Are you raising adopted children who survived trauma?

We are organizing a new support network for metro Atlanta to:

befriend and support each other,

enjoy each other’s company,

affirm each other’s experiences,

find ways to help our children,

back each other up,

have each other to depend upon

in emergencies,

and for everyday help.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

When We Need Help

I have been drowning in my own sorrow and disbelief for the last week.  There comes a time when we all must look at our lives and evaluate it.  You may do it on your own or your child's behavior may escalate and force you to.  We have been forced this week.  On the outside, we can appear to be a wonderful example of how adoption works.  At home, we are run like a residential treatment facility that includes door alarms, extreme structure, and 24 hour video surveillance.    

I think we all filled out the forms saying what behaviors we knew we couldn't handle and would refuse to take children experiencing those behaviors.  They are different for everyone.  Yours may have been aggression towards animals, bed wetting, and/or something else that seemed a bit too much to imagine.  Ours was sexual predatory behaviors and fire setting.  Well, we have not had a fire setter.  I'm sure many of you had to alter your expectations along the way only to find years later you are parenting the exact child you refused in the beginning to even consider.  Welcome to older child adoption.  A life where you feel like your family is being held hostage and traumatized by another member of your family.

When is enough enough?  When do you need to protect yourself or your other children?  How much should we take?  Where do we go when we need more help?  Who do we share our secret lives with without worrying about the consequences?  What damage will it do to our family if we decide to let them go? 
Only you can decide the answer to most of those.  Having a support system in place with knowledge of the services in your area, will be extremely helpful.  Asking for help from the right person, can save your family.  Maybe just putting a few more security measures in place will restore your sanity. 

The kind of support group we are thinking of is one that meets monthly in a public venue, like a restaurant.  I can't think of a way to provide babysitting, in the beginning.  Maybe later we could take turns volunteering later or pitch in to hire someone that is trained.  I think it needs to be casual and comfortable so we can feel like normal parents just hanging out.  I'm sure many of us have long ago left that life behind.  What do you want or suggest?  Our first meeting will be March 24, 2012.  Send me an email and I will add you to our growing list privately.       

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Most adoptive families have big dreams of how they will spend the holidays with their new children.  Some of the bigger holidays, like Christmas, would be traveling to see extended family or just waking up to watch their huge grins as they open the best presents they've ever seen.  Birthdays would be spent celebrating their lives and eating large amounts of birthday cake after singing your best version of Happy Birthday.  Valentine's Day would be another way to make them feel the love in your heart with flowers, handmade valentines and treats, or just a box of chocolates.  No matter the holiday, your new child would feel your love and appreciate all the effort you put in to make their lives better than before you.  Some folks even thought their child would be thankful to be out of such a horrible situation and to have a new family that wants them so much.

For us, holidays are dreaded.  We learned early on our new children resented being in our homes but holidays were an opportunity to really make that clear.  If we put ourselves in their shoes, we can see how holidays would trigger such big emotions.  After all, they loved their parents and wanted to be reunited to them until we stole them.  If we hadn't come into the picture, their parents would have changed and they would be home, living the good life.  We were strangers to them.  How can we love them, if their own parents didn't?  Holidays are memory makers.  We all have them imprinted in our minds, the good and the bad.  So do they.  Holidays meant drinking and parties.  It could have meant strangers in their homes.  Abuse.

The triggers for these memories can be the smell of the fire, cold air on their face, holiday music, and even the very goodies we are preparing for them.  It brings them back instantly.  These feelings can be so strong and even physical for them.  Oftentimes, they can't explain why they are upset because the last time their parents drank beer, they shot their aunt and now every time they smell it, it reminds them of how scared they were that they would be next.  It takes time, help, and practice to let these things out in a healthy way.  It takes years and a safe place.  You have to prove you are that safe place because everyone else has tossed them away.  You may never know the extent of their histories.  I know after nearly 6 years, we are still hearing new memories.

