I’m Not Really Sure You Do “Mean Well!”

On the road of parenthood, particularly foster care and adoption, there are well-meaning people and there are not so well-meaning people. Unfortunately, we’ve encountered too many of the latter. Here’s the question we’ve wrestled with: How do you respond?


For years I have allowed others a free pass when they have overstepped into our adoptive and foster family. I’ve given grace and gritted my teeth while people say passive aggressive things. I have dismissed inappropriate comments as ignorant. I’ve even herded my children away and given them extra hugs, kisses and explanations for another’s rude behavior. In an effort not to embarrass the offender, I have allowed my children to feel shame and uncertainty about who they are and who we are as a family.

To the caseworker who offered to, “find someone else who can handle him”: I was only asking for help. I knew something was different from the start. I knew he needed something more than just a loving family. I hid our struggles for years afraid that you would take him. I later found out that he was exposed to drugs and alcohol before birth. I learned of the great trauma he suffered before I adopted him. Through countless hours of research our family was able to provide him with appropriate therapy to help with bonding. I was able to bring ideas to the school to aid in his IEP planning. I don’t need someone to “handle” him. He is my son.

I’m not sure you did “mean well.”

To the neighbor who asked, “What’s her story? Was she a crack baby?” I bit my tongue when I heard these words. I sucked in a fearful breath as I looked around to see how many of my children heard your hurtful words. I would never ask you that question about your daughter. I would never be inclined to think myself privy to your sad stories. I would never assume something so terrible about your circumstances. I let the comment slide because I pitied your ignorance. Maybe you really cared about us. Maybe your intention was not to spread my daughter’s story throughout our neighborhood.

I’m not sure you did “mean well.”

To the pediatrician who took my foster son out of my arms and exclaimed, “I can’t believe no one wants him”: I know I sat dumbfounded while you paraded him around the office. You may have taken my silence as the permission you never asked for. I wish you could walk a mile in my shoes. As a foster parent, I was fear-stricken that you were taking him because you suspected abuse. When I heard your words through the crack in the exam room door, I was fighting back tears. I wanted to scream, “I want him.” I whispered under my breath, “that’s not a ward of the state, that’s my son.” You may or may not have thought of us since we left that office. I hope that it has not escaped your attention that we never came back. We have since adopted that “unwanted” baby. He is the light of our life. He is so very much wanted.

I’m not sure you did “mean well.”

That’s it!

I call foul!

Foster children are not public property. Adopted children are no less mine because I share them with a birth family. Ignorance is no longer an excuse I will accept for poor behavior. I will never walk off with your baby. I will never inquire into your family’s darkest secrets. I will never offer to keep your child or find a more qualified family for him or her. I will not rescue your child from a consequence you’ve given. I will not imply that I am a better parent than you. I will not claim to know your child better than you. I will not buy your child gifts without your permission. I will not snuggle, hug or hold hands with your child the way you would. I will kindly ask that you refrain from doing these things with, for and in spite of my children as well. I will not ignore the hurt my children face because of these careless actions any longer.

If you really do mean well, get educated. Ask yourself, “is this a scenario I would want for my children?”

To the teacher who bought him a pair of gloves and a hat: I really do think you meant well. It was so sweet of you to think of him this way. However, I wish you would have checked first. After finding the new gloves in his backpack, I checked with the bus driver. He had “accidentally” left 3 pairs on the bus, all labeled with his name. He was playing you when he said we didn’t give him gloves. He lashed out at me as I listened while he told me the story. He told me that you are the one who really loves him. I turned my head so he wouldn’t see how much my welling tears stung my eyes. Before me, he lost his birth mom and two foster moms. He’s not sure I’m going to stick around so he’s testing you out as his next mom. I do know you meant well but I wish we would have talked first. He needs to know that I am the mom who will never leave. I’m a stick-around-kind-of-mom and I will love him despite the lying and the missing gloves.

Thank you for listening to us that day as we explained the story. Thank you for admitting that you neglected to call. Thank you for supporting us for the rest of the year as our son’s parents.

You really did mean well. We can’t thank you enough for that.

Question: Have you dealt with well-meaning people on your parenting journey? Share your story. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Karen

    Totally get this. I haven’t dealt with foster adoption, which I know involves way more people “getting involved”. But I have heard so much with our internationally adopted daughter: “she is just so cute, I want to take her home”, “she’s just so wonderful how do you say no to her”, “she is just like any other kid”,and “you’re too hard on her”. And tons of little rediculous tid bits of uninformed advice and the endless unnecessary affection from strangers. Thanks for saying what all of us adopted parents want to say.

    • Hey Karen, thanks so much for sharing. We have dealt with the same thing with our adopted children. So frustrating. We understand completely. Thanks for your comment.

    • Kristin Berry

      Karen, We feel your frustration! We’ve heard some of those same comments.Thanks for sharing.

