Many people adopt because they’re unable to have their own biological children; however, that was not the case for my husband and I. Our hearts broke knowing there are children in the foster care system who age out of the system without knowing the permanency of family.
Andrew and I wished to provide a home for a child (or two, as it so happened) in the system.
Admittedly, it was partly selfish, too. I hated being pregnant. I had a rare condition called cholestasis, and a very difficult delivery (almost 48 hours of labor, four hours of pushing), and had no desire to go through that EVER again.
People say you forget all about the pain and discomfort after it’s over.
In my defense, though, we made this choice before I got pregnant.
As cheesy as it sounds, I always wanted to make a difference in the world. It was the motivation behind every career I dreamed of as a child: nun, psychologist, occupational therapist.
And now, writer.
Many adoptees get upset because they don’t want to be viewed as a charity case. I don’t look at my daughters, or any other adopted person, as a charity case.
I look at it as being practical. Why would I go through the hell of pregnancy, labor and delivery again when there are children in the foster care system who need homes?
The journey to adopting my daughters could be summed up in with one sentence:
In his heart a man plans his course but the LORD determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
When Andrew and I began the adoption process, we were looking to adopt a child around 5-8 years. Because we had learned in our foster-adoption classes that older black boys were the least desirable* and most difficult to place, we filled out the pre-placement adoption paperwork with that in mind.
What we planned to do and what we did ended up being two completely different things…
Paige, a white baby girl, was three months old when we began visits, and five months old when she moved in. Even though she had severe drug withdrawal, she was still considered the most sought-after type of child.*
Payton, her older sister, came to live with us just before she turned three. As a young white child, she was also considered highly adoptable.*
Andrew and I did not have problems conceiving nor did we desire another baby, which was why we didn’t want to adopt an infant, or even a three-year-old.
So, how did we veer so far from our planned course?
Ruth: The mother of my daughters.**
The whole story started when I became Ruth’s birth coach. My plan wasn’t to adopt Ruth’s baby but that’s what happened. And then we adopted Payton, Ruth’s older daughter when they were unable to reunify.
I was thinking about all this tonight while walking my dog because Ruth and I met for coffee today. Things are still up in the air about how and when we will open up the adoption; however, there is one thing we both know without a shadow of a doubt.
It was God’s plan that we meet and be the mothers of these two beautiful girls.
* These aren’t my words but what we were told in our foster-adopt classes and by the social workers.
** For the most part, I’ve decided to forgo any sort of qualifier when referencing Ruth. She is the mother of my daughters, just as I am the mother of her daughters.
“Never be terrorized away from the truth. Now, more than ever, please take up your pens and your laptops and WRITE.”
This phrase gave me the strength to write this post:
I can’t keep being bounced around like a ping pong ball.
Yesterday was a stressful day with Payton. I had her correct errors on her homework.
You’d think I’d told her to cut off her thumb instead. The ebb and flow of crying, yelling, door slamming, stomping…
That night she couldn’t get to sleep until I got home. When I tucked her in, she said she didn’t want me to go out of town for four days. I reassured her that we would video chat. She said she still didn’t want me to go.
And then this morning.
I told her to bring her backpack to me so I could make sure she packed everything. She hadn’t.
I told her to find her homework folder, put her homework in it, and put it in her backpack. A moment later “I have to find a stapler and staple these sheets together,” with the unspoken accusation that I took them apart.
I told her to put her name on the homework pages because they were all blank. She tried to control the situation by acting helpless. She got agitated when I ignored her control attempts.
I told her to go calm down in her room. A full-throttle tantrum ensued.
“It’s your fault I act like this! It always happens because you make me do this stuff!”
She ran into her room and slammed the door. And over and over I heard stomping and yelling and angry tears. I closed the French doors to cut off the sound.
My son no longer asks why Payton is crying. Instead, he silently walks over and gives me a big hug.
Paige has begun noticing her sister’s storms are a regular occurrence. Now she either tells me Payton is crying or asks why she is crying. All I can say is “it doesn’t concern you.”
But it does. It concerns us all. Because it affects us all.
