Our family is conspicuous. With three active children very close in age, who look nothing like my husband and I, and with their wide brown eyes and willing smiles, we attract attention wherever we go. It seems a bit ironic, then, that the word "invisible" is one of the first adjectives that comes to mind when trying to describe our family.
Our children became part of our family after a not-unusual roller coaster adoption process that began with pursuing a life-long dream of international adoption, and eventually led us to public adoption in Ontario. They arrived home after a smooth transition, at ages 1, 2, and 3. We enjoyed regular in-home visits with our CAS adoption social worker for one year until the adoption was finalized in June 2012 (somewhat ironically on the same day that funding became available to families placed with siblings or children over age 10 on or after that date. We missed that opportunity by one year).
While our three experienced pre-natal substance exposure and maternal stress, they were placed in loving foster homes at birth, and appeared to be developing and attaching well. Once they were home, and the initial novelty of being the family with three little ones adopted all at once had pretty much worn off in our social circles, and there failed to be any completely unexpected challenges (although sometimes I wondered how we would manage even the expected ones, times three), we started to become invisible.
Our struggles included things like a child dealing with insecurity by attempting to take control of everything and everyone around him (bossing siblings and adults, lying, refusing to accept leadership), another expressing distressing feelings and opposition through extended (and often aggressive) rages over nothing and everything, competition for nurture and babying between the 1 and 3 year-olds (who had not lived together prior to placement, despite being siblings), and one coping with grief and fear through lengthy night wakings during which she was angry and inconsolable, as well as having a need to be picked "uppy" continuously. On top of all this (and perhaps in part because of it, in addition to other factors like age at placement), attachment was slow to develop toward the boys in particular.
Friends and family tended not to see most of this, although they were (and remain) wholeheartedly supportive, loving, and helpful. To our adoption social worker, most of our experience sounded pretty "normal" given the circumstances, and there were certainly indicators that the kids were wanting to attach to us. With no red flags suggesting a need for more intensive or long-term services from our social worker's perspective, the adoption was finalized and we were on our own. (In fairness, we were, and are, able to contact CAS to discuss options should we identify a need for additional services).
Throughout the first year after placement, regular visits with our adoption social worker through CAS were invaluable. She was experienced, calm, encouraging, and validating. During more difficult periods, even the anticipation of having her in our home to touch base and confirm or develop a plan for moving forward helped me stay the course. We were able to ask questions and get feedback about events that had gone on with the children, which helped us put the things we were living into context. There was an informality to meeting in our home and chatting across the kitchen table that felt natural and non-invasive. The arrangement seemed like the right balance of "normalizing" our family experience and having a bit of helpful external support.
As time passed, however, and my husband and I returned to work from parental leaves (which included an extra, unpaid leave of absence for my husband, and ultimately resulted in him leaving his long-term job to stay home with the kids, then taking part-time work opposite my schedule), all of the issues we thought would eventually resolve remained present, ultimately becoming harder to manage due to a combination of juggling work, home, and family demands, becoming increasingly burnt out living with repetitious stresses (particularly without strong mutual attachment to buffer the challenges), having less time and opportunity to recharge together as a couple, having less time and finances for education and study on connected parenting, and feeling disconnected from opportunities with people who could really "get" what we were experiencing.
We will soon reach our four-year anniversary as a family. We would never have guessed four years ago that we would still be struggling to figure out our family relationships, manage issues that were initially interpreted as being related to transition and adjustment, and develop effective approaches to parenting kids with trauma. Our children continue to have difficulty managing outside of our direct care, and after time away from us there can be days, or even weeks, of limit-testing and other issues to work through. Our experience has confirmed the work of experts like developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld and others who have outlined that children need to have a deep and secure attachment with their primary caregivers before they can venture into the world (including heavily peer-oriented environments like school) with the ability to maintain their sense of identity, safety, and personal values.
We see this first-hand in our kids, and we are happy to make the personal and vocational sacrifices necessary to fulfill our commitment to them as parents, furthering our mutual attachments, and helping our kids reach their potential for wellness and development. However, the impact of changing our work schedules, limiting our community activities, giving up down time as a couple, and pouring extra time into intensive parenting (both out of necessity in-the-moment and in planned ways) includes exhaustion, frustration, and burn-out.