I Wish I Hadn’t Adopted

I wish, I wish, I wish…I wish I hadn’t adopted.

Chalk message

There I said it. Like a majority of families who’ve adopted children, I wasn’t mentally prepared for the surprises.

You know, the chaos inside Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disabilities. The manipulation and triangulation inherent to attachment disorders and RAD. The invisible insanity associated with developmental trauma and mental illness.

Sure, I expected some challenges along the way. After all, adoption isn’t a fairy tale. But when the bad seemed destined to overshadow the good, I quietly questioned my decision – as well as my worth.

It wasn’t exactly the wonderful life that I expected.

Every December I see myself as George Bailey, the befallen character in the Frank Capra’s Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Beaten down – again and again, George finally breaks. He says to his guardian angel Clarence, “I wish I’d never been born.”

Then the audience watches lives unfold without the influence and actions of George – who no longer exists. Clarence ultimately proves a very important point to George.

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

By the end of the film, we realize that George has indeed made a difference in many lives – in spite of the obvious challenges. And the lesson he learned? When all hope seemed lost, he desperately needed to be reminded of that simple fact.

His life has value – not only to him but countless others.

Clarence quote

Sound familiar? I’m sure we parents and caregivers can all relate.

And just like me – as I navigate the daily ups and downs of my six children, you probably need to be reminded too.

You’ve made a tremendous impact in your children’s lives – without much recognition.

You will continue to touch their lives in the future.

Think about it. I mean really think about it. What would have happened to your children if you hadn’t adopted? If you hadn’t opened your home and your heart? If you hadn’t kept going when mentally exhausted?

I’ve given that “what if” question serious thought more than once. The possibilities are dark and unsettling – when envisioned through real stories of children that were never given a chance. In other words, the tough situations can become significantly worse.

Here’s the fate of my six children.

Without me, my daughter endured another failed adoption. Her trauma from being molested recycled and grew more intense. Finally as teen she ran away and found herself trapped in sex trafficking. The streets were her home. Strangers her only family. Unloved.

Without me, my oldest son with PTSD aged out of foster care. No one was willing to adopt a violent kid. Angry at the world, he didn’t care whom he offended. After dealing drugs and making lots of money, he died from a gunshot wound – the same way he lived. Alone.

Without me, my anxiety-filled son started smoking weed in middle school. He later accepted a dare and tried meth – instantly hooked. Painkillers followed. And when his source wised up to his stealing, he turned to heroin. Another young victim of the opioid crisis. Lost.

Without me, my intellectually impaired son never learned to read. He never joined Special Olympics. He never qualified for the Boston Marathon. Separated from his younger siblings, he never bonded with his adopted family and moves today from group home to group home. Lazy and depressed.

Without me, my severely emotionally disabled son watched his brothers being adopted. But no one wanted him. Since no one advocated, school officials placed him in an alternative facility with few role models. Now he lives in the one remaining state hospital. Overmedicated and withdrawn.

Without me, my youngest and least traumatized son lived in the suburbs with his adoptive family who expected him to overachieve. His race didn’t matter. Neither did his invisible brain disorder. With no one to trust with his feelings, he couldn’t endure the bullying and eventually took his own life. Dead.

But my six children did have me.

They were never perfect children. At the same time, I was never the perfect parent. Yet I learned from my mistakes – of which there were many. And together we meticulously and mindfully built a forever family in every sense of the word.

We never forgot their birth parents. We never compared ourselves to other families. We never hid the daily obstacles in our lives. We never took progress for granted. And we never expected the devastating effects of early trauma to completely end.

On the really rough days, we simply survived until tomorrow. 

That’s because healing is a lifelong journey, not a destination.

So every holiday season I am thankful. I am blessed. I am content.

My three youngest sons (22, 23 and 24) still feel safe after 20 years in my care and appreciate living under my roof. They desire independence yet aren’t ready to take on for the world. Someday perhaps.

When my three oldest (25, 26 and 27) flew the coop shortly after 18, they wanted freedom from rules. Instead they found more trauma. Like a magnet. Then shame. With overwhelming anxiety that ebbs and flows, daily functioning isn’t always easy.

