Four years in: parenting adopted kids

From the backseat, with Kathryn at the wheel chauffeuring us for our errands, my youngest boy tells us,

I like this family. Y’all are my favorite family I’ve ever had.

Kathryn and I exchange a quick look and I pause a second to wonder what exactly goes through that little head of his and what thoughts preceded his statement. I tell him it’s good he likes our family since we’ll always be his family. I remind him that he’ll still be part of the family even when he’s a grown up, just like Brandon is still our son and Lindsey is still our daughter. I remind him that he and our other kids will always be brothers and sisters. He has trouble with the concept of who is or isn’t related, whether or not you have to live in the same house to be family.

parenting adopted kids

Another day, he wanders into the kitchen to ask if I have pictures of him when he was a baby. I tell him no, reminding him I didn’t know him then. I honestly think he forgets sometimes that he hasn’t always been ours.

Last week, while helping me decorate for Christmas, he asks questions prompted by the “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments we have for each of the kids’ birth year. (Thanks eBay for letting me find Hallmark ornaments years after the fact.) He starts to ask if I knew him when he was born, then remembers our conversation about baby pictures. He asks me who he was “born out of,” what was her name, and is she still alive. He asks a few questions about his birth dad and I answer them as well as I know how. He’s not upset, just curious.

Good days, bad days…

Most days, he’s a well-adjusted little boy who adores his daddy, makes a mess building crazy-awesome LEGO vehicles, and usually remembers to thank me for whatever meal he’s currently eating. A few years ago, his temper was terrible and he could throw one heckuva fit, but that hardly ever happens these days (maybe twice in the past year) and never with the same kind of intensity. Partly because almost 8 years old is a long way from 4, but a huge part of the improvement is because he has bonded so well with us.

But there are still days when he’s hypersensitive and overreacts to what would ordinarily be no big deal, and other times when he goes into what we call deer-in-the-headlights mode if he is upset. On his worst days, he feels sad for no explicable reason and wonders why he was born.

His 9-year-old sister, on the other hand, is a smiling ray of sunshine everywhere she goes. She’s polite and cute and freely dispenses hugs. She thinks everyone is her friend. She sings and dances and skips, and people tell us all the time what a joy she is at school or church or choir. At school, she’s on the honor roll and has received “Outstanding Kid” awards.

But then there’s home. Most days it’s a matter of dealing with her impulsiveness, sneakiness and lying, her difficultly keeping her hands off other people and things that aren’t hers. She antagonizes her little brother, challenges Ken, but I get the brunt of it. On the worst days she gets physical, but I end up drained more mentally than bodily because it reminds me so tangibly that I’m parenting a child who would gladly trade me in for a new model.

Maybe I’ve been in denial.

Almost four years down the road, I finally have to admit to myself that we’re dealing with some level of attachment disorder. Logically, I know it isn’t my fault but I can’t help feeling like a massive failure.

I almost never listen to podcasts but I made an exception when I saw the title of this one. And then I cried while I listened because hearing someone else talk about it made me feel not-crazy: My Child’s Attachment Disorder is Taking the Life Out of Me.

If you know any foster or adoptive parents, or if you are a teacher or a Sunday School teacher… please take a little time to listen to the podcast.

I’m honored to have been included on this list of Top Adoption Blogs. I’ll always be an adoption advocate but this is a unicorn-free zone. I want other adoptive parents to know they’re not alone, and I want prospective adoptive parents to be prepared.