Update 1/14/15: After the popularity of this original post, I wrote a follow-up, specifically for those who are married and parenting in the trenches of trauma. If you find this original post beneficial, you will probably want to read the follow-up as well. You can find that by clicking HERE. Blessings, Prayer, and Much Solidarity, heidi
Update 1/4/17: A reminder that this post is for ADOPTIVE PARENTS in the trenches. If you are wanting to lecture, chastise, or empty your emotional trauma here and you are NOT an adoptive parent in the trenches, your comments will be deleted. There are countless other forums and blogs for you to do that in. I will continue to protect this as a safe space for ADOPTIVE PARENTS IN THE TRENCHES. Thank you for respecting that boundary, heidi
Preface: This is not a how-to-parent-older-adopted-kids blog post. This is not a why-kids-of-trauma-inflict-trauma post. This is not even a this-is-what-life-is-like-with-trauma-kids post. This is not a feel-sorry-for-us or toot-our-own-horns post. It’s most definitely not a rainbows and unicorns post. However, I want to stress that—no matter how hard adoption can be or sometimes is, I still believe in it. I’ve got an incredible husband and a slew of kids I call my own who agree. So this is not an anti-adoption post. On the contrary, this is a RALLY CRY for those adoptive parents in the trenches answering the call that others refuse to hear, being judged, shunned, and persecuted for their already very lonely and difficult road. This is a no-holds-barred, bare-it-all solidarity-seeking attempt. This is for you, adoptive parents of trauma kids, because you are most definitely NOT alone.
So I’m sitting here spitting nails. I’ll be honest about that from the get-go. And I’m typing a hundred miles a minute. And probably not going to edit a whole lot. BECAUSE ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. There is not a week that goes by that I do not receive multiple emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, or texts either from someone currently in the trenches or someone who knows someone who is. They’re at their wit’s end. They can’t take much more. They’re lonely. Grieved. And scared. And while I could spend forever trying to explain to those NOT in the trenches what it’s like down in the trenches, I’m not going to waste my time. Because the truth is, as you all know, that unless you have lived it, you will probably never get it. You just won’t. Oh, how we parents of trauma kids wish that weren’t so.
And if you’re reading this because your friend or family member passed it along, now’s your chance to erase your presumptions and shred your judgments and just take a listen and try to understand.
But if you’re reading this and already nodding, I’m trusting that you already get it. That you know what it’s like to step out of your comfortable American Christianity and choose one of the unwanted ones. The older, “broken” kids whom no one else said YES to. You know what it’s like to have that kind of compassion, faith, and willingness, that open heart and open home, that open-to-come-what-may. You know what it’s like to love the unlovable. To say yes to a call from God that no one else wants to hear or acknowledge. To take in a child of trauma. And you know what it’s like to be hated—and all but destroyed—by that child in return.
You wake up every day exhaling a supernatural prayer to inhale supernatural peace and supernatural strength, because it’s harder than hell to navigate this dark and untrodden road. You are depressed because darkness and strife have taken over your previously semi-docile home. You are scared because you never know what the day will hold—violent threats? police visits? psychiatric hospital? having to gather up your littles and leave the house in a moment’s notice—But the eggshells are a guarantee. Always the eggshells. So you’re always on edge. Anxious. Waiting for the shoe to drop. Because it always, most definitely does.
And you’re so damn tired of having to put your other kids on the sidelines while every ounce of your energy and every second of your time are devoted to the one who demands all. You feel like a neglectful parent because you see your other kids withering away, living in their own fear, sadness, trauma. You miss your old life and can’t even remember what it was like to just be you. And all because you said YES.
You’ve lost countless friends to the lies and manipulation. Countless. And you fear that those who stick around are susceptible to departure when the going keeps getting tougher than tough. Your church small group doesn’t understand. Your co-workers have no clue. Your mom group just gives you a collective puppy dog sad face and tells you they’ll be praying. You’ve been to therapist after so-called “expert” therapist, and their best suggestion is take a breath or read a book or play a game or—better yet—to take your six-months-pregnant self and rock your larger-than-you 14-year-old to sleep at night (true story). Or the worst, to flat out accuse you of totally sucking as a parent. You try to explain to your relatives what it’s really like to live with this child, but they don’t get it. No one does. Because all they see is the charm. The smiles. The public display of model behavior.
Teachers at your kid’s school tell you how sweet he is. Youth group workers gush over how precious she is. All the world feels pity for your “innocent” child. But no one seems to care or notice that life at home with them is sheer hell. And if you let them in on it, they don’t believe you or think you’re just not trying hard enough. They completely judge you. So you’re further screwed than you were before.
