Dissolved: When Always Isn’t Forever. . .
“For it is not an enemy who insults me— I could have handled that— nor is it someone who hates me and who now arises against me— I could have hidden myself from him— but it is you— a man whom I treated as my equal— my personal confidant, my close friend! We had good fellowship together; and we even walked together in the house of God! “ ~Psalm 55:12-14
It’s not easy to recover from an accusation of abuse. No matter how unfounded it is, it always remains in the back of people’s minds. It doesn’t matter if you have been a model parent up until that point, they never look at you the same, nor do they ever view your actions in the same regard as before. I became increasingly aware of the judgments of others. Not because I’d become hyper-sensitive since the incident at the church (though it would be with merit), but because people felt it appropriate to stop me anywhere, at any time, no matter what I was doing, and offer their counsel – however unsolicited, ill-informed, or unwelcome it may have been. People believed they had the right to contribute to the raising of our children. It made them feel like they were somehow helping to right a wrong done to the children – whether by us or in the childrens’ history.
Once, I was shopping at our local bulk-buying store, on a Saturday, with all the kids in tow. We managed to get everything we needed and head to the checkout with one cart and a flatbed dolly. The adoptees did not like to listen to or follow instructions; in fact, sometimes it seemed as though they did not even understand the very language I was speaking. With the crowds piling up at the check-outs all around, I had to be very organized and very direct in my actions and instructions to the children.
My biological boys were able to follow basic instructions and they knew what was required of them, especially in a busy public. They are not perfect, by any means, but they obeyed as well as any child their age should. The adoptees were very, very different. They would go with anyone who asked them, take or knock stuff off of shelves, or just plain stop and stare at something (almost as if they were in a deep trance-like state), and never know we’d moved on.
I could not give them simple commands and have them follow, like “stand over there”, “sit here”, or “go to the bathroom”, because each would be met with blank stares or worse acts of open defiance. I knew this. These responses were always the reality wherever we were, and I made my parenting choices accordingly. When it was our turn to check out, my three oldest stayed at the cart and loaded them onto the belt. I told my bio six-year-old ( same age as Jason), to go and stand at the other end of the checkout. I walked each adoptee separately to the end, taking them by the arm, just above their hand (if I held their hand to do this, they would only pull their hand away and stand there defiantly, not moving or obeying a command, daring me to say something to them in front of the crowd). I made sure they were standing in a safe place, near me, where I could see them.
As my items were being passed under the scanner and carefully boxed, an unknown woman approached me from behind, bent around me until her face was in mine, and asked me, with an indignant tone, if I was a foster parent. Caught off guard, I responded, “Not anymore”, and continued to check-out. This lady (a total stranger), followed me and my children to our van, shouting at me that she did not like the way I “handled” those children (her words).
She proceeded to tell me she had written down our license plate number and she was going to call the appropriate authorities to report my atrocious behavior. These incidents always troubled me deeply when it happened (yes, people did this to me more than once). Though I knew I was completely above-board and did not treat any of my children unfairly or abusively, I would still lose night after night of sleep wondering what I could have done differently, what I could have done to not draw this negative attention. In my nine years of parenting before the adoptees came into our life, I had never, not even once, had anyone question my parenting abilities, accuse me of ANYTHING, or threaten to call Child Protective Services.
This was all so very foreign to me and I had no idea what to do about it. How do you explain, to a total stranger, in thirty seconds or less, that the way you parent these children is out of necessity because their extreme behavior requires it? And why do I owe anyone an explanation? Turns out, total strangers weren’t the only ones demanding answers from us.
Everywhere we went, EVERYWHERE we went, we drew attention. We were a train of people, of different races, doing regular stuff as any family would. But for some reason, people felt obligated to comment or correct me. I was stopped on every aisle of the grocery store by everyone (every visit), telling me how precious my family was, or wasn’t. They each felt compelled to touch, hug, kiss, or pick up my adopted children – always ignoring my biological boys (this turned my grocery shopping into a four-hour trip each time.)
I was constantly told how to care for their skin and hair. Once, while at a homeschool conference, after listening to an hour-long presentation, a lady sitting behind me tapped my shoulder and handed me a two page, step-by-step guide on caring for my adopted daughter’s hair. She lectured me on how I had obviously not taken the time to educate myself on this subject. As she reached her hand out to feel my daughter’s hair, she was stunned to find it soft and full of moisture. She abruptly turned and walked away, without a word. This was one of many incidents of its kind. This kind of thing, while inconvenient and burdensome, was nothing in comparison to what we experienced with those we trusted.
