“I Didn’t Sign Up For This!”

The journey started off on a good note, only to come crashing down on you a few months later. When you find yourself whispering, “I didn’t sign up for this,” where do you go next?

Woman sitting alone and depressed

Let me begin this post by first saying, I know. I know, I know, I know, I know and I know! Sister, I’ve been there. Brother, I’ve walked in your shoes. No one told you about the way trauma rears its ugly head. No one told you about the real story behind his bed wetting, or her rage, or his impulsiveness. You jumped into this journey with two passionate feet and a heart to bring light into the darkness of a broken child’s life. And now, you’re exhausted and your kid is holding your entire family hostage.

Believe me, I know. I’ve walked, no, crawled….yeah, mostly crawled, through this same trench you’re in. Lord knows I’ve whispered these words to myself as we’ve had to evacuate our helpless children to an upstairs room while our other child rages and throws blunt objects across the house at them. I’ve looked to the heavens and begged for answers while standing out on my front porch answering a police officer’s questions while neighbors drive past. I’ve wrestled these thoughts in the midnight hour, as I’ve laid awake wondering where we went wrong, or how I could have prevented the secondary trauma my family is experiencing.

Yes, I know. I know the regret you often feel, deep with in you, for choosing adoption. I also know the shame you feel over feeling that regret. I know the grief you go through because the ideal life you dreamed about is slipping through your fingers like snow on a warm day. This child you brought into your home with such love and adoration has pushed every single boundary, and made choices that cause those around you to raise their eyebrows. While you’ve tried to draw them close and love them unconditionally, they continually push you away and pursue relationships that are toxic and superficial.

So you whisper often, “I didn’t sign up for this.” And that has you wondering….is there any hope?

Where Is The Hope?

This journey can often turn out different than you expected. You often find yourself isolated, alone, defeated. We get it. In the past, we’ve even had the church, the one place that’s supposed to accept us for who we are, brokenness and all, turn their backs on us. The nursery director (You know, the one who’s supposed to love babies and have patience with crying) told us they couldn’t handle our son because he cried too much. Cried because he was traumatized. Cried because he was scared. Cried because he had been in 2 foster placements prior to living with us and the trauma went deeper than a cavern.

It leaves you feeling hopeless. And then there’s that thought again…”I didn’t sign up for this.” More hopelessness. More despair. So, where is the hope?

I’ll tell you where. It’s in finding out, you’re not alone. In discovering there are others on this journey who limp the same way you do. There are others with the same wounds, same fears, same voices in their head. I don’t know how, but there’s something oddly hopeful in knowing you’re not alone. Your problems don’t magically wash away, but you somehow find the strength to face another day when you realize there are others.

There’s hope in finding others. But there’s also hope in acceptance.

Signed Up.

I know you didn’t sign up for this. I’ll say it again- I know, I know, I know. Remember- been there, done that, got the t-shirt (or the bill from the psyche ward) to prove it. But, the truth is, you and I are signed up. This is our new normal. Our children have come from trauma so unimaginable and dark that it’s hard to understand it. My child has Alcohol-Related-Neuro-developmental Disorder. It’s permanent brain damage. Nothing will ever change that. He will always need assistance in some fashion. He will always struggle through life. It’s reality. You may struggle to form a genuine bond with your child for a very long. This is the reality my friend. Now, based upon that, we have a choice. We could shake our fists at the heavens and continue to say, “I didn’t sign up for this,” or we could make a choice to move forward, love our children through the trials, work to understand trauma, and live, to the best of our ability, in this new normal.

I can’t go back in time and undo what has been done. I can’t go back and fix my child. I can’t go back and safeguard our family for what was to come. If I could, I would. Honestly, I would. What I can do, however, is love my child for who they are now, and strive to look past behaviors to the heart that beats inside of them. I’ve found that when I stop dwelling on what I wish would have been, and accept what actually is, I find hope quicker.

I promise, I’m not blowing rainbows and unicorns at you. The reality is, this journey can be extremely hard. And we’ve found ourselves worn out way more than energized, often. We know what hopeless feels like. But we find hope when we connect to others, and when we accept our new normal and choose to move forward. Life was never meant to be perfect. But there’s a special kind of beauty in the imperfection. There’s hope in the new normal. And there’s so many awesome moments on this journey when you open your eyes and heart and look for them.

