A mother shares her story of love and patience for her adopted son, and how educating herself with Al Anon helped her come to terms with his addiction.
When our journey to become parents lasted 7 years and thoroughly exhausted us with surgeries and so many disappointments, adoption was finally decided upon. My husband and I were scared, but so ready to become parents, we powered through our fears by reminding ourselves of what the goal was, to become loving parents and to give a child love and a good life. We began to imagine our child and waited exactly 9 months for a birthmother to choose us and relinquish her baby to us. When he was put into our arms the pain of the last 7 years disappeared immediately. The second we saw him, we would die for him. Our love was amazing. The process itself of adoption was not void of heartache, and we weren’t willing to go through it again. He became our only child, one that was adored and cared for in every way imaginable.
The one thing I had convinced myself was that of environment vs. genetics. I had decided in my mind that as long as I provided love and nurturing, any unknown genetic issues would be overpowered by that love. I lived in this fantasy world for about 14 years. As the teenage years came, we began to notice things weren’t easy. But no teen is easy right? Again, love and patience was the key. When that didn’t work, I tore myself apart looking for the blame I needed to explain his behavior, what had I done wrong? He began to hang around kids that were known for drug use. His behavior became despicable, stealing from us and lots and lots of screaming. I had already had the “you’re not my real parents” statement; I thought I could take anything after that. But his anger and his hatred grew. We remained as strong and as loving as we could, but at this point, he wasn’t having any of it. We were standing in his way of partying and making new drug friends. Our soft approach to trying to understand him was clearly failing.
We found a counselor that “specialized” in teenagers and that only lasted a short time. Our son was able to manipulate and lie through his teeth to him. It didn’t solve a thing. I continued to struggle to find out what I was doing wrong, what us as his parents could change to help him get through this.
We found another counselor who this time, specialized in drug and alcohol abuse (CADC) and things changed immediately. I discovered I was hiding from his behavior, even going so far as to hide it from my husband, afraid of another blow up, another fight, more drama in the house. I was parenting him from fear. As my son was learning tough love in a program, I was learning to toughen up, stop blaming myself and disengage from being afraid of his outbursts and hateful behavior.
Three months into his treatment in the IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), he ran away. It was the catalyst of the whole experience. It was the worst 4 days of my life. He was found in another city and sent immediately to a behavioral hospital for a week of inpatient treatment. He came out of that a much more reasonable kid. He continued in his IOP program another 6 months. The Head of the IOP continued to see him almost daily and this was the reason my son was getting better.
As the months became years, I learned in Al Anon that my loving and nurturing behavior only encouraged his bad behavior. I learned keeping secrets from my husband only hurt and strained our marriage. We both began to let go of the guilt that we weren’t able to love the addiction out of him. During this time his bio sibling found him and they began a healthy relationship. Through her, I found out the long list of addiction in his heritage. Many adoptive parents aren’t privy to that information, although had I known, I don’t know if it would have changed my mind about adopting.
But now I know, that it’s a COMBINED effect, of genetics and environment that shape a child’s personality. I did a GREAT job of raising him, and there was nothing I did, short of over loving him, that caused any of this. And I also realized that adoption vs blood is always a crap shoot. Nothing is for sure. I learned that the one way to make God laugh is to make plans.
As I sat in our weekly meetings for over 5 years, I saw the families come and go, and the amount of adopted teens in the program. There were always a healthy amount of adopted kids and non adopted kids in the program. I can’t say that there were more of one or the other but either way, it’s so important for any parent to learn that they need to parent a child to prepare them for the world and not to help them do things they need to be doing for themselves.
Our son has grown up a lot in the years following those torturous teen years. He’s now 21 and finding his way. We still support him and help him when he comes to us and has a clear plan or is always moving forward. He knows our love is unconditional, but finances are very conditional. He must stay clean and stay busy. So far, so good. I have freed myself from the guilt of his actions and that has never felt better. Life has become good again, as long as I work my own program and stay away from self blame and enabling. I’m a completely different person and mother now after this and I am grateful for it.