family, fostercare, mental illness

Belief in One Girl: The Argument FOR Medication In Foster Care

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It’s taken me quite some time to decide if I should share something this intimate, this painful.  The reason I blog is to give hope to other trauma mamas. I also blog to give TRUTH to other families going into foster care and adoption. People need to know what it’s like herding chickens! Sometimes I only wish I knew then, what I know now.

I’m about to tell a very raw, very real, and very ugly story. It’s also an amazing and very hopeful story.

There are some things about my children that I’ve been reluctant to share. What if they read this someday? What if they are horrified to see these intimate details out in the world? I balance this with the fear that there is a family out there, somewhere, debating if it will ever get better. Debating if they can do this any longer. This family needs to know that it’s possible before giving up on a child/ children from the foster care system.

This story is about the face of trauma and attachment challenges and a genetic predisposition for mental health disorders. This story is about the face of a little girl the first time she actually feels safe enough to admit she loves her new parents.

Foster kids come to us from a variety of backgrounds. They come from broken homes, abuse, or neglect. Sometimes they come from homes of crippling mental health concerns. Sometimes they come quite by mistake from healthy families. Either way, they all come out of their home and into ours. No matter what preceded it, this is a crushing trauma. All foster care starts with trauma.

“The Over Medication of Children in Foster Care” seems to be a big headline these days. A few years ago the headlines were all about kids in group homes and not with families. Are these connected? I believe so. I often hear statements such as, “I don’t believe in medication.”  It isn’t a religion. It isn’t a political stance. Since when did choices about our children’s health start falling into the “belief” range? Truth be told, unless your religion prescribes an actual belief about medication (and some do) wouldn’t this be more of a “preference?” I don’t believe either way about medication. I believe in my child. I don’t care about medication. I care about my child.

When we first brought the children home, it was after 4 months of overnight visits, phone calls, and traveling out-of-state to be at their school functions. We knew them fairly well by the time they came home. We were trained, ready, and prepared. Or so we thought…

The 4 siblings had been split up into 3 separate foster homes for their 3 years in care.  Only one of the children was receiving any kind of counseling. Coming into our home permanently was an enormous change for them.

Placing them all together again, with a set of forever parents, triggered their survival skills big time. It started with hoarding food and hiding food in their rooms. This progressed into urination and deification in odd places such as the trash can or the towels.

It quickly turned violent. Mostly towards mom, but also towards each other. They would try to push each other out of a moving vehicle if they even suspected the other had more food or more attention. They hit me, yelled at me, and threatened me , “you’re gonna be sorry!” They also screamed in terror every time I raised my arms to adjust my ponytail. They were waiting for me to hit them. History had taught them that moms hit, moms are drunk, and moms don’t feed you.

This was pretty typical trauma behavior. So we did what foster parents do. Did we go right for medication? No! We sought out counseling for our children. We went to a support group. We read all the books. What we didn’t bargain on was the extreme reaction of our youngest child.

The trauma of the move into our home, impending adoption, and trauma triggers of living with her brothers again, weighed on her. This was nothing compared to her early onset mental illness. The poor girl.

There was a strong history of mental illness in the maternal side of the birth family. Combined with precocious puberty, and all of the changes in her life, she entered into the perfect storm.

At first she would scream and cry alone in her room. This could be over any problem such as seeing a stray cat, being asked to let someone’s else steer the shopping cart, or even an argument she got into with her backpack one time. She would yell out, “Stop murdering me!” And “Owie, owie, oww!”while all alone. She threw herself straight down the stairs, stiff as a board.

Sometimes she would begin laughing hysterically for no reason and then immediately shift into screaming and pulling her hair. She would attack us and her brothers. She stabbed us with pencils and threw shoes at us. She tried to grab the car keys and drive the car. She ran into traffic many times.  She would smash her head against the wall over and over. She bit us. She bit herself. These things happened multiple times a day. Every day. It wasn’t safe to drive her to therapy because she would try to shove her brother out of the car, or jump out of the car, while it was moving. We were trapped at home during the summer months because it took 2 adults to transport her anywhere and my husband was at work.

Once, following an out-patient therapy session, she had a full-blown tantrum in the parking lot. Her three brothers and I got her in the car. The child locks were on so I settled in with her brothers to keep her from climbing out of the hatchback on our SUV. She smashed her head against the glass, tried to kick out a window with her feet, and tore at my clothes. The entire time she screamed, “Somebody help me! Help! Ouch! Owie!” We were there for an hour and then bystanders called the police. Once the police came she cowered in my lap and begged me to protect her. She begged me not to send her away.