We attended a small church, sixty or so families, at the time. We had been there for two years prior to adopting the children, so everyone knew us well. I met my best friend there and our families shared many evenings together. But after the incident with the unknown visitor there, I became increasingly aware of just how much others disapproved of our parenting choices.
I have mostly been an open book regarding our adoption, to people within our church body, sharing my struggles, things I didn’t understand, bizarre things that were occurring, and answering questions from those within with the knowledge I had at the time. I was seeking a safe place to share and be encouraged. I was met with the exact opposite. As things were progressively getting worse at home, with the adoptees’ behavior growing more unpredictable, we were forced to keep a very tight rein on them.
They couldn’t run and play like the other children, in groups, because they could not control themselves. And if we did allow them to go, it would be hours before they would calm down and regain their self-control. Their behavior always ended with one of them hurting themselves or others, or damaging property. We usually kept them seated, playing together during our frequent church fellowship meals. Though we would have given anything for them to go and be like the other children, that was just not our reality.
Jason would steal things at every opportunity. During one church service, he was sitting by my feet, and a child in front of us dropped a small plastic toy. I saw it fall and kept an eye on Jason. He didn’t move, so I felt it safe to look up the passage of Scripture just announced; a few seconds later, my next glance met with the toy gone. He had somehow managed to get it under his leg and would have taken it home, had I not already played this game with him a thousand times before.
I became increasingly aware of the disapproval of those within our church. Mostly by sideways glances, and “judgey” smiles (though some were verbally open about their disapproval). But all bets were off the day I sent the email. For several months, as the children’s behavior became increasingly unexplainable, I pored over every article or book I could get on the subject of adoption. Many definitions of certain behaviors became clear to me the more I read.
One, in particular, was Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD for short). The description of this particular disorder overwhelmingly mirrored two of the three. I could not believe what I was reading. All the defiance, the seeming lack of conscience, stealing (mostly food, but not exclusively), urinating/defecating in inappropriate places, and so on. I mentioned this to any doctor that would listen, each of them rejecting my suggestions. But I believed I was onto something.
As I read further on attachment, it became clear that we had done everything wrong to encourage bonding from the beginning, not intentionally, but out of ignorance. It is important that adopted children learn to seek their comfort and solace with the new family only. Some adoption agencies recommend that the new family rarely put their adopted child down, always holding them, and NEVER letting anyone else hold the child, for at least six months, sometimes longer. They also recommend not to even leaving your home (with the exception of work), for the first six months post-adoption, in order to establish firm bonds of security with the child(ren). All of this to help the child attach to the new family and the new family attach to the child(ren). We, of course, did the exact opposite of this, simply because we did not know otherwise. One of our friends from church, who’d adopted, suggested we start over from scratch, establishing firm boundaries and not letting others hold them, at any time. It was worth a try.
So I emailed an article I had found on this subject. I sent it to several women in our church that I trusted, but I could tell were having trouble understanding the choices we were making in parenting the new children. Though I’d explained these things in great detail, at every opportunity, it seemed some weren’t willing to believe me (for reasons I still do not understand). So though the article was written from a secular viewpoint, I thought it may shed some outside light on our situation. Give them a glimpse into life with children from trauma backgrounds.
Around the same time, my husband sent out an email to our church body, explaining briefly the difficulties the children were having bonding to our family (though they’d been with us for more than two years at this point); and now that we were fairly educated on attachment, we wanted to do all we could to give the children their best opportunity for success. We asked all the families to please not pick up our adopted children, even when the children asked (and they always asked, even when instructed otherwise). We carefully explained that we wanted them to begin to understand that the children’s security should come from us alone, and if they asked to be held, please redirect them to us. We wanted to be the ones the children went to for comfort, and up till now, they would go to anyone, anywhere, anytime, for any reason.
This request was met with mostly outrage, and little support. In fact, one of the ladies was so upset that she accused me of sinning because I was denying HER the right to show MY children brotherly affection. (yes, these were her words.). I tried explaining that if her child was sick with a disease, and my touching them could compromise their health, I would happily honor her request to not touch her child until she deemed it safe to do so. This was the same thing. Our children were not well; their brains were rewired after being ripped from their biological families (justly so, but still), even in infancy, and they needed help rewiring them. We were attempting to do that, and we desperately wanted to help them. But we were met with very few who respected our wishes. And thus came the beginning of the end.
