Initially when we started fostering, in the general emotional chaos that ensued, I formulated an idea: If we can just make it to permanency, all will be well.
Our sibling group’s case meandered back and forth between adoption, reunification with birth family, and eventually back to adoption – all over the course of 2.5+ years. The two kids had already been in foster care nearly a year before joining our family. The entire case from start to finish was over 3.5 years in length. Even so, it took us a long time to figure out where we stood on reunification efforts. Removing a child permanently from his or her family is a significant loss.
Watching our eldest, in particular, struggle emotionally with managing visitation and stressing out about the possibility of moving again, we finally concluded it would be in both of their best interests to stay where they were: With us, permanently. Of course, all of that was up to the court and the process took a long time, but we ultimately knew where we stood on this difficult issue.
Once we decided our stance, I found myself longing for adoption, thinking if we could just get there this craziness would subside and life would calm down to ‘normal’ – whatever that was. However, as we continued our annual agency mandated trainings, learning more about trauma and hearing from other families who had gone before us, it became clear to me that this was wishful thinking. Permanency was not going to solve the all the underlying control and attachment issues we were encountering. Adoption would simply be another step along the way.
Now that we are on the other side of adoption, I can say that certain stressors have certainly diminished, and our eldest, in particular, is much more relaxed because he does not have to worry about moving any more. Additionally, life is more sane without Child Protective Services meandering throughout the house.
With our adopted daughter, however, I still find myself feeling as though we have barely scratched the surface of healing her. Last summer her behaviors turned aggressive; physical attacks on me were common. When that didn’t work, she attacked innocent siblings in order to provoke me, leaving us with more secondary trauma fallout among our family members. I am heading into this summer with hope; surely we won’t regress that far back again! There are days I feel like we are right at the beginning of the learning curve of discipline and connection in emotional-based behavior. The neglect from her early years is showing itself in new colors. Trauma is developmental, so it is probable we will have to work our way through these challenges in different ways at different stages along her path toward adulthood.
Whatever ideas I had about our family fulfilling the ‘happily ever after’ of ‘normal’ life, I threw them out a long, long time ago. After all, let’s face it, in any area of life, expectations such as those often let you down anyway. Instead I now see our family as being on a journey of sorts, with ups and downs and plains and mountains and twists and turns. The goal is to keep learning and growing, not to arrive. I have replaced ‘happily ever after’ with ‘today is a new opportunity.’