A good 15 minutes of this and Payton has calmed down.
It’s time to leave.
Payton walks over and gives me a sideways hug, takes my hand, smiles up at me and walks me down the hallway. Then she walks out the front door without a hug or “I love you.” When she hears my son say it, she hollers it as an afterthought.
This has been a daily occurrence since school resumed after Winter Break.*
It makes me wonder if I should publish my story. Because as much as I believe we need to change lives of children in foster care, there are days I question my decision to help with that change.
When I read “Never be terrorized away from the truth. Now, more than ever, please take up your pens and your laptops and WRITE,” I knew I needed to do this, regardless of how terrified I am.
* If your inclination is to say all kids do this, please read my prior blog “NEVER say these things to the parent of a kid w/ RAD.”
Remember what it was like as a child? Innocent and carefree, not a concern in the world!
My almost 11-year-old son asked the other day why I don’t let him watch R-rated movies with violence or play M-rated video games. (His father’s favorite is BioShock.)
I asked him if he knew the meaning of ignorance. He more or less did.
I explained the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” He didn’t understand because his teacher has a sign that says “the only cure for ignorance is education.” I told him that was true but I wasn’t talking about school smarts.
I asked if there were things he knew now that he wished he didn’t, such as there being no Santa Claus. He said yes.
I told him once you’ve lost your innocence, you can’t get it back.
The video above shows my daughter carelessly skipping down the sidewalk. It is the reason I don’t let my son play those video games or watch those movies.
It can be hard to stand behind this belief when other parents don’t share it.These rules can be hard for my son to accept. But I am committed to preserving his innocence as long as possible.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you have parenting beliefs and/or styles that butt heads with other parents or even society as a whole?
In my previous blog titled NEVER Say These Things to the Parent of a Kid w/ RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) I talked about key things to keep to yourself when talking with the parent of a kid with RAD. My good friend, whose daughter also has RAD, thought it helpful to share what to say and/or do.
1. SIMPLY LISTEN: Just sit there and listen with an occasional “uh huh” and sympathetic “mmmm.” Raising children is a difficult job. What makes it worthwhile? You know your child appreciates it on some level when she* hugs you and says “I love you” (unless they’re teenagers!). RAD kids don’t do that, or if they do it is detached. This makes raising a child with RAD not just difficult and selfless, but also a thankless job.** We are thankful when someone takes the time to show us they appreciate us and care by listening.
2. DON’T JUDGE: Parenting techniques used with RAD kids are counterintuitive to typical parenting techniques. They appear cold, indifferent and too strict. The truth is they are necessary. Children with RAD need a calm, stable, even-keel parent who doesn’t make a big deal out of anything, even if it IS a big deal, to feel safe. A strict routine is also necessary for a kid with RAD to feel safe. We may appear heartless but we are really helping the child and averting a crisis.
3. UNDERSTAND YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND: It is difficult if not downright impossible to understand what is involved in raising a child with RAD. My daughter, thankfully, has made much progress. However, it is difficult for others to understand how tenuous that progress is and regression may happen for no apparent reason.
4. ASK BEFORE ACTING: Please ask the parent before doing something or offering something to the child. For example, please ask the parent before offering a treat. Mention a play date or sleepover to the parent before the child. Do not directly give the child an invitation to a birthday party; hand it to the parent or mail it. And please do these things in private; if the child overhears, it is likely to cause disruption and potentially regression if the answer is “no.” Teachers should give goodies from classroom celebrations directly to the parents. This was a constant problem at my daughter’s preschool and resulted in numerous car rides home filled with crying because she wasn’t allowed to have the candy immediately.
5. RESPECT OUR BOUNDARIES: When it gets to the point where we can disrupt our RAD kid’s routine and have a play date or afternoon at the park, please follow our seemingly silly requests. If we ask you not to give her sweets, such as hot chocolate on a rainy day, please honor our request. If she asks for a second piece of birthday cake, deny her that seemingly innocent second piece of cake. If she asks to stay at your place for just one more hour, tell her ‘no’ flat out.