There were many times she sobbed that she was an awful girl and no one would ever adopt her. She said she wished she was dead. She clung to me and hugged me and panicked if I was out of sight. She never slept for more than 45 minutes at a time. Ever. We constantly had to watch her vigilantly for the safety of her brothers.

We found scissors in her room, hidden under the mattress.  At 44lbs. she could pick up and drop her bed, complete with heavy wooden bed frame. There were holes in the drywall, closet doors hanging by their hinges, and broken windows. The adrenaline kicked her into super human strengths when she was afraid. I wore long skirts and long sleeves throughout the summer months to cover my bruises and bite marks.

Did she do any of this because she was “bad?” Of course not! This little girl was surviving. It was taking everything she had just to live in a family setting, surrounded by love. She loved us so fiercely that she was afraid. She pushed us away because she only knew loss and grief.

In her first 9 months home, she was hospitalized at an in-patient psychiatric unit 5 times. She went to a short-term residential facility once. Mary spent most of her first year home in a partial hospitalization program. Then an intensive outpatient program. We had intensive in-home therapy services, too. My husband and I participated in family therapy, trauma therapy and training.

Did all of this therapy work? Well, she could talk the talk, but she couldn’t access the skills when she needed them. Our daughter was in a heightened state of fear all of the time. She was trying her hardest just to survive. Her nightmares never let her sleep. Ever. I would often wake to find her standing over our bed silently.

Once, after trying to escape our moving vehicle on the highway, she told me “I can’t live like this. My feelings are just too BIG. No one understands what this feels like!”

She needed the help of medication to access the skills she was learning in therapy. It’s not a religion. Sometimes people ask me if I “believe” in medication. Believe in it? Don’t believe in it? That sounds more like a question for scientific research and the FDA. I’m not talking about snake oil magic potions here. I’m talking about psychotropic medications that are sometimes used for children. And, yes, sometimes they are necessary.

It’s not a matter of “making it easier to parent them” or “making things better for parents.” It is a matter of life and death. Permanency versus disruption. Home with family or hospitalized. Again. Type 1 diabetics require insulin to live. Some children require glasses to read. Some children with psychiatric conditions require medication to function in the world. Why would I ever deny my child what she needed?

There has been a lot of media coverage in the last year about medication over-use in foster care. Yes, there are certainly cases where a child is medicated without therapy and behavioral interventions. That’s terrible and probably not very effective. A treatment plan should have many components and should always include therapy for the foster child, if not the entire family unit. If therapy isn’t working, and medication isn’t an option, then kids disrupt. Families cannot manage like this long-term. Many would not. Many would give up.

Then foster kids move into a “therapeutic” or “intensive” foster homes. Often, they are moving away from their siblings who just may be the only stability they’ve ever known. If this doesn’t help they may end up in group homes or bouncing from place to place when their behaviors become too much for one family.

Let me be clear. The behaviors are a symptom. They are a symptom of trauma. They are a symptom of pain and grief and loss. They are often a symptom that the child is developing the very mental illness that prevented a birth parent from actually parenting them. We need to treat the problem the child has, not just the symptoms.

But, if the symptoms prove too much for the child to access therapy and healing? Treat them in addition! Treat them with medication if needed. Every child will need something different. Why would we toss out a whole category of help because it comes in the form of medication? Why not do whatever is best for the individual child?

I am aware that there are side effects. I am aware that we may be changing her brain chemistry. I hope we are. In this case, the benefit outweighed the risks. If she hadn’t settled into a family? If she hadn’t learned to love? If she hadn’t been able to access therapy? She would have been lost in a foster care cycle that too often repeats across generations. We would not give up on her or leave her to that fate. Our little girl deserved a family. She needed a family. She needed us. 

After her medication was right? The uncontrollable raging stopped. It ended. It’s been over 8 months since she had a violent outburst. She is still working through major trauma and emotional issues. We still have in home and outpatient therapy services to support her. But she is with us. She is functioning in a family setting. We can use the car and go places. She sleeps through the night now, on most nights. She isn’t having toileting accidents out of fear and anxiety anymore. Instead, she is making friends, playing with barbies, and hunting for bugs in the yard. She leaves me sweet little “I love mommy” notes and she means it.  She is loved beyond imagining.

