"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 17

[Gwen: I hope today's post offers the hope you seek. It is so hard to leave our children in God's hands. There are several places in the Bible where we are told not to be slaves to fear. It doesn't say we won't worry now and then--just don't be a slave to it. God bless.]

I mentioned inheriting a worry gene from my mother. Actually, I think she taught me how to worry. She also taught me that worry can bring on a lot of health problems. Life is too short to raise stress and anxiety levels over things that are not within your control.

There are times when my mother's voice comes quietly over my shoulder reminding me of some of the things she found important to teach me. I can't put on makeup without hearing her say, "Don't have a heavy hand. You look so much prettier with less."

One day, before Cheryl completely abandoned us, she and her husband came to the house to do laundry. Cheryl had a basketful of towels to fold. Her husband wanted to get done faster so he pitched in and grabbed a towel. He folded it in half and in half again and yet again and set it in the basket. Cheryl grabbed it, shook it out and said, "That's not the way you fold a towel."

"So, show me how," he retorted.

She promptly folded it in thirds lengthwise and then in half twice.

"Where did you learn to do that?" he asked. Cheryl nodded in my direction.

It was a little thing, but what a sense of pride it brought me. She may have gotten her pretty physical features from her biological mother, but she learned to fold a towel from me.

That simple scene has played out in my mind often. I cling to it as evidence. If she learned to fold a towel from me, then there are other things she learned as well. I'm certain that my voice comes over her shoulder now and then. Perhaps some day she'll choose to follow it. Or more importantly to follow God's voice that calls out to her heart. If she would only choose to become a part of His family, to bond with Him, I would truly rejoice.

[This is the last post on Adoption Bonding. I hope you all have found it helpful. Thanks for encouraging me to share my story.]

Monday, August 29, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 16

For a long while, I felt like a failure. Surely, I thought, there was something I could have done--planned more mother/daughter activities, taken more time to listen, hugged more, laughed more...

By God's loving grace, I finally began to see through the fog of agony that enveloped me. Cheryl had become an adult--granted, not necessarily a mature adult. She was going to make her own choices in life. I could no longer choose for her or protect her from bad choices. I had to let go...and let God take care of her. That's a difficult decision to make.

By letting go, I faced not knowing what was going on in her life. There were times I didn't even know where she was. I had to field questions from family and friends: "How is Cheryl? What's she doing now? How's the baby?" Questions I had no answers for. Questions that made me feel like the world's worst mother.

Worry is a mother's worst nightmare and believe me, I inherited the biggest worry gene from my mother. It took a concentrated effort to give that up to God as well. I have absolutely no control over what Cheryl does with her life. (Let me reread what I wrote--you see, I have to keep reminding myself.)

But did I/do I have any influence? Were those 14 years she allowed me to be her mother wasted?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 15

When we went before the judge to make our adoption of Cheryl and Don final, Cheryl was asked if she wanted to be a part of our family--she was only six. She answered,"I want to be a Robbins forever and ever!" And then promptly hid her head in Bob's jacket.

At twenty-one, when Cheryl was asked by the judge at her divorce hearing if she wanted to return to her maiden name, she said no. She chose the name of her biological family instead.

It hurt.

Something happened in those teen years that I still do not understand. Maybe it was something that was there all along and we just didn't see it. Hindsight tells us that we should have had counseling for her and us. We just thought that loving her, caring for her, providing a stable home and family was all that was necessary. We never thought that perhaps the "baggage" she carried from her young life would stay with her.

Looking honestly at the way I relate to my children, I have to say that yes, there is a difference. The twins being the oldest were our "learning experience." Kids don't come with a manual and we certainly learned by trial and error with them. Andy came along and was a whole different personality from the beginning. And, having those three as babies made our bonding experience different than the adoption experience. Don had handicaps to deal with and Cheryl was a girl--now that in itself was all new territory. There is no way to love each child the same. No two children are exactly the same. (I can speak from experience since my husband is an identical twin and quite different from his brother.)

We have raised three young men who are functioning as solid, loving, independent adults who love their family. Don is living "independently" in his own apartment and wouldn't dream of abandoning the family. Had I failed as a mother with Cheryl? Why had she abandoned us?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Don's disabilities were an obvious outcome of genes. The speech patterns from his father were too similar. We had always been told that there were probably some genetic conditions that lent to his motor skills being poor. There was just no disease that doctors could put a finger on that would have contributed other than a slight case of cerebral palsy.

Today, I can see how environment has helped Don. He grew up with a supportive family that encouraged him to stretch his skills and overcome the disabilities as much as he could. He is living independently with the help of our county board of mental retardation, and the support of his family, friends, and church. He's developed Bob's sense of humor. The bantor between the two is amusing and keeps Don's wit harp.

