I’m convinced there is nothing more heart-crushing than facing a moment when it feels like you have to choose between your children.
The day we finally made phone calls and placed one of our children in out-of-home respite care for an extended period, was the day I realized I was going to lose my other child’s trust if I didn’t get unmovable boundaries up fast.
It was also the day I curled up in a ball on the floor of my kitchen and sobbed my heart out.
When you adopt a child with attachment or trauma issues, there is a level of hard that the whole family will be forced to deal with—and because you’re family, you do. You comfort your other kids, and talk through the struggles, and make sure they have any counseling they need, and encourage them to love through all the hard stuff. To have compassion and grace and mercy for the weakest member.
But children who are fighting attachment are also on the search for their parent’s Achilles heel, and sometimes they land on a perfect goldmine: their siblings.
When our attachment-challenged child couldn’t shake us by attacking us personally or destroying our things—a campaign against the sibling commenced.
We were doing our best to prove to one child that we’d never, ever get rid of him—but we were caught in a check-mate because while I originally thought I’d do anything for him, there was in fact one thing I would not do:
I would not sacrifice my other child for him.
So the day the targeting and bullying moved to abuse—I made the phone call.
Dear mama, if you’ve ever been there my heart is with you. It aches with yours.
I know every piece of agony that has ripped through you.
It feels like you’re choosing one child over another, but now, looking back, I know I was choosing a chance for healing for everyone.
We like the idea of saying that we’ll keep someone no matter what, but actually, there needs to be a boundary line. Nobody deserves abuse. Ever. And that line can’t be crossed without consequences.
So for us, we found that it was more loving to say, “You’ll always be family, no matter what. But you get to decide if you’re going to be family while living at home or if you have to live somewhere else.”
It wasn’t me picking one kid to love more than another.
It was me loving my whole family well.
The season without my child home was rough. Partially because a part of my heart wasn’t with me and I missed my baby and partially because I felt relief that I didn’t have to be hyper vigilant every second to keep everyone safe. There were so many conflicting emotions and feelings.
But it was 100% needed, because I have a responsibility to all of my family to love them well.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, mama, for your child but also for yourself.
In this journey a lot of people will give a lot of advice when it comes to your adopted children (and about parenting in general) but you don’t have to listen to everyone.
Know that, dear Mama. You truly do not have to listen to everyone.
You can set boundaries for yourself too. You can choose a few trusted people to share with and take advice from and say no to everyone else.
And if you ever have to make a choice between keeping all of your kids home and allowing one child to abuse another, or splitting your family for a season—you don’t have to answer to the world for it.
No matter what age your kids are. No matter how many people think it couldn’t possibly be too hard to handle one kid’s problems.
You don’t have to answer the world for what therapists you used, or what solutions you’ve tried, or how exhausted or frustrated you are with the situation.
You can work with your core people, in the safest place you can find, and you can make whatever decision you need to about your child’s care to keep everyone safe.
And if you have to choose out-of-home care for your child, if you have to keep some children home while another leaves, you have every right to grieve (and feel relieved!) over that decision.
It is a terrible, heart-breaking decision and I’m right there with you, sitting in the agony of it, & trusting that choosing safety for everyone in your care is always the best choice. Knowing that making any choice from the middle of trauma is so, so hard.
But even from this place, don’t forget…
God’s grace is sufficient, even for this.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9 we’re reminded of His sufficient grace, of how His power is made perfect in weakness, and that verse isn’t a lie. It’s a bone-deep truth that is being spoken over you.
The day my child left home, when I was curled up on the kitchen floor sobbing, was one of my weakest moments. I felt like a failure in every sense. I had failed him. I had failed my other child. I had failed myself.
But now, with years between that moment and today, I can see the truth. God’s grace was sufficient, just like He promised. His power was at work, even when I was weak.
For us, the story isn’t over yet. We’ve had seasons where our family has been split and seasons when we’re all together and doing well.
But whether our child is in our home or out of our home, we are committed to loving with everything we have– recognizing that our best is often weak and insufficient, but His grace and His power is enough.
If you are in this position now, making the hardest, most devastating choices to try and keep everyone safe– attempting to be wise and loving and calm in the middle of intense trauma– can I tell you one last thing?
The Father is FOR you. He’s with you. Going ahead of you and coming behind you.
And He’s for your child too.
No matter how much your child rejects attaching to you and your home and your love–that won’t change God’s ability to show up. God is pursuing your child’s heart, just like He did yours.
And the story is not over yet.
praying peace into your hardest storm,
For Further Encouragement:
These letters are not exhaustive. They should not be used to diagnosis, and they only show the viewpoint of one person. While I share some of our personal story—some details may be purposefully vague or altered slightly for privacy. Thank you in advance for being respectful and trustworthy with the stories shared here.
This letter is part of a series titled “Dear Adoptive Mom”.