By Katie, adoptive parent
“Five minutes and then we are leaving.”
It seems like a typical conversation between parent and child, but to our family, those words reflect so much more. We are a family formed both through birth and adoption. In 2005, we had two biological children and adopted a little baby boy from Ethiopia. Over the next four years, we added one more son through birth and three more sons and a daughter from Ethiopia. In 2013, we decided to pursue an adoption through foster care.
We were quickly matched with a three-year-old boy and his two-year-old sister. Within three months of learning about them, they were in our home, and then the true work of becoming a family began. Our newest additions were traumatized by their difficult pasts and scared of their future with the group of strangers that were to be their family. As we navigated through the tangible things like doctor’s appointments, school meetings, and food preferences, we also focused on the intangible; safety, comfort, and love. Continue reading
By Denise Rice, LCSW, ACSW, LAC
What are Behaviors?
All behavior meets a need and has a function. Let me say that again, there is a function and a purpose to every behavior! A behavior is an external expression (communication) of our internal emotions. Sometimes, we as adults forget that how we behave is our way of communicating how we feel, just as it is for our kids. It is how we often communicate our emotions, positive or negative. When children experience trauma, their most pressing need is survival. Many behaviors we would label as “bad,” “maladaptive,” or “inappropriate” were necessary at one point for the child’s survival; and let’s be honest, our children and teens are master survivors.
We need to reframe our thinking about behavior. Especially when it comes to understanding trauma. If you want to really practice a trauma sensitive or trauma responsive type of parenting it is critical that you see the behavior of your child or teen through a trauma informed lens. Rather than seeing the behavior as negative and hostile, we need to see it as a highly functional survival skill that kept our kids alive in their previous environments and now that behavior isn’t working as well in the current situation. What parents and caregivers are tasked with is how to decipher the message underneath the child’s behavior. What is your child telling you they need through their behavior?
If hiding, stealing, or stashing food away was the only way your child ate when their parent went on a drug or alcohol bender, that behavior has become a survival skill. However, if the same child is hiding, stealing, and hoarding food under their bed and in their closet in your home that same survival skill is now described as “inappropriate” or “disruptive.” This behavior is getting in the way of this child being successful in a different situation or connecting with you because it drives you crazy and is considered “disrespectful;” but, these behaviors that kept your kids alive before, will not simply disappear after a few days, weeks, or sometimes months or years after being placed in your home.
Keep reminding yourself that often the behavior isn’t about you. It may feel like the behavior is aimed at you, but remember that the child is behaving the only way they know how, and when our brains are stressed, we regress. We regress to previous behaviors that may have disappeared for some time. I know that it is extremely difficult to not take some of the behaviors personally. Especially if you are not taking care of yourself and your own stress is impacting the healing relationship with your child. Continue reading
By Schylar Baber
At the age of six, I entered the Montana foster care system with my half-brother, after being removed from my physically and sexually abusive biological family. Thrust into a system that was intended to protect me, I experienced even more abuse and neglect. I went to eleven different foster homes, then group homes, residential treatment centers, and a flood of respite providers. I was separated from my brother and all contact with my biological family was cut off. I never achieved permanency in the system and aged out of care at eighteen without a transition plan or a known permanent connection; and yet, I not only survived – but also thrived.
I think the question I get asked most frequently is, “How did you become so resilient and so successful?” When I was younger the question frustrated me, because to me, it meant that people expected me to fail. There is a high amount of stigma that comes with being a foster kid. Many view foster kids as being troublemakers, and not just troublemakers, but bad enough that their own families wouldn’t want them. What many people don’t realize is that children in foster care aren’t bad kids. Rather, a lot of very bad things happen to children for them to wind up in care, such as abuse and neglect, and death. Children don’t earn foster care, it is thrust upon them. Foster care is intended to be a temporary safe-haven, but for orphans like me, we grow up and age out of foster care.
By Joie Norby Lê, Ph.D.
Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.
In the past forty-three years, I have come to understand that being adopted is an integral part of what defines me. It is not just about “being adopted” that shapes me, but rather how I learned to cope, to survive, and to reconcile the ambiguity of it all that gives my adoption context. People have asked me when I first knew that I was adopted. While many young children may not comprehend difference in a family that is based in acceptance and love, I always knew that I was not the same race as my adoptive family. It was not difficult to see the difference—my skin was as dark as theirs was light. Their eyes were as blue or green as were mine dark brown. Their characteristics became markers of what I considered to be “ideal” or “normal” because in my neighborhood, most of the other families were white as well. I understood that I was a child of another color, and while those in my closest circle of friends and family never blinked an eye about that difference, I soon realized not everyone felt the same. Racial confrontations were a constant in my life growing up. One of the most interesting aspects of transracial adoption is that it is not necessarily the difference in ethnicity that matters most to others, it is the difference in skin tone. While certainly children of any transracial adoption may be subjected to similar confrontation, I always felt that the stark dissimilarity between my family’s skin color and my own was the true determination of whether I would be accepted or rejected by society. If I had lighter skin, would it have been easier for me to integrate? While this remains speculation, I cannot help but consider that the darkness of my skin is what mostly relegated me to marginalized spaces. Couple that with misgivings about the Vietnam War and it would be safe to say that throughout my life, especially up until I turned eighteen, it was not easy being adopted. Continue reading
By Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker
I was about five years old, on a road trip with my parents somewhere in the South. We stopped at a campground and set up our tent, then headed to the pool area. Three kids, a boy a little older than me and two girls a little younger than me, were already in the kid’s pool. As my parents secured chairs, I began climbing into the pool with the other kids. Not one step in, the girls slid over to the boy with frightened expressions and he put his arms protectively around them. The boy gave me one of the meanest glares I had ever seen and said, “You can’t be here. You have to pay to be here.” I was confused, but assured him, “My parents paid, we’re staying here tonight.” He gave me the hateful stare again, his voice even harder, and said, “Well, you still can’t be here.” I didn’t say another word. I felt confused, afraid, ashamed, and humiliated. I slowly backed away from the pool and walked over to my parents, saying nothing.
This was the first time I remember experiencing racism…except, it wasn’t until I was much older that I recognized it as racism. At the time, I was just a young Indian-born adoptee, living under the umbrella of my parents’ white privilege, with no understanding whatsoever that there may be people in the world who don’t like me because of my skin color.