“I’m not sure what I thought life would be like when we brought 2-year-old Easton into our home, but for the most part I thought it would be easy. He was biologically my brother after all, so how hard could this be? He had just lost his parents tragically within 12 days of each other: his mother to an overdose and our shared father to pancreatic cancer. But he was young enough that he didn’t really understand all of that, right?
The first day he arrived in our home was magical. Our 3-year-old and 2-year-old daughters were thrilled he was now their brother and would not leave him alone that entire day. Our twins were only 7 months old at this time, so they had no idea what was happening. On the day he arrived we officially had 5 under 4 years old. I don’t remember feeling super overwhelmed on that first day. I was just thankful to have everyone under the same roof and some normalcy back into our lives.
I had spent the previous 3 weeks with him and our twins in Michigan, attending the funerals of his parents, so I had been around him enough to know he was a very loving kid. He was always so eager to jump into someone’s lap, snuggle up on the couch, and show off his toy cars to anyone who would listen. I was ignorant enough to think a 2-year-old wasn’t going through any trauma by losing the only two caregivers he ever knew in a matter of 12 days. In my head, he was young enough that he was completely unaware of what was really happening. I truly believed he would walk into our family and things would go smoothly.
Easton stayed reserved in his approach to most everything those first few days and I was naïve enough to believe this was his true personality. He had a love for vacuums which was something we all found a lot of humor with. Easton would love to just sit in front of it, examining all of its parts over and over for hours at a time. He would beg me to turn it on so he could walk behind it, helping me push it from room to room. For a while there, our carpets were never cleaner!
After a few days of him adjusting to our family, the real reality we were dealing with became very apparent. He started hitting us across the face when we would correct disruptive behavior. He would spit in our faces when we would try talking to him while he was in timeout. He would punch us and kick us when he didn’t like being set in timeout. He has this blood curdling yell and cry he would belt out when things didn’t go his way, or he was upset about something. I had seen 10% of this behavior while we were in Michigan, not really knowing this is what we were in for once we got him to our home.
He also was accustomed to drinking milk 24/7 so he wasn’t used to eating proper food or meals during the day. This caused him to beg us all day long for milk, but then he wouldn’t eat his food. It wasn’t something I realized while in Michigan, maybe because there were so many people around all the time that I didn’t focus on this particular problem. But while in our home, it got to the point where we would make him eat a bite of food before he could take a sip of milk. Then eventually we worked our way up to eating 5 bites before getting a sip, and so on and so forth.
Our second daughter Sawyer is extremely strong-willed and she’s always been that way. Easton and she did not mesh, even with being just 3 months apart in age. They were always at each other’s throats, wrestling like high school athletes, and constantly tattling on one another. No matter how much refereeing we did, they were constantly trying to rip one another apart.
After only 2-weeks-in to this whole slapping me in the face, crying uncontrollably over everything, and fighting with Sawyer thing – I was in a state of panic. Throw in breastfeeding 7 month-old-twins at all hours of the night on top of two toddler girls and I was exhausted. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that a 2-year-old could rock my world so much, and I was starting to lose my mind. Did we make a mistake by taking this on? Are we way in over our heads here? Does every child ripped from their home act like this? Is this a defense mechanism he is showing? Is he now realizing he’s not going back to his parents? Do 2-year-olds even think that way? Are these manipulative behaviors normal?
Nobody warned me about this. I didn’t take foster or adoption classes. This was my own flesh and blood and I was trying to navigate this unknown world of trauma and stress he was experiencing, but feeling like I was totally alone in it. I was truly so naïve to his pain.
I hid in my emotions and my brain. I shut down, tried so hard to pretend everything was normal, and acted as if my life was fine. The pediatrician asked me how everything was going and I painted this beautiful picture. I was terrified to tell her the truth about what we were going through, for fear of her calling CPS on me. I was already being treated for Post-Partum Depression after having my twins, so my view of the world was already very skewed and cloudy. I wasn’t thinking straight at all. Little did I know I was life-outside-of-kids depressed too. Maybe I knew I was depressed. But I wasn’t going to admit it. I had just lost my father which is more than enough to send someone into a tornado of emotions, let alone trying to raise 5 very young children. But I was ‘so strong,’ like everyone kept telling me. Deep down I was a mess. I was broken. I was headed towards a very dark path and I didn’t know if I could pull out of it.
