Sunday, March 10, 2013

When Your Child Sabotages His Own Happiness

Sore throats and sniffles are running rampant at my house this month. As the latest victims, Katherine and I are staying home from church this morning. In a  few moments, we'll herd everyone else out the door, and settle in for a little time together in God's Word. How I treasure moments like this with my contemplative youngest child.

Today I want to share an email from one of my readers in hopes that you might have some words of encouragement for her. This mom and I have never met in person, but as you'll see, we both adopted Chinese boys of about the same age. . . from the same province. . . at about the same time. We have a lot in common.

I'm choosing to not include her name because I don't want her friends or family to stumble upon this blog and feel threatened or offended by her honesty.

I, for one, appreciate it. And I think you will too.

Here's her email:

"I am writing to you as a loyal reader of Death By Great Wall.  I told my husband that if anyone mirrors our adoption story, it is you and your family. Thank you for helping me through the rough times.

"One of those times is today. I am turning to you when friends and family can't seem to help or understand. I am struggling with the fact that my boy, age 10, adopted at age 6 from Beijing, continues to seem to wrestle with letting himself be happy.  Do you see that in your son?  Do you struggle with wanting it for him?

"Sorry if I am confusing and rambling. What I am talking about is when something good happens, when he finally gets something he has been waiting for, he continues to find a negative.  When our family is doing something fun, when the rest of us are happy, it is almost as if he sabotages the occasion and does something that he gets in trouble for.

"He continues, after four years, to have high anxiety about new things and worries about being embarrassed. He does not seem to trust us when we tell him what to expect and how to prepare. He still thinks we might be wrong. I am also growing weary of still explaining his anxiety-rooted behavior to extended family, who seem to think that by four years in the U.S. he should be over it."

I know this sweet mom is not alone. I see a number of issues here. 

Her son is struggling, and she isn't getting the support she needs from friends and family. Can anyone relate?

He seems to sabotage his own happiness. Can anyone relate?

He has high anxiety, even after being home for four years. Can anyone relate?

He worries about being embarrassed. Can anyone relate?

Today, would you leave some words of wisdom, encouragement, and advice for this struggling mom?

We're all in this together.


  1. Dear "Struggling Mom",
    You are not alone and in my personal opinion you are experiencing more of the norm rather than the exception when it comes to children from hard places.

    I'm a 44 yo adoptee and it has taken me a long time walking with the Lord to accept the many blessings that he is giving me. For many years though I grew believing that I could not trust the "good" because it would either be taken away or I heard the voices "you're not worthy". Adopted children can be so riddled with fear and residual shame that we would rather sabotage something ourselves rather than wait for it to be taken away by others. Our lives are filled with things, people, our circumstances changing on a dime and being "taken away" and as you can imagine in the innocent, precious mind of a young child, we have a hard time pieces together and trusting that in a loving adoptive family, we no longer have fear or live in shame of our past.

    I encourage you to continue to love him, meet him where is at, love him where he is at and he will eventually come around. It will take a lot of time. As I said I'm 44 and am just recently able to truly live in the beauty and grace of where God has brought me as an adoptee. Your continued love and grace does more each moment than is noticeable to the eye, but on the inside you are daily mending his broken, wounded heart. This abandoned, wounded heart can not heal on someone else's timeline as each wound's size and depth are individual to the child's situation.

    I am praying that God's grace is sufficient in the difficult moments and you rest in his power is perfect in your weakness. Continue to seek refuge and community in DBGW and the community of other adoptive mom's who are also able to love you where you are at in your own journey.


