To the Friends and Family of Adoptive Parents

One of the most challenging aspects of parenting older (pre-teen and teen) former orphans is teaching them to rely solely on their parents for all of their needs.

A kid with attachment problems will do crazy stuff to maintain control of themselves. They will refuse meals and choose to steal instead – even garbage and animal food. And after accepting meals because they are so hungry, will steal even more later because they are angry that they accepted “help”. They will refuse to bathe, wet and soil their clothes (meaning urine and feces). They will destroy the clothing and belongings you give them. They will stand for HOURS not moving because anything else would mean that they are accepting love and hospitality from you.  They will reject offers of friendship from your other kids. They will injure themselves to gain pity in hopes that someone will take them back to what they used to know, or to where they came from. You see, they had the whole system mastered “there”.  They knew whom to manipulate and how and when.  They will do anything. You can’t even imagine.

They’re thinking “F%^& you. I don’t need your help. I’ll do it myself. I’ll take care of myself”.
Deep down, they want and need that connection. They are at constant war with themselves. When they allow themselves to trust even for a moment, the negative behaviour escalates as they fight to regain their autonomy.
Dear friends and family of adoptive parents, these kids will manipulate you, too.
If they think they can manipulate you to get what they want, they will do it. They don’t trust you. They are using you. This is how they “take care of themselves”. Don’t offer adopted kids anything unless you have run it past their parents. This includes gifts, food, and even physical attention.  Don’t offer them ‘extras’ of anything because they look like they ‘need’ it, or because she’s breaking your heart. If you show them pity and special attention, you are undermining their parents and tearing a rift in families without even knowing it. Even though it comes from a place of love. DON’T do it.
As friends and extended family, you can do your part by not playing into the drama. If the kid is looking sad and forlorn, if her face is covered in scratches or bruises, if she looks hungry or dirty, if she smells terrible, if she wears exactly the same outfit, if she keeps apart from the rest of the family… Assume FIRST that it is part of her control issues.
If you know an adoptive parent with a child like this, pray for that family. Especially for the bio kids who have taken on this kid’s trauma, and the other adoptive kids that are working so hard to leave trauma behind them. It rips the rug right out from under their secure lives and it’s a job to set it back to rights.  Come to their home ready to give… to everyone.  Come to organize playtime outside, make a meal, help with chores or home maintenance or a project.  Help the family as a whole.  And if that one kid sulks in a corner, just pretend you don’t see it.  They’re going hard for manipulation.  They must be enticed to join because they want connection with the entire family.
You can’t fix these kids. In the end, they have to *decide* to trust and become part of the family. As adoptive parents, we provide them with all that they need – physically, spiritually, and educationally. It is up to them to accept it.
It is a ministry, caring for kids with attachment issues. It’s hard. We give them stability when they need it but seem to thrive on upheaval. They may never have fond affection for us… we may never develop that for them. But we will take care of them for as long as they are here.  And you can be part of that life-giving ministry alongside your friends or family members if you know exactly what is needed.

On a positive note, this is not the majority of older adopted kids. These issues seem to run on a continuum.  Many, many more kids are adaptable and receptive. And we have been blessed with one of those, too. Thank God. Because we know we are actually making a difference when the other child can make us feel like abject failures.