So how should we handle these holidays and help our children?  How do we survive?  My experience is to do it slowly.  We minimized every holiday.  Birthdays are their pick for dinner, a special dessert, and a very small present.  Sometimes we even make them wait a day or two and let them pick something out after the fog clears so they don't destroy it.  Christmas is building traditions like candy making and hiding a pickle on the tree so the first child that finds it gets a giant candy bar to share with their siblings.  We don't have big parties with drinking or go out to big events during that time.  Over time, we began to model safe drinking by having a single glass of wine once a month.   

Each family has to find what works for them.  It is NEVER perfect so forget it.  Take time to mourn the loss of the family you once thought you would have.  Embrace the imperfections.  The biggest and hardest thing to do is be patient with their outbursts.  They will happen.  Their new things will be destroyed.  Comfort them.  Tell them they have a right to be angry because they do.  Praise them for every tiny they did right after the outburst.  If they shared something, didn't break all the dishes, and even that they stopped before they blackened your other eye.  Tell them they deserve to be loved and you are committed.  Mean it.  Forgive them.  When it is all said and done, have them make it up to you and the family.  They can need to make restitution for the time and energy they took.  Nothing punitive.  They need to be included in the family fun.  They need to build happy memories with you.

I'm sure you thinking, what about me???  I'll get to that.  I promise. For now, tell us how your holiday was or what you do to get through it.             

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Being Traumatized Ourselves

There are several reasons we all decided to adopt.  Perhaps you have had a calling since childhood, your sister became addicted to drugs and DFCS asked you to step up, you struggled with infertility, or maybe you saw an ad that stirred something in you.  Why isn't important.  I'm sure nearly every one of us had some fantasy that included loving moments with your new adorable child.  Who wouldn't allow themselves to daydream about vacations by the beach or dinners out with friends as a family?  For most adoptive parents, that dream was realized when their child settled in to their new home and new loving family.

Our families don't fit that mold.  Our children were traumatized in the homes of their first families.  Some of them were starved, left unattended for hours and even days, beaten, and even sexually abused by the very people that were supposed to love and protect them.  When our children's needs were ignored, they began to learn that no one could be trusted.  They became anxious, never knowing who or if anyone would ever help them.  Over time, it became anger.  Eventually, they landed in our homes with new parents ready to snuggle and love all their boo boos away.  Some of them showed their anger and mistrust by destroying their nice new things, spitting on us, kicking, hitting, acting out sexually, and some even tried to harm themselves or others to prove they weren't worthy of being loved.  Our love was foreign to them. 

We stood there and watched all the hoopla thinking we must be crazy.  How could this adorable child be so charming and sweet to the check out lady and kick us in the head all the way home in the van?  How could you tell your friends and family and make them believe?  If you were brave enough, they probably explained how you must be doing something wrong, or it is all typical kids behavior.  You began to think it must be you.  You questioned your behavior, your motives, your parenting, everything.  You searched out parenting books and advice from your doctor.  Nothing worked.  As your child got worse and became a danger to you or your other children, you began to wonder what you have done to your family.  You didn't know what else there was to do.  Disruption thoughts began to slip in your thoughts and depression set in.

You are not alone.  There are families out there struggling to parent traumatized children and being traumatized ourselves during this process.  I can't say this group will fix your problems or save your family.  I can say finding a support group that will not judge you can save your sanity and give you the strength to go on when you feel you are at the end of your rope.  We can help each other find new ways that will help you help your child learn to trust you. We can support each other when the smell of pee sends you into a sobfest, provide respite for each other when we need some down time, and even help you explain to the school why this isn't your fault and teach them how to help you instead of getting sucked into your child's lies or manipulations.

Tell me what you need.  What are you struggling with?  What behaviors push your buttons the fastest and are the hardest to deal with?  What resources are you having a hard time finding?  Are you confused about where to begin to look for help?  What can we do for you?