  • Linda White Wesseler

    I felt all the time our daughter, adopted from foster care at age 8 1/2, was growing up, like adults related to her as if she was public property and as if we weren’t her “real” parents. Even her high school special ed coordinator (who’d had guardianship of her own nephew at one point) made the assumption our income wouldn’t count on the college FAFSA forms for financial aid, and she’d automatically be eligible for independent status (as would be the case once she turned 18, if we’d only been her guardians, but as her adoptive parents–which the teacher well-knew we were–the same rules applied as for parents-by-birth). I do believe “it takes a village”, but there’s a difference between being part of a child’s village (i.e. supporting the parents in their role and never undermining their parenting or making the child feel like you are allied with them against us, or are ready to take them in whenever things aren’t going their way).

    • Linda, thanks so much for sharing. I agree with you- there’s a difference between being a part of a child’s village and going against parents wishes and decisions. We have been quite intentional with who we allow into the inner-circle of our parenting (and adoption and foster care) journey. It’s good to know we’re not alone! Thanks again.

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you for sharing that story. It is so frustrating to deal with people who treat our families like less than a real family. Good for your for advocating for your daughter! I agree with your viewpoint on what the “village” should look like in a healthy scenario. Thank you again for being a part of this discussion!

  • Sandra Kaytee

    Some people do not mean well — and adults with malicious intent (and the ones asking nosy questions for the sake of being nosy) should of course be shut down by a parent/foster parent.

    However, there’s a subset of adoptive/foster parents who call themselves “trauma mamas” with horrendously behaved kids and seriously questionable parenting strategies — they claim their kids have RAD & “attachment disorder” by citing symptoms that are not listed in DSM5 (the official diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists) — and make unreasonable and irrational demands of others.

    These are also the folks who often “homeschool” as a way of keeping their kids away from pesky mandated reporters. They freak out of some teacher gives their kid a cupcake or take their kid’s claim of “no hat” at face value.

    • Kristin Berry


      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your perspective on parents who take things overboard. It sounds like those families are putting their children at a disadvantage. I don’t know any families who fit this description so I cannot speak to that. In our family we do not believe in hiding away from the world. We are striving to raise our children to be a functional part of the world we all live in. I’m hopeful that by setting good boundaries in front of our children, they will one day be able to set good boundaries for themselves as well.

      • Allisonm

        And yet, who is to say what is overboard. When we accepted our three children as an adoptive placement, they all exhibited behavior that could charitably be described as horrendous. Traditional parenting methods, including love and logic, lovingly and consistently applied, had no impact and often made things worse. One child was severely clinically depressed and essentially frozen, one dissociated frequently into an animal because that felt safer and more powerful, yet he shattered like a heap of broken glass at the slightest difficulty, and one never slept for more than two out of any 24-hour period–never at night–and was raging and physically combative whenever awake. The third one also urinated into and on everything. All of them hoarded food and cardboard boxes, stole, lied about virtually everything, and fought against any form of personal hygiene. None of them would sleep in a bed. They slept in their clothes, often with shoes on in case they needed to make a quick getaway. Our kids had frequent nightmares that had them screaming themselves awake. As parents, we didn’t get a lot of sleep. Every transition, e.g., getting out of bed, walking into another room, going to school, coming home, sitting down to dinner, etc., felt threatening and they acted out that anxiety in extreme ways.

        We sought help for our children and were informed that our children had been severely and repeatedly traumatized over a period of many years and had been in at least ten other placements. Doctors (several) diagnosed RAD and PTSD, along with several other disorders. We went to attachment therapy with our kids and learned that we had to do things differently if we wanted to create an environment for our children in which they could learn to trust us and heal. We changed. Our kids did slightly better, and we finalized our adoption. Once our children felt safe from removal, they started disclosing what they had been through. Things got very rough and after two years, our original mental-health agency decided our kids needed a form of therapy that they couldn’t provide. We started with a new therapist and a new agency. The new therapist was able to help our youngest child stop physically attacking me every day. I had surgery to repair my most serious injury and we eventually got another new agency that knew how to help families like ours.

        Our children got older and the older two started middle school. Both acted out their distress at their inability to function in that environment in pretty extreme ways. We decided to school at home through an online charter school with the enthusiastic support of the chidren’s therapist and psychiatrist. I am definitely not a philosophical homeschooler, but we were watching our children come apart at the seams and had to do something about it that had a chance of meeting their needs. Because their needs were so extreme, they were each given one or more mental-health support workers who spent 15 to 24 hours a week with them, building skills and helping them form relationships. These people were in our home six to seven days every week and were almost like part of our family. Their support for and assistance to all of us was a godsend. The kids became academically successful and started coping better and better with all aspects of life. Our youngest came home to school when he got to a grade where the team-teaching approach had no chance of meeting any of his needs. He could not read at all and had almost no ability to do math. His PTSD was and is still severe and he acts out in extreme ways when triggered. I schooled the children at home for three semesters until we moved to a city with excellent schools and returned them to public school in much better academic and emotional condition. They still need therapy, but are doing very well at school.

