Have you ever felt like you wanted to send your adopted child back?

I’m a Social Worker by education and a bleeding heart by upbringing. Living in a city with hungry, orphaned children was the perfect incubator for two people considering adoption. In the end, we adopted two for the price of one but; discovered nurturing an abandoned three-year old little girl into our family was more than I had bargained for; I was drowning in turbulent waters!

Expatriate assignment number two placed us in the heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s mega cities where the discrepancy between the rich and the poor were daily reminders of privilege. Little soul searching was required to direct our energy and passion towards adopting a beautiful Brazilian orphan.

Five-year-old Bruno came with his three-year-old sister, Esther, and as conventional wisdom goes, it’s not advisable to separate siblings. We hastily likened it to multiple play dates at the same time and decided we were quite fond of having the house full of little feet and hands running amok and having fun!

Hindsight informs that “play dates” come to an end and the disobedient ones go home, never invited back. Darkness set in when it became apparent we had a very troubled little girl on our hands who was not interested in cooperating with our dearly beloved family norms. She wasn’t going home because she was home! Wait, it was MY home first!

Chaos set in. Unlike her brother, Esther had a difficult time bonding and manipulation and destruction became her coping strategy. She would appear to obey in my presence and when I turned my back, all hell broke loose. Broken lamps, toys and hearts were left in the wake of her destruction. Esther sought attention from strangers yet was unable to engage positively within the family. She competed with the other children for attention; she wanted to be the Queen Bee, nothing less.

My heart grew bleak and cold; I had a wicked case of anger and grief. There were fits of rage pointed directly at who I perceived to be enemy #1, my husband. I threatened to leave on numerous occasions. My children experienced my wrath in a way they had never known. My fuse was ignited by the slightest infraction. After months of feeling defeated, I made a doctor’s appointment hoping to get a prescription for an antidepressant; I explained my “case” and she told me to take a vacation. I was shocked and disappointed I couldn’t secure relief the modern way!

My personal path to peace and freedom would require more than popping a pill. Although I longed for a quick fix, caring for a hurt child required grit and determination. Drowning in turbulent waters required me to go back and pick up the necessary pieces of my past before successfully rescuing Esther. There was no short cut to excavating the deep recesses of my heart, mind and body.


Create Space

Adoption reveals unhealed pain. Create space for yourself to explore what is lying beneath the surface of your emotions. I began my practice by sitting in silence for five uninterrupted minutes in my garden, and simply turned my attention to God. Over time, I included 24 hours of solitude and rest monthly. Creating this space for myself loosened anger’s grip, comforted my grief, and enlarged my vision and hope.”

Sitting in silence may initially feel uncomfortable. To get started, create an attainable goal such as sitting still, quietly for one minute. Do this each day for a week, and work your way up to five minutes, and eventually, longer if you can.

It’s helpful to begin with a few words.

“I’m here. I’m tired. I need you. (be definitive: grace, kindness, energy, forgiveness) Help me be aware of your presence.”

Sit, Listen, Be Present. Inhale and Exhale.

If you have a revelation, vision, a word, write it down if that feels helpful.

Seek Help

In order to care for an emotionally wounded child, one’s own inner child requires attention. After our adoption, I remembered my parent’s separation the weekend I graduated from High School. As my pain bubbled to the surface, I sought help. I found healing through prayer directed by my Brazilian “guru.”

Your “guru” may be a Social Worker, Psychiatrist, Counselor, Spiritual Director, Pastor, Life Coach, monk, Priest, or friend. When you’re drowning, doubting and despairing pursue help.

Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck and Regina M. Kupecky provided essential, practical help.

According to the authors:

  • Parenting hurt children is frequently painful.
  • Hurt children bring their pain into their new families and share it with much vigor and regularity.
  • Using anger with hurt children prevents their healing.
  • Even though the child may seek to anger the parent, children will not be able to securely attach to an angry parent.
  • Angry parenting will keep the mean child mean, the wild child wild, the scared child scared and the hurt child hurt.
  • Hurt children get better when their pain is soothed, their anger reduced, their fears quelled, and their environment contained.
  • Parents do not need to have a consequence for a child’s every misdeed.

