this”. To say it out loud is sending an invitation to others, to say the things they’ve already been thinking, and they know with the right encouragement they would quit. This is a post for a family barely holding on, and for the family that feels so alone. I want it to give hope and put words to what many feel should not be said. It is not an attack against hurting children, it is a post about fighting a war against a child’s history. This is a battle cry for all you mamas and daddys who feel they have nothing left. It is me stepping up to walk alongside you and let you know that you are not alone. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE!
I will never forget the months after bringing home our son. We had worked tirelessly for over a year to bring him home, and now he was here and all I could think, was “I can’t do this”…, “I’ve just made a mistake”. “This is scary and permanent and I want my old life back”. Yes, I am ashamed to say, that I grieved the ease of my old life, and was scared to death to embrace the new. It was a very dark time for me with a very broken child. He carried a spoon everywhere (because he had been starved), I couldn’t go out in large public places because he’d scream and cry, and his body was a mess of scars and sores. He had no language and the medical appointments confirmed severe medical neglect and abuse and hinted at surgical experimentations. I had brought home a child that had been abused on the most base level and had been caged in a crib for hours and days. There were days I felt breathless thinking about raising this child that might never leave my home. And there were days that all I could think about was escaping my home, running and running until I collapsed and could just rest. I had brought into my house a child who was a living and breathing example of human abuse and atrocity, and my mind never stopped spinning out the scenarios of his every day life before my home. If I could just leave for a few hours, it allowed me to quit thinking about what his life had been before joining our family. I didn’t have to look at him and his scars and be reminded of the smells, the silence, and the trauma. Those first months, each day seem stretched into long minutes and moments filled with post-orphanage terror and behaviors. I was exposed daily to his raw reality and it was overwhelming. I never knew what would set him off. I’d glance over and he’d be huddled over weeping; or I’d place him in his bed and he’d scream at me in animal rage; or he’d look at me and smile in hyper-compliance. His emotional wounds were beyond my capabilities to heal, I was placing a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging bleed. And all I could think was, “I may not have heard you correctly God, what have I done?” I started to question our choice and I was scared to death to share what I was feeling, I kept much of it hidden in the deepest corner of my shame. And all I could do was join this child and just survive each day. And silently, I was scared to death and so deeply ashamed of my feelings.
Robin wrote…I came across your blog about adoption because a friend shared it on my facebook page. She knows I’ve been struggling. We just adopted this year, a little girl, who has been through too much in her short 10 years. Unfortunately, things have been a struggle to say it mildly. I wish I could ”see” like you, but I thought we were being obedient and that (at some point) God will bless the righteous, right? It keeps getting worse. My dream life is definitely ruined but I am not glad, I am hurt and frustrated and overtaken by grief for that previous life. My teenage son has been ruined in this, and for that I cannot be glad or forgive myself. Your writings are the first words I’ve heard that resemble anything I have been feeling…except for the “glad” part. I don’t know what to do. Our once happy, fun, and loving family is now sad, dark, and bitter. I’d give anything to get that back.
Oh mama, I see you. I know how hard it is, and I also know that very few talk about this. But I want to talk about it. I want to put it out there and let you know that you are not alone. I know how hard it is to hug a child who is quivering with rage. How hard it is to choose to love a child who everyday can trigger how worthless you feel and how you do not measure up. To choose love everyday even when your heart feels done and you are so exhausted. A battle against the trauma and the history of the child you have adopted. A war that is beyond the scope of anything you have ever experienced or seen. And you had no idea…because no one wants to talk about what happens when love is not enough. When answering the call of adoption does not turn out how you pictured. No one talks about it, because it’s not the picture we want to see. But listen to me, this is exactly the picture of Christ. And I know you are deep in that pit, but I can see it for you. I can help you lift your eyes by pointing to Him. He is not going to fail you. Isaiah 41:10
Terri wrote… We just today made the decision to place our adopted son (from foster care) into residential treatment at Children’s hospital. He has multiple diagnoses …. ODD, RAD, major depression, adhd, anxiety. Recently, he has been having homicidal thoughts to harm me and his dad. I have been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed doesn’t even feel like a fitting word, as overwhelmed is what I’ve been for 11 years. This latest incident has me wrecked. Your story gives me encouragement and reminds me what all of this chaos is for. God called us to this….He will see us through this.
Mama, I see you sitting with your trauma child and holding him as he screams and cries. You were so brave when you chose this. You were going to “love the unlovable” and you felt prepared. You knew the statistics of older child adoption, but you stepped in anyway. And now you are sitting on the floor, bruised and battered, and holding his arms so he doesn’t hurt himself as he screams and spits saliva across the room. You are literally walking through the valley of the shadows and no one else is there. And when people smile at you during church, or see you in the grocery store and remark how wonderful your child is, you want to show them this moment. But, really you don’t because you believe in adoption and maybe there is this tiny fear that the problem might be you. That perhaps you have set this child off. You walk on eggshells afraid of setting off the time bomb in your home. No one gets this, all they see is the hurt, broken child that has the beguiling charm. They do not see how this child has hurt and broken you. And if you try to explain what is happening, they get “that look”, and perhaps they offer some parenting tips. And they do not understand that you have tried every tip and used everything you could get your hands on. You are sitting and blaming yourself and it’s not about you, it’s about history that you can’t change.
