My wife and I finalized the adoption of our teenage son a couple weeks back and, unlike when he first moved in with us a year ago, there was no honeymoon period. Even though we were adamant about being realistic, we quietly hoped that making everything official and legal would curtail the testing behaviors that have been, well, testing us for months. Maybe the fact that he now had our last name and that, as the judge pointed out, we no longer had the option of just backing out would help him settle in a bit more. Yes, we were realistic about the likelihood of this actually happening with no more than the bang of a judge’s gavel, but we were hopeful nonetheless.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it played out. In fact, the week after his adoption I stooped to the lowest and most defeated point I have ever been as a parent. Not only had the adoption failed to fix some of the behaviors we’d been hesitantly hoping it would, but it also seemed to bring some new ones that I didn’t foresee.
This isn’t to say that I truly expected some tremendous shift in behavior, because I understand trauma and attachment and know that some old guy’s signature on a legal document isn’t a magical cure-all for kids with backgrounds like my son has. But I hoped, and to say I’m not disappointed would be a lie. However, disappointment isn’t the worst thing in the world. We’ve all experienced it and we’ve all survived it, one way or another. How we survive disappointment is a different story; to put it simply, we either persevere or we give up.
For a litany of reasons other than the fact that adoption now means it’d be a pain in the butt, we are determined to not give up on our son. We’ve found ourselves in several situations over the past year that we didn’t think our family could endure, and yet every time we’ve made it through. These situations may have been rough, they may have hurt, they may have been shocking, they may have caused us to reexamine the way we were parenting, but they have never killed us. (At this point I’m tempted to quote philosopher Kanye West and observe, “That that don’t kill me can only make me stronger”, but I’ll abstain.)
Something we’ve found ourselves saying a lot, usually while crawling into bed after a particularly trying day, is, “This is hard, but we’re doing it.” There’s no sense denying the difficulty of the lifestyle we’re living, but there’s also no sense denying that we’re meeting that difficulty head-on and persisting. The fact that we’ve made it this far is significant and serves as a reminder that we can handle tomorrow as well.
It’s the same now that I’m training for a 10K. I hate running and I spend every second of my runs aching to lay down. Nevertheless, I’m resolute in my ambition to get my body into shape, develop my own self-discipline, and finish a 10K race. What I’ve found is that my body has far more endurance than my brain, by which I mean I’m always able to run further than I think I can. Therefore, the real trick is getting my head in sync with my feet so that my whole body is on the same page about what I can actually do. In effect, this means reminding myself that “this is hard, but I’m doing it.”
Mantras don’t fix everything. In fact, they don’t really fix anything. However, they do help put us in the right mindset so that we can effectively address the problems we face. As foster and adoptive dads, the range of those problems is expansive in variety and acuity, and we may frequently feel lost about how to handle tough circumstances with our kids. You might be unsure about where to go, but don’t lose track of where you’ve been. You’ve made it through rough patches many times before, so the odds suggest that you’ll make it through this one too. Hold on to that and let it be a source of confidence as you step into the fray. (I know, it’s easier said than done.)
Without a doubt, this is by far one of the most exacting things you will ever do, but give yourself some credit: you’ve been doing it, you’re still doing it, and you can continue doing it. You’re a good dad and your kid is a good kid. It might not always feel like it, but that’s one of the least important determining factors in what makes something true. Yeah, it’s hard, but you’re doing it.