When Heidi and Brian Burger learned that a family member was in need, they knew they could not just let it be "someone else's problem". This is their story.
AJ was only three years old when we decided to foster with the intent to adopt and, although he had experienced a hard beginning, we were extremely naive as to what would be involved in loving and caring for him. We told friends, "Just give us a year to love on this child and we should be ALL GOOD." It's laughable now, but we believed it at the time.
Pre-adoption, we would have benefited from better training. AJ was moved to our home so quickly that we were scrambling to learn how to care for him and ourselves. It would have been amazing to have had a therapist to help guide us and support from people who understood what we were going through. We needed education, practical tools and just to be heard!
We also needed help for our biological kids. With so much of our attention focused on AJ, there was not much left for the other kids. It was imperative that we find time with our bio children, to continue to connect with them and to provide some respite and calm for them. In addition, the unique challenges that come with the entangled relationships of Kinship Adoption can be confusing and difficult, both for the child and for the family.
As things deteriorated, we needed help and we knew it! The traditional parenting we used with our bio kids was a disaster with AJ. We knew attachment was critical but had no resources for raising a child who had experienced trauma. AJ demanded attention, but rarely in appropriate ways. We were all exhausted, disconnected and weary from trying to love on a child who seemed unable to accept our love. The older kids began to escape the chaos by spending more and more time in their rooms and my husband and I found ourselves feeling angry and defeated more than we wanted to admit. We simply didn't know how to handle AJ's intense needs. We felt like were lost on an island, unable to find our way to safety and in desperate need of being rescued. We needed a lifeline!
Help came in the form of an amazing support group, Heart to Heart, and a therapist who was perfect for our family. By helping us see the hurting child through the chaos and giving us invaluable, practical tools, they saved our adoption. With their help we found new ways to stay connected with AJ, even when we were requiring something from him. The support group offered education and made us aware of conferences where we learned more about how to parent a child whose first years were so traumatic. Both our therapist and support group served to "normalize" what we were experiencing and to give us the hope we so desperately needed.
What advice would we give a family in a similar situation? Hang in there and know that you are not alone!!! Seek whatever help you need...amazing support groups and therapist are available. Don't give up if you don't find the help you need immediately, keep looking. We tried several therapists before we found the one who was right for us.
Also, it is critical to take time alone with your spouse and your other children...and not to feel guilty about it! Make time to listen to and show your love to each of your children. Take steps to care for ALL the members of your family, including yourself. In order for the adopted child to thrive, there MUST BE A STRONG FAMILY UNIT.
Looking back now, we are amazed at the progress we have made. Take time to look back and recognize how far you have come. Celebrate the areas of growth, no matter how small.
One day at a time, one hour, one minute or one second...you've got this!