Most of you readers are aware of the fact that, back in 2006, our family welcomed a child into our home from a disrupted adoption. I detailed the events surrounding that decision and the hardships that came as a result of it in a blog post that went viral here.
Although this particular son has had struggles common to kids from hard places even since that time, I firmly believe he has been healed of the worst of the damage and God has done a miracle for him.
We are still in awe of that healing, eight years after placement.
But I share with you today, not so much as a four-time Philippine adoptive parent but as the director of a Child Caring Agency that is in the throes of preparing our first group of children for their "forever families".
I share because TWO disrupted adoptions further broke the heart of my broken son and it is my deepest desire that the children from our orphanage should never suffer that same pain.
I write because TWO American families had to cope with the hard decision to find a new family for a child and those families walked into adoption with, I'm sure, the best of intentions and the highest of hopes. They spent countless dollars and offered many prayers for the child that would be theirs but they could not stay the course.
And I write for a little boy who currently lives in our center but could so easily follow the path of my own broken son if not for an adoptive family who understands . . . who is patient . . . who sees hidden treasure underneath the damaged earth.
This is a child who could easily grow up to be a pastor, a politician... or a disrupted adoption story.
He already has some innate strikes against him in terms of a successful placement.
He's a boy.
He's very very behind academically, although he's smart.
That HUGE personality may look like RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) to some well-read but inexperienced adoptive family.
And THAT is where my fear and heartbreak meet and THAT is why I want to speak out on behalf of this child and so many others like him who wait in this country for a fresh start and a forever family.
Because I am American, I can really only speak to my own adoptive culture and community although I suspect in places like Australia and France - places with plenty of access to adoption literature, professionals who will analyze your child into oblivion and to internet horror stories - might follow a similar pattern.
This little boy is NOT like a typical American child. Because he is neither typical nor American.
He's a Filipino former street child who spent much more time on the streets and in inadequate shelters than he has spent in a solid, safe family setting. He, and others like him, have some coping strategies that might make a new family hesitant to receive him but I pray that someone will because as we see those survival mechanisms fade away, a beautiful boy is emerging. This child is going to make some family happier and more alive than they have ever been. In time.
Some of the behaviors you MIGHT see in an older adopted child are:
1. "Over Loving"- for an infant, crying physical closeness and lots of eye contact help get those basic needs met. For an older child, sometimes the words "I love you" will come out too soon in an effort to communicate to his new family that he has needs and wants you to meet them. An older adopted child might scare his parents who have read in countless adoption books that when a child is too loving, too soon, he is being "superficially charming" and probably has an attachment disorder.
In some children, that is true. But I submit to you that the children we have worked with do not even understand what real parental love looks like, for the most part. They mimic what they hear those happy TV families say and it yields positive results so they continue to do that. As time goes on, we see the kids in our center start to say "I love you" less and less as they begin to receive love from us and our staff. They start to prefer us to strangers in public and they begin to make eye contact when they say "I love you". And I am not naive, I feel the change in this child. I can see it. His forever family will, too. If they are willing to wait for it.
2. "Over Asking" - kids who have had to fend for themselves will often ask for everything under the sun. It is annoying. It feels like they are "using" you. It is worrisome and embarrassing, especially when the child asks a family friend or a casual acquaintance for food, money, etc. If your new son or daughter spent time begging, this is a behavior that has granted them lots of goodies and it takes time to extinguish. A child needs a LONG time of having his needs met consistently by other people before he stops "looking out for number one". He will get it eventually. Three months into care with two of our boys and they already get it. The asking for things has diminished. The thankfulness has increased. Again, it takes time and it takes reminders that it's not nice to ask people for things all the time.
3. "Over Helping" - your older adopted child may believe he has to work to stay in your family. The children in our center have chores and work hard but most of them came in and tried to do EVERY chore ALL THE TIME. If a child saw a staff member sweeping, he would try to take the broom and finish. He would offer to change dirty diapers, do ALL the dishes for this HUGE group of people and even cook the food. Kids who have been on the street are used to working for what they get. Even begging is work. It is hard work, actually. The kids spend hours in the hot son approaching strangers and dealing with a lot of rejection, harsh remarks and being ignored. Very hard on the spirit of a child but "work", just the same. Families must reassure their new child that no matter how much - or how little- they do by way of chores, they are wanted, loved and will always be a part of the family.
