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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Loving the Child you Don't Like (Part III of foster/adopt)

This is going to sound crazy to a lot of people. If you have never adopted a child in certain situations, you will probably not be able to understand it. But for those who have, there can be an incredible amount of guilt, bitterness, and possibly regret. I hope what I have discovered can help others who feel helpless in these situations, even just a little. I have never found any advice on these matters to be the least bit helpful unless it comes from others in the same situation. And the best information came from my own experiences because every child is different, but maybe someone will find an idea that will work in their own battle!

Adoption is often viewed like a fairy tale. The parents who long for a child but cannot have one rescue a child with no family, everyone is overjoyed at the arrangement, and they live happily ever after. Sorry, but no. Usually it begins with parents who so long for a child (and there is nothing wrong with that longing) that they feel desperate and some are eventually willing to accept the first available child who comes along. I so feel for these people. I not only harbor guilt for giving away the chance at more children myself, I have a friend who has been waiting a long time (and you will wait a long time, especially for a baby) and my heart aches for her.

When parents adopt a child and the child does not want to be there, hates the family, sabotages attempts at bonding, and is in general contributing nothing emotionally or physically to the family, the parents at least bear the burden together. Misery loves company. When we are facing anything stressful or hard, it is always easier when we know we have someone on our side. But what if the child loves one parent and not the other? This is the situation I want to address because this is one I know well. Sometimes this is caused by the 'replacement' of a parent after death or separation. The term step-mother evokes an immediate mental image of a horrid, mean woman. How many fairy tales employ this image as a means to set up the evil behavior of the character? Step-anything signifies less than what would be preferred.

Oddly enough, this kind of situation is possible when adopting a child that is not biologically related to either parent. When a child is angry at one birth parent either for abuse or for allowing abuse, it changes the way that child relates to the foster/adoptive parent of that gender. In our situation, the children were living with their father, who was abusing and molesting them. They were not under the supervision of their mother very often, and so when they came into our home and started visitation is when they really got to know her. She would come with candy (universal bribe) and toys every week. They fantasized about a life with her where they had candy and toys all the time. She never told them no or corrected them, so she appeared to be the perfect mother. They wanted nothing to do with their father, crying or hiding under tables during visits, and finally were granted a reprieve from visitation because it was deemed to be too stressful for them. But they continued to see their mother. The county worked toward sending the kids home to mom's custody, and after two years they very nearly did go home, and then mom failed her drug screen and got in trouble ad everything ended very quickly. They did not have a last visit with her where she could explain that she had failed. Instead, they went from the mom who was perfect in every way to the caseworker saying they were going to become our children forever. They were OK with my husband being their father. They had even asked a few times if he would marry their mother, and I guess I was just supposed to fall off the face of the earth. After all, they despised their father. They loved Gary, and they loved their birth mother. But me for a mother?!? I had rules and required they help out, and had a zero tolerance policy in my house for candy. They were given vegetables with dinner, and if they didn't eat them, they were given the same plate again for breakfast. Not because I was trying to be cruel, but because I knew better than to give in to even the tiniest act of terrorism. I had to establish authority in all matters, and then we could work out the bargains later. I'm not heartless. I understand the few things in this world that can make you lose your lunch just by the smell or taste (peaches- uck! not even allowed in my house). But they were trying to get me to serve sugar like it was a food group.

So anyway, it became all-out war for a while. It was messy and sad and there were times when I asked myself, or my husband or the cat why we decided to do this. The worst part of it was when they tried to turn Gary against me. The angriest of the children tried this frequently and with determination. For instance, she would say something very inappropriate to me. I would 'pop' her in the mouth, you know-the little tap that doesn't hurt in the slightest, but then she would bite her lip really hard and make it bleed, and when Gary came in and asked her what happened (and I wasn't in the room at the time) she would say I hit her. This is what we call the word game. It isn't technically lying. In reality, she is recounting to him an event that did occur. She is misleading him by allowing him to think that the bloody lip came from that pop in the mouth, but it is still a true statement in and of itself. Gary would come to me and question me on what happened, and I would get upset because regardless of how I tried to explain it, I felt I looked like I was trying to save my own skin. Fortunately he soon saw for himself what they were capable of. I was away and my father stopped by. The same warrior child was jumping on her bed, which is a no-no. Gary warned her to stop. When she didn't he went in to swat her behind. He had her bend over, and when he swatted, she threw herself forward into the wall and started crying. Of course my dad was shocked. It then took his own boot-camp experience to discover what we were dealing with. But you are not going to be able to have the entire world come and experience the game first hand, so there will still be those people who think you are a horribly abusive parent.

What can you do when you are in this situation? When you are in the position of parent to a child who wants nothing to do with you? Some people have suggested killing them with kindness. When this child does something to hurt you, hug them even tighter and praise the child excessively. It doesn't work for me. I am too steeped in the idea of natural consequence. Yes, this has to be metered to the child's ability to understand and reason. But I think if you allow a child to treat you like dirt and you pretend to love it, which is what that cuddling and sappiness appears to be, he or she will grow up and assume it is OK to treat everyone this way. I think that is cruelty to children. When you set a child up to fail, you are not showing love. When the kids say something horribly mean to me, I will let them see me cry. They need to know that words have power. When the terrorist refuses to eat for 6 days because you will not order pizza from Pizza Hut, don't let yourself feel responsible. A child with that strong of a will is very resilient. And if that will is not molded, it will be a very hard road in life.

But the very best solution I have found is to reform that sadness, over the child who does not want me, into serving my husband. Let them see me light up when he comes home, eager to greet him at the door. Let them overhear me making plans to cook his very favorite dinner 'just because'. Let them watch me continually delight in pleasing him. For one, it will teach them how to love and serve others, even if they don't realize it. And two, it is the one thing we have in common. They love Gary for being the father they never had. If I pour myself into taking care of him, I gain their respect. They may never admit it. They may never be able to show me the same love they show him. But they will not be able to convince themselves that I am completely bad because I am committed to their daddy. And therein lies the living example of Christ. Serving in the midst of hatred. Finding joy in a situation of sorrow. And being able to have the foresight that what I do today affects way beyond tomorrow.

Go to Part IV


Swylv said...

How were the requirements to be foster to adopt parents? Were they demanding? DH and I went to the learn about what is required meeting in our state but the 10 classes plus 2 more classes, DH wasn't sure his job would allow for we had to put it on I was not thrilled to hear a social worker would want to question my 5 year old preferrably without us in the room unless the child was extremely shy then parents can stay in the room....I want to know what they ask and what my child says. Again that scared me.

Also we don't have a house to take out an equity loan to pay for an adoption which is what many people tell me they have done.

I have pcos and have been ttc since June ovulation = no babies, ya know

motherofmany said...


We had required classes (I think it was every Saturday for a month), a homestudy, fingerprinting and background check, 3 references, and we had to prove that we could support ourselves financially.

When we have our recertification every two years, they do ask the kids what they think of being part of a foster family, but they always do it in front of us. I have never heard of wanting to interview the kids alone except in cases of reported abuse, and HSLDA has answers to that on their website (bascially, you have the right to say no).

The reasons they want to talk to the kids is to make sure that they don't resent the idea and would therefore pose a risk to any kids placed with you.

When you adopt a child out of state custody, it does not cost as much as a regular adoption. Right now it is $850 per child here, and the county will reimburse the costs. That is the only way we could afford to adopt. Private adoptions cost a ton, not only in fees, but you have to pay for everything else: homestudy, fingerpringint and background checks, etc.

Let me know if I can be of any further assistance!