Do You Need Someone to Blame?

“If you need someone to blame/
throw a rock in the air you’ll hit someone guilty”
— U2, Dirty Day, from the under-rated Zooropa album

Katie and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of (mostly positive) responses to our adoption story.

When we adopted, we became heroes to many.
When we disrupted the adoptions, we became villains to many.

In telling our story to the public, I expected that most would see us as villains. I was ready for that. Instead, most people who spoke up gave us encouragement and gratitude. No doubt, many who read our story did so with (unvoiced) disapproval; they chose not to comment, which is fine. I ran across several extremely harsh and critical comments on other forums where I saw the post was shared. I’ll mention some things about the nature of those criticisms in a bit.

Who Should Be Blamed?

None of us is perfect. We all share in blame, to various degrees, for the disorder and evil in the world. Nonetheless, who should we blame when adoption disruptions like ours happen?

DSC_1270In some cases, no one is to blame. The child has an unforeseen special need through no fault of anyone. Remember the man born blind in the Bible, whom Jesus heals after 38 years, to show the glory of God? Who sinned, this man or his parents? None of them did, Jesus says.

In our case and in most others, however, there is someone to blame: the bio parents or caregivers who hurt the child. Doing drugs and alcohol while the baby is in utero is child abuse, and abuse of the worst kind. In the most formative time of the child’s life they are being poisoned, their brain is being altered, they are being harmed, sometimes irreparably so.

By all means, blame the people who abuse their children in such ways. I did. That isn’t un-Christian. Now, not forgiving them is un-Christian. I forgave, and continued to forgive, the children’s birth parents for the grave harm they inflicted upon our children, in their selfishness. I forgave the woman who further harmed one of our children, after she was born for the first two years of her life. I have prayed for their conversions, because they have tied millstones around their necks in hurting these defenseless children.

Do you want to get angry? Then get angry. Get angry at the people directly responsible for hurting children. Don’t get angry at the people who spend their lives trying to help these children pick up the pieces and heal.

“You Broke a Sacred Covenant”

Someone told me that we broke a sacred covenant, a vow before God, in finding new families for our adopted children. The idea is that caring for a child is the same as marriage, a sacrament before God that is indissoluble.

Yet, this is not actually the case. The parent-child relationship is not the same as the spousal one, which is an indissoluble covenant. Otherwise we would condemn all young women who courageously chose to give their baby to an adoptive family to rear as their own.

We nod approvingly when a single woman does this, but when a couple does it, we frown and get angry. What is the difference, in principle? Give enough special needs children to any person or couple, and you will eventually exceed the limit of what they can handle. For a single woman, that is one healthy child. For a couple, it may be one child with severe special needs. Or, it may be six children with moderate special needs. Everyone is different, with different resources, wisdom, experience, and capabilities. Instead of condemning such families, we should be trying to help them!

I Would Never Do That”

People told us that they would never do such a thing to their child. That’s easy to say, and I pray to God that they never face a situation like we did. The reality is that they don’t know what they would do.

St. Peter said he would never abandon Jesus; less than a day later he had denied him three times.

I would recommend reading Fr. Walter Ciszek’s book He Leadeth Me and learn from him about just how weak we are.

What if your child tried to kill you and your other children? What would you do? You have to keep your family safe. You have to do whatever is necessary to keep your family safe. Mike wrote:

In the last 6 months he has broken his brothers arm and bitten my wife hard enough to leave a 4? diameter black and blue bruise. We are prisoners to this child.

And Carl and Andrea describe their hellish experiences:

We have had deaths occur in our farm animals from the oldest child, near death experiences caused by this child to other children in our home. As well as death threats toward our older family members, and there was plans to follow through. Yes, at a very young age!!!

We have had to install monitors, bells, alarms, etc to keep everyone in the home safe, including this child.

These poor families–pray for them–have had CPS, the state, and their own families turn their backs on them. Here they are, bearing the horrific effects of violent abuse done by others to their children, and we as society turn a cold shoulder to them.

God, please help them.