But what about Cheryl? She was in the same environment but yet, instead of seeking to make herself independent and self-supportive, she has chosen to live much the same way her biological parents have. I mentioned the similarities in her life to her biological mother's life. Without knowing beforehand, Cheryl followed the same path.

Cheryl's birth mother was also adopted. On another visit to her birth family, Cheryl was taken to a nursing home to see her birth mother's adoptive mother. Cheryl's married a man (now divorced) with mental disabilities although not as severe as her birth father's. And...Cheryl's first child (and more recently two more) was removed from the home by children's services.

Why was there such a difference between the way Don responded to the environment of our home and the way Cheryl did? Personality? Different genes? Why had we bonded so well with Don and not with Cheryl?

Sunday, August 21, 2005


At the risk of confusing you, I need to jump back and forth a bit here to explore the genes/environment issue. When Cheryl turned 18, she hit a breaking point in her emotional problems that had built up through the teen years. She determined to leave our home and seek out her "real" parents. She felt this would be an answer to all that troubled her.

In the process of "finding herself" she met a guy, got pregnant, and then got married. Just as I was beginning to think that she was settling down, she announced that she had found her real parents. She invited us along to meet them for the first time. The place we found them in was a relative's home that looked just like the place described to us by the social services when they took Cheryl and Don.

The rundown house sat in the middle of an automobile graveyard. I skipped over the first step on the porch for fear my foot would go through the rotted wood. Inside, the floors looked like they had not seen a vacuum in years. Boxes of stuff--newspapers, old junk, ????--were piled up agains the walls. A small computer desk sat in one room amidst the boxes and a large screen TV was in the living room across from a dirty looking couch.

The house was filled with a dozen relatives, all of whom seemed happy to ignore Cheryl, her husband, and us--even the baby. Don had chosen not to go. It confused him to think that he might have a second set of parents.

We met Cheryl's biological mother and I could see where Cheryl's physical features had come from. Then we met her father. When he spoke, I recognized Don's speech pattern immediately.

I had put together a book of pictures showing significant times in Cheryl and Don's lives. I tried to include pictures that didn't have Bob and I in them. There was no need to remind them that someone else had been there instead of them. They set the album aside and were much more interested in showing Cheryl the pictures of when they were little and living with them. It was good, I told myself, Cheryl needed to see pictures of herself as a baby.

We left before they were about to serve cheese sandwiches. I'm sure they were good but they came from a kitchen that was full of trash and grease and...well, you get the picture. Cheryl and her husband stayed on. I was later to learn that they spent the night. I shuddered.

The obvious learning disabilities and retardation that the social services had reported to us during the adoption process were there. The conditions of the house were the same. But Cheryl's head was to be filled with stories of how the children's services unfairly took them and the authorities were lied to by other family members who were trying to stir up trouble. Later Cheryl would find out from another relative these stories were fabricated and she eventually lost faith in her "real" parents. The strange thing was that she never gave us credit for telling her the truth.

As the relationships within the biological family unfolded, we were surprised at the similarities between Cheryl's life and that of her mother. Genes? Coincidence?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 12

Having raised my older boys from babies, I was accustomed to touching them and they were familiar with my touch. I knew how to hold them when they needed it. I knew what soothed them when they cried. I had no knowledge of that with Cheryl and Don.

I could perch Don on my lap but when I tried to cuddle him, he responded stiffly. Cheryl didn't like to be held. She would sit on Bob's lap long enough for a story but then she was off and running again. There just wasn't the physical kind of touching, holding, cuddling, that there would have been if they were babies. And, I wasn't sure what might have transpired in the biological or other foster homes that may have made them feel uncomfortable being held.

Much later we were to find out that children who have difficulty bonding are often those who have trouble cuddling, being held. This isn't just with adopted children but can also occur with biological children. Unfortunately, we learned this too late with Cheryl. If I were to give any advice about problems with bonding with your adopted children, I would say get some counseling for them and you. By the time we learned our lesson, Cheryl was 18 and refused any help.

While Don still is not terribly affectionate, he does give us awkward hugs and pats on the back. Sometimes it's hard to sort out what might be a bonding problem or just a result of his developmental handicap or just the fact that he's all grown up now and acting like a teenager--even though he's 27.

Throughout Cheryl and Don's childhood, there was always a question of nature or nurture. Did they respond a certain way because of their genes or was it because of their environment?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 11

It took a major sibling brouhaha to wake me up to the fact that I was treating Don and Cheryl differently than my other children. I don't remember what it was about but I stepped in to squash the commotion. I was about to punish the older guys and gloss over what Cheryl and Don had done when I realized what I was doing. I was treating them as though they were guests in our home--not our children.

I meted out the punishments equally, sending everyone to their rooms. After I thought about it for a while, it was probably the biggest step I'd taken in those first few weeks to integrate our two new children into the family. All five were suddenly on an equal footing with Mom. It changed their relationship with each other. No longer were the boys walking on eggs around Cheryl and respecting her space. She was an equal. She could be the target of sibling tricks or be just as guilty as the next one in breaking the rules. They still tended to protect Don, but I think that had more to do with his disabilities and his age as well as male bonding.

