It’s been a while since we had a Tuesday Topic – this week, we hear from an adoptive single mom of three teens:
I’m a single adoptive Mom to three – ages 17, 17 and 12. I work full time, try to get kids to therapy, med reviews, probation, and court. We juggle as many as seven social workers and respite providers. Obviously we are surrounded by dedicated folks trying to help me and the kids succeed.
BUT, despite this, I have never been successful getting the kids to help around the house. Not only will they not do dishes, take out garbage or clean the living room, but they won’t make their own beds, put clothes away, or collect laundry. All three can do these things, I’ve taught them and have seen them do so, though usually under duress. This summer they are just hanging out, eating, sleeping and playing video games. Won’t do even the few little things I ask. I get frustrated and yell, they shut down even more. What provisions should I make?
This is a challenge for so many families, especially in the summer! How do we encourage our teens to contribute to the running of our household?
It’s been an emotionally intense and physically exhausting couple of months around here as we adjust to life with our two foster toddlers. In order to have any restful time with our older kids this summer, we recognized that we needed to put together a plan for respite – for us as parents and for the other kids to have parents who aren’t depleted.
Thanks to our respite providers, we were able to get away to the mountains with our older kids twice – and then because we were so well rested, I even managed to join forces with a friend and take all of our kids (hers, mine, and a couple more – 12 in all!) camping. So as summer draws to a close, we feel that we used respite wisely and that it truly benefited our family.
As much as respite has benefited our family this summer, it is not easy to access, and often the difficulties seem to outweigh the benefit.
For foster care, we are limited to using only other foster families, there is additional paperwork involved, we have to pay the provider, there is packing and unpacking, it can be more difficult to find families who are able to take medically fragile children for respite, and of course there is the need to prepare the kids ahead of time for another transition and then the bumps that inevitably come afterward as they work through the anxiety of what has felt to them like another “move.”
We have made attempts in the past toward setting up regularly scheduled respite, but things always seem to “settle” enough that the energy it takes to make respite happen doesn’t seem worth it anymore. However, nearly ten years into this, I am realizing that having a plan already in place even when it seems not needed is really, really necessary for when we hit those times when we do need it.
I have been doing a bit of research on how different communities and groups of parents and individual families create respite options. I found this paragraph in some of my reading this weekend:
“Children who have spent time in foster care often learn at a young age that adults are not trustworthy. Brenda McCreight, author of Parenting Your Older Adopted Child, says many of these children learn to survive on their own and develop a trust in their aloneness. As much as these children may want to become part of a loving family, they are also afraid to let go of their aloneness because it helped them survive. Expressing love, allowing themselves to be loved, and entrusting their life to a family can feel dangerous.
Helping children heal from this kind of trauma is a full-time responsibility; while rewarding and fulfilling, it is also a slow process that includes setbacks. Without respite, the daily demands of monitoring and managing difficult behaviors and psychological problems can deplete caregivers of energy and cause them to lose their focus, patience, and sometimes doubt their ability to successfully parent their vulnerable children.”
True. True. True.
The paragraph mentions foster children. And in our family, that is the case right now. It doesn’t mention internationally adopted children. But many families I know are parents of internationally adopted children, and our kids have experienced many of the very same things that children in foster care have experienced – and the outcomes are the same. Except somehow there isn’t as wide of a recognition of the need these families have for respite care; and therefore, there aren’t programs and resources readily available.
But it’s a desperate need. And often by the time a family realizes how desperately they need it, they no longer have the energy to find or organize it. We ourselves have needed it desperately in the past and have pieced together options. This has ranged from an after-school program to spending several weeks with another adoptive family in the summer. Neither is an option we need at this point, but we desperately needed them at the time in order to keep our family functioning.
But if we needed it again right now, I’m not sure where I would turn. As a foster parent, there are systems in place that offer our family one night of respite each month (often for us, this is used to provide care for our foster children while I am at the hospital with our daughter for procedures). But as adoptive parents, our respite options are much more limited and elusive.
I don’t know what the answers are. I imagine the answers grow best out of community and connection (as they have for us in the past – most often, another mom hears my desperation and offers wisdom and resource).
