In a recent comment, a reader asked if I’ve written much about siblings and I realized that, although I’ve spoken on the topic, I haven’t published much about the impact of adopting children from “hard places” on children already in the family. This article was originally published on another site, which explains the more formal tone, and it’s quite long, so I’m breaking it into two parts.
She was four years old. Each night she woke with a tummy ache and most often went to her parents’ bed hoping for some relief. Lying next to her mother gave her comfort, but the pain didn’t stop. A doctor finally determined she had a stomach ulcer and treated her. The pain went away, but her mother worried about the stress she was enduring at this young age.
She was nine years old. Her parents were exhausted and always seemed stressed. There was so much shouting and drama at home that she escaped to her friend’s house, where life was calm. It seemed that she practically lived there for a year. Life had changed so much, but she couldn’t talk to her mom who always seemed worried.
He remembered a time when dinner was a happy event. Now, at twelve years old, he dreaded coming to the table. Everyone was on high alert waiting for the screaming and raging to begin. Mom barely had the energy to cook anymore, so dinner wasn’t likely to be that good. It was probably easier to stay away from home.
He was two and had only joined the family recently. He came from a “hard place” and feared loud noises that reminded him of traumas from his own history. When the screaming started, he curled himself up tightly, rocking back and forth, eyes glazed over, as he escaped inside his mind. His little heart beat so quickly, but nobody could comfort him, they were all busy with another child.
What could have happened to these children? I can tell you, because they are my children and this is their story.
Dr. Karyn Purvis speaks about the importance of giving children “voice,” and we’ve embraced this as we’ve loved and cared for our children from “hard places.” But what about the children that were already in our family? Did we neglect to give them voice? Did we fail to meet their needs as we desperately worked to help our most traumatized children?
Sadly, the answer to those questions is “yes,” and it breaks my heart to acknowledge it. In March 2007, we brought three children home from Ethiopia; the following year we added one more. Some of them brought severe challenges that turned our family upside down. Our home, which had once been a very happy place, was now in constant tumult. The children already in our family suffered more than we could have imagined.
In many ways, we failed them. In our effort to bring healing to our children from hard places we created a “hard place” for our other children. In our effort to give our children from hard places voice, we neglected to give our other children “voice.” This is the hard truth.
We couldn’t have imagined the chaos that infused our home, and we struggled to find our footing. I’m afraid we expected our other children to somehow simply adjust and cope. Instead, they lost their way and they lost the ability to reach us. When we weren’t in the throes of coping with our wounded children, we were talking, praying, making calls, and sinking lower every day.
An earlier version of this post was published on Empowered to Connect.
Please leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences. This topic is very tender and near to my heart.