At the beginning of May, I was following up with our family therapist about my feelings of finally having the full conversation with our daughter concerning her adoption. This conversation should have been had years prior, but at the time our daughter was not able to comprehend what we were saying. Our daughter has been in our home since she was three. The adoption process wasn’t finalized until she was five. On the actual day of her adoption, I tried to have the conversation with her so she would understand what all the fuss was about; since the extra-ness in me went all out to make this day a huge celebration. However, her little mind just couldn’t comprehend it. So, I chose to park it, and revisit it at a later time.
Research suggests that adopted children should know their story at least by 7 or 8 years old, so that they 1) are not confronted by an insensitive person about the truth of their history without the proper means to process through it, and 2) so that they can live in their truth from an early age and not grow up feeling like they were living a lie their entire lives.
But again, however, we were unable to have this conversation with our daughter at 7 or 8 years old. During those years, we learned that she was having a very difficult time processing simple things. She was having problems in school with reading comprehension, as well as how to process social interaction with peers and other relationships. She began to behave impulsively with really no consideration of property, expenses, people, or relationships. I often got calls from her teachers that she was bullying, making no effort to complete her work, was unmotivated, and inattentive. This was a very difficult time and space for our family.
With my son (now almost 22 years old), he was always on the other extreme of the spectrum; fully reading at 3-years-old, above average and grade-level, exceeding the required standard in every subject. He was always self-motivated. I never had to convince him or remind him to do his work, or to try his best. His natural proclivity to exceed and succeed followed him even through college in academics and in sports. So my daughter’s experiences in school were new territory for me. Could I navigate this new terrain?
We decided to hold off on the conversation about adoption until we could get our daughter’s behaviors under control. If the adoption conversation didn’t go well, it would only add to the difficulties we were already experiencing. Unfortunately, things got much worse before they got better.
My daughter continued to fail in school, despite our efforts of hiring a tutor. She did well while she was with her tutor, but was unable to apply what she had focused on back in the larger classroom. Coupled with that was the fact of her seeming not to care about not doing well. Additionally, I continued to receive calls about her consistent meanness towards her peers. Meanness to the point of…if she were a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a call to the parent, but some much harsher consequences.
My husband and I made attempts to find out whether there was indeed a diagnosis of some sort, because we knew that something had to be wrong. Consequences didn’t seem to shake her behaviors. Everyday was a constant struggle. How could I, having taught school, and mentored and served so many other children, not know what to do about my own daughter? What child doesn’t like some form of school (at least recess) or the peers that they have there?
When we initially tried to get our daughter assessed, our insurances conflicted. We had our insurance, but our daughter continues to receive insurance through the State. So we had to wait to get that sorted out before the assessment could be completed. Meanwhile, I had to get back to work. The time that was required was lengthy. The remainder of the assessment was going to be a full-day process and the doctor was already booked for the next six months. So we would have to figure it out until then. So, that’s when we got the tutor. Surely this would help some.
The tutor (another teacher at our daughter’s school) provided some of the additional support we needed for her academically, but we still needed help with the behaviors. So, I was able to speak with her guidance counselor and found that there was a friendship group available at the school. This would hopefully help with those peer-to-peer relationships. And it did. Our daughter was friends with the girls in her group…the children still in her classroom? Not so much.
If we could just make it through the school year…hopefully pass…and make it to get back in with the doctor. “Lord! Just let me make it until the end of May.” That’s what I asked…but it didn’t actually go as I would have hoped.
Part of what my daughter needed was constant focused attention from whomever the adult was who was present. This was at school, at home, AND at church. She needed that attention BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. So, to get that attention, she would fabricate stories that would warrant sympathy. She couldn’t compete with other kids with their skills and abilities, but she was beautiful and was very good at holding conversations with adults. But her stories weren’t just any stories. These were dangerous stories. Stories that could hurt other people, just for her need to receive attention. I had never seen this before. But hopefully the doctors could help us get to the bottom of it. “I just need to make it ’til the end of May, Lord.”
May 22, 2019, I received a call. I thought that it was a call saying that our daughter had actually successfully passed all her State testing and that we were in the clear. But no…this was not that call. It would be the following week that I would find out about her State testing status, which wasn’t favorable. But the call I received…shook.me.to.my.core. “Mrs. Green, we are calling you to make you aware that a report has been made to the Department of Family and Children Services against you concerning your daughter. It has been reported that she is being physically abused in the home.” (silence)
What was I supposed to say?!?! I’m literally speechless. Nothing and no one could have prepared me to hear those words; ESPECIALLY since I myself at the time was a director in child advocacy dealing with cases like this everyday for the last eight years…having made the decision to adopt a child out of the system in order to provide a safe, loving home, and give a child with unfortunate beginnings a better chance at life.
