Maya and John Benson adopted a sibling group almost three years ago. Despite careful preparation, and being experienced foster parents, the couple were soon devastated by the behaviours of their traumatized children—especially their oldest son. Being a forever family quickly seemed an impossible fantasy.
Some parents who have adopted older kids or sibling groups will understand what I'm going to say next; others will think I'm an awful parent.
One day, about eight months into our new family, my eldest son, Brydon, did something that pushed me over the edge, and I slapped his face. I was shocked and horrified that I’d been so angry that I had hit my own son. It didn’t daunt him in the least. He just taunted me that he’d had much worse done to him and nothing I could do to him would be as bad. He was right: he knew I would never hurt him as badly as he’d been hurt before.
For those of you who haven’t experienced kids like this, please realize two things: one, never think you couldn’t be antagonized enough to do the same thing; and two, this won’t necessarily happen to you. If it does, though, it won’t be just because of occasional misbehavior. It will be the day in and day out, often hourly, relentless pushing of every button you have. These kids will make you or break you and, believe me, they’ll try to break you. Brydon, whom I love deeply now, was determined to be as horrible as he knew how, to prove to me he was unlovable. He wanted to make me send him back, because I had made him and his siblings the promise that this family was forever. He wanted to show me that I was no different from the other adults who, when the going got tough, had broken their promises and moved on without them.
But, if someone tells me to give up, I’ll do the opposite or die trying. I was determined to keep this child because I had said I would, and nobody, especially him, was going to make me break my promise. That determination held us together on days when I desperately wanted to send him packing. I’m sure his guardian angel had wedged his suitcase behind four winter tires, our old dog bed, lawn mower parts, and a sack of cement on purpose. I was also determined to hang onto my marriage, which was being severely tested as a result of the adoption. I had too many years invested in that husband of mine (and, most days, I also happen to adore him).
Despite all this determination, on many days I sat down and cried. I resented this child who’d disrupted our previously happy family when I had tried so hard and so wanted to love him. At one point, I came to a crossroads where I didn’t even want to try anymore. I wasn’t sure if I was even capable of loving him. Jolie and Mason have their issues too, but it was Brydon who broke me in.
So, what came out of my mouth one day surprised me. Brydon had just yelled at me, “You’re not my real mom! I hate you!” I quietly replied, “You don’t have to love me. You don’t even have to like me. I did not give birth to you, but I love you as if I had. So that gives me license to be your mom. Real love is kind of weird. You can’t force it, and you can’t throw it back at whoever gives it to you. It is a gift that will always be there to open, when you are ready, or not.”
That was six months ago. Since then, we’ve have good days, weeks, and we’ve even had one good month. We still have problems on occasion with Brydon, and we are encountering different ones with Jolie, Mason, Michael, and Susan, too. It’s not surprising: these kids didn’t know the meaning of forever.
It takes oil and water, sugar and salt, vinegar and baking soda to make a cake. As you know, oil and water don’t mix, sugar and salt are two very different tastes, and vinegar and baking soda erupt when combined. When all these ingredients are mixed, though, it produces something sweet and enjoyable. It may be a bit crisp around the edges and mushy in the middle, but we’re still working on the length of time and temperature at which to bake our family cake.
Now I talk about “The day I’ll be Grandma to your kids,” or, more relevant to them at this time, ”When you’re old enough to drive.”
So, finally, we are on our way to forever. I have to keep reminding myself it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.