“…she’s my mom and I love her.” -my son, age 17
The day we met our little boy he’d already experienced more trauma, neglect and abuse than most grownups will in a lifetime. When he rounded the corner on our first meeting I fell in love instantly. His little twelve-year-old face was adorable and smiley. (You can read more about our first meeting in Two Prayers Answered.) Following the adoption his behavior, educational delays and peculiar idiosyncrasies were clear proof that damage from his previous life had taken its toll. My husband and I knew, or we thought we knew, adopting a preteen would be challenging. We went through comprehensive foster care training provided by our CPA firm, and felt well-informed. However, we were not equipped to handle the complete and total chaos that would lay in the wake of his destructive behaviors.
I don’t think there is any training available that could have prepared us for the frightening temper tantrums and assaulting behaviors he would display. There aren’t any books about coping with the PTSD we have experienced, as parents, having a broken little boy living in our home. There is no one, other than impersonal professionals, to talk to about our doubts, fears and confusion regarding our son and dealing with his extreme behaviors. There’s no support group available. No one can relate. Our experience with opening up to folks about our story is laden with judgmental, confused looks, and hushed whispers behind our backs.
If I have to hear one more time from well-meaning fence sitters, “he just needs love”, I might really snap. We show him unconditional love, support and have realistic aspirations for him. We are an unconditional family, forever. We are all in. However, after 5 years, he’s still hesitant.
He wasn’t prepared for a family. He wants a family. He needs a family. He desires to be part of a family. But, he has no idea what family is. His biological mom was shockingly gruesome at being a mother. She was neglectful in every way. Her boundaries were monstrously unhealthy, both intimately and emotionally, creating an unrealistic and dangerous relationship with her son. She also allowed heinous, inhuman and savage men to abuse her and her child. Our son lived in constant fear. His mom’s boyfriends would lock him in the bedroom for days on end without food and water. He was starving, but when footsteps were heard outside the door he would hide for fear of what would come through the door. It was better to be hungry than to be outside the locked bedroom with all the violence. Our son’s first therapist equated the abuse to one the first Saw movies. It was torture. It was manipulative, psychological warfare against a small child. It was endless, every day for several years. It was physical, mental, emotional carnage. My poor little boy endured unspeakable trauma–all before the age of 10.
After he was forcibly removed from his biological mother’s care he encountered foster home after foster home, then his grandmother (the one safe haven he knew) passed away. Contact with his siblings was intermittent due to being separated through the foster care system, firmly establishing a sense of insecurity within him. As a result of his mother warping reality, he was terrified of police officers and other authority figures meant to protect him. He didn’t trust anyone. No one, except his biological mother. Even after his adoption he asked for her. He wanted to know where she was. He showed concern for her. He would tell us “When I grow up and get a job I’m going to take care of her”. It was baffling to me that he could still care for her in this way after all she had done to him. I was jealous of her. After all, she doesn’t deserve his love. She has done so much harm and, yet he still loves her in a way he will never love me. It still hurts my heart to think about.
However, with all the bad she brought about she has one redemptive quality, and I thank God every day for it. The day her son told her was done waiting for her to “get him back” and he wanted to be adopted by us was one of the hardest days of her life, but she faced it well. She could see how happy he was in our family, and how well he was doing in our care. She wept. He wept. (He was so brave. It was one of the most courageous things I had ever seen. He was advocating for himself and it was powerful to witness.) She pulled me aside that day and asked me to be his mother…“be the mother I couldn’t”. It was a moving experience for me. Can you imagine? The truest kind of love–making the ultimate sacrifice so that your child could have a better life. She voluntarily terminated her parental rights in accordance with his wishes so we could proceed with the adoption. If I could say just one thing to her today it would be, “Thank you for trusting me.”
I would love to say that after nearly 6 years we are a ‘Happily Ever After’ family. That we have overcome all the obstacles, our son is well-adjusted and we’re a whole, healthy family. The truth is our son is wired like a powder keg, ready to blow at any moment. And when raging hormones invaded his growing body about 2 years ago all of that abuse and neglect finally surfaced to the point of where he became dangerous and unpredictable, and he was removed by the Department of Human Services. It has been a daunting and discouraging time for all of us.
Our son isn’t living in our home, but he is still our son. We fight for him daily. We do not settle for the status-quo. We do not accept the “it’s just this way” answer. I am a momma grizzly when it comes to protecting and providing for all of my children. We do not sit quietly waiting for anyone to do their job, trusting they know what to do and they’ll do it. We are on it. And we are on them to do it. We go above and beyond, because he is our son. Adopted or not, living in our home or not, he’s our kid. We chose him. And more importantly, he chose us. We do not take that meaningful detail for granted.
We remember… When he’s run off (again) and we’re waiting to hear if he’s found and safe… When we’re sitting in yet another meeting discussing any number of issues, ranging from menial tasks to emergency situations… When he refuses to see us… When he refuses to talk to us… When we’re dealing with the aftermath of havoc he’s created in the people we love dearly… Even then, we remember he chose us.
It’s not the fairy tale ending we dreamed of. Our current circumstances are the furthest thing from what we expected when we adopted. Our dreams were rapidly dismantled when the reality of our situation set in and he became unsafe.
As the adoptive mom, I struggle. A lot. I had an ‘American Dream’ fantasy about how our family would look, and it doesn’t. Not even close. And I struggle. I ugly cry when I allow all of the emotions to rush in, or I begin overthinking every decision we’ve made in the last six years. The shame, humiliation, disappointment, sadness and resentment culminate into something that looks like depression, but in reality it’s more like a hollowness right in the center of my chest. And if I allow it, it can consume me. Instead, I focus on the good; the bright spots in our life together. I have to.
The day my son said, “… she’s my mom and I love her”, about me/to me was a turning point in our relationship. It’s one of the bright spots I focus on. Although there was a bad reason for the meeting that led to him saying those words, they still meant more to me than he will ever know. For the most part I have been a source of advocacy, support, food, shelter, paperwork-filler-outer and electronics access, and nothing more. But, the day he said those words…I will remember that moment forever, and it will get me through the rough days ahead.
My husband and I get tired and frustration sets in. Sometimes we start to lose hope and begin to feel defeated. We journey to the brink of insanity and decide to keep moving forward, one day at a time. Our story isn’t the make-believe, feel-good saga told on the Hallmark channel. It’s hard. It’s dark. It’s real. And I guarantee there are more stories like ours out there; parents who encounter overwhelming obstacles in the wake of their adoption, afraid to ask for help or talk about it for fear of being judged relentlessly by people who cannot comprehend what they’re going through. You’re not alone.
Although our story makes most people uneasy, our story isn’t over. We’re still in the midst of the storm. There’s a victory coming, because we’re clinging to the promises of God (We have a desperate, death grip on it), and my husband and I have decided to lock arms and face this together. We’re all in and we’re not done yet, so stay tuned…