adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Returns! (No, Seriously!)

mcarlos

I would like to believe that love ALWAYS wins. It doesn’t. The past three years have humbled me and taught me that attachment and trauma are strong opponents. They plague children from hard places. But sometimes, sometimes, love wins.

This weekend was a win. Marcus, our prodigal son, the one we never got to adopt, came home. It was only a weekend visit, but it meant the world to all of us. (You can read about the struggle for this visit here and here in case you haven’t been following!) At the last minute (the day of) Marcus decided to come.

The former foster mom he lives with now told Luke truth about why she asked him to leave March 1st. As it turns out he is hanging out with friends that are not welcome in her home. The house rules are that he cannot bring these friends around. She told Luke that if his friends are more important than the house rules, he needs to leave. His choice. She’s not wrong, I just hope he chooses family over what are probably fleeting friendships.

Marcus was almost our son, too.  Love can be tricky for him. Too much is scary. Too little is devastating. We decided to surprise Carl and Mary, because we weren’t sure if he would change his mind at the last minute. When he walked in with Luke he got squeals of joy from both children. They flew into his arms and he looked almost surprised at the amount of big-brother-worship they still hold for him.

I had to choke back tears as I hugged him. It was the best weekend. I made sure we did all of the family traditions that he used to participate in. We played a million board games. He helped Luke move things around upstairs. He went to work overnight Friday on the ambulance with Luke (as an observer.) He slept in the next day and then the family (except for me. Stupid back injury!) went to the science center. We always have season passes.

Saturday night dinner was chinese food, a family favorite, followed by more board games. After the Littles went to bed, Luke and I played Bananagrams with him. When he lived here the teens and adults would always battle out this game after the younger children went to bed. Eventually it was just Marcus and I playing Monopoly Deal into the wee hours, and talking.

He proudly showed me a picture of his girlfriend on his phone (skipping past few nude ones.) He told me all about her, seeking my approval, but he is 19. He makes his own decisions now.  I just listened to him, late into the night. He made us both look like “The Joker” from with Snapchat. He told me things that me proud. He graduates in June and wants to be an electrician. He told me things that made me shudder. He smokes a lot of pot and no longer takes his prescribed medication. I just listened until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

mjoker

Scary Snapchat!

On Sunday Marcus had “sibling time” with Carl and Mary. He took them to Mcdonald’s in town for lunch. We told them “sibling time,” was just for them. As a bonus, Luke and I got a bit of alone time! (You can read here about why Luke and I aren’t getting much sleep!)

As he was packing to leave I realized that he brought along the fuzzy purple blanket I gave him 2 years ago. When I asked him about it he laughingly said, “I take that everywhere! That’s like my blankie, yo!” Once again, I choked back some tears and hugged him good-bye. He has a choice to make in a few days. He can choose to live with his former foster mom (family) and follow house rules. He can also choose his “friends” or this new girlfriend.

My hope is that this weekend reminded him about the importance of family. About the permanence of unconditional love. He chose love this weekend. I hope he makes the same choice March 1st.

mgroups

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Visits?

mhelmet.jpg

This is a post I never wanted to write. I just never thought things would turn out this way. Despite my best intentions,my hardest work, and all of my love, this is where we stand. We started with a sibling group of 4. The teen boys disrupted before we could officially adopt them. We have now adopted the younger two. The adoption fairytale isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Is that wrong? No. It just…is. I thought I was OK with it. Maybe I was wrong.

Our children’s oldest sibling, Marcus, has been in touch with us for a time. It’s weird to think of ourselves as just one in a long line of “foster parents” for him. I still feel like his mother. We had every intention of adopting them. Only Marcus has stayed in touch. (This is the story of meeting Marcus and bringing him home) In the end, he chose not to be adopted by us. His attachment issues ran too deep to allow him to be in a family.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Marcus. When he left it felt like a part of me was dying. Why didn’t he choose to be in our family? Why didn’t he choose to be adopted? Why didn’t he choose to have a mom. Even more painfully: why didn’t he choose me?! I wrote him an open good-bye letter (you can read it here.) This was cathartic for me, in a way. I’ve never stopped loving him. Sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

Marcus aged out of foster care. He signed himself out at 18 and bounced around a bit. He lived with a girlfriend, and her family. His job was supporting a lot of the people living there. He contacted us for money because he was so hungry. Luke gave him advice about how even if he loved this girl, he shouldn’t live where he couldn’t eat food. He also shouldn’t be supporting a family of 6-8 people.

