It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to write – some because of busyness with having two kids in our home now but some due to exhaustion and getting through the hard times of building trust with these precious kids. As most adoptive parents, we had training on trauma prior to adoption, but until you live it, I don’t know that you can fully understand the dynamics of how trauma affects kids from foster care. We’ve learned many lessons during this time of adoptive placement and have had to adjust our expectations, parenting style, and remind ourselves of our clear calling of adoption from foster care.
1. Trauma runs deep.
Our kids, 10 and 12, have both experienced a great deal of complex trauma in their young lives. We read their file prior to meeting them, but that file doesn’t come close to how those situations have truly affected these kids. I think we thought having a wonderful healing home and amazing family lavishing them with love would somehow magically erase a lot of that trauma. Trauma runs deep, and while having an amazing family and great home for these kids does aid in the healing, healing also takes lots of time – much more than the few months they’ve been with us. We’ve had to adjust our mindset in regard to trauma and our expectations for these kids to “love everything about us and their new life.” For a long while, I couldn’t wrap my head around why these kids didn’t enjoy or appreciate all the wonderful things we were doing for them now. What we discovered – FEAR. They were fearful that all this “wonderful” would soon come to an end if we chose to give up on them like other adults have in their past and for whatever reason decide to send them back. They DID love all that we were doing for them, but they were also too afraid almost to enjoy those things. For many weeks, we had to assure them that this was a done deal, they would not ever go back – no matter what. Our son was very anxious any time his sister had behavior issues, worried that she would mess up this adoption. We have had to remind them, probably a million times, that we are their forever family – FOREVER.
2. Trust takes time.
My husband and I work tirelessly to show a consistent pattern of love and attention to our kids. Because of their past, they still have difficulty trusting us, even in small things. In the first weeks of our adoption placement, our son was worried to use his shampoo because he didn’t want to run out. We had to reassure him that when his shampoo runs out, we WILL buy him a new one! If the cereal runs out, we will buy more. If he needs something – we will provide it! Our daughter will very often burst out in tears saying what she THINKS will happen in a given situation. For example, I may ask her about picking up her clothes from the floor, and she could burst out crying because “You’re going to make me go to bed early and lose all my free time tonight.” And, the things she would say or assume we would do as consequences or in response to a situation had been nothing we had EVER said or done. We would shake our heads in confusion. Where does she come up with this stuff? We have never said that’s what we would do if she didn’t pick up her clothes. Neither of them were used to consistent caregivers. They lived previously in a group home and were very used to employees in and out caring for their needs. We had to teach them how to truly operate in a family and what that looks like. We had to use teamwork analogies and talk through what real families do. It has taken a long time to make the progress that we have, but they are getting there. Consistency, loving affection, hugs in times of correction, and positive affirmation every step have helped us make progress with trust. I love looking at pictures of them when they first came and pictures now. You can tell they are becoming much more trusting and attached to us.
3. Take advice with a grain of salt.
When we were in the battle zone of the “testing period” of our new role as parents to our kids, behavior was serious for about three weeks – for both of them. We referenced every book and training class we had taken as well as sought advice from our relatives. First of all, parenting books, training classes, and relative advice is good, but keep in mind that none of those people have lived with YOUR kids. Most of your relatives have not lived with kids from foster care or from hard places. They haven’t worked with kids with significant trauma or trust issues. My greatest advice – trust in the Lord. Hear what others have to say, but ask God to help you carry the burden and how to respond in specific situations. Stand firm in LOVE. Make LOVING decisions in those hard times. Error on the side of love. NONE of the things they are acting out against are directed at YOU personally. They so VERY much want to love you and the wonderful life they have been provided with now, but it is hard for them to fully understand and trust that all this goodness, more goodness than they’ve probably experienced in their entire lives, is for them to have forever in a forever family. Just remember, love is not being their best buddy, and sometimes love means tough love – setting the boundaries and sticking to them even when it is hard and exhausting.
If this is where you are right now with your adoptive kids – keep pressing on. They WILL come to trust and love all the wonderful things going on – over time. Be consistent and reassuring. Give correction in love. Keep reminding yourself of how God called you to this adoption journey, and don’t give up. I, personally, struggled for many weeks in the heat of everything, if these kids would ever actually “like us.” I questioned if they even wanted to be in our family and if this was ever going to get better. There for a while I was hoping for just one happy day without a ton of correction or redirection. I highly recommend that you don’t bottle up all those emotions and feelings inside of you. TALK to your family or trusted friends. Vent. Maybe not seek out advice as if you are doing something wrong every time, but do let it out with someone you love and trust. They can remind you of the positives in the midst of a negative whirlwind. Take care of yourself – mentally. Let things go. Don’t take things personally. Know that over time, healing will reveal a beautiful work in the hearts and minds of your adoptive children. We are just beginning to see the budding of this in our kids, and we have learned to press on. We remind ourselves often – some of this is because they are KIDS…their behavior or attitude may have NOTHING to do with adoption. Biological kids and parents also have struggles. It just may seem more overwhelming because you are dealing with many things in a short time. There are many things you have to address when kids move in with you, and biological parents deal with their issues over a longer period of time. Biological parents have also already built trust and relationship with their kids. Don’t beat yourself up! Give yourself plenty of time and plenty of credit for the good work you are doing in the lives of your kids. Adoption is a marathon – just as any parenting journey is.
Adoption isn’t easy, but it is incredibly rewarding!
UPDATE: One VERY helpful resource I found is Tim Kimmel. He writes a book called Grace Based Parenting and has a ministry called Family Matters. He also hosted a Foster and Adoption Conference Seminar which I’ve listened to several times, and we’ve found very helpful. You can watch it below. Check out more about him and his ministry here.