Divorce and the Special Needs Adopted Child

alone-279080_1920The phone call from the main office interrupted my classroom. My ex-wife was at the office with my daughter. I was not expecting them.

It turned out that my ex had driven my daughter to an inpatient program that morning after a particularly bad few days at her house. My daughter had spent several weeks the previous fall and winter in an inpatient program after threatening to hurt herself at my ex’s house. When the program had turned them away that morning, my ex drove to my school and left my daughter with me.

My daughter stayed with me for over a month straight, abandoned by yet another mother.My daughter is adopted. She had been removed from her birth family at three years old for neglect, although bits and pieces of abuse were also part of her file. After being removed she had spent the following three years ping-ponging between a foster mom, a potential adoptive family, and then once more with her birth family for two horrible weeks before being placed again with the foster mom.

At six and a half years old our daughter became our daughter. She is our third and youngest child. And she came to us with a string of diagnoses and labels. Over the last 7 years those labels have changed and morphed, since so many behaviors look like they can fit into a specific diagnostic checklist, but then others do not.

One of my greatest challenges in parenting is trying to figure out how much of the behavior stems from a very typical middle school aged behavior and how much of it stems from her disabilities.

What I do believe is that my daughter has behaviors that fit into the profile of others who have PTSD, depression, ADHD, reactive attachment disorder (RAD), Asperger’s and more generalized developmental delays.

What I also believe is that my daughter has come a long way from the days when I would have to restrain her with my whole body wrapped around her, during one of her 2 hour long tantrums, to protect her and the rest of us from her sorrow and anger.

And yet, she still struggles. Since our separation, my daughter has tended to do worse at her mother’s house than my own. I do believe a large part of that is my daughter’s RAD when it comes to women. She tests women (family members, teachers, therapists) more than men. It is a predictable pattern of, “You think I am lovable? Well let me show you how unlovable I really can be.”

But I also think that my daughter’s struggle with her mother also stems from a slightly different approach to how we view her behaviors. In the communications that my ex sends to therapists and teachers she consistently refers to my daughter’s disabilities, and how my daughter’s behaviors, and misbehavior, stem from her weaknesses.

I do not disagree that many of my daughter’s struggles stem from her complicated social and emotional profile. But I also think my daughter is very able in many ways that my ex struggles to recognize. And now she is a teen. One of my greatest challenges in parenting is trying to figure out how much of the behavior stems from a very typical middle school aged behavior (i.e. Constantly trying to sneak screen time. Using a peer’s email account to send out bullying messages in an attempt to gain social capital over this other girl), and how much of it stems from her disabilities.

After her mother dropped my daughter off that day last spring I worked closely with my daughter’s therapists and mentor to manage my daughter’s feelings of abandonment. I am still not in a good coparenting relationship with my ex. Her infidelity and the difficult divorce process are still too close. But I find myself trying to help my daughter understand her mother’s behaviors in as positive light as I can.

Since I can’t control how my ex parents, the only thing I can do at this point is try to make sure that my daughter has the support she needs learn how to understand her own feelings and behaviors in regards to her mother. The emotional toll on me continues, but I remind myself regularly that it isn’t about me. My daughter’s needs take precedence.

Divorce. The gift that keeps on giving.

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One thought on “Divorce and the Special Needs Adopted Child”

  1. You might think about taking some classes in the psych field to better understand her mental health issues and the teen age issues. After working with troubled kids for years, it is the hardest thing in the world. But, one tip, the worse they behave is exactly when they need you the most. You are still in the game. Bravo! Many people give up long before this point. Rock On, Dad, Rock On.

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