4. "Over Touching" - The children in our center crave physical attention almost all the time. They want to hold hands, sit on our laps (even the "tough" street kids), kiss our cheeks and just be close. They are getting their needs met, parents. They may smother you a little, at least for the first few months. You have to do what is comfortable for you but here, we let them. We feel such a privilege in getting to meet those unmet needs. We are preparing them for you in hopes that the behaviors that will scare you into a counselor's office might be a little lessened by the time you meet them. But they won't be gone. They may even start over because you are somebody new. Please, I beg you, hug those kids. Let that 12 year old sit on your lap at home. Cradle him while you watch a movie. Do it. Don't chastise him for acting younger than his age. He is putting his heart on the line and asking you to go back in time with him a little. The phase won't last forever but the strong bond and healing that come out of it will.
5. "Over Hurting" - the smallest physical injury, a small scratch or a mild bump, might cause your new son/daughter to over react. They are asking for your undivided attention. They are checking to see if you will come to their aid when they get hurt. They are finding out how much you care about even the small things. On the street, there was no one to kiss those boo boos and put on a band aid. We go through a box a week when a child is new to our center. They can not get enough having those tears dried - even if they had to squeeze them out themselves. Just like the other "overs", it will fade with time.
I am working hard to be professional and controlled as I type this post but my insides want to splash out onto the screen and BEG you adoptive families not to disrupt the adoptions of the precious kids in my center. I KNOW them. I ADORE them. I dissolve into tears when I think of them having to endure this kind of pain after the lives they have lived. I know it happens. I know it could possibly happen to my precious boy in the photo. Or our others.
But I also believe there are things WE can do on this side of water and things YOU can do as you wait that will help improve the chances of a great, long-lasting placement for even the children who are older and from hard places.
We'll take care of our side the best we know how but can I just ask THREE small, simple things of you hopeful adoptive parents? Just THREE . . .
FIRST: Bury the fantasy! Falling in love with a photo and a write up is natural in adoption. I have done it four times. I was "in love" with my kids the moment I received that referral photo and learned the details of their lives. I built an image in my mind of what my sons would be like and when they were not, it was hard. I realized they are NOT like "us". Their voices, their preferences, their personalities- were nothing like the grateful Tiny Tims in my mind who fell into my arms and said "thank you for rescuing me". Not even close. Please do not build a mental fantasy around your new child before you meet him. He won't live up to it. He will disappoint. And so will you. You waited SO long and prayed SO hard for this child but don't let the "wanting" be better than the "having".
Together, you will find your groove and be the family that God intended.
SECOND: READ LESS, PRAY MORE. There are wonderful books about adoption, attachment, bonding and disorders of such. I encourage you not to delve too deeply into those. I know that RAD is real but I also know a lot of money is made from the psycho-analysis and medication of children from hard places. That money might be better spent on family activities and that time better spent in prayer. With our twice-disrupted son, we opted for counseling, out-of-home respite and lots of other interventions and, for us, there was no "miracle" in those things. The miracle came when we began to accept our boy for who he is and change our own expectations and hearts toward him and his past. Beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder. Cliche as that is, there is so much truth there. If only I had known . . .
THIRD: Give it a full year. I would venture to say that the changes adoption causes in a family are so drastic that life is upside down for a long time. Even with a child you adore at first sight, your lives are nothing like they were before "gotcha day" and you all need to step back and find your new normal. In all four of our adoptions, our family was happy but stressed for several months after placement. By the one-year mark, for most of our adoptive placements, we were feeling pretty "normal" and even considering another child. Remember that at one-month post placement, your family looks nothing like it will at one-year post placement. Please, just give him a year. I think you'll be glad you did.
I know this post is general and that every child and every family are different. Each sending country has cultural issues that will not be in line with Filipino culture but, at the heart of all of this, is the common thread. Adoption is hard and if God calls, He equips.
Trust Him. Enjoy your child. Journal the hard and the good. Somebody, somewhere, someday, will need to draw from your life and find the hope to keep, and not disrupt, their adopted child.
For HIS Fame,
Middleman Community Support Center, Inc.