And those of us who get it would all agree that reaching out for help often hurts worse. So we’re scared to speak up or reach out, because it’s often better just to suffer alone than have it piled on by others too.
Forget the fact that your other kids are perfectly decent, kind individuals (most of the time). Forget that you used to be esteemed as a wonderful parent. Forget that you used to actually teach classes on parenting and adoption and the like. Forget that people loved you and lauded you before. Before you said YES.
Forget the fact that you’ve spent tens of thousands of hard-earned and worked-for dollars just to bring this child home. That you’ve dropped everything for their redemption. That you have spent countless hours and dollars on therapy and treatment and hospital stays and literature and counseling and so on. That you and your spouse are drowning in debt because you will stop at nothing to help your kid. What choice do you have?
Forget all of that, because no one gets it. They don’t understand that adopted kids of trauma are often the most master of manipulators. By definition, they know how to survive by lying, charming, manipulating. They push away those that care the most. But you already know that. Because you live it.
If your kid had cancer, they’d stand up with you. If your spouse passed away, they’d rally around. But try to parent a kid of trauma who inflicts trauma at home, and it’s crickets, crickets, crickets.
Oh, my heart just breaks at the injustice of it all. And for the thousands upon thousands of you parents who just.totally.get.it.
You’re pushed away. You’re spat upon. You’re punched. You’re hit. You’re rejected. You’re lied to and lied about and often. You’re the scapegoat for all of their pain. You’ve supposedly ruined their life before you were ever in it. You’re screamed at, yelled at, and victimized.
You’re looked at with suspicion under a microscope. CPS questions your intentions. The world outside of your inner circle has painted you as a failure who just didn’t know what you were getting into.
BUT I’M HERE TO TELL YOU…
I have lived it and survived it and am here to tell you now, that those are all LIES. Because you’re doing a damn good job. You said YES when the rest of the world (and even the Church) said NO. You sacrificed EVERYthing. You put it all on the line. You gave all and still do. You risked reputation for the sake of redemption. (Hmmmm, Jesus, anyone?)
You chose this road in the first place because you have good in you. You have the love of Christ. A love for humanity. A love for the least of these. For the forgotten. You wanted to make an impact for eternity on the life of someone who needed you to step up. And so you did.
But right now you’re crying out and screaming Forget eternity!, because you don’t even think you can make it through today.
But you will. And you are sure to come out on the other side someday with fewer friends, less pretense, and more grit. You might not (probably won’t) have the storybook, fairytale ending. Others will swoop in to be your kid’s knights-in-shining-armor just when you’ve almost made it. Everyone on the outside will want to be your kid’s hero, to rescue the poor, troubled orphan that you supposedly “just couldn’t get through to.” And it will truly suck to accept it.
But the thing is, the truth is, those on the outside, those who swoop in to “save,” well, they have it easy. They have the relationship without the commitment (the very thing these kids reject). They have the hero complex without really getting their hands dirty. They can pat themselves on the back and feel like a savior when it’s on your back that the real burden lies. They haven’t sat for hours while your kid rages. They haven’t stood in courtrooms while they listened to false accusations. They haven’t had the bruises. The injuries. The heart pain. They haven’t been YOU.
And even if your kid never acknowledges it, even if they never come around, even if you never live to see their healing, even if someone else claims credit, YOU’VE DONE AN AMAZING THING. You’ve walked a painful road, but you didn’t have to. You knew it wouldn’t be easy. And you said YES anyway.
You’ve made tough choices for your kid when others just took the easy road. And your Heavenly Father is proud. SO VERY PROUD. Believe it!
So hold up your head. Raise your eyes. Gird up. You are an AMAZING PARENT. And if you have to wake up every single day and look in the mirror and say that out loud, so be it. You were never guaranteed the outcome, but that doesn’t change the kind of warrior you are.
You keep on keeping on. You, in the glory of His favor. He is PROUD.
And if and when your friends abandon you. If your family forsakes you. If the world judges your intentions and decisions. If you have nothing left but the cross you bear, know that Jesus smiles upon you. Because you are AMAZING.
You love well and you love hard. You are doing the nearly impossible. You aren’t getting a break from your ministry. There’s no respite for this battle. You can’t take a vacation from this pain. You can’t go home at night and simply call it a day, because your home is no longer your home.
And of course you already know that you can’t force results. Coerce cooperation. Or manipulate circumstances. So you simply carry on. Because you are a WARRIOR.