        Our older children probably don’t have as strong an attachment to us as we would hope for, but I think they probably don’t show the symptoms of full-blown RAD anymore. PTSD is still very much an issue. Our youngest has a very strong yet insecure attachment to me, but would go off with virtually anyone. We ask those who work with him to give him high fives instead of hugs and to check with us before taking at face value his claims that we don’t provide him with plenty in the way of food, clothing, and other needs and wants. Also, he is not to bring any item home that he didn’t leave our house with without a signed note from an adult explaining how it came to belong to our son. He has a one-on-one aide who usually sends those notes home.

        If that makes me crazy and overboard, step into my shoes for a while. It is easy to imagine how you would do things until you actually become the one responsible for keeping an injured child safe and trying to help him or her grow up into a fully functioning adult. There have been scores of mandated reporters in and out of our home over the years and while many lay people have wondered how our normal-appearing children can have hidden disabilities, no one who has ever worked with them or us has ever had an issue. Also, there is great research being done into to brain development and function that is giving rise to new and more effective therapeutic approaches to helping our children regulate themselves. Who, faced with a clearly suffering child would not consider trying new methods to help them? A lot of new ideas seem wierd to people who haven’t got an immediate need to apply them. That said, I need to see and understand the science before I will buy into something that seems wacky.

        Feel free to give my kids a cupcake. They do not appear to be adversely affected by food choices.

        • Sandra Kaytee

          Allisonm – You sound like a sane, loving parent who (CRUCIALLY) sought assistance from state-licensed healthcare professionals. You chose to homeschool your kids through a state-licensed online charter school. At a minimum, the public charter school sent your kids to 1) followed a state-approved curriculum, 2) was required to evaluate your kids at least once per year, as per NCLB & 3) could be shut down by the state if it didn’t meet [your state’s requirements for charters].

          Some of your parenting strategies are unorthodox, sure, but you did so with SUPPORT of licensed professionals who are QUALIFIED to provide the assistance you sought from them.

          You are NOTHING AT ALL like the “trauma mamas” I was criticizing, the ones who:
          – are neither qualified nor state-licensed yet who charge other parents for “theraputic parenting” webinars (Diana Estulin of fromsurvivaltoserenity.com) or as an unlicensed, unqualified “parent coach” (the vile Christine Moyers of welcometomybrain.net, who has her own line of “theraputic parenting” videos)
          – shipped any of your mentally ill kids off to an unlicensed facility with no on-site medical staff (the “ranch for kids”) or handed them over to unscreened strangers Reuters Child Exchange-styles.

        • Kristin Berry

          Allison, it sounds like you are so well educated about your children’s past. You are also willing to continue educating yourself about new and better ideas.
          Your honesty is a breath of fresh air. We have had so many of the same experiences you are describing. We have also had to homeschool a few of ours while also finding wonderful help for others within our public school system.
          Keep up the good work! Thank you for being willing to open your story up for us to read and relate to!

          • Allisonm

            Educating myself about the public mental-health system has been one of the most important things I could have done. Understanding how services are accessed and what are the philosophy and language of our state’s system has enabled me to advocate for my children in a meaningful way with people who are in a position to be helpful. It is easy to look at a bureaucracy as a black hole out of which no good flows. By learning how things work, we have been able to get things to work for us. Our children may not have gotten everything we could have hoped for, but they have gotten a lot of useful help. Speaking the language of the system has enabled us to resolve a lot of issues of semantics and cobble together the services that our family needed to move forward. I can’t let myself blame a bad system before I have made the effort to understand it and work within it.

          • Kristin Berry

            That’s great! Thank you again for sharing.

        • Kym Faulkner

          You know the story of “if you think you have it bad…”. Thank you for sharing your story. I can take my eyes off of myself and pray for you and your kids. We’ve been through some of your story. I remember when our youngest was throwing a tantrum where I was getting pretty beat up at a church potluck. I had taken him to a classroom and all these fine folks kept poking their heads in and I kept assuring them I had it under control. Years later, when he told me the abuses we had taken him from, I then understood where all that anger came from. You are doing a great job – you are listening to your children’s needs, you have obviously set yourself aside and given them such a great gift. Thank you for meeting their needs! I’d love to give you all a cupcake!!!

          • Allisonm

            You are very kind.

            It sounds like you, also made a commitment to stick with your children through the rough times so that they could have a chance to recover from what had happened to them. I hope they know how blessed they have been with you.

            I have been and am still deeply grateful for those who truly have meant well and especially those who have prayed for us when I was too exhausted to put a thought together.

  • Kym Faulkner

    I still am working at forgiving a special education teacher who did her best to separate us from our daughter and succeeded. She did all the things you mentioned in your article and I really hope her eyes are now open as to what it all caused. I wish forgiveness were a one time thing…

    • Kristin Berry

      Kym, I’ve been there! The best of luck to you. Forgiveness is so tough.