Delayed Effects of Trauma in Foster/Adoptive Families

Delayed Effects of Trauma in Foster/Adoptive Families

  • We potential adoptive/foster parents study the science of trauma. 
  • We learn about the five Bs affected by Trauma.
  • Foster/adoptive parents take all the classes and hear all the reports about how the kiddos were neglected/abused, etc.
  •  Then we willingly sign on the dotted line and say, “Yep, I’m in.” 

Adoptive/foster parents are not saints or superheroes. 

Adoptive/Foster parents are just regular people who want to part of the solution. We want to build safe/secure/family oriented environments for kiddos who have had trauma.

We are called special, saints, have patience, etc… when we bring the kiddos home. When they start exhibiting behaviors as a result of the trauma, suddenly we are bad parents. I’ve been there, along with the multitude of foster/adoptive parents who contact me.

I was on the phone with an adoptive/foster parent the other day. One of her seven kiddos exhibiting some violent and destructive behavior. It was evident that she was beating herself up, i.e. blaming herself. I asked her a question that I ask all parents in this scenario – How are your other kids doing? Have you successfully parented them? Every time the answer is slow to come, almost as if it’s something the parents haven’t thought about. “Yes,” she said haltingly. I knew the answer before I asked the question. It’s a question to change the focus. We adopted/foster parents are not responsible for the trauma kids experienced before they entered the home or the effects of it. We try to be. We want hope and healing for these kiddos more than anyone else.

Trauma doesn’t always exhibit after effects right away.

Here’s a key point. Trauma doesn’t always show the effects right away. There sometimes seems to be a delayed reaction.

When I was eight, I had a serious bicycle accident. I flew over the handlebars and landed on my head after sailing over a speed bump. I woke up on in the ER to a doctor pulling rocks out of my face with a tweezer-like tool. I got off the table and said, “This is a dream.” It was pretty horrific. I was placed in a room with another young girl. She was hooked up to wires and monitors. She was in a coma. I overheard the doctor and parents talking about the car accident she had been in a year earlier. Her body was exhibiting the after-effects of the trauma now. A year later, her body was shutting down. (This really freaked me out!)

This is a physical example of what the body may do. In the book, The Body Keeps Score, Van Der Kolk, M.D. says:

“There have in fact been hundreds of scientific publications spanning well over a century documenting how the memory of trauma can be repressed only to resurface years or decades later.”

The Honeymoon Phase

Adoptive/foster parents go through a honeymoon phase with kiddos similar to what young couples go through after the wedding. Everyone is polite, kind, trying to please and be accepted. Then it gets too exhausting. We wives wipe off the makeup and put on our yoga pants because now we feel comfortable enough to be our real selves. Yes, sometimes we take it too far (raising my hand here). 

The adopted/foster kiddos version of this is – I feel secure enough to go back to who I was. I don’t have to perform anymore. Or, the opposite end of the spectrum, they’re going to harm me, just like everyone else did, so I’m going to control my environment. I’m not saying these kiddos are doing this consciously or planning it out in their journal. It’s just the survival mode response. We all have it to varying degrees. Parenting the Hurt Child explains it this way:

“The struggle, however, represents something completely different for parents than it does for children. While the parents are simply trying to get the child to accomplish a simple task — such as dressing for school, getting ready for dinner or picking up his toys — the child is involved in a struggle to survive. He resists the intrusion and direction by others and perceives it as a fight for his life. As a result, his behavior becomes stubborn, tenacious, and intense. Think about it — how hard would you struggle if you thought that giving up or giving in would mean certain death?”

Be kind to Foster/Adoptive Parents

On a final note, be kind to adoptive/foster parents. You really have no idea what they are going through (unless you are one). Even if you are an advocate or therapist, you’re still behind a veil. You may know more than others, but you haven’t truly experienced the after-effects of trauma.

We foster/adoptive parents are doing the best we can. We need cheerleaders and prayer warriors more than we need judgement for our kiddos’ behaviors.

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