Adoption is not what it used to be 30 years ago. I was an innocent small child back then, but from what I hear people still think and believe about adoption today makes me think it was all rosy and peachy and hush-hush. My friend and fellow adopter wrote a very good post last week about the differences of then vs now, please read it: The Adoption Contract. It was so true and powerful that I needed time to think it through before I wrote something again (hence no post last week)
This week there was quite a buzz about this topic in the media again; one from the BBC with the title Over quarter of adoptive families in crisis. I watched it and frankly got a bit upset when the reporter asked something along those lines of ‘don’t you think that these bad stories will deter potential adopters to come forward?’
Early childhood experiences
Let me start by saying my child doesn’t have a split personality in a way the poor doctor in the title had it, however, it often feels that way. Ever since I first started digging into the minefield that’s called ‘Adopting traumatised children’, I can’t stop thinking about not only this story, but any fictional or real character who ended up having a troubled life later and wonder how their early childhood experiences shaped them into a burglar / abuser / killer / psychopath / addict / sociopath / serial liar…etc.
A few moths ago I wrote about this issue already in My Child Might Look Normal, But… and since then I came to realise that for me this is the hardest part of adoption.
15 months into this placement (I know, some adopters get touchy when their adoption or family is described as ‘just a placement’ , but since we are VERY far from having an adoption order and legally they are NOT my children and I have no parental rights whatsoever only responsibilities I will continue to call it as such.) I think my boys feel safe, secure and loved by living with us. If their feedback to their SW is anything to go by they also believe that this is indeed their Finally Forever Family!
When I look at some random, yet in our Adoption World extremely important factors I must agree with the SW’s assessment: the boys are happy here! Before coming to us 8 (then 6) wouldn’t do homework even if his life depended on it and got often red-carded in school – now he is at the top of his class. We can now walk nicely on the streets and I don’t have to worry even if he runs ahead or stays behind with friends that he will not come back to me. We even managed a few dry nights with him, which is a massive step for him. He has managed to say sorry – something even his therapist said he will likely not be able to do for a long time! We are in the process of learning ‘it was my fault’ instead of anybody else’s – again, a huge step for a child who was blamed for everything so naturally he has learnt to deny every little thing he did. Every now and then he is even able to feel sorry for somebody else after I really really spell it out for him in great details why his words or actions were hurtful. I could give you examples all day, but it’s sufficient to say he has come a loooooong way and we are extremely proud of him!
His ‘doctor Jekyll’ side
Now, that he feels safe and well looked after, his real personality has started to come through. We found that he is extremely funny and creative. I guess most parents would say that about their pride and joy, but 8 really has a wonderful sense of humour. He quickly became a bookworm and lately he started to make up his own, intellectual jokes. I must say I was well impressed! Academically he has impressed his teachers (when the topic is of any interest to him I should add) and demonstrated that he can work out complex correlations just by observing. One day we were talking about triangles and he was bored because he found his homework too easy so I explained Pythagoras’ Theorem and he understood it and could use it well! He was 7!
He is not a boisterous boy, more like a little softy who thrives on cuddles and kisses and holding hands, which makes walking into shops a lot more easy these days. Today after waking up he came to me, gave me a big hug and said ‘I am so happy my SW has picked you and daddy to be my parents!’ (yes, I also went aaaaaaaw) In school he often draws a picture of a happy family of four and keeps telling everybody ‘my mummy is the cleverest and beautifullest (sic) in the whole Milky Way Galaxy’. Aaaaaaaaaaaw! Which mother would not melt and be just a little smug about how wonderful and lovely her child is… Yup, guilty as charged 🙂
He has learnt to be kind and polite and adults give compliments pretty much all the time wherever we are about how lovely and sweet my boy is. These are the moments where I struggle the most, because I know his other side, too!
Suddenly he becomes Mr Hyde
In the beginning when people made such comments I would snap and give them a sarcastic response like ‘you think? You should have seen him 2 minutes ago when…‘ or ‘just tell him no and watch his reaction’. Nowadays I learnt to just smile with my mouth only, offer a quick ‘thanks‘ and walk away before I start a rant. Why? Because it’s not worth it; it’s not their problem! If they want to see my boy as a sweet little bundle of joy with the brightest smile and loveliest laughter ever then I shouldn’t ruin it for them! They don’t need to know that most of it is still a facade only! They don’t need to know that he is only behaving so well because he is terrified and once we get home he will surely let me know in the most unlovable ways that he was feeling a lot of things but happy!
Simple things like ‘it’s time to brush your teeth’ can turn into a 3 hours screaming meltdown and please don’t even start with ‘all kids do that sometimes‘ because, frankly, I don’t care about other kids! I care about my boys and my family only. Just because all kids do that it still doesn’t make it right or any easier for me when I am in the bathroom holding him in a big bear hug to keep both of us safe!
Not giving him a treat due to his poor behaviour can trigger a nasty ‘I hate you, you stupid xxxx’ in no time and once he is there he usually doesn’t stop at the verbal abuse. I can’t count the time my orchids have been thrown to the floor as a way of showing me his feelings ‘you are hurting me so I destroy things you like’. Currently he is only 8 and quite clumsy so his punches are not very painful, but I am dreading the day he gets older and stronger.
Of course he always calms down… eventually. Of course he always returns to his sweet little angel attitude and comes to me with his arms open for a big cuddle. But I can’t just switch personalities like clothes. I can’t just forget the things he has done moments ago as fast as I should.
When I am calm I do know his Dr Jekyll side is his true identity. I know his poor and unfair circumstances developed his Mr Hyde side and I do know in time, together, we can kill Mr Hyde. But on worse days I feel unless I also develop a second personality (someone who just doesn’t care about anything) I won’t be able to cope with this emotional roller coaster much longer and one day I will undo the safety belt…