We didn’t send him money. Luke and I had made a pact about letting Marcus learn to stand on his own two feet now that he had chosen not to be adopted. He needed to know that being an “adult” didn’t necessarily mean getting to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It’s hard work! (I caved and sent him and Amazon care package of food overnight anyway.)

As always, Marcus only lasts with a family for a short time. He bounced again, this time back to a former foster home. Marcus had been very close to the foster mom and we had facilitated visits between them when he lived with us. We didn’t want him to lose anymore people that were important to him. He always referred to her by her first name,  but I knew he loved her. Then he was gone from our house, gone from another foster home, and now about to leave his girlfriend’s home.

He was contacting us a lot during that time, and I think he wanted to ask to come back. He never said it, though. Our contact went something like this. He was making a lot of bad choices at the time. Drinking, getting high, and hanging out with a tough crowd. He was still enrolled in school. He still texted me pictures of his report card. He still wanted me to be proud of him. He still called me, “Ma.”

I was glad he was going back to that former foster home. Maybe he really belonged there the whole time. Perhaps we just hadn’t been the right family for him. Only it didn’t last. Now he has a few weeks left before he has to leave that home, too. He tells me it’s because he lost a job by falling asleep. He works in the day and is getting his high school diploma at night. He says his former foster mom is telling him this is “tough love.” I’m not exactly sure that it isn’t because of drinking, irresponsible behavior, or not working. Marcus usually tells his own version of a story.

It doesn’t matter what the story is, they all have the same ending, Marcus moves on to a new family.

He’s been asking me just for a visit. Just a day or a weekend. I’m conflicted. I don’t want to keep the littles from their brother. Sometimes, I feel like it will be too much for them to see him, and then not see him again for who knows how long? The thing is, I want Carl and Mary to see that we still have a relationship with Marcus. We still love him. No matter what happens, our love is forever. I also get the feeling that Mary has fears that her behavior might get her “kicked out” somehow.

I want her to know that we NEVER “throw away” people!

Should we have him over? Show them that he is still family even though he is an adult making his own living arrangements? Will it break their hearts?

Will it break mine? 

mlettera

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

 

 

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adoption disruption, family

False Allegations: Adventures in Knowing When to Throw in the Towel

And now I know. I know it’s done. At least, I know I’m done. I have to be. In truth, my husband Luke, has been done for awhile. The damage left in the wake of Sean has been nothing short of a tsunami.

Let’s start with the allegations. The investigation. It’s done, over, finished, and grandly ridiculous. Sean left our house amidst a storm of drama, rage, and physical violence that he perpetrated.  I was bleeding, we had damage done to our property and Carl had been shoved to the ground. It was a violent and scary scene. The state police came. They suggested that we press charges. We declined.

Weighing in at just under 230 lbs, Sean walked himself to the ambulance and got on laughing and joking with the staff. We chose in-patient treatment in the hopes of getting him some help. What mother would want to press domestic violence charges against her own son? I was hurt and angry and scared, yes, but I was still his mother. No, I didn’t want to press charges. Luke and I declined the officer’s suggestion. I hid my injuries in an upstairs bathroom, applying ice and bandages alone. I was scared and ashamed. I didn’t want to show anyone. I didn’t want to press charges against Sean.  It wasn’t until later that I learned we should have.

It wasn’t until later, when I was alone, that I destroyed his iPod, the object of the whole stupid dispute in the first place. My next step was to promptly forgive him and move on. We respected his wishes not to remain in our house. We even agreed with them, given the level of violence we had experienced at his hands. He wanted to live with his bio dad. We informed the DCF (still his legal guardian) of this. We told them he was always welcome back if he would agree to participate in his counseling, take the medication prescribed by his psychiatrist, and agree to a no-tolerance violence policy. I’d been injured one too many times. Luke and I both decided no more.

I mourned the loss of Sean. I irrationally waited for the day he would ask to come home. He was now in a foster home with Marcus, he was safe, but he wasn’t loved in the way a mom and dad would love him. I figured eventually he would miss his honors classes, art classes, outings with his friends, and family game night. He would have to miss baking cupcakes with me and binge-watching  iZombie episodes on Hulu. He would have to miss his little brother and sister. Right?

I tried hard to prepare myself for the possibility that he wouldn’t want to come home with us permanently. It was simply unfathomable to me that he would continue in his senseless adolescent rage. It was over the time his iPod was confiscated until he had finished taking out the trash and showering. I mean, he was just surviving, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he just confused?

