When In-Family Adoption Is the Most Difficult

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

An adoptive parent writes:

January 31, 2004 was the day that ultimately changed my life, when my young niece was killed in a car accident. She had been up all night getting high and attempted to drive home while exhausted. She had her two children in car seats in the back. One was just over a year old and the other one was almost three. It was a horrific car crash. They hit a tree at 70 MPH. The baby entered a coma, but the toddler saw his mother die. First responders were so devastated by the accident that two of them quit the field entirely.

I had been recently widowed and offered to take the children to raise. Their father said no. I didn’t know what happened to the children, as we were not allowed to see them. Then fifteen months later, the father was arrested on drug charges. The children went into CPS custody and ultimately to the paternal grandmother. After three months she gave them back, due to behavioral issues. They were like feral children, afraid of everything, wild and screaming. At the family meeting, I agreed to take the kids from foster care and raise them myself.

You would expect my family to be supportive, but you would be wrong.

My mother didn’t want me to have the children. Their grandmother was a felon, with drug charges, and didn’t want to assist the children with any financial, emotional, or physical help, but she wanted to control how they were raised. My own family made it harder than it should have been. Ten years later they are still making my life hard.

I love my kids, and it is a difficult time with both of them now in their teen years. My daughter has often told me that she tries to keep the fact of adoption a secret. It seems that her classmates single her out because of it. My son will not speak of it at all. He was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and has always been a challenge to raise. The never-ending stress from two kids, work, and my family has given me health issues (I’m 58).

This year my son entered high school and it was a very difficult transition. I finally allowed him to go live with his grandmother. Personally I think it is a huge mistake, but he was not trying to work or seek help. I can honestly tell you that you can only help someone who is willing to help themselves. At 14, he must accept some responsibility for his actions or inactions.

I have to agree with your previous reader that a lot of personality is genetic. My daughter is like my own child but with my niece’s personality. My son and I love each other, but we are not alike at all.

Family adoption should be the easiest form of adoption, but I have experienced the exact opposite. My personal belief is that I should have taken the children and moved far away. That was out of the question with a single woman with two very difficult family members. I believed that the children should have a chance to know all of their family, from both sides, and that they should have a role in raising in the children. But it didn’t turn out that way. Everyone has an opinion on how to raise them, but no one wants any of the responsibility.