Question: Have you whispered these words before? You’re not alone. Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • sheluvskids

    The biggest lie we believe is that we are alone in this journey.
    No one, especially the Church, understands that this a long slow walk with our kids. I cringe when I say “long & slow” myself because I truly want to be done with this. My body literally hurts from the secondary trauma.
    I haven’t found any magic answers either but I do find joy and blessings along the way.
    I can’t tell you how much your honesty & transparency helps me walk the trenches of our adoption journey.

    • We are so glad that our content has been helpful and an encouragement to you. You are not alone. 🙂

    • April

      We are in the same boat, but can honestly say our church loves on us and supports us in any way they possibly can. I’m SO saddened to hear at least 2 stories of churches abandoning your family! I will be praying for you all and pray that there is a loving supportive church you all can find some respit in, near by. God bless you and keep you!

  • NancySplash

    Thank you for this. I feel such shame for having felt this way and now knowing I’m not alone, it gives me much freedom. Freedom to heal, freedom to have acceptance for wrongs and rights and for simply what is. Freedom to grow and move into this season of loving my children from a broken place of trauma. Freedom to say it’s hard and it sucks but we can rise, cling to Him and not quit before the miracle happens, however small it may be, it fills me with so much Hope!

    • Yes, yes and yes! You are definitely not alone. And there is hope. Thanks for your honesty!

    • Allisonm

      Guilt and shame are such thieves of joy and peace. The learning curve of parenting traumatized children often felt to us like scaling a concave vertical cliff without maps, ropes or nets. It is hard. It does stink. But you are right–we can rise, cling to God and not quit even when the miracles seem to take forever. Enjoy the freedom to be human and fallible. You are in good company!

  • Kim

    Thank you for this great perspective! Even outside of adoption and foster care, there is so much in life we don’t choose or “sign up for.” But when we accept the reality – embrace it even – we can find hope, and over time, blessings.

    • Kim, you are most welcome. I am so glad the post resonated. And you are right, life is full of these moments. 😉

  • Stormywen

    I really need to hear this today! My 15 year old was raging and destroying our house yesterday and it wasn’t the first time. This journey can be so exhausting!

    • It sure can be. We totally understand. 😉

  • Thank you for once again brining to light what many of us feel inside. I sometime sit and think about all that will still come our way and it feels like I cant breath! It is hard being older parents to 3 adopted kids, all 3 with their own special need and trauma. Some days it feels like I cant do this any longer and for me my faith helps. I know the job the Lord has put in front of me and I accept it but WOW it sure can take a toll on so many level….

    Thanks for opening up your heart and sharing your experience with us today. Just know what you guys do here on this blog, the books and all really matters!!! Be blessed, Debra

    • Debra, thanks so much for your kind words. We are grateful for them. Hang in there. You are not alone on this journey.

    • Allisonm

      We, too, are older parents to three kids with special needs and trauma. I was in my late forties and in excellent health when we started. It does take a physical toll that I think would have been much easier to absorb when I was twenty years younger. That physical toll saps energy that I could use to work more effectively with the cognitive and emotional aspects of parenting my children. But I would never trade the last twenty years’ worth of maturity, experience, and judgment for more energy. I often muse that the ideal would be my nineteen-year-old body and energy level combined with ten or twenty more years’ worth of wisdom than I have now. I also keep reminding myself that I will have a new body and clear mind in Heaven–this is but a sojourn.

      Your children are so fortunate to have you for a mother!

  • Steve Conover

    Great blog post! This is something that I talk about daily as I share our testimony and recruit parents into the foster care ministry in our region…and it is a MINISTRY!

    Our first placement was a sibling group of three that were two, four and five years old at the time. We were told that they didn’t know a lot about the kids other than that they were very active? This turned out to be a lie as the oldest at five years old had been a DSS case his entire life. All three children have PTSD, attachment disorders and if they were older would all be diagnosed with personality disorders. It is now 3 1/2 years later and we have adopted all three of them. We love them with all of our hearts and more importantly we think God for teaching us many very powerful lessons through this process.