Social workers came and went. They checked on our house and checked on our children. The in-home therapists processed the events with our Littles. Miraculously, tension and stress seemed to leave our Littles. They were actually more relaxed and less anxious. Things were going well. Still, I waited for Sean. I was like the golden retriever in a Disney movie, sitting by the window and waiting for it’s human to return, against all odds.

We saw him a month later, at his foster care review at the DCF office. These reviews occur every 6 months, and all parties are invited to attend and report on the progress of the children in their care. Marcus was there, too. Marcus ran and hugged Luke, exclaiming, “Hey Pops!” while ignoring their bio dad. I joked around with Marcus until the social worker attempting to run the meeting shushed us. Marcus gave me a conspiratorial grin, as if we were the class clowns interrupting the important DCF meeting.

I was cautious with Sean. He sat down next to me and said, “Hi” right away. I told him that his school pictures had come in and that he had smiled in them for the first time ever! (Sean rarely smiles in photos because he ends up talking to the photographer. He has years worth of open-mouthed startled looking school pictures.) We told him who got what position in the high school student government. He had been running for class treasurer  against a “frenenemy” of his. He seemed jovial and engaging. We left for the teen’s half of the meeting, although we weren’t sure why at the time. The stern DCF worker running the meeting told us we would be invited back for our children’s portion.

It wasn’t until a week later that we learned about the allegations Sean made in that meeting. After he had spoken so sweetly to us, after we had left the room feeling hopeful for some sort of future relationship, he had accused us of child abuse.

More specifically, he had accused me of physically harming him. His claims included me kicking him in the back and them picking him up and throwing him onto the bed (or maybe the floor?) He also alleged that I punched him, and Luke physically held him in the room. The latter part is somewhat true. Luke did hold him back by placing both hands on his chest, as I ran from Sean’s attack. Sean then punched Luke, to which Luke calmly replied, “Really? Really, Sean?” (Short of a nuclear attack, Luke is always calm and soft spoken.) However, Luke promptly stepped away as soon as I was safely locked in the bathroom, and allowed Sean to go outside the home. Then Luke called the social worker and called the police. Following the disruption we contacted all of the involved social workers and therapists. I even visited Sean in-patient and Luke packed and delivered his things. We thought that portion was over.

After the big review meeting at DCF,  Sean smiled and wished us well. It was a pleasant good-bye. Luke and I made bets that we would hear from him by the end of the week. Maybe he would just want to visit on a weekend. Maybe a day trip with the family? Certainly we assumed we’d have him with his siblings for a visit Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I got the call a few days later about the allegation. Our adoption finalization for Mary and Carl was put on hold pending the conclusion of the abuse investigation. A very nice worker came out and questioned all of us separately at our house. He met the Littles right off of the bus and we encouraged him to please feel free to drop in unannounced at any time. We had nothing to hide. We reviewed the allegations together and I showed him a picture of me with Sean. Sean and I are the same height. This teenager has almost 100 lbs on me. It is physically impossible for me to pick him up, let alone throw him. As for kicking him in the back? How would I have accomplished that? Like a Rockette? I’m certainly not flexible to kick up that high. We showed the worker the damage done to the window in Sean’s room. Again, I’m not physically capable of doing that kind of damage. Maybe I should start lifting some weights?

We provided this worker with the names and contact information of Sean’s therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and all of the crisis team who had been in our home,multiple times, for Sean’s anxiety attacks, Sean’s anger outbursts, and of course, his attempts to run away (mostly just sitting alone under the porch until he felt he needed snacks.) In addition we have him the contact information for Sean’s previous foster home (where he had also made an allegation when leaving) and the in-home therapy team who worked with the Littles and were in our home multiple times a week. Hey, raising kids with the issues our chickens have, isn’t easy. We have a big team. We do a damn good job considering the past trauma we are working with. Aside from my yelling at Sean that day, we don’t even raise our voices when the children have violent tantrums. A screaming child slamming things about is nothing new around here.

Our resources backed us up about going above and beyond for Sean. They gave information about our extensive training and use of therapeutic parenting strategies. They were able to confirm that we are relatively calm, level-headed, nonviolent parents. We do not participate in “holding therapy” or physical punishment or even grounding.They also confirmed that one must, indeed, shower and take out the trash to earn one’s electronics privileges.

I urged the worker to please follow up on the mental health services Sean was or was not receiving in foster care. He needed his therapy and his medical appointments. We were familiar with the home he was placed in, with Marcus. The foster parent was very nice, but the agency was slow moving. We worried about why Sean would be angry enough to do and say these things. Was he majorly depressed? Was he delusional? Was he manipulating this situation? In the end, did it even matter? I refuse to believe he just hates us out of the blue. I think he is hurting and confused and conflicted. And yes, he is also highly manipulative.