THINGS TO SAY:
“This must be really hard for you,” or something along that line. When my sister-in-law and I got close, she said that when I confided in her about my struggles. It was so nice to hear someone empathize with ME. The child rightfully deserves empathy but so do the parents who struggle each and every day to heal the wounds.
“I can’t even begin to understand.” Because that statement is entirely true, we feel validated when you acknowledge it instead of trying to help.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Often the only thing you can do is lend an ear but we appreciate the offer. A close friend of mine offered to look after the kids anytime I needed a break. Although I could not take her up on that offer because it would be too disruptive to my daughter’s schedule, I nonetheless appreciated her willingness to help.
I cannot emphasize enough how difficult it is to raise a child with RAD. Things parents take for granted, such as the child making eye contact during a conversation, are all accomplishments for us.
*As noted in my prior blog, I use “she” because my daughter has RAD.
** I know parents are not always appreciated by their children but at some point they have thanked you through their affection.
RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder. You often hear about it with overseas adoptions as these children generally lived in orphanages and had to fend for themselves. Put simply, the child hasn’t learned how to attach, and as a result is not attached to anyone. These children have an excessive need for control and are either detached or will go off with anyone (or both). Repeated abuse, neglect and inconsistent parenting causes it.
The following are things you NEVER say to a parent who has a kid with RAD:
1. “My kid does that too” or “that sounds normal.” THIS IS DIFFERENT
Every child wants control, true. But a child with RAD needs constant control and will act out (tantrum, show aggression, etc.) if she* doesn’t have it. She doesn’t act this way on a temporary regular basis, like a phase, but rather is the way she lives. She is hyper-vigalent, removed physically and mentally, and always observing.
Example: When my daughter was newly potty trained, we would remind her to use the bathroom otherwise she often had an accident. This resulted in a tantrum and tears EVERY TIME we told her.
2. “I understand how you feel.” NO YOU DON’T
And, please don’t act like you do. Because at the end of the day, no matter how bad the day, you know your child loves you and she knows you love her back. Because RAD kids haven’t learned to attach, they do not know how to feel and process love. Affection, if they show it, is detached. It often happens only because it is part of a routine.
Example: My daughter says “good night, I love you too” even if I haven’t said good night yet. Example: My daughter shows spontaneous affection only when she wants people to notice her; it is an act for attention. Example: My daughter holds her arms up as though shielding herself when I pull her in for a hug. Example: “Hi mom, I thought I’d say ‘good morning,'” but all the while she is looking at the cat sleeping on the bed as though I don’t exist.
3. “You’re too hard on her.” SHE NEEDS UNCONVENTIONAL PARENTING
First of all, if you say this, your unspoken words are “it’s your fault your kid acts out.”
RAD kids don’t like surprises and need routine to feel safe. Any deviation from that routine causes one of two problems:
If you give her an inch, she takes a mile and then gets angry when you won’t let her go two.
If you deviate from the routine, she acts out and regresses when things go back to routine later on.
Example: When she went back to school after Christmas Break, she had issues every day for a week: She cried because I told her to hang up her clothes; she was blatantly disobedient, sneering at me; she cried hysterically, as though she lost her favorite toy, when her sister broke a piece of her chalk; she had a kicking, stomping, screaming tantrum because I told her to read the directions on her homework.
4. “She doesn’t act that way with me” or “I’ve never seen her do that.” OF COURSE NOT
You are new and fun and don’t require anything of the relationship. Your relationship doesn’t require intimacy and you don’t ask anything of her. If you lived with us a couple weeks, she would act “that way” because you would no longer be novel.
Example: My mother stayed with us a couple weeks when I was having problems with my heart. The first week she was Grandma, the second week she turned into “Mean” Grandma (had to enforce rules, etc). My previously affectionate daughter started acting less affectionate and more disobedient towards her.
My daughter’s therapist said this is something you cannot truly understand until you have a kid with RAD or you are frequently around a kid with RAD. So even if not your intention, these four phrases are dismissive and demeaning. They also imply you don’t believe a word of these struggles. Please, simply listen and offer empathy.