Will she be on medication forever? It’s a possibility, given her diagnosis. I hope not, but we will face whatever comes. She is our daughter. Our heart. Our littlest chicken.

Here’s the thing. My daughter’s past does not define her. Her trauma will not define her. She is more than just a mental illness. She is more than just a series of behaviors. Now she is able to shine because those things are all getting better.

She is just a normal little girl, experiencing a normal childhood. It took a long time to get there. It took  a lot for her to trust in us never to leave her. She was able to get there because she had the right supports, including medication.

This is just one story. It is a beautiful story. It is a story of hope and healing and family. It is the story of a little girl brave enough to try to love again. Brave enough to heal.

When did this ever become a conversation about “beliefs?” If you believe in one thing, I urge you to believe in the power of love. Medicate or don’t medicate, I won’t judge you. It isn’t fair of us, as a society, to pass so much judgement on parents. Why do we do this?

Have compassion. Know that all kids are different, and kids in care are traumatized to a whole other level. If we want to stop passing kids around from home to home? If we want to break the cycles of mental illness, trauma, and abuse? We need to be open to anything that works.

Yes, the number of children in foster care on psychotropic medication is vastly disproportionate to the general population. However, all of our kids in care have experienced huge trauma. It may be hard for us to comprehend a hurt that big in the general population. I have no idea how hard that must be. I will not judge another family for trying to help their child any way they can.

I urge you to remember our story. We never gave up. We do believe in something. It has nothing to do with medication. We believe in the power of love.

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

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family

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Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.

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The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!

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**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Seeking Sean: Understanding Why He Can’t

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The Mother’s Day gift Sean made me with a deck of cards.

Why? Why on earth would he despise being in our family?? I have compiled a list of the horrors our family inflicted upon our teenage son, Sean. The perils of family life he faced include, but are not limited to:

1. Having to shower on the daily. Yes, that’s correct, we do enforce proper hygiene particularly for those in the throes of puberty.

2. Family dinners. That’s it. We just sit down at the table as a family. You don’t have to eat but you have to show up.

3. Taking out the trash. His only chore.

4. Be respectful to your family members, at least decently so.

Before he left, these seemed to be his triggers. I feel like the real list of complaints he has boil down to one thing only. The revised (and I believe truthful) list is this:

1. Having a mom and dad who set limits and enforce boundaries.

He couldn’t get used to it. He complained about it all the time. Ever since Marcus left he began threatening to do the same. It was usually about how if he didn’t get what he wanted or do as he pleased, then he didn’t want the family.

We sat down that day and made a little book about what our family responsibilities and roles are. Mom, Dad, the littles, and Sean all had a page. We wrote it together. We talked about it and agreed to it. That was the last thing we did with Sean, as a family.

Now, his place is empty at the dinner table each night. The last I heard he actually went into the same foster home Marcus is in. At least, Marcus will be there until October 24th, when he turns 18. Then he is going to his older bio-sisters home for a “big party.” Part of me is happy they are together. Part of me is cringing inside because my 14-yr-old baby is back in “the system.”

I want to make sure he is going to therapy. Given the history of Marcus’ mental health care during foster placement, I doubt it. I wonder who goes to him at night when he has nightmares? Who watches the cooking channel with him in the evenings? Who will hang up his art work and buy him all of those expensive art supplies? Who will hug him and tell him he is a wonderful boy?

No one. That is what a mom does. That is what he did not want. Sean used to wait for me each night for almost 45 minutes while I put the littles to bed and sat there until they slept. I didn’t want them to be scared. He didn’t want to be scared, either.

We would watch a movie or HGTV. The last movie we saw was “A Monster in Paris.” It was an animated musical and Sean sang all of the songs while cuddled up. I didn’t make him snuggle up or hug me. I didn’t chase him around to watch TV. He craved that time with me. Sean used to make little art projects for me and he would just glow when I put them on the fridge. Being his mother is rewarding but also exhausting at times. I would tuck him in at bedtime and rub his back. I would try to leave 2 or 3 times and he would beg for me to stay a little longer because he was scared. Just like a small child.

Some nights (when he was especially anxious or triggered) I was so exhausted my eyes would close and I would nod off while standing up. It took so long to put him down for the night. Now I lie down early to read or write before bed. I have time in the evenings. I still wish I appreciated the times he needed me, no matter how exhausting.