People are suffering like this all over our country. The resources are scant for them. And make no mistake, these children don’t just disappear when they become adults. Their trauma and lack of secure attachment inexorably lead to disaster, for themselves and the people they encounter in life.

Forged in the Fire

Rather than being split apart by our experience, Katie and I were brought even closer together. That was only by God’s grace alone. We needed each other to be firing on all cylinders every hour, every day.

We were a team, acting in concert without even having to talk about it: intervening with this child here, giving that child special time there, doing therapeutic parenting with this child now, one of us taking all the children to give the other a break for an hour. We had learned a raft of techniques, therapies, gentle ways of defusing a child who was escalating out of control to hysteria.

Several months after all this, when Alice had gone to her new family, we were sitting in a diner with Edmund and Josephine, having lunch. They were being their normal wiggly and boisterous selves, as all babies and toddlers are when having to sit somewhere for a half hour. And Katie and I were parenting them as we always did, with all that we had learned from parenting our children, including the ones we had had with special needs.

I stepped away to take Edmund to the restroom. When I came back, Katie said: “Did you see that man sitting in the booth behind us? About sixty years old? Well, guess what he said as he was leaving. He said, ‘You two are the best parents I’ve ever seen.’ And he walked out of the cafe.”

Now, maybe he just needed to get out more. And I don’t claim to be the best parent. So many faults and blind spots and failings. But, I mention this for two reasons: 1) because through caring for our special needs children, we have learned a lot about parenting, and 2) because in spite of all we learned, we were not able to overcome our children’s traumas and connect with them.

There is Hope

People overcome trauma, overcome PTSD, overcome RAD, overcome ODD. God can heal people. And He does. Just because we weren’t able to make our family situation work as we wanted to, doesn’t mean that will happen to others. We received many comments and messages from adoptive families who had conquered their child’s RAD and connected with them. Hallelujah sing to Jesus! I mean, amen to that.

Some described us as a “horror story.” I didn’t see it that way, and don’t now. Because we were able to get help and make the best decision for all involved. It becomes a horror story when people don’t get the help they need.

So, if you are thinking about adoption, remain full of hope. Be prudent and discerning, and make the best decision with all the information that you can obtain. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and kindness.

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10 thoughts on “Do You Need Someone to Blame?”

  1. As a parent of a couple of special needs kids whose mother passed away from cancer when they were 3 and 11 months respectively, and who was largely unavailable to them for months prior to that, I can say that sometimes no one other than the immediate family can see or understand the level of dysfunction. To the outside world, these kids (RAD is one term, borderline is another) can often pass as normal. Since their trauma happened in the context of their family, their dysfunction is triggered 100 times more in that context, and they do not accept any authority. In their case, their behavior spiralled out of control when they hit adolescence. Before that, they had problems, but we could (often barely) handle them, and didn’t realize that it was not normal. The worst problems were seen in the youngest child.

    My second wife, who was a wonderful mother to them, was rejected and treated rudely by the kids who were younger at the time of their mother’s death. (There were 4 children, the other two not mentioned were 7 and 4.5, and they treated their “step”mother well) We eventually had to let the youngest go, as she was traumatizing the entire family, including two younger siblings from my new wife. She went to live with a nearby family, where she seems to function semi-normally.

    In our case, we didn’t make that decision until she was 17, but we probably should have done it earlier. If she wouldn’t have been my own biological child, I probably would have felt more free to do so. We considered it earlier, but did not really know of any positive place for her to go, and didn’t want her to “feel” rejected (because she is utterly oblivious to the fact that she is causing the dysfunction) so she stayed. However, eventually it reached the point where it was, “find the best place available for her, or this ship is going down.”

    So, we have a few good friends who understand the situation (often because they have gone through similar craziness), but there are many others who probably think we must be terrible parents.

  2. Beautifully written, Devin. I totally relate to your feelings about the birthmother exposing an innocent baby to substance abuse, both the blame and forgiveness. Your humility and courage in breaking the silence about RAD and adoption disruptions is going to help so many people.

  3. “Otherwise we would condemn all young women who courageously chose to give their baby to an adoptive family to rear as their own.

