Not All Families are Made the Same
by Paty Jager
July 21, 2022
Life can toss things in our path that we think we can handle. Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t.
Growing up with two brothers, I was constantly telling my parents I wanted a sister. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that they told me I had a sister who was stillborn. Guilt set in. The loss of a child in such a way was something that was kept quiet back when I was growing up. But the guilt of being selfish by asking for a sister when my mom had tried, stuck with me. Both my husband and I had wished for a sibling of the same sex while growing up. When we had two girls and one boy we opened our minds to the possibility that we (my husband and I) should adopt a boy so our son could have a brother.
We went through all the DHS (Department of Human Services) classes, jumping their hoops for two years, which then made getting a child close to our son’s age a bit older than we had hoped, but we forged on.
They finally showed us photos and family backgrounds on some boys. We chose three to visit but we only made it to the first one, where the Foster mom opened the door and said, “Your new family is here!” We, my husband and I, were only supposed to be there that day to meet with the boy and see if we thought he would fit in our family.
After spending two hours with him, I said, I didn’t think he would fit. My husband said, the boy was just nervous. On the way home we discussed it and the fact the woman had already stated we were his new family. The boy in question was five and a half years old. He understood what she’d said and if we turned him down…who knew what he would think.
We had several family visits with him and went through with the adoption. Unfortunately, he was a hard child to fully embrace. And while he didn’t have a hold on my heart like my three biological children, I fought for him as hard as I could through school to get him out of I.E.P. programs and into the classroom with students who were there to learn and not do their darnedest to aggravate the teachers and other students.
When he refused to learn to read, we took a family trip over the summer between his second and third grades. I told the kids not to read anything to him while on the trip. When he asked where we were, we’d tell him to read the signs. When we stopped to eat at restaurants, he’d ask what they had and I’d hand him a menu. He’d ask for a hot dog, and I’d tell him it wasn’t on the menu. By the end of the trip, he’d decided he should learn to read and by the time he was in 6th grade he was reading at 8th grade level. He had the brains, he just didn’t want to use them unless he was doing something he wanted to do.
He was never clinically diagnosed with Bipolar but he had mood swings and anger issues. Both made dealing with him at times very hard. I spent a lot of time with him at home and advocating for him at school. If we hadn’t brought him into our family, I wouldn’t have learned the skills I did with dealing with the school system, or with an emotionally unstable person. He didn’t grow up being grateful for being taken out of the foster system, quite the opposite. When he turned 19 he told us he didn’t want anything to do with us. That we only adopted him for child labor. When I was trying to have a conversation about his talent at writing, he informed me that when he thought of our family it made him angry, frustrated, and depressed and he didn’t want to have any contact with us. And he has mostly stayed away. Our oldest daughter keeps in contact with him when he responds to her.
There have been times when I’ve regretted adopting. I felt like I gave less of me to our other three kids because I was so focused on trying to make everything right for the one we adopted. All three have told me they didn’t feel that way, but that’s how I have felt.
Now, I watch my oldest daughter with the half-sisters she and her husband adopted and I see her doing the best she can with them. One is sweet, does what she’s asked, and can be sassy, but she will do well in life. The other has been a struggle from the first day they got her at 9 months old. She has to be on a strict diet for her ADHD as well as medication and she has more aggressive mood swings and meltdowns. My daughter and son-in-law work hard to give the girls love, acceptance, and what they need to be strong individuals. How will they respond when they are a bit older? Who knows.
We were friends with a couple who had been married and each had a child with another spouse before they married. They had two children of their own. One night when we were having dinner and catching up, a comment was made that helped me feel better about the outcome of the relationship between us and our adopted son. She said, “Genetics can’t be changed.” Their two from previous marriages didn’t have the same likes or find the same things funny as the two parents. Yet, the two younger girls who were made up of the same genetics as the adults liked the same things and laughed at the same jokes. They had the same work ethics.
It’s true there are adoptions that go wonderfully, with the child growing up and embracing the family who took them in. That had been our hope when we started the adventure thirty years ago, but we weren’t that fortunate.
Then there are families made up of friends who spend all their time together and get along better than blood-related families. Life is such a mystery. I don’t begrudge adopting; I just wish it would have turned out differently.
Do you know someone who was adopted? Did they grow up feeling like the family or did they resent the family that took them in?
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. Learn more about her at her website.