• Mary Kalbach

Why Adoptive Parents Are Exhausted All The Time



I made two phone calls the other day on my son’s behalf trying to solve a particular problem that’s holding him back. Just to give you a small peek at what we adoptive parents deal with on a regular basis, let me share with you what this involved.


After failing with communicating our needs effectively to three tiers of leadership, I attended a citizen’s action committee meeting and found a fourth tier supervisor who seemed to be listening.

So I went home and I called her.


Surprise, surprise, she didn’t listen to a word I said.  She instead insisted over and over that I go through the formal grievance process.  Not only that, but because my son is over 18 she needed him to be the one to air these grievances in this meeting with the other three people who had already failed to serve us well.  


Not once in a 20 minute phone call did she bother to ask what the particular set of grievances was.   Nor did she seem to care or understand that my son has fetal alcohol brain damage. He is not capable of representing himself in this grievance process - shoot, he doesn’t even understand that there is a problem!


The irony in all of this?  My grievances have everything to do with the fact that nobody at any tier of leadership we’ve been working with, has listened to, heard, or validated our needs.  As a result, the services being provided have not remotely met our needs.


 So being asked to meet with four people who have not understood or validated our needs, in order to have my brain-damaged son explain that none of them have understood, validated, or served our needs seems like a futile escapade.  I refused to schedule her meeting.


Thus the second phone call - I called my son’s insurance company to find a work-around.  I don’t think I need to say much more about how that phone call went.


Now I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted. Because not being heard in this adoptive parenting gig is exhausting.  It’s depleting.  It’s deflating.  It’s truly traumatic.


For those of you who say you don’t know how we do it....

Neither do we.


I used to make between 2-10 of these phone calls every single week for the 5 adopted kids with special needs we raised...

Plus countless emails…

and documentation of all those phone calls and emails….

Not to mention at least 1 or 3 or 5 doctor appointments every week…

and let’s not forget the school meetings....

So many things I had to do....every week...for almost 20 years.


Fortunately,  I rarely have to do this anymore. I’ve picked my battles down to a scarce few and those high needs kids are now adults.


I’ve mostly ditched the therapists and case managers and government workers and now I provide services myself to my kids who are still at home.  


Let that sink in for a minute what I had to learn over the past 20 years in order to be my children’s speech therapist, trauma therapist, OT, PT, dietician, educational advocate, job coach….


Let it sink in that it was easier to learn and implement all this knowledge than it was to deal with the people who were supposed to help in all these ways.  


This is why what we do is called therapeutic parenting.


Of course I could do this thing for my son myself - in fact, I have been doing it - but I just don’t want to anymore.  I’m tired. And there are people being paid to do it for me.  If only they could actually do their jobsl.


This past week I’ve been reminded how hard it was for so long. For so many years. For so many kids.


And it isn’t just their medical or educational needs.


Their mental illnesses also sent me over the brink doubting my own sanity so many times.  The difficulties of the past two weeks for us began with a mental health crisis that I spent several days leveling out.


And then there’s the fact of doing it alone. Because somebody had to pay the bills and that is my husband’s job.  He’s an incredible provider and he’s tired too.


Adoptive families often deal with trauma, mental illness, brain damage, and a host of other issues. We make it day to day because we have to. We have no other choice.


Every little service or help is a battle to gain. Often we are criticized and even criminalized for our parenting of children with impossible behaviors (as I write this an acquaintance sits in a jail cell with a three month sentence for the crime of being an involved mother of a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder).


We personally started this adoptive parenting gig as a radical pro-life lifestyle.  Every child we adopted was considered unadoptable for one reason or another. But we adopted them anyway.  We felt like we had to - it was our particular calling. We adopted them with the encouragement of our faith communities, our family, and our friends at the time.  


We had no idea how quickly those support systems would disappear when the going got rough.

It’s a lonely life. I didn’t know how lonely our pro-life choices would be. Even at that, we’re the lucky ones.  


We did manage to find angels and saints along the way who filled in gaps for us.  It was never enough, though, because what we actually needed was a well-trained army.  What we managed to recruit was a ragtag band of helpers who gave all they could and lamented they couldn’t do more.


Then this past week, I put down the phone, I breathed through the frustration, I tapped into my feelings and I looked up to see hundreds of thousands marching on Washington for Life.

If you march for life in DC then find an adoptive family who is struggling and March next to them as well. Put your actions where your mouth is. Don’t let your pro-life advocacy end the day after the march.  


Adoption is an option but adoption is always rooted in tragedy and trauma and that takes its toll over the entire lifetime of those children and their adoptive families.  The abuse, neglect and loss our children suffer in the earliest days of their existence leads to impossible to imagine behaviors being boxed around in the arena of Family.


Want to know how to help? Ask an adoptive parent.

  • Cook their family a meal.

  • Babysit for doctor appointments.

  • Run errands.

  • Sit on hold for an hour.

  • Put in a load of laundry.

  • Clean the kitchen up.

  • Bring Mom some coffee on meeting days.

  • Take the kids with difficult behaviors out for a few hours (don't worry - you'll never see their poor behavior - they save that for home!)

  • Just drive along on appointments and be present and inject humor.  

Listen.  Engage.  Validate.


Feel called to a more activist purpose?  Then storm Congress for better mental health care, effective therapeutic respite for struggling families, and funds to pay for all the unfunded mandates that exist to serve our families’ needs.


Programs and marches are nice but that’s not where the real work of raising up unwanted or uncared for children begins and ends.  That work happens in the nitty gritty of every adoptive families' daily life.


Today I’m tired again. Did I mention it’s been a rough couple of weeks? Adoption is not for the weak. Supporting adoptive families is for everyone who calls themselves pro-life.


What part will you play? Who will you help this month?


And if you're in the trenches of this adoption gig, hang in there! I see you, sister!

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