    The first thing we learned is that we could not do this in her own power. My wife and I have been believers for a long time and have been very successful in our careers in our lives… We thought this would give us a great advantage in fostering children after all my wife is a counselor by trade… We quickly realized how wrong we were! As we turned to God in our face for the grace that we needed we quickly learned that the children were not the problem and that we were! You see… The only way that we were going to make it was to follow the example of Jesus and truly become in-offendable.

    The kids are now 8 1/2, 7 1/2 and six. They have come along way and still have a long way to go in there healing. We don’t know what the future holds and that’s OK. We take each day as it comes in each circumstance as it is… And we remember that one time Jesus look past our behaviors and filled our need… So we get everything that we have to be more like him and to do the same thing for these three children.

    I pray blessings to all of you who have joined us and his great work!

    Steve Conover

    • “We take each day as it comes and each circumstance as it is.” LOVE this. Thank you for sharing here Steve. So glad you liked the post.

    • Allisonm

      You are so right about us as parents being the ones who have to change. That’s been our experience, too. And you are spot on about becoming unoffendable. The tension is in being unoffendable while maintaining a deep connection with our children. It can feel like a very vulnerable place to be and forces me to rely on Christ and keep an eternal perspective rather than worry about protecting myself in the short run–a delicate balance that I am not always successful at achieving, though I keep on trying.

  • Allisonm

    I did sign up for this. I just didn’t know what “this” was or what it would take to learn how to do it when I signed. I have never regretted signing, either. It would have been helpful to have been better informed of what the state knew and chose not to tell us. I used to be angry about that and the portion of our kids’ childhoods that was wasted while we figured it out on our own. It would also have been helpful to know that the grief I experienced over the difference between what I imagined and what our reality turned out to be was normal and expected and that I could get some help with it. I definitely have felt that I was inadequate–not cut out for this–because I felt like such a failure compared to all of those other moms at church or school or even in my own family. We could also have lived without the overt shaming by many of those people and institutions and their respective rumor mills.

    I’m my children’s eleventh mother. As resilient and determined to survive as my kids are, I couldn’t see them bouncing one more time if we bailed. Nine years ago, a very experienced foster mom from our church told me point blank that my kids didn’t have another move in them and that I needed to dig deep and find whatever it was going to take to be their mother. It felt like being bashed in the face wth a shovel, but I will be grateful forever for that woman. I feel certain that those words were put in her mouth by the God who has been faithful to pick us up off the ground over and over and give us the tenacity to keep on trudging even without apparent hope. After years of being that family way far out in the weeds, we are seeing the fruits of God’s labor in all of us. I am nothing like the mother I imagined I wanted to be. My children have been the making of me. My life would have been so much poorer without them and everything it’s taken to be their mother. And knowing we’re not alone and might be able to encourage someone else based on our experience is super helpful.

    • Allison, I love this comment. Thank you for sharing such beautiful words here. We are grateful for you and your love for vulnerable children!

  • Theresa Siertsema

    I love this post. It’s the truth. It’s our new reality, so we need to let ourselves grieve over the ideal life we dreamed of, and then roll up our sleeves and be the best parent we can for our child and know that our life on earth here will be incredibly messy/dirty/frustrating/devastating/ awful, but we are making a difference in our children’s lives, hopefully for eternity and that’s what matters!

    • Yes you sure are making a difference. You have the right perspective. Thanks for sharing!

      • Theresa Siertsema

        That was more for myself than anyone….I have to remind myself of that daily!

  • Jay Derting

    Great timing. My oldest daughter is having a baby so my wife is 2hrs away with her family and I am home with our younger crew that we adopted. Had this thought several times already when everything was falling apart. But, they all made it to school (at least that’s where I dropped them off) and I made it to work. It is a different normal when kids and grandkids are only a few years apart.

  • Cindy McQuay

    Our 18 yo (adopted age 3 ) son has FAS and is in jail…again…pray for a miracle!