 Seek Truth

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Epistle John.

Be true to yourself. The truth about yourself and your child will bring peace and freedom. Don’t be afraid to admit your misery. Your adoption may not agree with you. Admitting I was drowning in my relationship with Esther did not result in returning Esther, but led to the heart of my beliefs and how they were flawed. This set me free to love her.

I believed Esther should be obedient; her disobedience inflamed me. A wise friend pointed out a proverb which states “folly is tied up in the heart of child.” Why was I surprised by disobedience rather than expecting it? Expecting obedience made me feel like hell’s fury, expecting disobedience relieved pressure and allowed me to create a strategy to help Esther understand expectations. This opened the door to further inquiry into a variety of beliefs.

You can use “Inquiry”[i] by using the following model.

1) I am ________ at __________because________________.

I am angry at Esther because she is disobedient.


2) I want____________to______________________________.

I want Esther to be obedient.


3) ____________should/shouldn’t_______________________.

Esther shouldn’t be disobedient.


4) In order to be happy, I need _________to ______________.

In order to be happy, I need Esther to be obedient.


5) _______________is ________________________.

Be honest and state what you think about the person.

Esther is destructive and manipulative.


6) I don’t ever want to _______________.

What is it that you don’t want to experience with _______ again?

I don’t ever want to discipline Esther again.


Next ask yourself these four questions in relation to your responses:


1. Is it true?

Esther is disobedient.


2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?

Did I absolutely know Esther was disobedient? My initial response was “of course.” Disobedience meant expectations were clearly known for each infraction. I could not be certain Esther understood expectations all the time. Esther was disobedient some of the time/true however, it was also true that she was obedient some of the time.


3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

Expecting obedience made me feel intense, wronged, bitter and angry.


4. Who would you be without the thought?

Relieved, less stressed, not angry and hopeful.

Turning the belief around is critical to freedom. Esther is disobedient became Esther is obedient (she was sometimes). In common with all children, Esther is disobedient. Dana is disobedient. I was, too. I was disobedient to proper, healthy parental behavior. Inquiry revealed my faulty beliefs, which turned me into a monster.


Determine beliefs that limit you and do inquiry.



Our bodies allow us expression on earth. Perceived danger releases adrenaline which triggers a fight or flight response sending out SOS signals. During the first year of our adoption I was physically exhausted, annoyed by repetitive out breaks of herpes and weakened by a cough I couldn’t kick. My “coughing spells” arrived from nowhere and paralyzed me. Unable to discover a pathological reason for my cough, stress was the culprit.

Listen and observe your body. What physiological symptoms is your body showing? Life Coach and best selling author, Martha Beck, calls tuning into your body’s messages the “Body Compass.” The positive physiological responses indicate we are heading toward a life that is based on your unique design or the essence of who you are. This life agrees with your physical body and “feels” good. The negative responses indicate something in your life needs to be realigned.

Completing the following questions will help you tune into your personal compass.


Describe your most hellish experience.


Describe the best time in your life.


List three physiological responses experienced in hell
i.e. herpes explodes like a volcano, coughing attacks


1. __________________________________


2. __________________________________


3. __________________________________


List three physiological responses experienced during the best time of your life.
i.e. bright smile, tummy twitters, twinkle in the eyes.


1. _________________________________


2. __________________________________


3. _________________________________


What is your body telling you about your adoption?

The landscape of my daily life changed dramatically post-adoption. Physically I required more rest and self-care. My 24’s (albeit a logistical sudoku) were paramount to becoming a happy mommy again.

We adopted Bruno and Esther in 2003 and you’ll be happy to know Esther and I are not just surviving we’re thriving. My rescue from the turbulent waters began by tending to my own mental, emotional and physical well-being. I trust that the courage which led you to adopt; will lead you to seek your own personal healing. I discovered as my wounds healed, that I created space to assist in Esther’s rescue. But that’s another story!

[i] Adapted from Loving What Is by Byron Katie.

Recommended reading

Parenting the Hurt Child : Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck and Regina M. Kupecky

When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with RAD by Nancy L. Thomas

Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition) by Foster W. Cline

Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children by Daniel A. Hughes

Reprinted from a RainbowKids entry:

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