Shattering the Myth of the Fairytale Adoption
There is no fairy tale. Get over it.
There is no happily ever after. It doesn’t work like that.
You don’t just take one broken by the system, apply a bit of love, and expect them to abandon a lifetime of what they’ve been conditioned to think, often by the very ones who were supposed to be loving them in the first place. That’s not what happens…in our experience.
The system breaks kids. Badly. I never fully fathomed the extent of the brokenness because some of them, on the surface, just seem so normal. The adoption is final. They look normal and might even act normal, so everything is okay. Yet, this normalcy conceals a deep-seated anguish, a sense of utter loss, a trauma that those of us raised in a “normal” family can never fathom.
Divorce shatters many lives. I know adults who still suffer at the emotional toll from their parent’s divorce even decades later. The loss of the family bedrock destroys their sense of security, breaks their ability to trust, and negatively affects their relationships well into adulthood.
Now, imagine, if you will, a different loss. As a young kid, a stranger shows up in the middle of the night and tears you from the only normal you know. It is likely a dysfunctional normal. Why else would the department come calling, but it is normal to you. It’s all that you’ve known. And in the middle of the night, you find yourself on the doorsteps of a stranger. Maybe you’ve got a little Walmart bag with your toothbrush and a change of underwear. Maybe not.
You bounce around various foster homes—with each move you die a little more inside. Perhaps you become fortunate enough to find a forever family and be adopted but still, nothing can ever replace your loss! Nothing can ever atone for what has been done to you. The loss, in and of itself, is enough to traumatize. Couple the loss with the sheer nature of dysfunction previously experienced and is it any wonder that system kids struggle?
The trauma never occurred to me. When I look at my son, I see the gangly, young man trying to figure out who he is, just like other young men. I don’t see the beatings he endured at the hand of those he should’ve been able to trust. I don’t see the things he witnessed: the drug use, the destitution, the violence. I don’t see the uncertainty, the fear, the betrayal, the scars on his very soul.
I recall with complete clarity the day we picked my oldest son up from the group home to come and live with us for good. At 16, he had been in the system for as long as he could remember and after nearly three years of bureaucratic legwork, he was coming home at last. He eagerly climbed into our van and popped up between Ami and I in the front seats.
“Can we go to Taco Bell?”
This was it, the beginning of the fairy tale. We’d lavish love and affection on him. He’d recognize what a great thing this was, having a forever family, and we would literally live happily ever after. We couldn’t wait to get started with our new life.
We’ve since redefined success in that we are the first people our son calls from jail.
Now, it didn’t happen overnight and there were glimpses of the fairy tale, happy times…good times. He and another young man performed a rap song they wrote at a foster care festival. We played a lot of basketball at our church’s gym where my ACL fell victim to his sweet cross-over. He and I took boxing classes at a local MMA gym.
The prom stands out. He secured a date and Ami and I were coaching him through all the wickets and preparation. On the phone, his date inquired, “Where we going to eat?”
“Uh, Red Lobster…”
“Is that a buffet? I wanna go to a buffet?”
He looked helplessly at us and we just shrugged. This is how we ended up going to the Golden Corral for prom—or the G.C. (complete with the appropriate inflection) as I discovered it’s called. On the drive into the urban housing complex to secure his date, I looked over as he hunkered way down in his seat.
“Dude, what are you doing?” I asked.
“People going to think I’m with a cop!”
I still laugh at that one. Yet, unseen by us, the non-existent foundation had already started crumbling. I remember how surprised I was the first time he never came home. I remember my shock as he began to fall into affliction. I remember my astonishment when he first picked up a marijuana joint, when he ran off for good.
In hindsight, my foolishness is what is most astonishing. What would make me think that a few short months of loving care would relegate a lifetime of affliction? What would make me think that a bit of “normal” family life would mitigate years and years of the system and the world convincing him of certain things and ideas, convincing him of things about himself?
I have but a few regrets in life and when I consider the affliction of my son, the only thing I’d do over is I would love him that much more fiercely. That, and I’d simply not be as surprised when he strayed. And as another son gives indication that he too might stray, I’ll love him just as fiercely and I’ll do everything in my power to convince him of the truths that I’ve come to know.
A family member once remarked that maybe we would “succeed” with one of our sons one day. This remark gave me great pause. Yes, we had not “succeeded” with our oldest son. He lives currently enslaved to his affliction. But, for several years he had a stable home. He has a family that loves him and will always love him and most of all…he knows about the Lord Jesus.
Now, he doesn’t yet know the Lord, but for years, our family poured the Gospel of Jesus Christ into his heart and mind. We lived the Gospel to our best ability in choosing to love him and continuing to love him even as he forsook that same love.
Yes, my son is broken, broken badly by an unforgiving and relentless system that continues to break so many on the ever-turning wheel of sin and affliction. But I know One who makes all things new and whole. I know One who heals and mends. I know One who saves.
Because of this, I have hope. We will never give up on our son and I anxiously look to the day when he might be reconciled. Perhaps the fairytale is true after all.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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