Sara-Jane Hardman and Jean Roe Mauro, LCSW 
Article Title
A dialogue with a family in distress 
Posted Date

From a letter to a therapist....

My husband and I adopted a sister and a brother from Russia thirteen years ago. While our daughter never quite completely bonded with us nor with her girlfriends, we were making excellent headway, until age 20 when a boy entered her life. Our son, who bonded wholeheartedly with us, also bonded with every person who might take the time to listen to his numerous stories. My question is how to handle the children now when they are officially "adults."

During the past twelve months, both children have turned on us: my daughter against me, and our son against my husband. They have accused us of abuse, our daughter - to be able to date and marry a deceitful teen just out of high school, and our son - to get attention and be popular. Neither child knew that the other was lying. Our son continues to live with us.

Our daughter ran away with this young boy, married him just before he left for a three month tour, separated herself from all friends outside of this boy's small circle, and lives now with his parents. When she ran away, she left everything -- photos, clothes, computer... Her plan was not to run. She was preparing to go to college! We have been estranged from our daughter while she works at a diner cleaning tables and washing dishes. We don't understand how she could so boldly leave after thirteen years of a charmed life, great friends, and thousands of memories. We adore our daughter. Is this common? Is there any way to hope for her return? Why would she on the spur of the moment throw away her future and past for a boy and a hard life?

Our son with whom we used to be very close, mostly has tolerated us for the past two years, and now struggles to make friends. He still opens up to strangers. He is a cute guy, a little small for his age, and has completely stopped trying to be friends with kids in the neighborhood and church. Not sure how to help him either.

Both of our children are extremely emotionally young for their natural age by four or five years. They can come across as very mature but their insecurities related to abandonment issues have held them back. We have poured our lives into our children through homeschooling till eighth grade, being involved in horseback riding (our daughter had our own horse and we rode together); my son sailed regularly in a nearby lake; they were involved in all the other activities of ballet, tap, girl scouts, skiing, piano, tennis, swimming and soccer, and snowboarding. Things were going wonderfully until they hit their late teens. Then the attachment/bonding sort of dissolved and, like many teens, they thought the grass was greener in other homes. But the lying of abuse to get people to take them in and the running away seems so extreme. We adopted the boy when he was just turning 7. The daughter was abandoned at 3 1/2 and was taken to an orphanage when she was five. She remembers her first mom, dad, older and younger brothers, her apartment, grandparents. Pastors and doctors have all recommended counseling due to her past, and inability to open up, and the fears she lives with, but she has been too afraid to open up until this boy. She needs help. We know this boy will eventually fail her and she will be left alone, depressed, and once again, abandoned. We are concerned how she might react and, other than writing her cards and telling her how much we love her and how she always has a home, we don't know what else to do Do you have any advice as to how to relate to teens with RAD? Are there any books that you might recommend? The little I have read has to do with younger children. We are very open to every advice. I think ultimately, everyone wants to be free from things that hold us back.

From the message of those who’ve been there

Your concern about your children’s lives is understandable. Though you and your husband have done an admirable job in loving and caring for them and have provided many opportunities for them to succeed, they still have serious attachment issues that started before you entered their lives and have not been resolved. In order to understand what is happening today it is important to talk about the circumstances of the children’s early lives. Looking back we can see that both children started life with their birth family. Within this family there may have been unknown issues such as substances, poor health, poverty and stress which affected their earliest days. Later this relationship which was at most a tenuous one was severed when the children were placed in institutions where the care was probably inconsistent and where there were no opportunities to form permanent bonds and develop a sense of grounding.

That these events happened when the children were so young has had enduring consequences which you describe in terms of false accusations of abuse, running away, a rejection of your values, extreme immaturity and the inability to make healthy relationships. By missing those early years in your family the children lost out on opportunities for reaching developmental milestones. The absence of a stable and permanent mother early on did not allow them to develop a secure sense of trust and self-confidence which are so essential for the development of a healthy adult. Without these, youngsters do not develop the ability to make good decisions in order to move smoothly through their lives. The bond they formed with you was of necessity an insecure one as neither could have any trust that it would be permanent. It should be noted that your children responded to their attachment issues differently: one by being primarily detached; the other by showing indiscriminate attachment.

In addition to all these problems which you have discussed, there may be other troubling behaviors which you have not mentioned such as substance abuse, promiscuity or other inappropriate behaviors. Healing from these wounds will take a long time and the assistance of a therapist with a thorough knowledge of developmental psychology and an understanding of the dynamics of adoption is essential. It is important for you to ask specific questions about these subjects before selecting a therapist. We would also recommend that you and your husband seek the help of other adoptive families who may be encountering similar problems and a therapist who can help the two of you understand your role in your children’s lives and assist you with the differences that the two of you will inevitably encounter as you confront your doubts about their problems. Working with your children’s therapist will also provide opportunities for healing. Unfortunately, your children may not presently be anxious participants in this process but, never-the-less, it should be encouraged, in fact expected, as it is not possible to heal these wounds on one’s own. Eventually they may come to see and appreciate the help that is being offered them.

Two books that we recommend that are specific to these issues are our own book

If I Love My Kid Enough: The Reality of Raising an Adopted Child by Sara-Jane Hardman and Jean Roe Mauro, LCSW and
Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen, M.A. EdD.

Both of these books clearly describe the developmental process from the womb through the teenage years and, in the case of your children as well as others with similar adoption stories, this development can continue well into what is normally considered adulthood. As I am sure you and your husband know, early development is carried with us throughout life, taking various forms which interfere with our adult relationships. These interferences cannot be relieved without help from others. We wish you well and would be pleased to hear from you should you wish to be in touch further.

Jean Roe Mauro
Sara-Jane Hardman 
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