Today a FB friend asked me if I had any advice about how to recover from a disrupted adoption. It got me thinking about the year we had one of our foster kids rehomed for the safety of the younger two (and, I’ll admit it, for my own sanity as well.) Here are the three tips I shared with her, out of my own experience. Would you add anything?
1. Tune out the nay-sayers. We had well-meaning friends from whom we had to distance ourselves for a time, who chastized us for having the child removed from our home. “Don’t you know she’s just testing you? Don’t you know you are making it that much harder for her to bond with anyone, ever again?”
In reality, we had tried for over a year to help our foster child. There came a point, the details of which do not matter, that it became clear to everyone including the social worker that this child needed to be in a home without other children. Thankfully, she blossomed in her new home — though she has harbored anger towards us. Trauma breeds trauma, and unresolved trauma comes out in all kinds of awful ways. And yet, a decade later we know we made the right choice for everyone involved.
2. Adoption is forever. While foster care is by definition a temporary arrangement (reunion is always the ideal, and about 40-50% of foster children do return to their birth parents), adoption is for life, and if your child leaves you cannot simply wash your hands of him or her, or blot that child from your family’s collective memory.
Continue to pray for that child and to make sure (to the extent possible, depending on your situation) that he or she is remembered and taken care of — birthday cards, notes, and perhaps even visits if a safety plan is in place. Not only is it the right thing to do, this will prevent your weakening the bonds you have with the other children in your home (who may otherwise question the security of your attachment to THEM).
The time may come (it certainly came for us) when the child who left will express anger or resentment toward you for your decision, especially if you kept one or more of his or her siblings. Stay strong, and try to be as gentle and kind as you can. Feelings are not facts, and unresolved trauma breeds more trauma. Acknowledge the pain, but do not take it upon yourself.
3. Acknowledge the loss. To yourself. To the children who remain in your home. To your extended family and friends who support you in your grief. Like a divorce, the consequences of the break are real and need to be processed over time. And like a divorce, the fact that there is pain does not automatically mean that the break was not needed.