Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PART 2 of The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly: Realities of Older Child Adoption

In this post I finally began blogging about some of the harder aspects of Johanna's adoption.

I started with Birth Order and the affects of adopting a child that instantly became the oldest of our seven children. Truthfully, this aspect of the adoption was more difficult for our biological children than it was for Johanna. She seems to enjoy being the oldest most of the time. (occasionally she is very sad that she wasn't a baby when she was adopted)

Today, I'm going to talk about the "negative" (in quotes on purpose, because clearly these behaviors were unavoidable in the beginning) BEHAVIOR issues we've faced so far.

Johanna spent 14 years in a public institution. She was fed and kept warm and clean, but she was not nurtured, loved, or disciplined. Our children's moral compass is set in motion by the parents and without that ruling sense of right and wrong, it becomes all about survival. The behaviors I'm about to describe are a direct result of years of neglect, abuse, and self-preservation.

This is the Johanna at the beginning of our journey. Many of these behaviors have been overcome by lots of love, hard work, and perseverance; some of them still remain, but we're working on them. :) I'm going to list the behaviors, then highlight and explain some of them.

Social Behaviors:

Lack of eye contact with adults

Inappropiate contact with men (this only happened a few times, hugging men at church, etc)

Running around wildly

"Spacey" look in her eyes

Overstimulated easily in public places, ie Wal-mart or church, amusement parks, large groups of people

Inability to play with other children, especially with regards to role-playing or group games

Lack of appropiate "stranger" boundaries/bonding outside the family

Physical Behaviors:


Sensory processing difficulties

Inability to "read" her body's signals and needs (ie hungry, thirsty, tired, overstimulated, need to use the bathroom, etc)

Self-soothing behaviors like rocking, nail biting, fingers in her mouth, head banging, scratching (until she would bleed!)

Difficulty "calming down" once stimulated; bedtime was a great challenge for many months

Coordination challenges, such as jumping

Struggled to tie her shoes

Hoarding of her things (EVERYTHING she owned was kept on her bed for about 6 months and NOBODY was allowed to touch it)

Cheating with schoolwork

Emotional Behaviors:

Anger when told "no"

Inability to control her temper
Uncontrollable crying, screaming, or raging, depending on the situation

Toddler-like emotions: giddy when excited, throwing herself on the floor when disappointed

Only coping mechanism for stress: RUNNING AWAY FROM IT---literally running and hiding


Habitual (daily) lying

No empathy for others


Quite the list, isn't it?  The thing is, Johanna is not just a list of behaviors. She's the product of her upbringing. We can't erase those years but we can help her begin to heal. And we are SO PROUD of how far she has come in just a little over one year. :)

I will be honest and say that if someone had showed me this list of behaviors before I traveled for Johanna, I would have been very overwhelmed. I'm so thankful now that we stepped out by faith and trusted the Lord's leading and not "man's" intuition. :)

I expected many of these behaviors, but a few really pulled the rug out from under me. We've been through some dark days but the "SON" is still shining in our hearts.

In the next few posts, I will try to "highlight" the most challenging moments of the past year, in the hopes that our story can educate, equip, and encourage other families to not only consider one of these precious older children, but also to persevere when the "going gets tough". :)

Next posts will cover "Teaching Through the Communication Barrier", "Defiance and Discline", "The Reality of Raging and Grief" and more. Please feel free to comment publicly or email me privately if you have a question you'd like to see addressed in this series.


  1. I'm so glad you are blogging about this. I think that so many families only talk about the positives and then when "real" families struggle they think they are the only ones. We adopted an 11 year old and faced many of these same issues.

  2. I'd love to hear more detail, for example, how have you specifically worked to overcome some of the behavior issues you mentioned?

  3. The behaviors that you have listed are typical of a child with RAD. In my totally unprofessional opinion any older adopted child will display these behaviors to some degree. You are so correct in stating that the lack of early nurturing is directly responsible for this. It really gives credence to the quote "more is caught than taught." The hugging, snuggling, smiling, touching, all develop important areas in the brain that are directly responsible for for the ability to develop sympathy and empathy..

    My younger adopted children show none of these behaviors, while the older too have them in differing degrees of severity. I am so thankful for your blog posts...raising these children is hard work and sometimes it is so easy to fall into harshness. Learning to parent with grace is a new concept for us. I can SO relate to the sentence about having to "fake" love...been there. I love my children and want them to love their children. I literally had to train m DD how to care for a baby doll...But now I am so thrilled at seeing how tender and attentive she is with her younger nieces and nephews.

    God can certainly give back what the cankor worm ate. I have people tell us all the time how wonderful we are for doing this...when I have to admit in all humility...we aren't "saving" these children...they are saving us!

    Soldier on Momma...we are fighting a good fight!

    Lynelle Perschino

  4. I'm living a quite similar list right now. I'm looking forward to your next post! Like you, I got my kids pretty fast, 3 in 17 months.

  5. Thank you for your openness and honesty. We are adopting a 6 year old in the next few months and I am learning so much from your blog. I totally expect the ugly and dark days and we are looking forward to the changes God has in store for our family.

  6. Is she autistic? Developmentally disabled?

  7. Thank you Selina,
    I always want to know more about what adoptive parents are going through. Especially with the older child and the out of order child.

  8. I can relate to most of these behaviours with our newly adopted 9 yr old son. So good to hear the dark days get better. Only by His grace! And I have to remember that when Gods in it, he's so faithful to complete it!

  9. The list resembles what I would have written when we adopted a daughter, who turned 10 during the month we were required to stay/live with her in Brazil. She is now in her 20s, and has chosen to reject us as parents. In fact, I introduced myself to her husband at a wedding two weeks ago and she refused to say a word. She also put her hand over her face when I tried to take a photo of them. ... She has another mother so I understand that two mothers are one too many. I've suggested she call me an aunt...or other relative name. But, no go. I tried to give her all the love I could, but it seems I could not bridge the gap. It seems now, she is splitting our adult family. I don't know what to do...it is really hard to feel these feelings of rejections. If you have suggestions, I would appreciate hearing some alternatives


I welcome any and all comments as long as they are Christ-honoring. Please let me know what you think!