    “We nod approvingly when a single woman does this”

    EXACTLY! Adoption is a GOOD thing. We should encourage it.

  4. Horror story…
    I don’t think those who have not brought other children into their home for an extended period of time can truly understand the change in dynamics, schedules, and even discipline that occurs (or may need to occur) whether that child has special needs or not. There was more than once that my family had distant cousins stay with us or did foster care when I was a child and each time it was a situation unlike any other.

    It was admirable that y’all sought to do everything possible to work through the challenges you were faced. I don’t think it’s a horror story but it could have become one had you kept all of the children, especially knowing that you were unable to give them the care and special attention that they continually needed. Sometimes we have to get over ourselves (be it pride, confidence, fear of others opinions) to do what’s right and what those we love truly deserve. With all the factors in play you recognized that you couldn’t provide for the children’s needs and so you found someone who could. That is called being a parent.

  5. Devin & All, thank y’all for having the courage to write about these issue. I knew little bits, but from reading your stories I have a better understanding of what the issues are for adoptive families and some of these serious psychiatric issues in children.
    I see one other huge problem. The philosophy informing placement of children in foster care, removing abusive parental rights and even placement with family may need to be reconsidered. Might be another place subsidiarity would work best.
    I know of several cases where kids should have been removed from addicted, alcoholic and mentally ill parents and everything in their lives was affected adversely.
    May The Lord bless you for your courage and bless all the kids, in their new, forever families.

    1. Thank you Anne. Yes those issues you mention are serious and widespread. Typically child protective services gives bio parents every possible chance, and also waits until the things are very bad before removing children. As a result, the children are harmed, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It is really tragic. God bless!

  6. When we adopted our children, we had checked off one box – we requested we not be matched with a child with mental health issues. Since they weren’t infants, I realize now that shows how naïve we were. However, I don’t blame their first mothers for the drug exposure in utero. We don’t know how much of our adopted sons’ personalities and mental strengths and limitations come from the drug exposure and we never will. The neglect in the form of rotten teeth and malnourishment I never found myself having to forgive. I think those first mothers were doing the best they could with the limited tools they had. And the drug use and neglect serve to show how broken the first mothers themselves were and while these acts may add to our adopted boys’ problems I’m not now nor have I ever been angry about them.

    Now, the scars from the cigarette burns that my formerly RAD son bears, those are something that need forgiving and it’s hard for me to do – those burns were just one of what I believe were many deliberate abusive acts of aggression against my baby. Are those where the night terrors came from? The meltdowns and the assaults on himself and on me? The insane head banging? The endless inane questions and the attempt to control every situation no matter how trivial? The answer is that those acts on our RAD son’s part were primarily the result of the lack of early love – some of it menacingly evil, other parts, like the neglect and drug usage, which probably helped bring on the RAD, I view more as signs of our fallen world.

    But there’s also plenty of blame that I take on myself for not being patient enough. For not preparing and equipping our older children enough. For allowing his attached siblings to attack him. For letting my disgust at the thought of having to spend another minute with him sometimes show through. How much did I add to his brokenness? How much more quickly would he have healed if I had done a better job? I don’t have the answers to those questions. I have confessed and repented and in fairness I must assume my sons’ previous caretakers have too. Perhaps then it’s best to leave questions of blame up to God and move on from here.

    1. Eileen, 90% of the time I manage to exhibit that same level of empathy to my son’s birthmother. But there is the occasional moment when I see how directly certain gestational behaviors impact him profoundly on a daily basis, that my empathy temporarily disappears. I don’t want to go into specifics due to privacy concerns, and I understand what you’re saying about how sometimes it’s impossible to tell which issue is related to which historical factor. And I certainly blame myself for mistakes that I have made as a parent. But in our case, there are definitely devastating issues that are directly related to his gestational experience, which can make empathy challenging at times.

  7. I am so sorry for all of the loss and hardship you have been through and I am praying for you all every day.
    I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing your parenting techniques that the gentleman commented on. It sounds like you guys have found a way to show love and affection but also have some sort of rules and structure. I think a lot of young families would be interested in learning these things.
    Again I will continue to pray for you all.

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