Adoption and Mental Health: Beyond Love
“I thought love was enough… It wasn’t.”
My husband and I adopted two kids.
It depends on the day if I regret it or not. But I feel that way about my three biological kids as well. When we decided to adopt, we thought that love was enough – if we gave the kids a loving, stable home, they would grow to be kind, caring people. But little did we know that you need more than love to survive this journey. Love wasn’t enough. We weren’t enough because the mental health needs were more than two people could meet.
Reactive Attachment Disorder And Adoption
By the time my son was eight and my daughter was four, life was miserable. Even though we adopted them at birth and at age one, my adopted kids did not bond with me. Even though we gave them everything they could need, they continued to push us away and destroy everything. I sobbed as I put a single mattress into my daughter’s room. I couldn’t keep up with her hiding her feces and urine. It had to be something I could clean quickly. And even then, the walls and heating vents took the brunt.
My son would leave the house at night to wander. Where? Why? I don’t know. He was destructive. He didn’t mean to be, just like my daughter didn’t. Both desperately wanted love, but attaching was the equivalent of touching a hot burner. They learned in the womb that no one wanted them and that love hurts.
For my kids, not only did they have attachment issues, but they also had other mental health traumas. My son has ADHD, FASD, and Pediatric Trauma. My daughter has Trauma, Pediatric bipolar, and ADHD. But where do you go when your kids are constantly dysregulated and abusing you? There are minimal options. As the child grows older, judges and the juvenile system often step in to try to help. But tell me – what does a judge know about mental health? Not very much. They know the law.
No Support For Adopted Parents
As small children, we had nowhere to find help – help for us and help for our children. We received sympathetic nods but no solutions. The state we lived in offered “therapeutic foster homes.” Sending my insecure attachment kids to another home would not be kind to them. It would probably make things worse. No. We were alone.
There is a long story about liquidating everything, moving across the country, and finding help. But today, I want to share what we did because you are not alone, dear readers. We first started with a neuropsychological evaluation for both educational and psychological components. Then, we hired an attorney to help us navigate the world of IEPs. We began working with a team of therapists, in-home, out-of-home, mentors, and care coordinators. We met monthly with 8-10 people per child to discuss how to help them with X. Yet, they needed more.
50-80% of adopted kids in the United States have attachment issues. Within that group, 3% will qualify for Reactive Attachment Disorder or pediatric trauma. Within that 3%, half will need a residential care setting. My children fell within that small percentage. Most kids will do well with a strong school and therapeutic team. However, many don’t have the resources needed even to find that.
We refused to view our kids as naughty. We refused to view them as capable of controlling their meltdowns. Instead of coming against our kids, we came alongside them. We believed them when they said they couldn’t handle it or didn’t mean it. And because of that belief, we eventually found help. In the United States, it turns out that if a child cannot access education due to emotional dysregulation, then the school district has to pay for an out-of-placement. For us, we found a residential center that specialized in trauma and worked with building a scaffolding of regulation with our children.
The Impact On Adoptive Parents’ Mental Health
It’s hard because this experience didn’t just affect our adoptive children’s mental health. It affected ours as well. Every minor trauma or trigger my husband and I had rose to the surface. The kids seemed to prey on finding them and hurting us. We ended up in counseling, too. I’m a better person today; I love who I have become. But so many of us suffered to get help because the system offered no support.
My kids didn’t need court and judges. They didn’t need people assessing their mental health so that someone else could make a court order. They needed help. They needed a system to understand and give them resources to live a whole life.
A Beautiful Life
It’s been five years since we moved. It’s been two years since my daughter went into care. In a few months, my son will follow. My daughter is starting to do well. She can stay regulated longer, and I watch her practice keeping herself regulated. I watched the tripod work: meds, therapist, and her determination. I find peace knowing that she will have a beautiful life — a jail-free life.
My son has already had a few run-ins with the law. Our goal for him is a jail-free life, so I’m getting ready to meet with the school to fight through the IEP services to show them they can’t provide the environment he needs to thrive. And what’s even harder to admit is that neither can we, his parents. But together, society can. Together, we can give these kids hope and a future where they are not looked down upon or ignored for mental health issues.
“I thought love was enough… It wasn’t.”
When Love Isn’t Enough
This story paints a clear picture of the complexities involved in adoption and its profound impact on the mental health of all those touched by it. The journey highlights the sobering reality that love, while undeniably crucial, is often insufficient to navigate the intricate adoption landscape. The challenges the adopted children and their adoptive parents face can be overwhelming and require a multifaceted approach.
Adoption can leave a lasting mark on the mental health of everyone involved. Despite their young age at the time of adoption, many adopted children grapple with attachment issues rooted in their early experiences of feeling unwanted. This core trauma can manifest in various mental health conditions, such as ADHD, FASD, and pediatric trauma, making the struggle even more complex. Without adequate support systems, children often find themselves in a vicious cycle of dysregulation and emotional turmoil, a challenge that defies simplistic solutions.
However, it is not only the adopted children who bear the emotional burden – the adoptive parents also suffer. The parents are thrust into a role that demands immense understanding, patience, and resilience. While they consistently support their children, they are often met with challenges and, at times, emotional abuse. Their minor traumas and triggers surface, intensifying their need for mental health support. Adoption is not merely a one-sided act of love but a complex journey filled with profound emotional and mental implications.
I can not overstate the significance of speaking up about these challenges. It is crucial to raise awareness of the mental health aspects of adoption and advocate for support systems that meet the various needs of adopted children and their families. Society must recognize that, in many cases, the legal system and assessments by courts and judges are not the primary solutions. What is truly needed is a comprehensive system that understands and provides resources to help these children lead whole, fulfilling lives.
Every step towards supporting everyone’s emotional regulation and mental well-being is a step towards a brighter future for the adopted children and their adoptive families. Together, society can offer hope and a future without stigmatizing or ignoring mental health issues. Yes, love is a stable foundation of any family, but love also needs a network of understanding and mental health resources to help our families thrive.
Let’s Talk About It
Your voice, your experiences, and your insights matter. How do you define support within the context of adoption? How can we collectively ensure that mental health resources reach those who need them most? Racing for Mental Health is eager to continue this vital conversation, embracing the belief that we can build a more compassionate and informed society that stands up for the mental well-being of all affected by adoption. Please share your thoughts and contribute to this critical dialogue by commenting below.
In addition, you can join our community ambassador program to start a group for adoptive parents in your community. Let’s break the stigma one conversation at a time!