When the Trenches are too Deep…
It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. I’m not someone that openly shares about the hard places, the emotional lows, or the outright anger that I feel in such open forums. I’m good on the one to one conversations. I don’t feel that I hold back in those situations, maybe sometimes too honest?? But when it comes to social media, I’d rather make people laugh and groan at parenting generalities instead of sharing those really raw places.
I write this is I’m flying back from Colorado. Without my son. I mostly felt the need to write this simply to explain why Kanoa won’t be present in pictures and social media posts to avoid any awkward questions and having to repeat myself.
It’s been four and a half very long years since we brought Kanoa home from a Ukrainian orphanage. What we knew about his history that day I stepped out of the orphanage with him was extremely limited. And I can’t say I know much more today. Kanoa wouldn’t talk about that time. He has shared a few stories, but none were kind and they’re scattered enough that you have to do some loose interpretations. No matter what, he’s a child of trauma. By the age of five years old, he had learned survival skills that were completely unhealthy and destructive. We walked in with open hearts and were completely unprepared.
I detailed a bit about the shock we experienced in a blog post soon after he came home. I tried not to sugar coat it too much, but I glossed over so many hardships. We quickly realized we were outside our parenting capabilities and sought help which brought about the diagnosis of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I feel like this is such a great quote describing RAD:
“Attachment Disorder is defined as the condition in which individuals have difficulty forming lasting relationships. They often show nearly a complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They typically fail to develop a conscience and do not learn to trust. They do not allow people to be in control of them due to this trust issue. This damage is done by being abused or physically or emotionally separated from one primary caregiver during the first 3 years of life. If a child is not attached – does not form a loving bond with the mother – he does not develop an attachment to the rest of mankind. The unattached child literally does not have a stake in humanity” (Magid & McKelvey 1988).”
If you’d like to learn more about Reactive Attachment Disorder or what the symptoms are, a great place to start is https://www.attachment.org/reactive-attachment-disorder/
RAD honestly encompasses every adoptive family’s worst nightmare. I want to pause right here though and be very clear, no matter what trauma Kanoa (and children like him) have been through and have subsequently caused makes them no less worthy of a family. Of being chosen. Of being shown love. He may not be able to understand it or receive it at this time, but that does not mean he shouldn’t be given the opportunity.
Through the last four and half years we have absolutely struggled. It has taken its toll on our marriage, on our other children, on decisions we make on a day to day basis. We have sought help and guidance, educated ourselves on best responses and practices, and structured Kanoa’s world in the best way we knew how. In some ways, we’ve succeeded and, in others, he’s no different than the rabid child we brought home over four years ago.
Kanoa has taken both Paki and I to the breaking point over and over. By God’s grace, Paki and I usually are able to trade off on who is able to be the steady, sensible person while the other is just DONE and needs to walk away. At our lowest points, we had discussed disrupting the adoption… the dirty word in the adoption world. Just bringing it up in certain circles will bring about shame, ridicule, and rebuke. But walk a mile in my shoes and tell me how my family should live. Tell me how much chaos, rage, defiance, destruction, and abuse your family can take before you need to make hard decisions. And so I wrote into a private group asking for guidance, options, recommendations and advice.
I learned about a program in Colorado that helps children like my Kanoa. A program that does intensive therapy, full mental health assessments, therapeutic parenting, and a full range of other services that just aren’t available where we are at. It’s been a long road just getting Kanoa into the program and it currently is a diagnostic placement for the summer. If he does well and they think he will succeed, they will keep him for the full program of 6-9 months.
And here come the emotions of it all… the week leading up to this trip, we were on a family vacation in Maui. What that looks like for us is Kanoa sleeping in the room with Paki and I because we can’t trust him in with the other children. From the time he wakes up (ridiculously early), you have to keep one eye open because he will try to sneak out to either mess with the other kids or get into things that aren’t his. The change in routine also throws him off so defiant, disrespectful behaviors escalate. I posted beautiful, blissful pictures on social media, but if anyone noticed, the only pictures of Kanoa were the ones in group pictures. He missed out on most of the fun events because he was constantly messing with someone, willfully disobeying us at every turn, or being plain unsafe. He was kept in our line of sight the entire time. The return home, I had to hold his hand through the airport instead of my three year old’s because he was refusing to comply with the most basic requests. All that to say, by the end of our Maui vacation I was so deep into my anger that I wanted to scream how happy I was that he was leaving… but he didn’t know yet.
The day after we returned from Maui, I packed, gathered final paperwork, and printed out family pictures for Kanoa. We broke the news to him at dinner that we were leaving two hours later. Paki did an amazing job explaining about family and how no matter where you go, you’re always part of the family. Kanoa seemed excited, but at the airport said he didn’t want to go because he’d miss his siblings.
Upon arrival in Denver, I got the rental car and we drove directly to the program offices. They spent four hours with me asking detailed questions, learning more about Kanoa, and then meeting him. I was blown away with their thoroughness, their desire to help, and their overall positive outlook for Kanoa’s future. I don’t expect a miracle cure, I don’t expect a perfect kid, but I’m grateful for people that understand, that are giving our family a break, and are willing to step into the trenches with us.
The kicker of it all… Kanoa asked to call his siblings before I left so he could say good-bye. He never asked to call or talk to Paki and as he left me, he had a big smile on his face. After four and a half years, I don’t know that Kanoa feels much of a bond to us at all and that makes me sad. Yes, we’re “familiar” and he knows what to expect, but I’m not convinced that he has been attached to us at all. So I drove away. I left my son with people he had just met hours before. And I’m broken. Are we causing him more trauma by leaving him like his biological mother did? How will his absence impact us? Will we find a new normal and not want the chaos back?? These are just some of the truly raw questions that are bouncing around, taunting me.
I starting reading some of my devotionals (I’m only 34 days behind in my “Read the Bible in a Year” devotional! Haha.) and God is so generous and kind. The first two I read spoke about His forgiveness. The Greek word also means to liberate. Jesus came to liberate us because He loves us. I know Jesus loves Kanoa more than I ever can and He loves him perfectly. I honestly have struggled to pray for Kanoa. I’ve been so angry and hurt, so worn down and exhausted by the constant psychological battles, frustrated by smallest request being met with outbursts, raging, or defiance. I want to use this time that Kanoa is gone to pray for him. To give him back over to God who knows him, who created him, and who designed our family for him. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable”- I’ve said I’m going to make this into a board and put it up in our house for me to see daily. An easy life won’t challenge us to stretch and grow. I don’t know what God’s plan is for us, for Kanoa, for our family. We are not the same family as before he came home in January 2015, but we are still simply broken sinners in need of Christ.
So if you’ve read to the end of this long update, please keep Kanoa in your prayers. This is going to be a very difficult but necessary road for him. We are grateful for all the prayers and words of encouragement we’ve received over the years. We will now try to enjoy this time of respite and help heal the rest of our family.