Monday, March 16, 2015

Abandonment Issues In Adoptive Children

Recently I went on a men's retreat with some guys from my church. Before I did, I explained to Cava that I would be going, where I was going, how long I would be gone, and when I would be back. He seemed to be okay and understood. While I was gone, my wife did special things with the boys. When she asked Cava, "Aren't we having fun?" Cava replied, "No, I'm sad that Papa's gone." He told her that he had also been crying at school because of this. When I returned, she told me all of this and I asked Cava, "Didn't you think I was coming back?"

"No," he replied.

Despite my explaining to him where I'd be going and how long I'd be gone, he still feared that I had abandoned him. It made me wonder how deep this fear was and made me realize we still had work to do to make Cava feel secure.

It shouldn't have surprised me like it did since adoptive children have deep rooted insecurity and deal with a real sense of abandonment. They have been "rejected" by their birth parents and have seen others come and go in their lives with regularity in the orphanage system. Psychologists believe that children remember their birth and following events, including relinquishment and adoption, up to the age of three. If children at such a young age deal with separation trauma, then how much more for the child who spends years in orphanages? And the more years they are there, the deeper the wounds. All of this does damage to a child's psyche.  As Jane Brown wrote in her article "Helping Children Cope With And Understand Abandonment": Any stress associated with these moves (foster care, orphanages, adoptive homes) floods the brain with corrosive neurochemicals that pave the way for the individual to be more vulnerable to stress than the individual who has consistent care from his original parents.

This sense of abandonment and loss will create special needs in the adopted child throughout their lives. How they react to this sense of grief and loss can come out in a myriad of ways (such as acting out, or becoming withdrawn, putting on an act of self-sufficiency, or by being adaptable and compliant). The key is seeing past the actions or behavior to the root of it and dealing with this in a way that will help heal the wounds that cause a child to feel they are alone.

When I asked Cava why he thought I had abandoned him, he answered as he often does with, "I don't know." And he probably doesn't. He may not be thinking so much as feeling this sense of abandonment that stems back to his mother relinquishing him as a baby, at the number of moves he has gone through in his life (baby house, orphanage, and boarding school), as well as going through numerous caregivers, and watching other kids come and go from their lives frequently. This will cause them to question their own self-worth. Adoptive children may question why they were given up, as well as having numerous questions about their birth parents.

After Cava told me that he thought I wasn't coming back, I sat him on my lap, held him close to me, and told him that I would never leave him or "Mommy, or Benjamin." That I loved him and could not imagine my life without him in it. "You are my son. We are family," I reminded him. "I am not going to leave you. Ever. I will be here to love you, take care of you, and protect you." I also said, "Do you remember how, before I left, I told you where I was going and how long I would be gone and when I was coming back?"


"Did I lie about any of that?"


"No. And didn't I call you every night before you went to bed to check on you and tell you that I loved you?"


"I did that because I love you and I didn't want you to worry. And I also did that because I missed you, and Mommy, and Benjamin.  It was okay for you to miss me, just as I missed you, but you never have to worry that I am going to leave you."

And I just held him for awhile and, as I did, I quietly prayed for this little boy who has such big hurts. Every day I pray that he will continue to heal, that he will feel a sense of peace, of love, and of security. I pray that I can be the Papa he desperately needs and that I can respond in ways that helps healing not hinders it.

This small incident showed me that this will continue to be a process that will take time, but I want him to always know that I will be there to be a part of it for him.

To read more in-depth about this issue, here are some links to other websites with articles about adoptive children and abandonment:

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