If You’re Thinking of Adopting…

If You’re Thinking of Adopting… this post is for you. A long time ago, my husband and I started fostering emotionally disturbed teen age boys. We dealt with guns, stolen cars, truancy, pot growing in underwear draws, and kids that set fires. Every time  the police knocked on the door and I answered, they always started with “I am so sorry to bother you, but (whoever) seems to have done (whatever). I always felt so bad for the nice policemen, who would really rather be anyway else but at my door. After  four years of dealing with the kids that our local RTC couldn’t deal with, I figured I could handle anything adoption threw my way. So did the social workers. I was wrong. The social workers were wrong, too, but they never seemed to notice.

J was born Bipolar, probably genetics activated by prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs. Back then, Bipolar wasn’t even considered. He also had a neurological processing disorder that they couldn’t pinpoint,  although they could and did 20 years later. No matter where I turned everybody told me how bright he was and how his problems were because of whatever I was doing wrong. They never could tell me what it was I needed to change. He was also biracial in a white world. It had not occurred to me how much of an issue it still was in this country, so people flinging hate at him pierced my heart. I had not developed protection from the hate.

Even church, which had always been my sanctuary, added to the problems. They were good people, but blind to the biases and hatred that was  buried deep in their souls. For the first twenty years I pretty much soloed. My husband was busy earning a living and he had been brought up to believe if you ignore problems and refuse to acknowledge them, eventually they would go away. Mental illness scared him. Confronting people about how they treated our children wasn’t his style. Medication would be admitting something was wrong. He had never learned to control his temper, so all the kids did better and it was easier for me when he was out of town. He was out of town a lot.

Nothing much changed until GB became ours when she was 5 months old. I insisted from the beginning we would do it my way. This time instead of fighting a child’s disabilities, he wanted to learn. He spent as much time with her as he could. When she was sleeping, he doggedly plowed through every book I gave him. He went to every meeting where results were discussed- Early Intervention, developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, psychiatrist, PCSE and eventually CSE meetings. His involvement made a big difference with Family # 2. With J and MK, it was so much harder. It is very difficult for one person to do it all. The biggest drawback is not having someone who is just as invested in the child as you are to bounce ideas off of. Your thoughts just rattle around your brain and you miss the opportunity that a different perspective gives you.

Unexpectedly, the hardest part of adoption was isolation. My special needs, differently skinned children were not welcome by the parents of the white NT kids. We were an island unto ourselves. We found a small black church in a small city 1/2 hour away. We consciously reached out to become part of their community. More than half of the people we met were just as narrow minded as the people in the white church we had left behind. It took more than five years, but we made lasting friends. They are an integral part of my girls lives. Most of our pre-adoption friends are long since gone. With our high maintenance kids, especially Hope, just leaving them with a baby sitter really isn’t an option.  That leaves The Dad and I out of a lot of normal social situations. Most new adoptive parents who adopt special needs kids never consider whether their social support systems will stand up to the challenges that these kids can present.

Even infant adoptions run a higher risk of having a child with a mental illness. Once you get into older children adoptions, a lot of kids have some environmental damage. We adopted Hope at 41/2 years from a disruption. We knew she was RAD. I am experienced and have a great support network. Yet, I still would be reluctant to adopt a child with RAD as a single parent. I know how hard it is. I have seen single parents adopt RADishes successfully. I am just not sure I would be strong enough.

6 thoughts on “If You’re Thinking of Adopting…

  1. A very raw post but I am a little confused. You mention doing this as a single parent with Hope. Is your husband not as willing to parent Hope as he was to parent GB? I feel such compassion for you right now. You have not chosen the easy path but because of you the girls have a better shot at life. You are a gift for them that someday they may appreciate. Stay strong. I am praying for you.

  2. So TRUE! I think you have to be where you are, perhaps I am very close behind you (my mentally ill kids are just not grown yet), to truly see the whole picture. My parents adopted in the 80's and felt that love and discipline could solve everything. They were wrong. We walked into adoption with eyes wide open (or so we thought) and nothing can prepare you for the WHOLE LIFE 24/7 experince of parenting a mentally challenged child. I so appreciate your encouragement to me…I know it comes from understanding! Thank you!

  3. Oh, I so agree. I had been a foster parent for over two years, and parented a total of 4 kids. All of them were school aged children with special needs, two of them on paper had significantly more special needs than my son. I had done the research on attachment parenting, I had read Gregory Keck, I was SURE I was prepared to adopt my son. Oh, how I was wrong! The "forever" dynamic, the insanity of RAD, the constant constant constant stress- I had NO idea! I am not sure it is possible to be prepared for that.

  4. This really hit home with me. In retrospect, I had no clue what we were getting into. Although we were open to children with special needs, whom I was sure I could "fix" with love, we adopted four healthy infants. So, I went into this with the mindset that they were, indeed, health infants. I was completely unprepared for their issues. I also thought that it was really tough to deal with autism. It's a piece of cake compared to dealing with our youngest! Do you have any documentation about infants who were adopted having a higher rate of mental illness? One of my son's behavior therapists has asked me for information. I know I've read it but haven't been able to remember where (because my memory is a thing of the past!). Meanwhile, she's treating him as if he's a oh-so-cute little boy who's hyper. I document everything because I know that it's so much more than that. He doesn't have a firm diagnosis yet, but different doctors have hinted at RAD, pediatric bipolar, ADHD, ODD, OCD, and autism. They've been reluctant to diagnose him because he's only 4 1/2.

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