I would love to hear from parents who have found ways to make respite an option in their family and in their community. It’s something that so many of us need, and my guess is that there are some successful stories out there. If you would like to share your experience, please use our contact form. Let’s get a respite conversation going!
You may not have time to make a meal or the money to run out and buy diapers as a welcome gift for this new child, but if you’ve got a few minutes I’m going to help you do something that may be even more appreciated– learn about how to respond to this new child and their foster family in helpful, respectful and supportive ways.
I felt like the appointments for therapy and doctors were making us all stressed out and that we were rushing around too much. Even though the therapy was fun and play based, many days the kids did not want to leave the house and forcing them to go felt wrong. We gradually began to stop doing therapy. Our stress levels went down as our number of appointments went down. I felt strongly that the kids needed to be able to be kids and have tons of time for free play.
Foster care and adoption put a magnifying glass over specific kinds of mess for us. For starters, those realities show us all the ways in which a child ends up needing a short- or long-term home outside of his or her family of origin: abuse, neglect, poverty, disease, mental illness, substance abuse, death, or other life circumstances that lead a first parent to—by their own choice or by others’ intervention—not raise their biological child. In even the best cases, adoption and foster care always involve loss. We are called to reflect Christ’s love into that mess with our presence and proximity while valuing their dignity as image bearers of God, no matter what the adoption or foster care narrative might be.
…and in the midst of SO MANY kids and SO MUCH summer, I (Jennifer) found myself reading this one over and over and laughing out loud each time:
Some time ago, I was in a book study with a group of adoptive and foster moms. One of the topics that has stuck with me all this time later is the discussion we had around “Disarming Defiance.”
Defiance is a huge button-pusher for me. I hate, hate, hate it. Yet it is one of the common strategies that kids from hard places use to protect themselves from the deep fear that they carry with them. While it can sometimes be typical childhood defiance, it is often instead the “fight” or the “freeze” in fight, flight, or freeze. It is often rooted in fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Of course, knowing that doesn’t always make it easier to live with.
One of the tools for Disarming Defiance that we talked about was “making provision” for our kids.
Making provision – it’s the idea of anticipating our children’s needs and paving a way for them ahead of time when possible.
In our house, for many months, making provision meant we simply had to send one child out to the car thirty seconds before everyone else, because when we didn’t, that child would somehow seek control and instigate conflict with a sibling or three for every single one of the seventeen steps between the front door and the van.
For years, making provision has meant remembering not to attempt conversation with a child in the morning before I have gauged whether they slept through the night or if they are exhausted because they woke many times – and before they have gotten some behavioral meds on board (yes, behavioral meds – they have saved our family).
Making provision might mean respecting the one child who can’t handle a regular hug. But, in the right moment, he can accept a bear squeeze from behind or deep pressure on his arms.
Making provision sometimes means sitting in church with a dysregulated and anxious three-year-old and doing joint compressions for her because it will settle her for even just a minute or two.
Lately, making provision has meant returning over and over to cover our two-year-old foster daughter again with her blanket, because in her anxiety and insecurity she has purposely thrown it off so that she can call out scream that she is cold so that I will come back and cover her again – while trying to find some way to ease this anxiety before bedtime each night.
It is scores of tiny interventions each day that will make relational interactions a bit smoother for a child who struggles so much in family relationships, removing some of the obstacles and struggles for that child that might otherwise trigger fear and then defiance or many of the other broken tools that child has relied on to feel safe. It means giving small opportunities, instead, for them to feel safe through our provision, giving small opportunities to have successful interactions, however tiny they might be, with siblings and parents rather than failure piled on top of failure.
The thing is, when I think of it as “making provision,” I can do it with a happy heart. But when I think of it as “why do I have to orchestrate every single little thing around here?” my heart is most definitely not happy. It is a hard knot of resentment. And it is not easy to attach to a mom who is carrying a hard knot of resentment. I know this to be true because I have lived it far too many days.
For me, the secret to “making provision” instead of “nursing resentment” is seeing the ways that provision is being made for me so that I am ready to make provision for my children. Lately, this provision has come in times of respite from this heavy work of parenting hurt kids, it has involved noticing and being thankful for individual pockets of time with my children and husband, it has meant waking up to the ways that God makes provision for me.
