PART THREE: Forever Family
My husband and I have tried building a family one way or another for the past twelve years. We endured fertility treatments; pursued private and international adoptions, and when one door after another, mind-blowingly, closed we decided to adopt through foster care. Neither Sean nor I were acquainted with anyone who’d done foster care let alone adopted through the system except for a couple of scoundrels who used it to make money off the kids. So, with a deep yearning to be parents and the excitement borne of naïvity, we filled out that first application in 2012. Since that day, we’ve survived through six (!) homestudies, bounced between four agencies, suffered through one failed adoption and finally, (Hallelujah!) successfully—adopted a 3 and 4-year-old brother and sister in April 2018. We are most assuredly no longer naïve.
After our failed adoption in 2014, we almost quit. We were both incredibly discouraged when the siblings we had decided they didn’t want to be adopted. We were three weeks away from the adoption when the 17-year-old decided she wanted to go ahead and age out the system and wrongly, convinced her 10-year-old brother he could come live with her when she turned 18. Sadly, neither child could be dissuaded. Theirs wasn’t the only bad decision. Becoming instant parents to a teenager brought out the worst in Sean and me. We did okay with the 10-year old but, in general, our parenting efforts were not in harmony. In the home, both kids played us against each other. And we also didn’t have much outside support either. It was isolating. Our agency pushed us to foster only—not adopt. Because that's where the money is they said. And because we didn’t have many friends and family who’d adopted they all thought we were crazy to bring foster kids into our home. Interactions with the kids only confirmed this theory.
I fantasize about writing a post-apocalyptic book in which people getting married must follow the exact rules we have to follow to adopt through foster care. The state oversees all and child placing agencies could be called Partner Placing Agencies that push you to marry their choice, not yours. You’ll be required to wait the minimum of 6 months to marry. Plus, do monthly reports on each other and have your house in regulation grade-tiptop shape for the unexpected and routine agency and state inspections. Scary stuff.
It took the next two years of “rearview mirror” introspection and analyzing to see the good in what had happened. In the thick of chaos and trouble, hope had been hard to find. In September 2016, a friend at CPS quietly encouraged us to reconsider adoption. Before we took this second chance at parenting, Sean and I made a conscious decision to adopt a mindset of hope no matter the outcome-adoption of children or not. This time, we would expectantly look for the good in each situation. This time, things would be different. This time, WE would be different.
Parenting toddlers is similar in many ways to parenting tween/teenagers. Both groups can throw one heck of a tantrum. (Just kidding…..sort of…..) Both groups also have specific trauma-induced needs.
HOWEVER, Sean and I’ve have done a much better job of working in harmony to meet those needs—we are united. Not against the kids—we’re all on the same team. We’re united for hope and against fear
and anger as they coping with the pain of their past. The trauma my sweet babies has endured is extensive. Both children are diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I think it of it this way: they struggle to connect with those in the present because they’re constantly reliving the past.
Parenting children you made is hard but there’s a certain level of responsibility and longevity there. It is expected you will deal with whatever comes up. What’s way harder is the choice to parent children and their problems you did not create. Especially, when you learn things about their past and they start doing things you never expected or wanted. There was always that sly, beckoning voice that says, “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to take on their problems. You don’t have to adopt. You can just give them back.” Right up until the end of March we had people offer a way out.
One of the happiest moments on this journey was when the kids told their case worker they wanted to be adopted by us. But it’s also one of most stressful because it’s not right that the future of our family rests on the fickle whims of a 3 and 4 year old. That is a burden they should not have to bear. They know nothing of their best interest. For example, at one point two months ago, Buttercup got mad at us when we wouldn’t let her keep running around the house naked all the time. She said she didn’t want to be adopted by us. The only thing that changed her mind was she liked the toys we gave her. What type of society gives a child such power?
I’d like to do for adoption what Joanna Gaines did for shiplap: fit it into every conversation and show others it’s doable. She took a part of the house that’s usually covered up or destroyed and made it the centerpiece of a home. People all over the country suddenly saw the possibilities in old farmhouse wood. She redeemed shiplap. Adoption should be that way too. We’d like to do away with the isolation and stigma surrounding this industry and show people forever homes are possible. We’ve learned there are many others out there with similar experiences and the resources to help. It’s just about making them accessible. So we set up www.adoptionofhope.com. A website to be able to share our story and encourage others. We also started a local foster-to-adopt support group. We make Survival Kits for new foster parents that includes little things they can use to get them started. The kit includes items for preparing your home (and mind) for foster care, trauma relief for the kids and stress relief for you. I have also written a Field Guide Guide to Foster Care that you can download both a short version and a longer version with our experience in it.
Adopting our children doesn’t mean we’re done with adopting hope. That mindset is still important. We still need to choose hope every day for our kids. The battle is not over. Adoption eased but didn’t erase the effects of the trauma on their minds and souls. As a foster family only, long-term was lacking. Being a forever family just means our ability to help them recover is secure.