Sarah wrote… Thank you for speaking to the other side of foster and adoption. We were foster parents and recently found out our beloved 13 year old foster son (whom we were about to adopt) had been raping and abusing in the middle of the night, our bio son who is six. I am wrecked. Our whole family is grieving on many levels. He is no longer with us as he is awaiting trial. It’s hard to know why God called us into this wreckage as we obeyed.
We adopted an 8 year old with reactive attachment disorder 20 years ago . Hardest thing we’d ever done. She gets to 18 and moves out, and you think, I SURVIVED,! And then, her bio children end up on our doorstep. Ready for round two. Already shredded and 20 years older. But, by the grace of God, we can do this. We ARE doing this. We are four years in and these littles have the wounds of trauma. But their eyes sparkle and their hugs are sweet. We will survive again. And thrive. God gives us more than we can handle and it is good. Thanks for helping us see we are not alone.
-Mark and Karen
3 daughters – ages 29, 8 and 7
I see you toddler mama. I know that when you set out on this journey, you felt called to minister to “the least of these”. You had dreamed in your mind how beautiful and lovely this would be. You imagined cuddling and rocking a child to sleep every night. Tucking them in to dream sweet childish dreams and waking them up each morning with a mama’s kiss. I see you lying under the covers wondering how the night slipped by so quickly. You don’t want to face the day because you’re tired. Tired of the destruction, the non-verbal communication, the strange behaviors you can’t explain. You are spent and there’s nothing left for you to do but to get up and start another day. It’s one step forward and two steps back because who knows what will trigger the regression. And the little one doesn’t want your kisses and “please God let him sleep through the night”. This toddler is all about obsessive interests, hyper-vigilance, disassociation and disconnection. There is no cute and cuddly to be found and having a “normal” three year old is hard enough, you have one wrapped in trauma. You honestly believed this child was young and came without the baggage. Unfortunately it is now unpacked in your living room, family van, and every square surface. It is an alphabet soup of FAE, PTSD, ODD, environmental ASD and a menagerie of letters that you are learning as fast as you can. And it feels so lonely, as other children pass their milestones and yours is stuck in fight or flight; you try not to but you compare. The days roll by and you don’t see the progress, and it scares you. You are in a storm, rocking between success and failures, and the days loom long. Look up dear mama, all you are seeing is the storm, He is right there with hand outstretched.
Steph wrote…This has nearly killed me at times to watch the pain in these kids lives, but God has placed us here to help them through it. If we did not allow ourselves to be ruined, these kids would have to go it alone, and that would be an even worse tragedy.
Cindy wrote…Thank you for writing words that kept me off the ledge, so to speak. I ended up copying your entire post into a post I wrote for severely traumatized moms (due to adoption and foster care). I adopted 38 kids plus I have one bio kid, now 43. I adopted sibling groups, mainly from the Texas foster care system, plus an international adoption. I have felons and geniuses, college grads and homeless ones nowadays. I’m a retired teacher who had some of her own kids drop out of school. Same story as everyone else in foster care and adoption, but today was hard for me. One of my daughters sent me a link to your post and the scales fell off of my eyes. I guess my life isn’t pointless after all.
And here is where I step in and tell you that everything will be fine, but I can’t. But I can tell you that I have felt many of your feelings and had many of your thoughts. And where I have landed is that God’s timeline is eternity. And by choosing adoption, and obedience to what God has asked you to do, you are choosing to end your American dream life and live for heaven. As the apostle James said, this life is but a mist that will soon be gone. Yes, this life is fleeting, but the choice you made to give up this life to live for the next will matter for all of eternity. It will matter for you, it will matter for your family, for your biological children, and for your adoptive children.
Heather wrote… I fake it to make it. I may be frustrated upset and exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually but I smile and encourage and give it a few minutes, hours, days, weeks and it will come natural. I know that nothing in this world worth having comes easy and fighting for someone else’s best is worth more than fighting for my own wants. The number one thing that has been reinforced though is knowing beyond all that prayer changes things. Praying for the little things changes little things. Like it is said I can’t change the whole world but I can change the whole world for one person and that one person matters no matter what they feel.
Garrett writes…They will not fulfill your dreams. You cannot expect them to meet any of your needs. You CAN expect… them to be professional mistake makers, to disappoint, to never understand and also to ache for the hard places they have been. We are not the end of their story. We are actually a brief chapter about a human attempting to give them wings… trial and error, and ultimately they must choose whether they want to receive them, which may not happen for a chapter or two, if ever.
