Thirteen years ago we adopted a family. Andrew was 10, Lisa was 8 and Pedro was 6. (Okay, I changed their names, but since they’re my kids you can probably figure out who they are if you tried…)
The school system told us that Andrew would be allowed to remain in a ‘regular’ classroom (with Special Ed help) until the end of the sixth grade, then he would have to go to a school for behavioral problems because they would no longer be able to accommodate him. Most children in this school drop out and end up in jail. This was therefore not an option I would allow.
Lisa was counting beans in math, and did not know all of her letter sounds even though she was at the end of the third grade. Her reading teacher believed that she would never read. She too was in a ‘regular’ class with special ed but was to be moved to a classroom for the emotionally handicapped and was to attend school throughout the summer for ‘consistency.’ She had Reactive Attachment Disorder. (Oh the fun. In short: This is when the child tries to destroy everything ‘good’ in her life so she will not have to bond, and it involves getting others to believe she is being abused. I knew Lisa wanted to stay with us only because her lies always fell short of truly believable, and she was good enough at lying to do better.) Lisa, because of her emotional ‘handicap’ was supposed to drop into the ‘mentally retarded’ IQ range as her peers kept moving ahead, and was to live in a group home for the rest of her life.
Pedro. Pedro was too cute for his own good and knew it. He charmed everyone. When he was caught, the school called us in and explained that they did not know how to deal with him since they had never had a child this young do these things. (Oh good, he’s advanced!) Pedro’s way of dealing with the world was to cheat, steal, lie and sneak, and he was an expert.
We moved the children to private school, used Sylvan for Lisa during the summer, and then home schooled. It worked- sort of.
Andrew made it into the military. Now that he is out, he holds down jobs and works hard. This is a success. But in some ways he holds onto his past. He has a baby girl and is trying to ‘decide’ whether, or not, he wants to be a father. Most days he seems to lean towards ‘not.’ Our relationship with him is very strained over this point…
Lisa is now married, raising a huge baby boy, and working as a cleaning person at a hotel. She graduated high school, but, upon receiving her diploma turned to me and said, ‘You made me do this.’ (Yes, I did.) She now reads, and goes through many book series. I think her favorite is still Twilight. Lisa is not all success though. At 17 ½ she ran away. She wanted to go out with a boy. She did not know his name; she was going to meet him out because he ‘did not like parents.’ She did not know where they were going or when she would be back. We said, ‘No.’ (Crazy us.) That ‘boy’ is now her husband. But it did not happen easily. She hopped from place to place and even spent some time homeless. While pregnant she had pictures of herself with a crack pipe on the internet. She says they were ‘just for fun’ and judging from how well her child is doing I believe they were, but it did not make it any easier for me as a worried mother!
Pedro has also graduated. He tried college, and hated it. He is doing well, and is being promoted often in his job at a hotel, but is still deciding where he fits in the world. When dealing with us his default setting is still ‘sneaky.’ He seems to be doing better with the rest of the world. Although he just stormed out of our house to find his own place, (children who are adopted when they are older tend to think every issue that comes up is the end of the relationship), he should do well.
Adopted children come with a history. It shapes them. It will not be changed in a month, or a year and parts of it will remain with them for life. On paper, we did everything we could, right down to home schooling them when the schools gave up and their peers were bad influences. This helped, but internalizing our values was never a ‘sure thing.’ The hardest part: Judgmental people who feel that just because you’ve had them for a while they should be ‘perfect’ by now. I just want to shake these people and quote scripture yelling, ‘And how many ‘orphans’ have you taken in?’ We also have a relative who has convinced our oldest that we only adopted him to ‘make ourselves look good.’ Yeah, there are easier ways to do that! But, when problems hit over the ‘father-hood’ issue, Andrew chose to believe it.
Our younger children were also an issue. (There are four of them.) In many ways they benefitted from our adopting. All of the children learned that people are unique, ‘different’ and are a lot less judgmental. Thanks to adoption we have a ‘jock’ living with a bunch of ‘geeks.’ When the ‘jock’ joined the chess club, he noticed the chess-geeks were a bit nervous around him. Being home schooled, and raised in a ‘geek’ household, he did not realize his brand of cute and sporty was supposed to make their lives hell. (A good thing .) Our younger kids are also learning from the older kids’ mistakes. While I wish the older children wouldn’t make them, they now see the disadvantages to running away, pregnancy before marriage and debt. Hopefully it will help them avoid these things themselves. The children do consider themselves ‘full’ siblings, but you see our adopted children not hanging on to their parents as much as they age. In their minds, we are their parents, but we are also just one more stop they made through the foster-care (bouncing around from home to home) environment. I believe they think we love them, but are not really sure thanks to too much time spent in our lovely system that has people called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ in it, but feels free to move children whenever they wish. (I do believe that the erratic nature of foster care did more to harm my children than their birth-parents’ neglect.)
The hardest part is the other parents. With adopted children people seem to think they have a right to stick their nose in your business, like my kids are somehow ‘community property.’ On top of this, I am a stay-at-home/ home school mom. My children are supposed to be ‘perfect.’ There is no grace. I yell and scream (inside) that even children born into the families they are raised in sometimes stumble as mine have to no avail. Having been very successful in school and career prior to this I especially hate being judged and condemned. Some people think that I should just be able to fix all of the problems ‘now’ if I just ‘do the right thing.’ (I, of course, am not doing whatever ‘right thing’ the judgmental have decided in their head would work.) It makes having female friends painful. I do not want to hear about what I should, or shouldn’t have done. My heart aches for my children, but there is no comfort, just ‘advice,’ cruel, cruel advice. I have been told I needed to do more Bible study (my children claim our house is one continual Bible study so that is not it). I am then told ‘ahh,’ you were too strict; then we were too permissive. We definitely should have taught them more about sex and birth control. (I am sorry, were you in my house? By age 5 my youngest daughter knew everything and was well able to explain it to that nice pastoral couple we hung out with! –Not that this is the best either… The military also has a nice talk called ‘Wrap it before you tap it,’ so my son has no excuses. He decided not to. It happens. It’s dumb, but it happens.) Before I rant too long, let’s suffice to say that all of the ‘second-guessing’ hurts. It does more harm than good, and do you honestly think that parents with advanced degrees did not think of these things? I know their motives may be to help, but there is such an underlying level of ‘if you would have only done this everything would be fine’ judgment that it hurts. I would love to have been the ‘perfect’ parent and done exactly what they needed when they needed it in order to fill all of their ‘needs.’ (Who wouldn’t?) But who had, or is, that kind of parent anyways? Adoptive children come with a past, and that past will shape them as well as the time spent in our home will. The only thing I can say is that overall I think we made things ‘better’ more than anything else.