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WHEN YOU LOVE THEM BUT DON’T LIKE THEM: When your child has pushed you to the limit . .

“He sees it as his life’s mission to drive us crazy!” state an exasperated Mrs. Thomas. The Thomases began fostering 12-year-old Jonathan when he was eight, and they finalized his adoption a year ago when his biological parent’s rights were terminated. Jonathan had always had problem behaviors; but with the support from the foster care caseworker, an in-home behavioral aide and periodic respire services, things were manageable. However, when then adoption was finalized, those supports went away. That’s when Jonathan’s behavior began to escalate.

Jonathan was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) at age six. His problem behaviors—lying, manipulation and temper meltdowns—have always been challenging to the Thomases. But now at age 12 they are intensifying. “We love this child’ states Mr. Thomas, who follows, “Sometimes he can be the most loving kid, but then it turns into a Jekyll-Hyde thing. Yes, we love him, but most days, its’ really hard to even like him. We often feel guilty about feeling this way, but that’s the reality of things. We went into this adoption with open eyes, but maybe our eyes weren’t open enough. Honestly, we have regrets.”

Some of you reading this blog are in the Thomases’ shoes. A child you are fostering or who have already adopted exhibits behaviors that are causing you to question your affinity—or maybe even your love—for that child. You feel stuck. What do you do? I hope you will find the following information helpful:

  • Understand, that in many cases, foster and adopted children set themselves up to not be liked. This is because they struggle with a lot of self-loathing—“Even my own birth parents didn't want me—I must not be worth anything.” The child may not verbalize this, but it is often an internal message they carry. This damaging message can also affect their conscience, i.e “No one else cares—why should I?”

  • In most cases it is reported that the child’s venom is directed at the foster or adoptive mother. This is what we call displaced anger. The birth mother is the primary source of nurturing for a child. A birthmother’s absence can cause a deep sense of abandonment and anger in a child. The anger is often taken out on the next closest mother figure. Understand that your child’s anger is about him/her, not you. It is difficult, but you must try and not take your child’s lashing out personally.

  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings—“I know you’re angry” “I know you hate me right now”; “ I am here to listen to you, I am here for you.” In their home of origin, most foster and adopted children were never allowed to process their feelings—meaning they were never allowed to feel safe in expressing how they felt for fear of punishment-- or they just gave up on feeling heard.

  • Reaffirm your love (even when you cannot reaffirm your “like”) – “We love you no matter what.”

  • In responding to your child, will you sometimes have to “fake it until you make it?” -- YES. But having a sense of empathy for your child will help you to “make it.” Children like Jonathan mentioned above are kids who really are suffering internally. Out of stark fear, an animal who is suffering will lash out at the very person trying to help it. The same principle often applies to children who have been previously harmed and neglected.

  • If you’re a foster parent, request respite on a regular basis. The time away from your child can help you see things more objectively—it’s hard to be objective when you’re in the trenches for long periods of time.

  • Finally, don’t give up hope! For children like Jonathan, healing is a long-term, “baby- steps” process. Surround yourself with as many supports and support people that you can. Avoid other foster and adoptive parents who are always negative about their experiences. Seek out a support group if one is available.


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