Since Sean had a prior history of false allegations, since the children and my husband corroborated my story, and since the mental health professionals Sean worked with had serious concerns about his mental health, we were in no real danger of losing our Littles. The only thing Sean really accomplished with this unfathomable attempt at revenge (or possible delusion?) was to delay the finalization of adoption for his two younger siblings. National adoption day came and went, and poor Mary missed out on a birthday sleepover because it didn’t take place at a DCF licensed home. She couldn’t go, because she was technically still a “foster kid.”

Luke and I asked ourselves a million times a day why he would do this. He loved the Littles. Why would he jeopardize their permanency? What if his plan had actually worked? What if someone had believed him and taken Mary and Carl? They didn’t have the same bio dad. Where would they go? Luke worried over this for some time. Statistically speaking, “older” children, sibling groups, and children with behavioral health concerns, are hard to place. They have a heart-breakingly small percentage chance of ever getting adopted, even less so of being kept together. Carl and Mary came with all of these caveats. Plus, they were our children now. Who else could herd our little chickens to-and-fro on this crazy adventure called “family?” Why try and take that from them?

We may never know his motivations. Trauma, neglect, and maladaptive survival skills play a role. We forgave him. We moved on. We hoped he would come around eventually. We hoped DCF would get him the help he so desperately needs. He certainly wouldn’t participate when we provided it.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend. We took a trip to the former foster home where Carl had been for a few months, and Sean and Mary had stayed for almost 2 years. This couple is called “Grandma” and “Grandpa” by all of their current and former foster youth. They are a  friendly couple who have fostered over 500 children in their 40 years as foster parents.

We consider them extended family now. So do our children and hundreds of children before them. On this visit we learned that Sean had blocked his “Grandma” on Facebook. She had tried to reach out and check on him after the disruption, with no luck. He had, however, been in contact with other family members from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They told us he was threatening to hurt himself because of the poor conditions in his new foster home. A few of the other children had seen on Facebook that he was making claims about how horrible his new placement is.

I can honestly say that we know this home and we know how sweet the foster mom is. She is religious, she is kind, and she strictly enforces house rules. She does not buy Sean electronics or art lessons as we had done. She does expect that chores are completed before dinner. In short, it’s a pretty normal foster home. But again, he is making allegations.

My first instinct was to run to him. Yes, it’s a nice foster home, but maybe he missed his real home. Maybe he missed us? Maybe he missed his bio dad? We had always provided those visits with bio dad so Luke and I assumed maybe he wasn’t getting them at all. Like I said, DCF can be slow to set things up. Visits, medical appointments, mental health services, can wait months and months if left solely to the department.

Luke and I dug a little deeper. We reached out to some contacts. It seems as if the real story is that bio dad is promising some material items, and fewer rules. DCF took until recently to approve overnight visits. Sean was looking for immediate reunification, and thus, he made the new allegations. I doubt he will hurt himself. I remember Sean threatening to tell others that he would hurt himself if I refused to buy him things or let him skip school, etc. But what if? What if this time it was for real?

But I was almost sucked back in. I was irrationally drawn to help him. I kept telling myself, he’s only 14. What if he is hurting? What if no one is noticing or caring about his serious depression? Maybe we should reach out. Who is going to take care of him? Then I realized he was still manipulating. Still surviving. It’s probably all he knows how to do.

I have to step away. I have to give up and throw in the towel. It seems easier for Luke, because Luke is so mad at all of the pain the teens have caused me. Until our  Littles are finalized in court, we can’t even think about involving ourselves with the older boys. At this point I have to accept defeat. Sean doesn’t want our family. He doesn’t even want us to have our family.

If I hadn’t fought for those boys until the very end, I could never have forgiven myself. I would always have wondered the difference I could have made if I only reached out a little more. Proved my love a little more. My love won’t change but my involvement has to.

It’s over now. I’m throwing in the towel. I wish Sean the best. Out of the 4 siblings, the 2 youngest are thriving. I forgive Sean for surviving the only way he knew how. Now I have to forgive myself for surviving. I can’t maintain contact because I will always fall for his sweet words. I can’t anymore.