Because He does. He makes provision for me. When I am defiant, when I don’t want to connect to Him, when I am anxious and full of fear, when I seek out a million tiny ways to wrestle for control – all the very same things that make it so hard to connect with a hurt child – I am using the same broken tools my children sometimes do and holding myself distant from my Father. He anticipates my deep, gaping need before I ever notice it myself.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate (He is not carrying a hard knot of resentment toward me) – and in His grace and compassion, He lends me the strength to make provision for my children by showing me the provision He is making for me.
As a foster and adoptive mom of children with special needs (both medical and behavioral), there are a few frequent misperceptions and questions that never fail to elevate my heartrate and trigger an internal heated monologue.
One is “Can you tell me what we should be worried about when we adopt a child with insert diagnosis here? What’s the hardest part?”
Another is “These poor kids – they only have insert diagnosis here. That’s so easy, people!”
One more is “We chose to adopt a healthy baby/toddler because we just don’t have the resources that a child with special needs will require.”
I know that I speak from a place of bias. I firmly believe that waiting children with medical and special needs should be the very first children that families are taking placement of through foster care and adoption.
I can tell you that it is a rare thing when I meet a post-institutionalized, post-trauma child who does not have significant cognitive or behavioral challenges resulting from their life experiences. And I can tell you that the majority of parents I talk to who are parenting adopted and foster children with medical needs will tell you that the day-to-day impact of their medical needs is often overshadowed by the impact of their life experience on their day-to-day behavioral and cognitive functioning.
Both of our adopted children and some of our foster children came home to us with significant and lifelong medical diagnoses. I researched each diagnosis endlessly and felt that we had a good handle on their medical care, their prognosis, the impact of their diagnoses on their quality of life, potential risks and side effects of their treatment – and on and on. What we didn’t know then is that they would gather numerous more unrelated diagnoses over the next several years that are a direct result of their early life traumas.
We have had children in our family with HIV and another child who has had hospital procedures under full anesthesia ninety times now, with no end in sight. And, still, the weight of those medical diagnoses is often far less than the weight of living with the effects of trauma and neglect.
Trauma impacts developing brains in significant ways. And you will witness its impact day-in and day-out in your home when you bring home a child who has experienced trauma – and any child in need of adoption or foster care has experienced trauma and is still experiencing it when they enter your home. And, you will encounter it when you adopt a “healthy” child. Anyone who tells you that this is easy and that love is all you need is, I am sorry to say, wrong.
Becoming a child’s second family (or third, or fourth…) is hard work, it is self-sacrificing, it is life-altering, and it is not to be undertaken lightly.
We should not avoid hard work or self-sacrifice – we should seek to have our lives altered and our focus shifted away from our selves. And for many of us, God will use adoption and foster care in our lives to accomplish these things. It’s profound and beautiful, and it is a gift.
But it is not easy.
We do a huge disservice to adoptable children and to the families who are making them their own when we “sell” adoption as if it were easy. When we minimize the impact of a child’s history of neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss – we minimize and disregard their story, and we falsely elevate ourselves as their rescuers.
Let us be honest with these children’s stories and with their needs.
God rescues; and He redeems neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss. But let us not pretend that it is not sometimes hard and wearying work being in the middle of His rescue and redemption.
Please – consider adoption. Consider foster care.
Please – tell your friends to consider adoption. To consider foster care.
Please – use your voice to bring attention to forgotten children waiting for families.
But please don’t say it is easy – or that love is all you need.
During our hardest days, the fact that we could never be the forever family was what got me through. I knew we could do it for a season and help her have stability until the right family was found for her. I felt like I could manage all of this for a time and then celebrate when she went to be with the mother who was better equipped than I was to meet her long-term needs.
We hope you have a great weekend, friends. I am so glad to have Russ home. He is already back into some big projects and the tractor is running late into the night.
Jennifer and her family are enjoying a respite weekend in the Rocky Mountains. Life with their littles is looking up a bit; they are finding some new routines that may make their days (and nights) a bit easier.
I’ll have an update on our journey as a foster family on Monday.