8 1/2 years ago we started our journey of parenthood. But the birth story of our two oldest children was much different. Instead of going to the hospital, laboring for an eternity and then finally giving birth to a healthy baby, we drove to Iowa loaded up two kids ages 8 and 11 and drove them back to Minnesota to live with us.
Instead of bringing home cute babies to coo over, to attach with and just love on, we brought home cute children to love on and parent in the best way we knew how with children who had experienced trauma. That last one's a challenge. In simple terms we were trying to love and attach to two kids who had never had love or attachment which made them trust only themselves. In our naivete we thought with traditional parenting and lots of love we could heal that trauma. But it didn't.
Below is a chart that shows a healthy attachment cycle.
So we bring home the two great children who had bred into them that they shouldn't trust adults, especially adults who want to love you and take care of you and keep you safe. Oh, no, no way, not going there. "I am the only one who can keep me safe. No one else is trustworthy enough to keep me safe." And so being safe becomes their priority. It presents as the child constantly being on the lookout for people who might be talking about them, making fun of them, making sure they have extra clothes at school just in case they get taken to another foster home straight from school. It's call hypervigilence. Imagine a child who is so concerned about their basic safety trying to learn what's being taught in school. In a "normal" world by the time the child reaches school age, they've been taught who can keep them safe: parents, teachers, police officers. So they are ready to learn. Not my children.
Now children who have had early life trauma and many transitions to homes have learned to be actors. In order to survive these kids had to be able to act and lie and do whatever it takes to get what they need. Things that parents or caregivers should be doing. So these children came into our home and all seemed to be going very well at first. It's called the honeymoon period. Then that wears off and the behaviors begin. Lying and stealing because they have to make sure they are taken care of because we're not trusting this new mom and dad. Then when mom and dad start cracking down on the behaviors, the kids then start telling lies about the parents to teachers or social workers or any other adult they can bring to their side to get them what they want. And parents don't always know these conversations are going on because these adults don't have to tell the parents what the students confide to them. Then the parents get visits from police and social workers to investigate claims made by the children that they are being abused.
Fast forward to June 2008 when we were totally unprepared at what we thought was a regular hearing for a child who'd run away. Out comes a letter from our son stating some nontruths about what living at home was like. Unfortunately because this was not our first time in court for this kind of a charge, he was believed and he was going to foster care and we were going to have to earn him back. Now if you know us and do the math, in June 2008 we had a six-week-old baby who had been born premature. It was no longer us the parents trying to meet the needs of the older two children but also trying to meet the basic needs of a premature daughter and form attachment with her. By December of 2008 we decided that enough was enough. We were being asked to jump through the many hoops of the social service system and our financial and emotional reserves were tapped out. We made the heart wrenching, horrific decision to terminate our parental rights to our son. Our daughter would turn 18 in three months and she chose to stay with us. So now legally we are not our son's parents but we are his sister's parents. And that decision has led to us seeing him only a handful of times out in public places like the grocery store.
We are still grieving the "perfect" family we thought we'd have. We are still grieving the better life we thought our kids would have. We are still grieving the loss of our son. He will be 18 in September and unless other circumstances prevail, he will age out of the system without legal parents. He'll be welcome to connect back with us but he may choose to live with or near his biological family where our daughter has chosen. So at this point in our lives we have a twoalmostthree daughter who doesn't know her brother and barely knows her sister living as an only child. We are grandparents to our daughter's son and have only seen him twice in 10 months. His great-grandparents have only seen him once for about 5 minutes. It makes me sad that we can't have a better relationship with him. Our daughter is caught between her biological family, her baby's father's family and us. We have decided not to put any pressure on her and pull her in our direction since we feel she's got enough pressure going on where she's living. We accept and are grateful for what we get and pray that God will someday bring her back into his fold and heal her so that she can make the right choices.
Even upon living with all that, I would happily welcome an older child to adopt from the foster care system. I believe that I could find a teenager that would not present with the problems we had with our son and daughter. I know the signs and behaviors to watch for even in a bio and talking to the child and their caregivers. I am saddened to know that so many kids will age out of the system at 18 with no one to be their home base. I would have been lost if I had no family at age 18 and I was attached. We need to find those kids who are going positive directions and give them a place to land when they need one. Not necessarily try to parent them in the traditional sense but "I am here for you forever when you need me."
As for the ones who come into the foster care system not attached and headed for trouble, we need to find a way to teach them to attach. It can be done and it needs to start as soon as they enter the system because the younger they are the better chance they have at attaching. By age 10 the window for attachment is pretty much closed. These are the kids who be troublemakers and in jail, making babies who will grow up unattached unless the right interventions come along for them.
I don't want to see the system continue as it is but right now I don't know how to make change happen.