One writes. One calls. One texts. I remain the one constant in their lives. The one who will always believe in them.

All readily admit that life would be even harder if I hadn’t adopted them. If I hadn’t remained empathetic. If I hadn’t endured their challenging behaviors. If I hadn’t absorbed the brunt of their emotional pain – because they simply weren’t able.

Over the years I grew stronger. And my children grew stronger too. Today each has HOPE that life will continue to improve.

I have no misgivings. I have no regrets. Yet I DO have perspective. The “delayed effects” of our parenting are precious gifts.  

It’s truly been a wonderful life – after all is said and done.  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson: Athlete and Advocate

5 thoughts on “I Wish I Hadn’t Adopted

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Brought tears to our eyes. I was feeling like a failure this year and you instilled a bit of hope. I am 65 in a few days and my husband 67. He’s still working because, yes, we took one more. I couldn’t let a granddaughter from one of our adopted’s go into the system so almost 5 years ago we took an infant. Guess giving to these kids is in my blood. God Bless You!

    1. Jean Slocum, I also tremendously enjoyed this article and the information he writes about. But I wanted to share with you. I am also a parent to a 3 year old little girl. Whom we thought she was our great granddaughter, but now, she is still our granddaughter, because it the heart that matter, not the blood…. But I am so impressed with you and your husband, I will be 62 in May… It just blesses me to know I am not the only one in the mix at this age… Thank you, for sharing. God Bless You…

  2. Blessings coming your way for sure Craig. I related so much to this story. Thank you for sharing your writing with us. Truly a gift.

  3. I led a very independent life before adopting my twins when I was 52 years old. I’d never married or partnered long-term and I regularly traveled to conferences all over the world, and took groups on college students to study abroad for a semester five times in three different countries. I though that I would continue to enjoy that part of my work, planning to get to about half of the many countries where my college runs study abroad program.

    I didn’t set out to adopt, but my “little twin” chose me when I met her at an African orphanage where my college study abroad group was doing part of their service learning fieldwork. She adopted me first. I felt that she knew something that God had not yet whispered into my ear. I gave myself time to think. There was no “rational” solution. I chose to adopt. But I didn’t know that I would be adopting twins. But I am so fortunate that E’s twin sister–who was still with birth family and being severely neglected by her teen mom, who clearly had FASD and was following the family tradition of alcoholism, came into care at the orphanage when they were almost 4 years old). I thank God for only giving me information on a need-to-know basis because I would never have decided to adopt two children, nor even one with FASD.

    Our family life isn’t easy and the job that I once loved has turned hellish for me. I’m blamed for having adopted special needs kids. Somehow this is seen as a bad choice I made, whereas my Catholic college would never think that planning to have birth child, finding out that one was expecting twins and having complications that led to brain damage and a life of dependency was the fault of the parent. But I have gone from being a very strong contributor to being a person who can’t work 60-hour weeks, or maybe who could do my job if I wasn’t now reviled and disempowered – even threatened with being fired (despite having tenure and being fully promoted) unless I “find better work/life balance.” My kids are soon to be teen girls and are harder because there is the bad attitude on top of the behaviors. I’m stretched so thin I often think that I’ll break. I have no family in the region and am blessed to know other parents who are on a similar journey with their kids who take time to give me some respite despite their own heavy burdens.

    I sometimes have a little fantasy about what my life would be like without kids, finally earning a pretty good salary. Having my lovely house (not trashed), or perhaps a very comfortable townhouse by now, Still having the respect and friendship of colleagues, and taking regular breaks from my school-year regime by taking study abroad groups to France, Ireland and South Africa again, and maybe also to England and Australia. But that is not my life because I chose to adopt. And like you, in my worst moments, I also thing, “If I hadn’t adopted….” But my next thought is always, “If I hadn’t adopted my daughters, they would be 6 years away from aging out of care into the townships of South Africa, undiagnosed, having had no special services in school and without housing or life skills, and very vulnerable in a place where dire poverty is the norm and crime, violence, alcohol and drug addiction run rampant. I can never wish that I hadn’t adopted my beautiful girls, although I’m often still worried about how the three of us will continue to go forward in life.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking essay!

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