Myths vs. Realities of Foster Care & Adoption
In January, KAFCAM hosted a luncheon for Faith Leaders in Knoxville. The focus was on how to become a trauma-informed church, and we began our time by debunking a few popular myths relating to foster care and adoption. We want to share these stories and truths with you. The anonymous realities posted under each myth were submitted to us by friends of the KAFCAM community. We appreciate each person’s willingness to share their thoughts and stories.
1. Myth: We adopted an infant, so we won't have any issues.
Reality: We adopted an infant from a wonderful, loving, birth mother whom we still have a great relationship with. Even though our daughter's birth mom took good care of her in the womb, she was under a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety over where she would place her daughter. I believe this stress in the womb has affected our daughter and I believe we will continue to see ways in which that plays out as she gets older. So, everything we do with her has to be through that lens of trauma informed care, keeping all of her history and her birth mom's history in mind even though we got her in the hospital.
2. Myth: Interracial families won't face any problems.
Reality: As my children are growing older, I'm realizing that my white privilege has protected them from so much. As they begin to leave our home, our safe nest that they have lived in, I cannot help but worry about the racism they will experience once they are on their own. As a family, we have experienced some issues - the stares from others when you are all together, kids at school making comments. Jokes about other cultures come across differently to families with children of that heritage. Issues of immigration, and many of the comments surrounding these issues, mean something different when your children look like the children crossing the border with their families. One of my children feels the racial differences deeply - in our family, as well as in our community.
Reality: Imagine you’re sitting at lunch with your good friend and he’s telling a funny story. “Last night my wife FREAKED OUT. Someone knocked on the door around 9pm, and she looked out the window. It was a black man, so she ran upstairs and grabbed the gun. Turns out was it was just a family friend.” Everyone laughs. Then my friend’s eyes meet mine and it dawns on him. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” I respond, “When my son knocks on a neighbor’s door, the default response is to grab a gun because of the color of his skin…now you know what my greatest fear is.”
3. Myth: The church will be a safe place for my foster/adoptive family.
Reality: During our adoption process, we learned that even churches that are very pro-adoption are not the safest places for adoptive children. The parenting teaching that we received at church did not take into account our child’s trauma history or story. Our pastors and church family had very little understanding of childhood trauma and how it affected our kids. Even though our church family was incredibly encouraging about our adoption and very supportive, we ended up having to search out a different church that was more informed on adoptive issues and childhood trauma.
4. Myth: If we just love the child enough, it will counteract all past trauma.
Reality: I wish this were true. Relationships do help to heal trauma, but it is still there. And each child reacts differently to it. When we first adopted our oldest, we had read all the books, done research, and were trying to do all the right things. But the trauma is still there, and now as a teenager, we are dealing with its effects. And, each of our adopted children deal with it differently. We have loved and loved and poured into them, prayed over them, reached out to many different professionals, etc. and are still struggling to help them overcome the trauma. There have been times when it has been hard to continue to pray - as the situations just feel so hopeless. I have prayed and prayed for healing for my children, yet the behaviors continue. It's been a true test of my faith.
Reality: Our adopted kids have been our children longer than they were orphans. Some days the residual effects of their childhood trauma are more severe now than in the first 6 months after their adoption. They are simultaneously the most resilient and fragile kids I know. They can overcome just about anything. And fall apart at just about anything. My 10-year-old said to me just recently. “I feel like an outsider everywhere, but in my house.”
Reality: "Oh, I wish this was true! Abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment as early as in utero lead a child to believe they can't trust the caregiver who is supposed to be meeting their needs. Children quickly develop survival thought and behavior patterns to protect themselves. As an adult, you may know when a child is in a safe and loving home/school/church/etc. where their needs are being listened to and met, but the child doesn't know that. It takes MANY attentive, trauma-informed caregivers to help form new patterns of trust over TIME."
5. Myth: You can raise all of your children with difficult behaviors the same (deal with behaviors regardless of trauma).
Reality: We had 2 biological sons, so when we were placed with a boy to adopt, we were excited. We had the clothes to hand-me-down. We had the toys that boys like. We knew how to raise boys! But we quickly realized that something was off. Our adoptive son was panicked around food, had emotional meltdowns multiple times a day, and seemingly fought us on every decision we made. The traditional parenting books we had read encouraged discipline and structure, but things kept getting worse. We didn't want to treat him differently because that didn't seem fair to the other boys. It got to the point that we rarely took him in public because we didn't know if he would meltdown, and we stopped telling people around us how bad it was getting. To be honest, we didn't like him, and he definitely didn't like us. We opened up to an adoptive family who invited us to an adoption support group at a local church. We learned a ton about trauma and survival behaviors, and we realized why our son was acting out. We learned that we weren't the only ones seeing these behaviors, and that was life-changing for us. It wasn't us versus him, it was us helping him through the trauma he experienced. Our strategies shifted, and we realized that it's not fair to raise boys with very different backgrounds the same way. I'd love to say that things got better overnight, but they didn't. But they did improve very slowly as we built trust and connection. God has done a miraculous work over the past several years through counseling, friendships with other adoptive families, and lots of reading and prayer. We are so thankful for adoptive communities where we could share what was really going on without judgment, and to have people patiently encourage us and equip us with the tools we needed to love our son and meet him where he is.
Reality: I find this to be one of the hardest parts of parenting our adopted children. Each one needs different expectations, each one has different struggles, each one reacts differently to the same issues, and helping them all where they are can be tough. They each have different reactions to their backgrounds (even those who are biological siblings in the same home). And on top of behaviors, dealing with learning disabilities is no joke! Helping them with schoolwork, advocating with teachers and school staff, and dealing with the behaviors associated with these is tough. And again, they each have different struggles in these areas, and we have to set different expectations. Just graduating from high school will be a huge accomplishment for some of our children, while others will graduate with honors with no issues.