There was still one area of bonding however that truly bothered me.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 10

When you bring a newborn baby home, you begin a slow process of learning their needs and how to meet them. When you bring home older children to assimilate into the family, they come with a ready made history, good and bad, and a much different list of needs. As time went along, I became more aware of how unprepared I was even though I already had children who were older than Cheryl and Don.

I think I was more exhausted when my two new additions to the family moved in than when I brought my twins home. The babies you could put in a crib for a nap and sit down for a few minutes. Cheryl and Don were beyond the nap stage and were energized with the excitement of a new home, new family, and new activities.

Not knowing exactly what they might do or get into, I kept a vigilent eye. One afternoon, they went through the kitchen, drawer by drawer, to see what was in them. I wondered if this was their way of getting to learn the new house--after all, it was the seventh different home they'd been in during the last three years.

My constant vigilence caught up with me, however. One day they decided to sit on the floor in one spot for a few minutes and play. I plopped on the couch to watch them. I wanted to observe how they played, see how they interacted--basically, absorb all I could to truly get to know them. With no warning, I fell asleep. No nodding. No fighting heavy eyes. I was just asleep. I have no idea how long but I awoke with a start, fearful of what I had missed and where my new children were.

There was no need to fear. They sat on the floor at my feet, staring back at me, as curious about me sleeping as I had been about their play. It was the first time in a week or so that I actually began to feel comfortable with my new responsibility as their mother.

But, soon I would realize that I wasn't being a mother to them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 9

Perhaps it was the excitement of packing their worldly possessions, but this time Cheryl didn't seem to mind leaving Sherry and her foster sisters behind. We put their few boxes in the back of our car and they began their "good-byes" to Sherry and her family.

I turned to Sherry as we were ready to leave. Her eyes were misty.

"How do you do this over and over again?" I asked. My heart was hurting for her.

"I take a 'timeout'," she responded. "This time will be easier than others. Usually I have to give the babies or children back to the environment they came from knowing that they will proabably be back in the system again. This time, I know they will be with a good family who will love them and care for them. It'll be easier."

We waved good-bye and started on our way home. I wasn't sure if they truly understood this was THE DAY. There would be no coming back. We began singing in the car.

"Donny was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a Sycamore tree for his Savior now to see...And Jesus said, 'Donny you come down for you're going to your new home to stay'." It didn't all fit the song but I made it up as I went along.

When we arrived home, the boys helped us get Don and Cheryl settled. We put things in drawers and hung stuff in closets. Then we sat down to dinner and for the first time, it began to sink in. This was it. I was committed. They were here to stay. No turning back.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 8

[Apologies to you regular readers. I am on the road and my wifi connection has not worked properly. I'm now connected through blue tooth and dh's cell phone--basically a dial up that sometimes doesn't work. Please bear with me.]

Cheryl delved into my collection of old formals and played dressup for the weekend. Don busied himself with the boys and the hot wheels cars--we had a hard time keeping them out of his mouth though. He was still like a two year old putting things in his mouth.

We spent a couple of months shuffling the kids back and forth from their foster home to ours. Each stay was a little longer. Each separation from Sherrie a little harder for Cheryl. We were finally to the point where I was Mommy and Sherrie was Sherrie.

Sherrie sat down with me at one of the last overnight stays. She was experiencing some problems with Cheryl acting out. She was sure that Cheryl was just frustrated with the upheaval in her life and suggested that maybe we could talk with the social worker and move our placement date up a bit.

The social worker was in agreement and Cheryl and Don were scheduled to be placed with us October 3. As the day approached, the excitement built. So did my expectations. I was so sure that just having them in our home all the time, getting into a routine, would meld us magically as a family.

Magic is something found only in Harry Potter books.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Adoption--Bonding 7

Cheryl cried and clutched at Sherrie not wanting to let go. Sherrie set her down but she clung to Sherrie's legs. My heart was breaking. I was torn between wanting to mother her and yet feeling her pain of separating from the mother she knew now.

We had started to get the kids to refer to us as "Mommy Sherrie" and "Mommy Karen" with the intention of eventually dropping the "mommy" from Sherrie's name. The problem was (I think) the kids had been shuffled to so many homes in three years that they had no idea what a "mommy" was other than the woman who took care of them. Sherrie's home was the 7th foster home in three years and we were the fourth home in that year where they were placed.

With some more gentle coaxing, Cheryl gradually let go of Sherrie and we got her interested in something in the house while Sherrie slipped out. Cheryl never let us know when she missed Sherrie. I'm sure she did, but she made no mention of it. Perhaps she assumed that was it. She was here to stay with a new mommy and daddy. And in her young mind, I'm sure she wondered "How long?"
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...