Sean didn’t like limits and rules. He didn’t like that Mom and Dad set them. He didn’t like it that Mom and Dad had “off duty” time at night to be with just each other. Sean wanted to be our only child, soaking up all of our attention. That tells me that he does want to be loved. However, he wanted to be our equal. Having control and being separate from “the kids” was a big sticking point for him. That tells me that he absolutely does not understand love.

Having a mom and dad is hard for all of our kids. It’s a foreign concept to them.  That would be like someone dropping off an exotic elephant and expecting me to know what to do with it. Even though showering and taking out trash are not torture, it must feel like it to someone who just can’t understand. The care, the limits, the very oversight of us must have smothered him.

I saw him one last time when he was in-patient. I brought him his favorite sketch books. I said what I needed to say. He looked bored, indifferent even. But I know my Sean and I saw that he was holding back tears. I was a mess just crying and distraught.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: I really do love you, you know. Very much.

Sean: Yeah. (Eye roll) I love you, too.

Me: I want you to know that you are very, very wanted. It was never a question of that. We always wanted you.

Sean: Yeah. I know.

Me: I’m so sad that you didn’t want to be part of a family. That it was so hard for you. I’m sorry it worked out like this.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I want you to be happy. I really hope that you find what it is you’re looking for.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I don’t know what else to say to you. I promise we will take very good care of the littles.

Sean: I know.

Me: You’re a great kid, Sean.

(Long pause)

Me: Do you want me to go?

Sean: Yeah.

That was the last of it. I can accept that he doesn’t want parents right now. I can accept that he wants to be with Marcus or maybe be like Marcus. I can even accept that he doesn’t want contact with us. He didn’t need to say anything to me that day. I needed to say what I said to him. What I cannot accept is the facade that being in a family was so awful for him that he just doesn’t care. I know he cared. It must have been harder than I can imagine but I know that it was good for him to be with us.

I can’t say if he will ever be with us again. Who knows? I can say that this experience was the hardest. It taught me that what we are doing with these kids, for however log we have them, is worth it. My joy, my love, my memories? They are worth the soul-shattering grief I am feeling right now. That time was worth everything. Being “mom” is worth everything to me.

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

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adoption, family, fostercare

“But They Don’t Look Like You”: Adventures in Explaining our Mulitcolored Family

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I am a white mamma. I am blindingly, florescently, practically translucent in my white skin. I have to wear SPF all year round, and I apply 70 in the summer. There, I have told the truth. So now you know. But let’s face facts; I have a mirror. Therefore, I also happen to know that I am white.

I also happen to have eyes. Therefore, I can see my Hispanic husband and my Hispanic children. I can see them brown up and tan in the sun. This is something I have never been able to pull off, myself. I am either white, off white, or bright red and miserable. My sun-kissed family, however? They are blessed with the obvious favor of the sun. Lucky little chickens!

Being the only white member of the family comes with its fair share of oddities. For instance, if we eat at an outdoor restaurant they all scramble to get me under the shade of a table-umbrella. When I enjoy my iced coffee and listen to NPR, my teens tell me “that’s because you’re a white woman.” Once I lost my daughter, Mary, for about 15 minutes in a park. I panicked completely and squeezed her so tightly when I found her. She just shook her head at my “nervous white mama ways.” Sometimes they attribute my personal oddities with being white. They don’t always understand.

My kids aren’t the only ones who misunderstand. A surprising number of strangers don’t understand and they expect an explanation!

At grocery stores, the nail salon, doctor’s offices and even the pet store I am questioned. “Are they all yours?” ( not surprising given the sheer number of children.) “They don’t look like you.” And, of course, “What country did they all come from?” Ummm…yours. This country. One where presumably, you should have at least some manners.

Sometimes a stranger will ask, “Which ones are your real children?” I found a great response online once and I always use it. I simply say, “oh no. They’re not all real. One of them is imaginary. Guess which one???” Then I laugh.

The thing is, my kids don’t need to hear your ignorance. They are real actual human people standing in front of you. Ok, I’ll concede that they are all really my “chickens” but still.

I get it that we don’t look alike. But we like the same TV shows. We have the same corny jokes. We all believe in the power of love and the fun of Hibachi. We all give “Nana points” to each other for good vocabulary. We give “finger wiggles” in the car so everyone feels loved instead of ignored. We all have the same “boss walk” that Marcus taught us to use when we are feeling cool. Or slick. Or something like that.

