When Adoption Is Hard

“I moved into Coyote Hill with no children. I left with six children. It was the start of my family. It literally changed the direction of our lives, but I never would have written it like this if I was the author.”

When Adoption is Hard - How one family is handling difficult circumstances | coyotehill.org

Parenting is physical, emotional, and spiritual work. Daniel and Amy Martel know this intimately. Their family of nine, ages eight months to 21 years, began when they became Home Parents at Coyote Hill in 2010. Working at Coyote Hill introduced them to five special children.

“They became our kids. We love them and couldn’t imagine our family any other way. All five were with us for the majority of our time as Home Parents. We also knew the three siblings would be difficult to adopt together, yet they all expressed interest in wanting to stay with us.” Adoption was the answer.

In the summer of 2013, after about a year of kinship placement, and maintaining visits with biological parents, each child’s parental rights were terminated (TPR), and they were officially able to be adopted. Over the course of 4 months, all five children ages 7, 9, 10, 15, and 16 were adopted.

After adoptions are finalized, it’s easy to think that the problems have been solved. Children are now in a permanent, safe, and loving home. Everything should be wonderful all the time. This is not the reality. Relationship building and healing take time, long after an adoption is finalized. People often quit talking about adoption, specifically because it is hard.

The Martel Family has experienced some of those hardships. On the other side of the struggles and even in the midst of them, there is hope and redemption. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Early on they walked through a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) diagnosis. Reactive Attachment Disorder is a condition found in children who may have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers — usually their mothers — before age 5. Some signs and symptoms may include: unexplained withdrawal, fear, sadness or irritability; failure to smile; not seeking comfort or no response when comfort is given. As Amy recalls that meeting with the psychologist, “It was unexpected and hard to hear how this would shape all of our interactions.” The best treatment is a safe and stable living situation with parents who develop positive interactions. Four years later, there are no signs of RAD. This is an incredible gift of healing from God.

Another struggle they face is trouble in school. School can spark a whirlwind of triggers for a child. Even things like sounds and smells can take a child back to a traumatic event, and their mood and behavior can instantly change. Learning to respect teachers, other classmates, and manage emotional triggers is not a one-time conversation. It’s daily work, every year. “We’ve learned we aren’t going to fix everything. That’s not our job. Our job is to be a consistent presence and love them through the struggles.”

When Adoption is Hard - How one family is handling difficult circumstances | coyotehill.org

Some kids struggled with creating childhood memories that aren’t true. When they experience foster care and adoption so young, they can create stories of their early life to cope. These have to be retold truthfully with love. Only time and consistency heal those wounds.

Teenagers won’t just test boundaries. They will break them. As Amy says, “Teenagers are hard. They are learning how to be independent humans while respecting authority figures. It’s a balancing act that we are all figuring out for the first time together.”

One thing Amy and Daniel would like all foster and adoptive parents to know is that faith is central to your journey.

When Adoption is Hard - How one family is handling difficult circumstances | coyotehill.org

“It’s hard to remember that God’s in control. I never, ever regret the decision to adopt. We had to learn consistency and love, with a firm stand on discipline. We’ll always be here for our children.

“It’s my job as a mom to help them with their spiritual health. That’s the greatest gift and greatest challenge of my life. Through all of the struggles, challenges and joy, we continue to look ahead and dream about the future. When we retire, we want to buy an RV and travel across the country, visiting our seven children and all of our future grandchildren!”