We notified DCF of our concerns and support for the new foster parent.  But now I’m done. I hope he does well for himself. I may be throwing in the towel but I will never throw my title of “mom” away, no matter how briefly I held it for this boy. Although it is hard to remember sometimes, it isn’t us against the child. It’s us against his past. It’s us against his trauma. It’s us against his RAD. I just desperately hope that DCF or his bio-dad will take up that call to battle. After all, someone must fight for this boy. And it can no longer be us.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved

**If you have ever considered foster or adoptive care I would STILL encourage you to get started on your own adventure

***Photo and quote courtesy of “Great Big World” Facebook page.

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adoption disruption, Attachment Disorders, family

5 Reasons The 20/20 Segment, “The Forever Family,” Failed

rehoming

They failed as journalists. Call it what you will, but they failed. Investigative journalism has a responsibility to shed light on all sides of a story. Shedding light on RAD? Fail. Shedding light on the horrors of re-homing? Fail. Sensationalizing the pain and suffering of little children to boost ratings? Success.

Elizabeth Vargas and her team botched this past Friday’s segment “The Forever Family.” In the opening introduction, they ask the question, “If things don’t work out with your adoptive children, can you simply give them back?” This question was never answered.In my opinion, these are the 5 biggest errors in their show:

1. The lack of information on RAD.

There was a panel of parents discussing this disorder. 20/20 basically glossed over this part in 30 seconds. They describe RAD as “the inability to form attachments.” That is not correct. It certainly makes it very scary and difficult to form attachments, but it isn’t impossible.  There wasn’t any compassion shown to a little girl so drastically traumatized that she killed a guinea pig and wanted to kill her brother. She suffered from complex trauma and abuse. This girl deserved to have her story told with compassion.  Information about how and why a child could get to this point should have been brought to light. She deserved to have her story told with an explanation and with compassion. 

2. Where was the responsibility of DHS?

The segment have no information that DHS attempted to put supports in place. The social worker clearly had knowledge that the girls’ situation was dire before the adoption. What did they do to preserve permanency for these girls? Why would the Department decide not to investigate an “exorcism?!” The department suggested that these parents place cameras and motion detector alarms on the girls’ bedrooms. Does this creep anyone else out?! They must have been prepared for problems.

3. Mental health professionals

Where were they? Why is it that a psychiatrist or psychologist specializing in RAD and complex trauma wasn’t on the show? They did not shed any light in the fact that there are very few mental health professionals who specialize in complex trauma, particularly in adoptive situations like this. The lack of education and resources for adoptive families and traumatized children is deplorable. Children with these issues often slip through the cracks without getting the help they need. Superficially charming and sweet, they impress perfect strangers while manipulating situations. These are survival skills that mask huge depths of pain and grief. These children are hurting and they need help. They need permanency.

This segment showed a foster family who had these girls during the charming, or “honeymoon” phase. The oldest was already in intensive care. That is due to major trauma, not just “a few outbursts,” as the social worker stated. Putting the girls all together again without preparation and therapy was/is a huge DHS mistake. Why would their therapists not have any plan for this? It’s simple. They were probably not adoption specialists or complex trauma specialists. Putting them together again triggered their survival skills and memories of the abusive environment. Those poor children. A properly trained professional could have helped in this situation, but they are few and far between. Why not shed some light on that?

4. The Re-homing disaster

Often, due to the “abandonment” law, there is no hope or support for adoptive families. Without proper resources to treat this rare disorder, the children can become worse. The closer they get to caretakers, the more they begin to react. Love is terrifying to them so they try to destroy it any way they can. They are surviving the only way the know how. Adoptive families are woefully unprepared for children who are this hurt. So they seek help and relief any way they can. They are surviving.  20/20 did nothing to show compassion for the fact that families often cannot get proper mental health care for their children. Adoptive families often cannot get proper DHS support for their families. Left with little support, and fewer options, families re-home. By shaming these families, and leaving virtually no way out, we are dooming innocent children to scary and uncertain “re-homing” situations. Making it illegal? Yeah, OK, that’s good. Now how about making a legal requirement for DHS that would provide support for families post-adoption? ABC did nothing to inform about what I consider to be a national issue. They were too focused on the shame-and-blame game.

5. This family

I think many adoptive families would agree that we wouldn’t want the Harrises to be the face of adoption and/or adoption disruption. At first I was glad ABC was going to do a price on the problems of re-homing and RAD. But the segment that aired was worthy of just about any glossy gossip magazine at your local checkout counter. Yes, this family is strange. No, I cannot identify with them or with all of their choices. I was probably the most horrified by their continued reference to their biological children as “their own” children. Worse still was the mother who said, “My children were the ones we were gonna safeguard first and foremost.” What? How were these people confused about who their children were? Why didn’t they bond with their girls? Even worse, why finalize instead of waiting to get help and support in partnership with DHS for these girls?