I have this to say to the strangers out in public; it’s ok to be curious about adoption. In fact, I want you to think about it. I’d like for more people to know about it. But please be polite. Don’t gawk. Don’t comment in front of the children. Simply say, “You have a beautiful family.” Ask me in private if you have questions such as how did we get started? Where did our adoptions start (ie foster care, an agency etc) asking anything that involves the word, “real” is not OK.

In other words, we are all a family. A real family. If we look odd to you or if you don’t feel like you can understand our group then don’t worry about it. You probably couldn’t boss walk anyway.

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

*If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption I encourage you to get started on your adventure today!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Why I Wish We Hadn’t Adopted Our Children

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I wish we hadn’t adopted them. There, I’ve finally said it. I wish they’d never been adopted. It’s something adoptive parents think about often, but never say. The outside world expects us to be the happy smiling picture of family perfection. The outside world cannot understand that our greatest joy was their greatest grief. I wish we had never adopted our children because I wish they had never experienced that first loss. That primal wound. I wish they never had to experience the trauma that they carry to this day.

Creating our family has been the biggest joy in my life. It’s the most fulfilling and wonderful endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. It’s also the hardest. It’s hard to watch them suffer through their grief. Our greatest joy comes from their greatest pain.

No matter the level of abuse or neglect a child experiences, they are hard-wired to love and depend on their birth parents. Losing that relationship, regardless of how toxic it was, is the most painful loss a child can experience. I believe that all children love their birth parents. I believe that all birth parents love their children to the best of their abilities. Don’t we all love our children and do for them whatever we are able?

Unfortunately, for my kids, their birth parents truly were not able. It wasn’t a question of love it was a question of substance abuse and mental health concerns. It was physical abuse and neglect. It’s easy to look at all of the missed birthdays and visits and think their birth mother didn’t try. I think often she couldn’t try because she had too many problems of her own.

If I could wave a magic wand I would give them everything they have ever wanted. They would have never come into the foster care system. They would never have had to split up and move from place to place. They wouldn’t have experienced trauma and loss. They would have remained in a home that was stable with a stable birth mom that met their needs. Even if it meant I would never get to be “mom” to the best kids on earth, I would do it if I could.

Why? Because it isn’t about me. I’m a mom. It’s about my kids.

I would do it if I could, but I can’t. That is not something that I can give to them. I can give them a loving home. I can give them safety, permanancy, and love. Maybe it will never make up for what should have been or could have been in their lives.

However, it will make me whole and happy and fulfilled. They are everything I could have ever wanted. Therefore, I’m the lucky one. My husband and I got the best part of this deal.

We are the “lucky” ones.

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adoption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, fostercare, parenting

Will Our Teen Bury Me in the Backyard?: Adventures in Attachment Challenges

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We often hear how charming our newest teenager is. How sweet and hard-working he is. “He is SUCH a good kid” or “I wish my teen would behave that way.” And it’s true…in public.

Attachment challenges are the hardest type of challenges to explain to anyone outside the home. Attachment-challenged children can’t handle the intensity of love. They depend only on themselves and push others away out of fear and discomfort. Our kids often show a very different face to the outside world. Lying, stealing, manipulation, and aggression towards caregivers are just a few common characteristics in the home.  Our little chickens went through stages of physical aggression with us as well. With Marcus we see mostly manipulation, threats and control issues.

Here’s the tough part; these behaviors are only revealed to primary caregivers. Outside of our home Marcus can engage strangers in lovely conversations and generally charm anyone. He is funny and lighthearted. He laughs easily and cracks jokes. He can then display his utter disdain for his caregivers.

Well to be fair, mostly to me. He loves Luke and wishes to have my husband all to himself. Marcus claims that if only he didn’t have me, he and Luke could run the house together. He fantasizes about one day getting to fight with Luke, or going to a bar with Luke. He talks about all of the trouble they could get in together. He doesn’t have a concept of what a father’s role is. The idea that Luke would never do any of these things is beyond comprehension for Marcus. Why wouldn’t a father-figure drink with him and leave the rest of the family?  He cannot understand what my husband sees in having a wife or why he doesn’t leave me.

He will “parent shop” often. Marcus has only been home since June but he already has plans to try to live with his riding instructor. Or one of his old teachers. He spends most days telling me that they can cook better or that they would love to have him live with them. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t understand relationship boundaries. He either loves or hates with equal ferocity. He doesn’t understand that teaching horseback riding and adopting a teenager are two very different things. He is checking out his options.