I finally entered the conversation by saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand what you said.” So, the message was repeated. I was devastated.
Later, I was informed that when the actual CPS investigator spoke to my daughter at school her report was a bit different from her initial story that caused the concern. She initially told someone that her parents beat her up. When the investigator came, however, she reported that she had gotten in trouble for lying (which she did) and was given consequences (a spanking). But she immediately started expressing how much she loved her parents and how much her parents love her. I think in that moment she realized that this was exactly what I had been telling her could happen. That someone could get in big trouble if she didn’t learn to stop making up such tall tales.
Well, as much as she would have tried to undo what she had done…the damage was already set in motion. I won’t go into the details of the next few weeks. Know that there were no arrests involved. She was never removed from the home. The allegation was unsubstantiated. But I did for a time choose to leave my home for almost two weeks to collect MY emotions. Emotions that included my hurt and embarrassment of having to resign from my job due to the nature of the allegation made against me.
My worst nightmare about adopting was manifesting itself in real time. Mental Health 101 – And It’s Effects on MY Family
I was ANGRY. I was hurt. I felt betrayed. I was embarrassed.
For five years I had committed myself to loving, providing for, and nurturing a child; which sometimes did include disciplining. But I can’t say I’m parenting a child if I don’t also provide discipline and structure. It’s necessary. And that’s completely different from abuse. She’s never been, and I’ve never referred to her as my “adopted child”…she is my daughter. With all the rights, liberties, and inheritances that my birth-son has. So trying to process where I stood…I went through all the stages of grief, because I felt like I was truly losing so much. One being…ME.
Part of my identity, I felt, was in my role as a wife, as a mother, and in my job. Roles that I all held dearly. But at this point, two of them were in question. A HARD PILL TO SWALLOW.
Semi-fast-forward…After the smoke settled, with regard to our daughter, she was eventually diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Reactive Attachment Disorder (RADS), and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). Learning of these, as can be imagined, scared me. But more than that…it saddened me. Though we got our daughter when she was very young, our nurture could not override the nature that was within her. Also, some of the neglect she had encountered was greater that what we had knowledge of. It was one thing for me to have worked with this population of children, but it was a whole other thing to have a child with these diagnoses living in my home and to need MY parenting.
But regardless of how it scared me and intimated me…DAMMIT, this was my daughter and I was gonna have to figure it out. Why? Because her life mattered. I couldn’t now abandon her in the middle of her battle. We had to fight.
When I was working in child advocacy, I would often be asked what was the most difficult type of child abuse case to work with. Most would presume that it was either sexual abuse or physical abuse. And though both of those human experiences carry with them painful memories, I found that abandonment was what most plagued children into their adulthood. Not at all minimizing sexual or physical abuse; but most times with therapy and healthy supportive systems in place, individuals are able to go on to live healthy lives. Not so much the case for children who experience abandonment.
Children of abandonment carry the burden of rejection throughout their lives. These children will always wonder into adulthood if they are loved or wanted by parents, family, caregivers, teachers, friends, co-workers, and also lovers. The most common tendencies of individuals with abandonment issues are low self-esteem and insecurity, unhealthy attachments, unhealthy relationships, sabotaging relationships, and commitment issues. I know adults who struggle with these to this day; and I DID NOT want that for my child. So as a family, we worked to figure it out. We sought help from not only our daughter’s pediatrician, but also with therapy.
Last summer, I worked diligently with my daughter to catch her up on all the skills she had missed in 3rd grade; which was mostly everything. Daily, we did math facts. We went to library and checked out a book each week; which she read aloud to me, which meant I had to be invested fully. We did reading comprehension exercises. She started doing crossword puzzles and word searches in her free time. Anything to constantly keep her mind stimulated. She also took swim lessons to not only overcome her fear of water, but to also overcome her tendency to give up and shy away from challenges. It was a long summer, but needed. For both of us.
At the beginning of this past school year, through a team approach (with my husband and I, her education team, her therapists, and pediatrician), we were able to figure out exactly what treatments and supports my daughter needed to be successful in school. This did include medication, which I was not initially a fan of; but it was a night and day difference in my daughter’s focus. She received additional services in reading, and was able to progress substantially. However, she still struggled with reading comprehension in science and social studies. Both of these subjects require a lot of reading and remembering facts, and it was still difficult for our daughter to make those connections.