  • Willa

    I read this article/blog and teared up. I adopted two sweeties in my late 40’s. Born cocaine/meth addicted, very premature, FAS……I thought I could bring joy and love to their hearts as they grew. Now 11 and 13, i am dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder, Severe Anxiety, ADD/ADHD, DMDD/ODD and a plethora of other neurological concerns. Others don’t “see” the trauma. Instead they see beautiful, talented girls. They don’t see the struggles. The self-destructive behaviors. They don’t see the picking, the angry outbursts, the violent rages. Others don’t see the internal hatred they have for themselves. I see it all. I feel so very VERY guilty that #1 I cant seem to “fix it” and #2 that I DO feel like running away at times. My first marriage failed, in part due to all of this. My new husband doesn’t really understand Borderline Personality Disorder or DMDD/ODD or even ADHD — or the neurological implications involved with my daughters. My ex gives back the electronics I limit (electronic age is a BIG PROBLEM as they don’t have self control or the ability to STOP.. THINK… before electronically posting). I am on the struggle bus right now. I feel like a horrid parent. I do feel like a failure. I know I shouldn’t, but, as I hope most of you would know, knowing doesn’t change how I feel deep down. I adopted them to help, to love, to nurture. I feel as if I have failed on all counts. #brokenadoptivemomma #reachingoutforhope

    • Jen_on_Disqus

      No way are you a failure. You are still doing your best. You didn’t create the mess. Hang in there, mama.

  • Paul Eliot

    I uttered these words while laying in a hospital bed, unable to help my wife as she was being assaulted by thrown furniture and other blunt objects. Unable to deal with the RoboCop who threatened to arrest a mentally ill 11-year-old.

    When we adopted my daughter, we were thrilled that she had never been subjected to the abuse to which so many children in DCF custody are subjected because DCF took custody the day she was born What we didn’t understand was that there WAS abuse…NINE MONTHS OF IT! Our daughter was abused when she was the most vulnerable and most dependent on biomom – in utero. Sure she smiled broadly all the time, hit developmental markers usually ahead of schedule, but by the time she was a year old we had a sense that something wasn’t quite right. The abuse to which she had been subjected never appeared in a medical report – she tested negative for drugs and alcohol at birth. The only place it showed was our case worker’s note when we had been matched for adoption: “Birth mother received no prenatal care until final trimester. Based on birth mother’s lifestyle, was likely exposed to drugs (PCP and cocaine mostly) and alcohol in utero, though she tested negative at birth.”

    It wasn’t that bad at first. We had to make accommodations like not telling her we were going on vacation until we were already there. But as she’s grown it has gotten worse. There have been a dozen psych placements since she was 7. She has attended a therapeutic school the last two years. Three psychiatrists, a neurologist and our family MD have asked us to find someone else to handle her meds because they have failed and are out of ideas (two dozen or more different meds have been tried – some in conjunction with others – and nothing works). We haven’t a family vacation since the time she was so overwhelmed by one that she threatened to stick around scissors in her jugular. And then the violence began – pushing, hitting, kicking, throwing objects, throwing furniture, breaking dishes.

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    The stress has gotten to me. I am on my fourth different medication for depression and fifth different therapist, yet still find myself fighting fits of rage and headaches from clenching my jaw so hard for so long.

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    When we agreed to adoption we knew there could be issues, but we knew there could also be issues had my wife given birth to the child. There are no guarantees in life. I just never thought things would seem so hopeless. I never thought we would be imprisoned in our home because we could no longer leave her with friends and relatives lest they be put at risk of being assaulted or running out of the house into traffic, or climbing out the window and falling off the roof.

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    There have been good times. There were dance recitals (even did her school’s daddy dance ensemble twice), but she can’t take dance anymore because she can’t pay attention and gets too frustrated when she is corrected. There were basketball games where she was a tall, quick, defensive standout and high school coaches talked about natural ability, but we couldn’t do that anymore because if she missed a single basket she would march off the court and refuse to play.

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    I went six months without receiving a hug or hearing her reply, “I love you, too.”

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    But I cannot, nor do I wish to even imagine life without her, but we are facing the fact that soon it may no longer be safe for her or for us for her to stay in our home. And with the state of residential mental health facilities I fear her issues will get worse rather than better.

    I didn’t sign up for this.

    All I can do is hope even though it seems hopeless…because I love her unconditionally.

    I DID sign up for THAT!