And the call of adoption is a beautiful, heart breaking road. And you mama and daddy are walking a path that is less traveled. Give yourself grace and step out of the race, perfect parenting is a unicorn. You are parenting a child that has history and it’s a big battle. And most of all, it’s okay to say, “this is HARD, so damn HARD”. You heard me, it’s okay that you wanted this and now it’s seems it’s more than you can handle. It’s okay to not like your child right now, and it’s okay if you all fall flat on your face. Because the victory comes in getting back up again. And there may be a time, that your child needs more help than your home can offer. This is not a failure…do you hear me? This is never a failure.
Heather wrote… I think so many parents think residential treatment or a group home is giving up. I still do at times. Although this was the most loving thing we could do for our foster son. We could not let him continue to harm us and our foster son it was the most loving response. We still pray for him we still send him gifts/letters. We are sad he isn’t part of our family but we did what was best for all of us including him.
Stephanie wrote…I’ve been doing this since 1999. An “oldie.” I’ve adopted internationally and via disruptions. I can tell you the thing these families need most is to know they are NOT alone and to know whatever they may decide is a-okay. Point I’m trying to make is these families 1) need to know they are NOT alone 2) need to know there is hope whether they stick it out or disrupt 3) need to know about resources 4) need articles addressing issues besides how wonderful other kids are doing 5) Need to know that it is okay that things are not ‘perfect’ or good w/ their family at this point 6) need to freely vent without being judged.
Jackie wrote…It was a dark time in our lives but God prevails. He is faithful. Now she is married with a good full-time job and a baby.
And church, family and friends, this next paragraph is for you. Please, please VALIDATE! This is a hard road. Families begin this journey and the way seems so clear. Adoption happens and sometimes, they find themselves in the weeds, the path has been lost and they can no longer see. And what needs to be conveyed, is that adoption support doesn’t end when the child comes to a home; no that is when the work begins. These families need you to validate, provide resources, help address immediate safety concerns, and follow-up. What does this look like? This looks like people in your church that understand trauma and adoption. This looks like dropping off a meal without being asked. This looks like listening to these parents and providing respite for a day. This is stepping in and walking alongside them when they’ve lost the path. This is sharing this post with them and saying, “I SEE YOU, you are not alone”.
Fred writes… My wife and I are the adoptive parents of 5 kids, with the most recent 3 being adopted at ages 11, 9, and 7 out of the D.C. foster care system. It has been four years since these kids came to us as foster kids. The experience literally wrecked our lives – down to the core – but God is restoring our family slowly. We are growing, and our family is growing together. It has been the hardest — absolute hardest — thing we’ve ever done. These kids were crazy when they came. But they are growing. They are getting better. We are moving forward as one family — one team.
Last week my husband and I lay on our bed at 10:00 pm absolutely spent and exhausted. I’m asked all the time, “Aren’t you tired? Don’t you have 6 kids? How are you working full-time?” And some of the times, the question is asked in a way that looks for failures. It is in words that say, “How is it possible you have 6 kids with medically complex problems, and work a full-time, high demand job?”. I’ll answer that now,…”I don’t”. I don’t run a perfect home, perfectly mother, perfectly wife, perfectly clean, and perfectly care for everyone. And if I’m honest, I will say that lots of stuff slides to the side and my house is messy and family dinner is eating off paper plates. I run late, I run tired, I run laundry, I run errands, I run my mouth, and I run. There are days we see emotional trauma rear it’s head, or one of our kids regresses to fight or flight. It is exhausting and we lean on God and we lean on each other. But at the end of the day, I fall on my bed beside my husband and we hold hands, and we smile. We smile because the alternatives are too horrifying to consider. The alternatives are letting these children battle their traumatic history alone. The alternative is a child that never knows love, a family, or hope. The alternative is something we can’t live with and while it is not always easy, I would choose it a thousand times over. Yes, I would choose this hard, broken road because God is in the trenches with me reminding me that I’m not alone.
Tamara writes…We have this false idea that if we do what God wants, He will give us what we want. If we do what we are supposed to do, God will owe us happiness and ease. Honestly, as Christians in America, this belief is rampant. We have this belief that hardship is not part of God’s plan, that He would never call us to do something difficult. But in fact, sometimes suffering and trials are in His plan and we are often called to sacrifice.
Courtney wrote… I wonder often if life will ever be “normal” again. We often say “love isn’t always enough” (if you said that I’m not pointing fingers, I say it too). But today as I was reading scripture “love never fails” jumped out at me. And I realized it’s not that love isn’t enough. It’s that our version and idea of what love is isn’t enough. So I go back to what God says love is. Not just in 1 Corinthians 13, but throughout His word. I go back to where He commands us to love. He doesn’t ask if we feel it. He doesn’t ask if we’ve got the warm fuzzies. He just tells us to love. He also tells us that He has good plans and He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And yes, at some point they’ll have to make that choice themselves, but in the meantime we fight for them. We fight on our knees. We fight with His word.
Please know that you are not alone. I speak every week to women and men who are living in the trenches. There are thousands who are walking this tough, hard, and broken road.