But, this past school year yielded much better results than the previous years. Then, with COVID-19 and having to homeschool, I was able to give my daughter the true one-on-one attention that was needed for her to make the connections she needed to stay focused on her work. Yeah, I joked and complained about it, like everyone else; but deep down, I knew that this was what my daughter needed. In the regular classroom, it was very easy for her to mask her weakness and slip under the radar of her teachers. With just the two of us…not so much.
I am proud to say, my daughter went from being a failing student in 3rd grade; not passing, but being placed in the 4th grade… to finishing the last 9-week period of 4th grade with a 4.0 GPA.
365 -What a difference a year makes!
So back to the original thought…
The therapist asks: “So, Mrs. Green, how did it feel to finally have the conversation with your daughter about her adoption story?”
“It felt like I finally ripped the band-aid off.”
For years we had tip-toed around the issue. Waiting for when it seemed like it would be appropriate. Waiting for when it seemed like she was able to comprehend it all. But it was suffocating. For all of us.
What I realized was that as long as the band-aid was on the issue of our daughter’s adoption, our family couldn’t begin healing. Our daughter couldn’t be whole. She needed to know her own truth and embrace her story. Her band-aid wasn’t even necessarily her own. We had decided to put it there.
Band-aids only stop bleeding. They don’t heal wounds. Wounds can still become infected without the proper attention and treatment. Also, wounds eventually have to have air.
The week prior to our conversation with the therapist about the adoption, I had to have this very conversation about band-aids with my daughter. She had fallen while trying to learn to ride her bike. It was a very superficial wound. Probably one that the country girl in me would have just brushed off and kept it moving. But my little attention-seeker (lol) needs the full package (the gasp, the tears, the attention, the cleaning (with sound affects), and the bandage). Four days after her little fall, she was still trying to hold onto, reposition and stick that same band-aid on her scar.
Finally, I had say, “Baby Girl! Rip that band-aid off! Your cut needs some air.
When she took the bandage off, the spot that was once bleeding now had pus covering it. The scrape was worse now than it was when it first happened. The bandage had just covered it up from view. I had to clean it again and give my daughter instructions to allow it to get some air so the healing process could begin. You might get where I’m going.
In thought, cuts and scrapes are not the only wounds that we sometimes cover up with band-aids and hope that they heal unseen and without proper care and attention. We do the same with emotional scars. The ones others can’t see. We do it with bitterness, unforgiveness, hurt, shame, and guilt. The tough, but real, issues and realities that we experience; that we suppress behind the front we present in public. There may be a few people we’ve told, but the truth of it is that there are some things that we are covering up with emotional band-aids that we are not only hiding from other people, but we’ve in fact hid from ourselves. And still, there are some emotional wounds that others have taken the liberty of putting band-aids on for us.
Can I submit to you that it is time for us to rip some band-aids off?
I had to rip off my band-aid to start Dawn of a New Day. Just to move in this direction. In order to come into my truth, I had to tell the truth of a matter I had to navigate through for the last 365+ days. Thus why I added the 365 to Dawn of a New Day. Because it would take an entire year for me to see fully what God was doing. Not just for me, but for my family, and more importantly my daughter. Ripping the band-aid that was covering my pain, my hurt, my embarrassment…allowed my healing process to begin. And I am so grateful for it. Yes, there is a scar. But the scar is my story.
I had this revelation just a few weeks ago. As I shared my excitement with my son about something, I said, “THAT’S CRAZY!” To which he said, “No. It’s clear.”
Those words…hit me in a way that I can’t even explain.
“It’s not crazy, it’s clear.”
It got me to thinking…There are often times that things catch us off guard, and come to us in a way that we were not prepared to receive (my daughters diagnoses, the loss of my job, my journey); yet, they really don’t bring confusion to us like we think…They bring clarity.
We may say that we are confused because we are not prepared or ready to accept what is in front of us…good or bad. But it’s really not hard…just unfamiliar and unexpected.
With everything that has transpired last year with my family and I, as well as the circumstances that have presented themselves in 2020, it would seem as though walls are caving in around us. But WHAT IF…they (“the wall”) were caving in to make our paths straight.? We (just like my daughter) were getting distracted by so many things to the point that we couldn’t focus on what was truly important. But now, though caught off guard, we can see clearly which people and what things are most important in life. We can also see deep rooted issues that are still present and prevalent in our lives, as well as in our society that need to be fixed. They’re not covered up. No. In fact, they are right in front of us. The band-aids have been ripped off. So while we’re on a role, let’s see what other wounds need to be uncovered…so we can heal.
The struggle we might be going through…it’s not crazy…it’s clear. We’ll see it for what it is and how it needs to be treated…if we just rip off the band-aid.
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