We just celebrated the one year anniversary of our adoption ceremony, when we gathered with family and friends before God to make sacred what was made legal the day before, a great celebration, a beautiful new beginning for our family.
It really was a great day. But it hasn't been the best of years.
Have you ever had a day when you woke up feeling awesome, the sun was shining, birds were singing, you had bright hopes and big dreams and all was well with the world…and then you stubbed your toe, and spilled your coffee, and then you were late for work, and then you got a terrible phone call with really bad news, and a bill in the mail you didn’t expect, and then you got food poisoning and spent the whole night hugging the toilet?
This last year was kind of like that.
Granted, there were some wonderful, beautiful things about this year. Our younger son, Michael has made some incredible changes. His behavior drastically improved, he had an amazing school year, and he is truly a delight most of the time. Adoption, belonging, being part of a real family, being loved and nurtured, cared for and protected, all of this has made a huge difference in his life for the better.
Our older son, Joseph, has had a different experience. Despite his eagerness to be adopted, once it happened, everything seemed to fall apart for him. He started spiraling…awful behavior, terrible attitude, rejecting our love and grasping for control, and he basically took both of his parents down with him.
We tried every kind of discipline technique and parenting method we could find. Our therapists said we were doing everything right and it was just up to him to decide to change…or not. People gave us their advice about what they thought he needed and we tried a lot of it, but he just kept getting worse…running away, cussing at us, completely defiant, manipulative, triangulating, making suicide threats, lying, stealing, the list goes on and on.
Even with all of that awfulness, I think the hardest part has been the inability to make him happy. Nothing I do for him makes him smile. He is not enjoying any of his childhood, even when we are doing things that should be fun. He is miserable and angry and sad and we feel like prisoners in our own home.
A friend of the family, our boys’ CASA volunteer, recommended we read a book by Nancy Thomas called “When Love is Not Enough”. As I read the introduction I took in each paragraph like a gasp of fresh air after months of holding my breath. It was the first time I felt like anyone had any idea what we were going through.
The book describes a disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Basically, children who experience abuse, neglect, or disruptions in care during their first three years of life, who were not nurtured and cared for adequately as infants and never properly attached to their mother (or anyone else), miss out on an essential part of human development. They are kind of stuck functioning in the emotional/survival part of their brain. They do not know how to give or receive love, only how to manipulate in order to survive. They do not trust. They seek to control. This is the only way they feel safe. We think this is what is going on with Joe.
Super sad. Heartbreaking. Absolutely awful. Yes, I know.
And the worst part about it is that once these dear children finally have a family to accept and love them, care for them and keep them safe…they reject it. They literally fight against being loved, to the point of abuse. The abused becomes the abuser. And his abusive behavior makes him hurt even worse.
John and I are in an abusive relationship with our son. It is mostly emotional, and verbal, but it is abuse nevertheless, and it is deeply painful. It wasn’t until recently, as we began reading about RAD, that we were able to recognize it as such. Before, it just seemed like really bad behavior. We knew it was sucking the life out of us, but we had no idea what to do.
If a toddler hits you in the face, you look at them with loving eyes and say, “It’s not okay to hit mommy” and then go on sweetly playing with them or caring for them without any anger or resentment. This is what we need to do when our 11 year yells, “F*$% you!”
We are supposed to use humor, to stay positive and kind in the face of abuse, to be strong and patient and help him learn to respect and to trust.
It's not going to be easy, but we are going to try it. We are going to begin again.
We found a therapist who specializes in attachment therapy and met with her for the first time tonight. She said she doesn’t take many cases like ours because they are usually pretty difficult, but she decided to take ours. (Thanks be to God!)
Tomorrow (I guess it's today at this hour) we drive to Georgia to get the boys after a month long break that was absolutely necessary for our sanity and survival. (We are so very grateful for grandmas and cousin camp!) When we return home, I will begin a 12 week leave from my full responsibilities at the church to focus on beginning this method of therapeutic parenting and helping our son to heal.
Please keep us in your prayers!
It’s not going to be easy, but I have rested and read and prepared. I have put away my anger and frustration and found compassion again for this son who is so very broken. I am determined to give it my all, and I am depending on God to take, break, and multiply what little I have to offer.
I am hopeful, very hopeful. I am ready to begin again.