You should be revered instead of crucified. Rewarded instead of critiqued. Uplifted instead of judged.
But nothing is ideal on this side of eternity. Nothing is fair.
So until then, or until redemption rains down, HOLD UP YOUR HEAD and JOIN MY HAND and KNOW that you KNOW that you KNOW that you are GOOD. I’m serious. Did you get that? YOU. ARE. GOOD.
You said YES. Even if no one understands. Or hears. Or sees. It’s enough that Jesus does.
In the meantime…
Don’t back down. Stay the course. Don’t give up or in. And even if you have to disrupt this adoption or say you’ve had enough, you are STILL an amazing parent. No one will ever know what you know. NO ONE is your Holy Spirit.
And you must attempt the ABSOLUTE ONLY thing harder than the parenting job you’re already doing: Forgive those who mistreat, malign, slander, or betray you.
“The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” -Mark 15:3-5
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” -1 Peter 2:23
For those on similar roads, please cling to these verses. Jesus didn’t retaliate against the lies. He let God avenge. God will make right. He is the ultimate Judge. He IS justice. Lean on that. It will take you to a greater level of trust and faith than you ever thought possible.
And you will make it. More like Christ. Press on.
So here’s your chance…
You’ve got the mic. This is your platform. Comment away. You’re safe here. Share your thoughts. Raise your voice. Speak out loud. Don’t hold back. Post anonymously if you wish. Or find me on Facebook and message me. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org Just let it out.
And unlike other posts where freedom of comments will be allowed, I’m going to take the authority here (well, seeing as it is my blog) to turn off the judgers. If you don’t get it, don’t post it. If you are here to tear down, go away.
This is for solidarity. And solidarity alone.
Pass this on, re-post it, and do whatever you feel helps you survive. Share it with your loved ones, for even if they don’t understand in the end, at least they can know that YOU are not alone in this. That thousands rally around. Thousands in the trenches. Thousands walking the hard, hellish lonely road of adoption of older, traumatized kids. This post is for YOU. Only YOU. And it’s about time.
Testimonials from the Trenches
“I’ve been frustrated by this at our church. A church that is SO gracious to ‘sinners’ visiting and needing Jesus. Yet, when one of their own has a challenge, there is not the same support.” -Sandy
“I think the hardest part is that until you have lived with that bullseye on your back people just can’t grasp the life you live. I mean I know that people have hardships and difficult relationships from time to time but to have it strung together for so long, so often. I mean, I can mark it down to the day and you can just see the path of destruction the enemy has left in our wake in a very strong attempt to destroy us.” -Bill
“I was appalled at how little social service people, who work day in-and day-out with foster kids, understood the effects of trauma, the rages and the secondary trauma that families experience by welcoming this into their families. I am traumatized by their trauma.” -Monica
“Most people (including professionals) cannot grasp the idea of ‘children’ mastering that level of manipulation and triangulation. Not to mention the idea of a child feeling completely threatened by the intimacy of a family. After all, what child would chose to be in foster care or on their own rather than be in a loving family? THE loneliest, abandoned, hopeless, etc. I have ever felt! -Melissa
“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words. When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.” -JESUS (in Matthew 10:16-23, The Message)
A few links. Because yay for education.
- Attachment and Trauma Network
- Attachment Disorder / Families by Design
- From Survival to Serenity: Education about RAD (Includes a FANTASTIC graphic to help educate. Especially helpful for those on the “outside.”)
- Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time (explains the neurological impact of traumatic memories)
And a final—yet essential—note:
To those of you who DON’T walk this road, who AREN’T in the trenches, who haven’t parented a child as described, but YET haven’t abandoned, betrayed, or turned away…GOD BLESS YOU IMMENSELY AND FOREVER. We hold you close, dear, and high.
You can’t IMAGINE how just your “being there,” your validation of the pain, can be the very thing to keep our heads above the water. You are TRUE and LOYAL. And God will no doubt reward you for standing up when so few stood with at all. You are gems.
Keep standing with your friend. Listening to them. Trusting their testimony. Supporting their tough decisions. And whatever you do, I beg you, PLEASE please PLEASE do not sabotage their efforts to bring healing and redemption to their child. Your best intentions might be the worst of devastations. And know that if you choose to engage in activities and behavior that the parents feel is detrimental to their child’s longterm healing, you are forsaking a friendship for your own feelings. Please reconsider. I sincerely thank you. And the thousands of others committed from the beginning thank you as well.
To the finish,
Oh, and P.S. My apologies, but I was never before a cusser. Not until, well, you get it.