Adoptive/Foster Parents- You are NOT Responsible for the Trauma Your Child Endured Before He Came To You

When dad came to pick us kids up for summer visitation, the departure was swift.  We packed our bags in the trunk of his car and rushed down the lane, leaving a trail of dust behind us, Mom growing smaller in the distance. 

This is the moment that fear gripped me. The familiar faded away, and the unknown lay before me. The tense anxiety choked me while my stomach churned.

Down the highway we sped to another unknown destination. Dad rarely bothered to sit down and explain where we were going and what it would be like this time. The landscape changed from the hills of West Virginia to the bluegrass of Kentucky or the plains of Iowa, where we once raced beside a tornado as it ate up the fields beside us.

Every year, it was a new home in a new state. And every year, it was the same unstable summer, with our travel and activities dictated by someone else’s moodiness or alcoholism. New places did not fill me with hope. They were foreign landscapes with no known retreats or safe hideaways from the too-familiar emotional climate.

The unrest filtered down to me and cemented my fear and presupposition: “There is nothing good in the world.

My past gave me a faulty picture of the world. Even today, I struggle with sitting in the backseat of a car. I need to know where we are going on a trip. I don’t just want the directions — I want to see the map.

My early life sometimes still dictates my now. I know that, and I have strategies to deal with it. My friends know, so they let me sit in the front or drive. It took me years to figure out why I didn’t like to sit in the back seat or why panic rose up in me. Knowing the why helps me deal with it.

Our adopted children don’t know the why or the how. They see through the lens of their past, and it is like an old camera. The view is scratched and distorted, and they may blame us, the adoptive parents, for it. Can you imagine if I went on a road trip with my friends and blamed them for my fear of riding in the back seat?

But children have a difficult time separating their past from their now.

If they could, our adopted children might say:

You are not responsible for the trauma that happened to me before I came into your family, but I will act like it. If you let guilt rule the home, we will both be miserable, and neither of us will experience any healing.

Separating our children’s past from their now is a difficult aspect of adoption. We parents must be the mature ones and not let their reactions to past events determine our reactions to current events. If we do react negatively, then we will live in a constant state of civil war, and more wounds will be inflicted. No healing will take place, and the child will be orphaned (rejected) twice.

I don’t have my reactions mastered. I wish I did. I am writing this because my daughter Audrey says I should share things that I wish someone would have told me. I wish someone had told me this: Many of us who have the heart for adoption — especially the desire to adopt a large sibling group of children — have had a troubled past ourselves. The desire directs us to adopt, but it doesn’t equip us. We must equip and educate ourselves.

No one told me that my past and my adopted children’s pasts would engage in a tug of war to the death.

We both had a faulty lens on our camera. Guess who had to change hers first? Me. Guess who had to die? Me. My flesh. Guess who messed up, often? Me.

We assume that wrestling with the child means a physical fight, and if we are not careful, that is what it becomes. Daily. And there is no healing that way.

Consider Ephesians 6:12 —

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

I have always loved this verse. It sounds so mystical, mysterious. We aren’t supposed to engage in a fight with physical opponents, so how do we fight these master spirits who are the rulers of this present darkness? Ephesians 6:11 commands us to put on our armor so that we will be able to stand up against the strategies and deceits of the devil. This is war!

Adoption is war — a spiritual battle. We are not fighting with a physical sword, though. Our sword is the Word. Our belt is truth. Our feet must be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. We raise our shield to protect us from the fiery darts of the wicked one. We put on our helmet of salvation (deliverance) and breastplate of righteousness.

What does this look like in reality? Sometimes it means we just stand. We don’t react when our child melts down and blames us for his hurt, for his feeling rejected. We speak the truth in love: “Man, that stinks! How does that make you feel?” And we redirect, “What do you think we could do about that?”

When we disengage our right to react, we become powerful.

And more important than any of the above, we pray a prayer for healing. Place your child’s name in the blanks:

__________is not harassed by physical symptoms or feelings or their supposed connections to past events. The curse of rejection and abandonment is broken. _____________ is a new creature with a heavenly Father who loves _________, the Stronghold is broken, and the sticky web of the past is dissolved. ___________has forgiven and _________ is forgiven. ______________is washed clean and ____________ reactions are based on the Word and the new creature that _____________is, not the old, fearful, anxious child that _______________was. NO! ____________ is a strong, assertive child of the King, a co-inheritor with Christ. ________________ has all the benefits that He has bestowed upon me. ______________is more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus.

Adopted Children Are Not Excessively Thankful (They are just kids)

*This is an excerpt from the Five Things E-course that is currently taking place!

 

1.3 Our children are not excessively thankful, in fact, sometimes quite the opposite.

“Your kids must be so thankful,” a lady remarked to me after our recent adoption.

“No, not really,” I replied.

She looked shocked, “but you think they would be because you rescued them from THAT orphanage.”

* * *

Our children are not excessively thankful, in fact, sometimes quite the opposite.

I understand what the kind lady thought. Common misconception. Adoptive children, you’d think would be full of undying gratitude. Thanking parents for rescuing them with round the clock obedience and gushings of “thanks, Mom and Dad, you saved me from life in an institution, foster care or, fill in the blank. Wishful thinking. Not an accurate picture.

Things are not as they seem.

First of all, kids are kids. They may momentarily turn into thankful beings and then turn around and be disobedient. Totally normal.

Children who are adopted and taken from traumatic beginnings, i.e. hurt children may behave at the opposite end of the spectrum.

If a child has been abused, he has been given the message you are not valuable.

If a child has been neglected, he has been given the message you do not exist.

If a child has been rejected again and again, he believes he will be rejected again.

A child who has not attached to anyone does not have the ability to self-regulate his emotions or his physical appetites. All of these traumas mentioned put a child into survival mode, that is the child will do anything -lie, cheat, steal, reject, to survive EVEN IF HE IS IN AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE HE NO LONGER NEEDS TO DO SO. There new normal doesn’t replace old habits. Let’s not forget the old normal was their life, for good, bad or worse. Just because they have been ‘rescued’ doesn’t mean they wanted to be.

Son Gregory used to speak in an ugly, angry tone to everyone. He destroyed his siblings belongings, lied cheated, stole and made sure his needs/wants were met HIMSELF. Every night at bedtime, he told Jerry and me that he was going back to Poland to live in the orphanage.

No, he was not thankful. He didn’t know he didn’t have to live in survival mode anymore. He pushed us away to protect himself.  After some building blocks of attachment, his focus changed (when he felt safe). It didn’t happen overnight. He didn’t (and still doesn’t) thank us profusely.

When things look out of sorts, don’t give up!

And (at the age of six) he dictated a letter to me for Jerry:

Dear Dad,

I never go back to Poland, I promise. I love you.

Gregory

Like I said, if you expect adopted children to be thankful, think again. Some of them have  bursts of thankfulness, like any other child. Others, depending on the level and depth of their pain, will act ungrateful and form a wall of protection around themselves to survive. Be patient. Keep connecting. Those of you who work with adopted/foster children at church or school, don’t take their fussiness, meltdowns, shutdowns, pushing, shoving, lying or stealing, personally. They aren’t trying to make life difficult. They are trying to survive at their present level of brain development and according to their ‘felt’ safety.

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