By A Canadian Adoptive Parent
Last year, we grew our family through the adoption placement of a sibling group—ages 9, 10 and 13—from foster care. Our children have numerous diagnoses, including ADHD, anxiety disorder, and developmental trauma. They have suffered more than their fair share of losses. All three children have diagnosed attachment disorders. How could they have learned to attach, when none of their primary caregivers were able to permanently attach to them?
My husband and I took courses to prepare us as therapeutic parents, but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of parenting three high-needs children. A day can include intense emotional dysregulation; meetings with teachers and social workers; school board meetings. It takes so much time and energy to decode our children’s behaviour to determine what their needs are. Our 10-year-old son had never been to a regular school prior to his placement with us; he had always attended section 23 schools. Making that transition was challenging for him.
Our children have already had so many caregivers that we can’t just turn them over to babysitters and expect them to handle it. We need to be there for our children to help them heal from their losses. Their internal scripts need to changed so that they realize they are worthy of the love we have to offer. We also need to earn their trust. How can they believe us when we say this family is forever, when adults have offered them permanency before, and then failed to follow through so many times?
Before adopting, we didn’t realize how intense secondary trauma could be—how exhausted we would become, as we absorbed our children’s emotions. How exhausting it would be to comfort a child in tears while reining in your own emotions. In the first months of our adoption, it felt like the exhaustion was setting into my very soul. I couldn’t imagine meeting our children’s needs, while both of us were trying to juggle the demands of full-time employment. You need to try and practice self-care. You have to try to get enough sleep, remember to eat, learn to accept support when it’s offered to ensure you have the emotional strength to get through the day. It feels like you’re running a marathon that you haven’t trained for.
Thirty-five weeks is not enough time to accomplish all of this.
Even a baby adopted at birth has already suffered the traumatic loss of its first mother. Forcing adoptive parents to return to work earlier then biological parent puts their already-vulnerable children at an even greater disadvantage. Attachment is the key component in a successful adoption, and time is the key component in successful attachment. I hope that the Government of Canada sees fit to allow adopted children to have the same great start with their parents that biological children get.
The opinions expressed in blogs posted reflect their author and do not represent any official stance of Adopt4Life. We respect the diversity of opinions within the adoption, kinship and customary care community and hope that these blog posts will stimulate meaningful conversations.
We're ramping up our #timetoattach campaign until April 2019, for 15 more weeks of parental leave for adoptive parents and kin and customary caregivers. To really make an impact on our mission to Ottawa, we'd like to share your experiences of what it was like helping your child to settle in and bond. Find out how to share your story.