  2. This response is from Jennifer via DBGW's Facebook page: I read through 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. It is a helpful passage on which to meditate and prepare our hearts and minds to address this issue. We have over eight years with our kids. In our experience, yes, I can relate, and no, we're not all in this together. I think that's the point the mom who wrote you is trying to make. Our children's behavior, by nature isolates us. Our pride and embarrassment further isolates us. Our desire to protect them from the long lasting social, legal, moral and ethical repercussions of their behaviors which are a danger to themselves or others isolates us. Our weariness of reexplaining horrific and unexplainable issues to family and friends isolates us. Our willingness to take the blame and judgement that we are a few bricks short or just stupid parents rather than explain our kids to judgmental people is isolating. I have opted to do this more often than not to protect my kids and have people just think I am overprotective, dumb and weird. Our fear and guilt that we are doing the worst possible parenting that will further damage our special needs kids and the lack of resources of people with knowledge or experience isolates us. Sadly, we are not in this together. I have been doing this for eight plus years. The past eight months have been my first opportunity to spend time with a couple of other moms with similar experiences and to be able to FINALLY have a qualified spiritual and emotional counselor to help the kids-NOT for lack of trying or pursuing-believe me. People have either been unqualified or technically credentialed and qualified, but unwilling to enter in because it was just too much for them and they didn't actually believe they could help and worried about lawsuits. We have prayed and fasted for our children, and trusted G-D, that ultimately, no matter who comes alongside us and them, we were called to this. I do not exaggerate that on many more days than not, it has felt like what I would imagine the front lines of war to be like. We live with people who suffer ptsd from their experiences before they come to us. It is called a disorder and traumatic FOR A REASON! For people outside of older child adoption, it seems to be like knowing someone who is grieving a death. They expect us to "move on" after a certain amount of time. In some respects that is possible. In most, it has been a matter of jogging in place alongside our children, bathing them in love and prayer as they run circles in a hamster wheel. It always just takes me back to 1 Corinthians 13. Love won't "cure" our kids, but attempting to feel and demonstrate it toward our kids in all their behavioral issues, trauma and hamster wheel running, in the midst of war to calmly and willfully choose to live out 1 Cor 13, puts us directly in the Refiners Fire. We cannot change our kids, their past, or dictate their healing and future. We CAN allow these 'glass porcupines' as a precious friend recently described her beloved child to me, to facilitate us to become more like Christ. This, in turn, is truly our only answer in ministering to them.

  3. My son is much younger, four years old and adopted at 9 months, but he too has massive anxiety and is a master of sabotaging his own happiness. He is deliberately uncooperative when we have special outings planned. He begins whining moments after getting a new toy or a treat. It is difficult, and I know it looks like obnoxiousness to people who don't know him. It isn't. It is extremely low self esteem. He does not really believe he deserves good stuff, doesn't trust that it won't be taken away, so he tries to provoke me to take away the good stuff to have some control over the situation. What works best is for us in the moment is for me to stop, get down to his level, make eye contact and tell him he IS a good boy, I want him to have this good stuff, and he's going to have it no matter how he behaves. That would probably backfire totally with children who don't have this kind of trauma, but it usually calms him down.

  4. I, too, can totally relate. My 12 year old daughter has been home over 11 years and we know of no significant trauma other than the obvious one of losing birth parents (which is enough). She won't let herself be happy either. I know she knows we love her, but she rarely ever shows any affection back. She sabotages things for the entire family a lot (were a family of 7) and doesn't want anyone else to be happy either. :-(

  5. Dear sweet are SO not alone! We have one child of our 4 adopted children, who struggles massively with this. It is only in the past few months that we have seen a tiny bit of forward movement. He has been home almost 6 years.

    What helped us most (besides a whole lot of prayer!) is a therapy called PCIT. It is the strangest therapy, but it basically rewires the part of them that is so shamed and suffers so much. It is drastically different from any other therapy we had done to. My son to this day LOVES it. It is something I do now at home with him when I can see he is struggling more than normal.

    Hold fast. There is hope. Only God can ultimately fill the empty chasm in his heart, but God is the God of miracles. Please do not feel alone. There are so many of us out here, working to heal these young lives. And take Tara's words to heart. We are on God's timeline. ((HUGS))

  6. I can SO relate to all of these. I have no words of wisdom. I'm sorry for that. But for today, your struggle, your words and email, encouraged me that I am not alone. The only piece of advice given to me was when our social worker told us in our first adoption, "for every year your child was not yours, that's the minimum number of years it will be before they fully trust, fully attach, and fully relax." I have found that to be true with each one of my children. I have one that was adopted at nearly 7 yrs old and we have only been a family for 2 yrs. I figure I have at least 5 yrs more of constantly working to earn that trust, attachment, and comfort. I might even add a few more years since my husband died 8 months ago and he now has to deal with that loss too. I will pray for you, will you pray for me?


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