ABC makes it easy for the rest of us to say, “I could never be like that family. No way. Not me.” They are so unrelatable that it makes it easier for the viewer to stay in the comfort zone of “I would never.” It makes the viewer feel better about themselves. Add to that the happy ending with the new family. I would hazard a guess that these girls are better off in a home without boys close in age. But, are they “cured” with a new family? Probably not. Instead, they are with a family that must have had the resources and training to stick it out. With trauma that deep it takes at least a year to see improvement. Sometimes, it doesn’t improve at all, no matter what the parents do. The Harris family or the Cleavers might have failed just the same. ABC just sent the message to struggling families everywhere that they are the problem. I want to state that RAD is the problem. The child’s past trauma is the problem.

It’s too bad that 20/20 did not use this platform to shed light on Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s too bad that their platform was nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy to make viewers think, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as those people!” 20/20 had the opportunity to touch upon the mental health crisis in our country. They could have, and should have, done a better job with this segment. Yes, Elizabeth Vargas, a six-year-old little girl can be terrifying. She can attempt murder, exhibit super human strength in her rage, and injure herself and others. It is not the fault of the child. Instead of asking if this could happen Ms. Vargas should have been asking how does this happen? And how can we make it better for these hurt, traumatized children?

**Pictures courtesy of ABC 20/20 official website

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adoption, adoption disruption, family

Family Divided: Adventures in Rupture and Repair

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Is there a protocol for this? How does one navigate the waters of almost-used-to-be children? In his time-honored, often repeated cycle, Marcus is back in contact. He wants to visit. He wants back in. Again.

His 18th birthday comes in less than a week. I’m sending money for his birthday present (he wants a tattoo about a friend that was murdered in his old neighborhood.) I have promised this since he was 16. I have never missed a birthday or holiday no matter where he was or how he was feeling about us. It’s important to me that he knows our family is a constant in his life.

How does one solve an equation as complicated as this one. And how does one count the cost? The cost to my teenager. The cost to my family. The cost to my heart.

He comes to us when he wants something. Marcus can’t discern the difference between his wants and his needs. The survivor in him urges him to meet his perceived needs by any means necessary. This could be $50 for clothes, a haircut, sunflower seeds or a car. I’m glad he knows to come to us. I wish I could teach him the difference between “needing” a new video game and needing bail money. If we deny one will he still know to come to us for the other? I hope so. We are about to find out.

How much do I give and how much do I allow him to take? He wants a day visit. Breakfast until dinner. He asks me with such timidity, such trepidation. But is this real or is it all manipulation? He hasn’t asked after his siblings. He will probably never apologize for being physically aggressive towards me. Marcus never apologizes. It’s one of the ways he keeps his heart safe. I get it. It doesn’t mean that I like it.

How would I handle it if he came for the day? Would Sean show up as well? Inevitably, the visit would end and my teenagers would walk away from me. Again. Can I handle that again? Could anyone handle watching them walk away over and over again?

But if not me, then who else? For Marcus, there won’t be another “mom.” There won’t be another family to be there for him when no one else will. If I walk away I will truly leave an orphan behind me. Sean, on the other hand, has his biological father on the sidelines. This is the same father Marcus has. He told us to adopt Marcus, because he only wants Sean. He is still fighting for Sean, no matter what Sean wants. Sean isn’t talking. Marcus is. Marcus hates that man with a burning vengeful rage.

And that leaves us. The safe place. Home. I want to be mom-enough to handle whatever heartbreak is thrown my way. I’m not sure that I am capable. Before he comes home for a visit, he needs to have some boundaries. He can put my emotions through this roller coaster ride, but not my littles. My littles deserve peace.

The newfound peace in our home is fragile. It’s new. Our littles have more of our time and attention. They are more easily soothed and they express less anxiety. Luke and I have more time for each other. We have an extra hour when the littles go to bed for talking, dancing in the kitchen, having a glass of wine or making love. I no longer spend an hour massaging the teens’ post-football practice aches. I don’t tuck Sean in and go back over and over for at least an hour to soothe his nighttime anxieties. How can we be there for the teens and still preserve this delicate family balance?

That’s an equation I can’t solve. How could I? Where do I draw the line between him and me? How will I know if I’m doing the right thing? How would anyone?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Distupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.

Love,

Another RAD Soldier

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