This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

5 things to ask yourself before adopting

5 things the adoptive parent should ask themselves before adopting a child over 5

Recently a friend posted that a friend of hers was writing an article.  She asked for advice and I went a little overboard with my answer, but I wanted to share it with you guys.  If you have advice for the writer of the article that you want to post in the comments then I could probably share it with her.  Just let me know!

  1. How good are you at accessing resources? - I wish I had them lined up in advance, but there was no way of knowing all we needed.  From the start, we needed experienced therapeutic parents willing to share and support.  Plus lots of  resources for the many special needs my kids came with, we uncovered, that developed...  including information about where to go to get the services my kids needed (school, medical, Medicaid, psychiatric, legal advice, psychiatrists and other specialists...).  I learned a LOT about trauma, RAD, bipolar disorder, FASD, abuse and neglect, therapies that work or don't... things they don't teach you in that short pre-adopt class.
  2. How strong is your support group?  You need people as committed as you are to making this adoption work.  You need people who "get it."  You need your significant other to be supportive and have your back.  You probably need a good therapist (for yourself).
  3. How stable/safe is your family?  It took a long time for Hubby to believe and understand how much RAD kids are manipulating and triangulating and he blamed my parenting at first.  We had younger biokids and they had to withstand a lot of abuse (from adopted siblings - verbal mostly) and neglect from parents because we were devoting our attention to the adopted kids.  We all suffered from PTSD and the biokids had to grow up faster.  Even though my biokids were younger chronologically they were developmentally/emotionally older than the adopted kids which added to the sibling rivalry.  You need to protect any pets too.  We had to isolate from  family members (and friends)  who didn't "get it" because they often made things worse.  
  4. How strong are YOU?  Imagine the hardest thing you've ever done.  Now multipy that by 10 and  imagine doing it every day 24/7 for the next 15-20 years, while everyone tells you you're doing it wrong and you're a horrible person.  You become a warden and a prisoner in your own home.  The instinct to give 110% to these poor defenseless children is overwhelming - but you have to remember what they say in the event of an airplane crash - take care of yourself first.  Can you make yourself a priority?  Can you handle being reviled and treated as the Meanest Mom in the Universe.
  5. Why are you doing this?  
  • If it's to save a child, don't do it.  You can't "fix" them.  You can make their lives better (maybe), but you didn't break them in the first place and a LOT of damage can be permanently done before the age of 5 (before birth too!).  
  • If it's to have someone to love you, don't do it.  If they are ever capable of loving you, great, but it's possible they won't.  
  • If it's to get to pick your "perfect" child that's past the potty training stage, definitely don't do it.  These kids are NOT going to be perfect.  They've been through major trauma at best.  Not to mention the potty training thing is not a given either (my 16yo still has the occasional accident and wet the bed until 14).  
  • If it's to replace a child or fill a void in your life, don't do it.  No one else can fill a hole in your life.  You need to be in a very healthy place in your life to be able to handle this child's needs and fill them.  Adoption is about the child
  • If it's because you think it's your duty as a Christian (or whatever motivates you), don't do it.  That's not going to be enough reason.  
  • If it's to save your marriage, DON'T DO IT!  This is one of the hardest things on a marriage - a lot of them don't survive.  

So why did we adopt?  This is what I wrote way back then when we first applied for adoption (and got turned down):

Motivation to AdoptMary has always thought about adoption as a way of adding to her family and helping others.  Her mother had often thought of taking in foster children, but didn’t want to do it as a single parent, and once married, didn’t think her husband could handle more children.  Mary did some adoption research in college, primarily focused on open vs. closed adoption, and transracial adoption.  When Mary mentioned the idea to Hubby, he thought about it, and decided it seemed like a good idea.  Early in the marriage, there was a strong possibility that Hubby’s brother’s ex-wife would lose custody of her three children (our niece and nephew and their infant half sister), due to abuse and neglect.  Hubby’s brother would have been unable to support the children.  She cleaned up her act enough that we decided she probably wouldn’t lose custody, but it did make us think more about adopting a larger sibling group.  We were initially worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford a large family, but that is no longer an issue. We did some research a couple of years ago into foster care and adoption, but decided our daughter was too little.  Mary got a job doing foster care homestudies with {a local foster care agency} on a contract basis for a while.  Last year, we called 1-800-TOADOPT and attended an orientation class in October.  We started Pride classes in January, and completed the training in March.  We feel more comfortable about our financial situation now, and have moved to a house large enough to accommodate several more children comfortably.  We feel that our oldest child is young enough to adapt to new siblings, and our youngest child is independent enough to accommodate the changes that come with having more siblings.

I don't think that's a very complete answer.  If I had to guess what it was back then, here's what I probably would have said:

  • My parents were into zero population growth so I didn't plan to give birth to more than one child, but wanted a larger family.
  • I grew up around adoption (step sister was adopted as an infant), and my mom frequently talked about the exchange students and other kids brought into their home when she was growing up.  Plus, she'd talked about doing foster care, but it never worked out.
  • I was raised to be a rescuer.  I wanted to save/rescue kids who needed it.  It made me feel like a better person.  I did the same with adults too, until I finally realized that it wasn't good for the people or myself (learned helplessness).
  • I expected it to fill my "love tank."  Not just love from the kids, but from others affirming me for being a good person.
  • I wanted to use my hard-earned skills.  I had an education (Psychology with a focus on child abuse and neglect, Social Work, Mental Health) and had acquired a LOT of knowledge on childcare and discipline (Bob was a HANDFUL!).  
  • This was something at which I thought I'd be good.   Honestly, I wanted an excuse not to have to go back to work.  My jobs were pretty stressful, none of them felt like the right job for me, and I didn't feel good about myself.  I also couldn't find a good job that matched my skill set - none of them met ALL my needs.
  • I felt that our family wasn't complete yet.  I had "baby fever" something awful.  Not for an actual baby, but for someone to love and nurture.
I probably didn't adopt for all the right reasons, but they were enough.  I believe this was the path (and children) that God intended for me.  I also don't think this path is ending.  I don't have "baby fever" any more, but I also don't feel that our family is done.


Channie said...

While I in no way am discounting your experience, I hope the writer of the article knows that this is just one person's experience. I adopted my daughter at 13 and while we have our 'adoption' related issues, she is bonded and a amazing daughter that I could imagine living without. While all parents who go into an older child adoption should be aware the risks, they should also be aware of positive outcomes as well.

Carmen said...

Get to know your boundaries and abilities VERY well. Learn about a variety of types of trauma kids and figure out who your skill set is meant for.
Some people get caught up in the excitement and accept the first kid offered. Don't! Do due diligence to make sure its a good fit. For me, I knew I could handle the harder kids so I refused the easier kids that could easily find a home. Don't assume an easier kid will be easier, they may just be in their charming stage. I took a kid who hadn't been in the system and thus nothing was known because I didn't have any risk such as kids that needed to be protected.
Adopting special needs kids is the best thing I ever did but only because it fit. I knew myself, my situation and I was trained well. Loving a trauma kid will change you, the mothers parenting trauma kids who I have met are all amazing people because of it.

Johanna said...

Your thoughts on why you adopted got me thinking about why we adopted - basically it came down to the idea that we wanted more children and we weren't able to have more than one biological child. It feels like a selfish reason, but the fact is that parenting is pretty unselfish and demands a lot of sacrifices. Having one child, I think we were practical in terms of what we expected from adding more children - though it is hard to be prepared for the unique challenges a kid with trauma or mental illness can pose. Your list of things to prepare for and reasons NOT to adopt are good ones!