We struggled so hard to find common ground with Easton. We would have one really good day where I would think we were making so much progress. But then four days of total chaos would follow. I felt like I was constantly being pulled back when I just wanted to move forward. My patience was so thin that I started yelling. I started being this mom who couldn’t even talk to her children anymore, I could only yell. I would yell over the craziest things, things that toddlers are supposed to do.
They’d go through my cupboards and pull out all of my pots and pans and I’d yell. They’d go through our buckets of shoes and scatter them all over the floor and I’d yell. They’d spill their plates of food onto the floor and I’d yell. They’d splash too much in the bathtub and I’d yell. They’d get too dirty outside in our backyard and I’d yell. They’d throw a tantrum over a broken toy and I’d yell. I wasn’t even enjoying my children or being a mom. I wasn’t even enjoying living.
At this point I knew what was happening to me but I didn’t know how to change it. Changing my approach to life sounded like work and I didn’t have the energy for anything more than what I was doing: surviving.
Enter my sweet husband. We had only been married for 3 years at this point. He had no business being nice to me when I was an evil witch to everyone. I had perfected putting on a friendly show for the rest of society, but our home life was this black hole of uncontrollable bitterness, sadness, and anger. He nudged me softly towards talking to a therapist over the span of a week. I denied I even needed to do that.
But he nudged and nudged. Eventually I agreed to it. I walked into an office with a woman who looked so put together, I froze in fear. I thought to myself, ‘whatever I say to her is going to be reported to CPS and then she will send me to the psych ward for a 72 hour observation. I better keep my mouth shut. You can’t trust anyone, Molly. Keep your mouth shut.’
Then she started talking. Her voice was so sweet and empathetic that I just broke down in her office, spilling my emotions all over her desk. After I got everything out, she spoke so softly to me and said, ‘You’re afraid. You’re afraid your husband is going to leave you because of how hard right now is for you. You’re afraid he won’t try to understand. You’re afraid someone is going to take your children away because you can’t process your father’s death in the way you need to. You’re afraid your new son will never adjust to your family and that he will never love you. You’re afraid you won’t love him like one of your own biological children.’
She was right. She was dead on with what was going on deep inside my soul. I needed to hear from someone else what was wrong with me and I needed to know I wasn’t crazy for feeling the way I was. She gave me comfort in a tornado of grief, sadness, hopelessness, and pain. I started medication which was something I was completely against. But I had no other options at this point. I learned through my own experience that just because you need medication, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible, mentally crippled person. Medication doesn’t mean you have failed at life. Sometimes help comes in the form of love. Sometimes help comes in the form of medication and an ear to listen.
Through our meetings together, I would leave each one feeling more and more confident in my parenting ability. She gave me reading material for adopted kids who came from trauma. Easton may never have been physically abused, nor can we see the emotional stress he endured, but he still went through a very traumatic event. It gave me a lot of insight into his sweet little mind. Once I understood his reactions to this experience more, we started to bond.
We adopted him a year later and now he is almost 5 years old. He has set backs every now and again, but I am better prepared for those. I think as a society, we should try better to understand the pain and heartache foster and adoptive children go through. We fail to understand their feelings on a deeper level because we’re in such a hurry for them to adjust. Before my own experience, I never knew the world of foster or adoption. I didn’t know these kids used shocking behaviors to show you how they’re really feeling. Maybe if we could understand our nation’s most vulnerable, we could be more empathetic humans to them.
It’s not easy to welcome a child into your home. There are a lot of ups and downs in the process. But the good outweighs the bad…you just have to get to the other side. Sometimes you have to fight with all of your might to get there and that fight can make or break you. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s always a rainbow at the end of a storm.
I cannot imagine our life without Easton. He’s our little missing puzzle piece and he brings so much love and snuggles into my world. Goodness I love that little boy!
If anyone is going through an emotionally challenging situation with their own foster or adopted child, I am more than willing to be an ear to listen. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I know this road can feel so lonesome. I might not have all of the answers, but at least you will know someone wants to help you find hope.”
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