The hard truth is, I was frustrated. And it showed on my face and sometimes my attitude. I started to pull away from others because I could no longer pour out my heart unto deaf ears. I was becoming increasingly tired of living in survival mode. I could never fully rest because even in the middle of the night things were being destroyed, stolen, or urine saturated. Every noise I heard had to be investigated.
The children had to be kept in separate rooms when I was not in the room with them, in order to keep them from further destroying things. Jason was banned from the kitchen and pantries for his constant theft of food, so he began to send the twins into these rooms to do his bidding. Therefore, we had to keep them all separated. We became prisoners in our own home.
We stopped going places as a family. We did most things separately, with my husband taking the bio kids to various activities, while I stayed home with the adoptees (or vice versa) because their behavior was so unpredictable. We were living separate lives. I continued to speak with doctor after doctor, social workers, case workers, to no avail. They tested the adopted children for autism twice (which I knew they did not have), and suggested that Jason MAY have ADD (while that may be true, it was only the tip of his ever-increasing iceberg).
They had hearing tests, vision tests, every test possible to try to figure out what would be causing these behaviors. All the while, my requests for someone with attachment expertise went unheeded. We were constantly told by doctors, friends, and acquaintances that the kids were perfectly normal. I continued to confide in what I thought were my close friends. Some even affirming me as a parent and telling me what a great job I was doing – only to later to throw me under their virtual bus and run over me.
About six months after the “no-holding” email, I received a text from my best friend’s husband. They were wanting to meet with us to discuss some things. Our contact with them had dramatically decreased; one, because our contact with everyone had decreased, and two, because each time we were together, my parenting choices were met with questions and criticism, and sometimes open disregard. It was too much for me to continue defending myself to people who simply weren’t able (or willing), to understand the difference in our adopted kids and their own children. I was highly suspicious of this meeting because I didn’t understand what necessitated such a formal request.
I inquired if this was a sin issue; were we entering into a Matthew 18 scenario? I was told in reply, “No. Can’t friends come to other friends with concerns?” We agreed to meet, partly because we wanted others, these people especially, to understand our situation. We needed their support. And partly because we believed we had no choice.
They came to our home the next evening. We’d put the kids to bed early. They sat together on the sofa across from us. Most of the conversation is a blur to me now, but some things remain clear. My best friend, my confidant, came to my home, armed with two full pages, front and back, of her complaints against me. Anything and everything I had ever done, said, or appeared to have done or said was brought up and criticized. It was my fault the children were having trouble because I refused to hold them when feeding, instead I put them in the swings and had the boys do it.
Never mind WHY I had to do that; the blame was on me. I apparently had also exaggerated Jason’s stealing. After all, every kid takes a marshmallow from the pantry now and again. Pay no mind to the fact that a few weeks before this meeting, Jason again snuck into the kitchen when I went outside for a minute, ate an entire flat of raspberries and swallowed grapes whole, while he was supposed to be playing at a play station (not the electronic kind). How do I know the grapes were ingested whole? Because before I came back inside, he vomited everything up, because he had eaten it so fast; and the half regurgitated grapes were all over the vomit-covered floor; the throw-up he was playing in, as if he’d done nothing, when I came back inside.
As she listed “crime” after “crime”, and I sat there taking every hit straight to the face, it became glaringly obvious that these people were not our friends. They were not there to help us (though they believed this was helping) but to shame and condemn us. None of the things they mentioned even came close to being a sin; they were all personal preference issues, their personal preferences. We were not doing things the way they believed they should be done; it didn’t matter why we had to do them the way we did. They wanted us to change and they were not going to go away.
My husband sat there stunned. He was slower in coming around to the idea of our adoptees being different from other children. He was only with them a limited time each day and relied on me for most of his info. It wasn’t until about two years into the adoption that he began to really pay attention and realize what a tremendous burden our bio kids and I were living under. This meeting was our attempt to bridge the gap between others’ idea of what adoption is and the reality of what it was in our lives.
But these people would have none of it. They cautioned us to comply with their demands or they would take further action. What, I did not yet know. They left three hours later, and I was more deflated than ever. This meeting only further served to deepen the chasm that had begun to grow between the adoptees and our family…and our family and everybody else…