By Dyan Roosma, Institute for Attachment and Child Development treatment mom
I have stood before a judge and sworn to love and care for children who were not born of my own body more than once. We chose to bring each of these people into our family. It was, and still is, a beautiful thing. Our unique family has brought many joys—and challenges—that we were completely unprepared to handle. But like many families, we learned, grew, and faced them head on with tears and laughter.
Here are 6 things I wish I knew before I adopted my children:
1. I am not, and never will be, their birth moms. No matter what my children’s mothers did (or didn’t do), she gave them life. That’s something I can’t change. My children resented me at times because I wasn’t “her”. They also resented me because I represent the fear of trust and vulnerability to them. In fact, they downright pushed me away, both emotionally and physically. If you’re experiencing the same, I know that you’re struggling. It’s heartbreaking. Remember that your child doesn’t even know why she feels this way. It can help you to understand it though. Pick up a copy of the book The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier—it’s a great start.
2. My relationships with my biological children are different. They just are. I can’t change that fact. It’s a cellular difference. It doesn’t mean I love my adopted children less. It just means our relationships are different. And that’s okay. Along the way, I’ve learned to recognize that there’s nothing I’ve done, or haven’t done, to make this so. That realization has built my confidence so I can meet each of my children’s individual needs.
3. My biological children still need me. When there’s so much to give, it’s hard to be everything to everyone. The needs of my adopted children were vast. So vast, in fact, that I sometimes forgot how much my other kids needed me too. I wish I would’ve found a way to get respite care earlier to give individual attention to my other kids too. We figured it out but it did take a bit.
4. It can be lonely. Certainly not all adopted children have reactive attachment disorder (RAD). But some do and mine did. To raise a child with RAD is extremely challenging and requires different parenting. I wish I would’ve known earlier that raising my children would change my relationships with other adults. They just couldn’t understand my parenting or life. Therefore, they were judgmental and not supportive which was hurtful.
5. Bonding and attachment can happen at any age. My 22-year-old and I are still working to bond and attach. We get closer as mother and son each time we see each other. It’s never too late. Our kids had a delayed start. That means we need to keep at it. As parents of kids with RAD, they’ll need us to help them fully grow and mature into the beautiful people they are long after they leave our homes.
6. My kids teach me as much as I teach them. Outsiders often praise parents of kids with attachment issues for their patience. Do we think of ourselves as patient people? I know I never did. That’s just one of the many lessons I have learned from my precious children. I have also learned about forgiveness, kindness, joy in adversity, and on and on.
If I had known these things earlier, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. This knowledge just would’ve made the ride a bit smoother. While I am no longer the wide-eyed optimist I once was, my opinion remains the same. Adoption is a beautiful thing.
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August of 2014 and was updated in January of 2018.