He will hug ex-foster parents, old PO officers, social workers. Basically all people who he proclaimed to hate a few months ago. He used to tell us these people were out to get him. They purposefully wanted to see him fail. Now he passes out hugs like party favors.  For me he flinches away and threatens to hit me if I touch him.

Marcus has a big problem right now with his younger siblings. He cannot take the emotional intensity of our loving relationships with them. He hates watching hugs and compliments. He can’t stand it when we won’t hit them and often threatens to do so himself.

Violence is the only intimate act he knows. He uses it to intimidate them and trigger their fears of being physically abused. He mocks their emotions, laughs at their fear and shuts out their love. Violence is all he is familiar with in the family. When our daughter kisses my head he stomps into the basement and slams the door.

Where is the boy who once called me “mom?” Where is the kid who cried over the phone and asked me to move “home” with us because he wanted to “Have a mom and dad who cared?” Where is the boy who fixed Carl’s bike and played dress-up in footy-pajamas with Mary?

He is gone. His fear of love shows itself as anger. Rage, aggression and control are his survival skills. He cannot let his family get too close. After all, close connections can hurt if they are broken. Now that Marcus is here he fills outsiders with tales of our evil ways (dinner as a family?! The horror!!) and petitions for a better option somewhere else.

Some of the things he says or does to hurt me are beyond cruel. And why? Because of my audacity to love him. I love him in spite of the horrible things he says to me or says about me. I cannot change my unconditional love for him. I cannot change the way I show love to my husband and my other chickens. And I cannot change his mind.

Marcus will turn 18 in October. Although we see some minor improvements, I think it is very likely that he will leave. Are we hurting him more than helping him by forcing him to watch his younger siblings enjoy a childhood so different from the one he experienced? If he leaves, will he stay in contact? Will he visit? Will he have everything he needs? I cannot predict this. I cannot see our future right now. I cannot reach him. Not yet.

All I can do is hope for the chance of “someday.”

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

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Am I the “Right” Parent to Adopt This Child?

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Am I the right mother for this child? Is this the right family for this child? Is this the right child for us? These are the questions I often hear in the adoption community. These are questions adoptive parents ask themselves when the children begin to exhibit emotional problems and difficult behaviors. These are questions that haunt adoptive placements. And I have the answer.

In a word, “no.”

I am not the right mother for anyone. I am not a saint or a savior to my children. I’m a curly-haired, highly caffeinated, slightly befuddled woman on my best days. On my worst days? I’m grumpy and discombobulated and I serve cereal for breakfast instead of pancakes and bacon. I spend all day herding chickens only to realize at 2:00 AM that one of the 6 had a psychiatrist appointment I completely missed that day. I am not perfect.

My kids are not “lucky” to have me. I read to them and snuggle them and kiss their boo-boos. I help with homework. Sometimes I bake cookies. Sometimes I burn the cookies and show up late to football practice.

I soothe intense tantrums. I am used to my children flying into a rage at me the moment they realize how much they love me. I sing crazy off-key songs to soothe their fears over showering, going to school, or unexpected spiders. I have been hit, kicked, bitten and scratched. My love and super-parenting skills do not cure disorganized attachment or reactive attachment disorder. I can’t wipe away my childrens’ past traumas or banish their nightmares. I can, however, make hot cocoa at 3 AM when my 14-yr-old son wakes up sobbing that he is afraid of his closet.

When they came into our home they started to fall apart. their past wounds and hurts all came out. They disclosed information about their pasts that they’d never spoken about with their social worker.They admitted how hard it was to sleep at night and sought our help, whereas in foster care they simply dealt with these fears amongst themselves. Yes, they fell apart when they began to trust us. They trusted us enough to let us see their hurts and their distress. They trusted us to help them to find healing.

No, I am not the “right” parent for my children. They have PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They are traumatized beyond anything I’ve ever seen before.  How could I possibly ever be enough? How could we meet all of their needs? Isn’t there someone out there better qualified to raise this sibling group?

In a word, “NO!”

The right parent for any child doesn’t exist. It’s a myth, a lie we tell ourselves, the Santa Claus of adult culture in America.

I am not a hero adopting these kids. My husband and I are not saints as so many have told us. On my best day, I’m just a normal parent.

No, I’m not the “right” mom, but I am their mom. And that is all I have to be. No one could ever love them this much. No one would ever try as hard. I  am not perfect. I am not a super hero. I am something more. I am “mom.”

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