Building trust in older child adoption

“Trust me.”  Such a simple phrase.  We say it all the time.  The problem is, it IS said all the time, by all kinds of people.  Thus, it becomes meaningless, or worse, a sure marker to do just the opposite.

So, given that, how do you build trust in older child adoption? Well, that right there is the million dollar question.  And if I had the short answer and the sure fire key, I’d be a buying a house on the Big Island.  But, I don’t.  I don’t have any pat answers.

When you adopt an older child, trust is the huge issue.  It is the elephant in the room.  It is a barrier like the Berlin Wall, some days.  I wonder if it is a bigger problem or issue corresponding to the aging up of a child.  As we adopted a teen, we find it a big prickly deal; a frequent barrier.  Big.   So, part of me wonders if the younger a child is at placement, the easier it might be to build trust again? But, I’m sure that’s naive and it’s also a bit of “grass is greener’ thinking, so don’t flame me.  I know it must be also dependent upon their prior history and background and trauma and attachment and on and on.  But even so, TRUST.  It’s the holy grail in so many ways for us adoptive families, isn’t it?

Trust, or the lack of it, is such a barrier.  We each tiptoe to the wall of it and peek over the side now and then….sometimes we wave.  But it is still there, sharp and solid between us, all too often.  She doesn’t trust us.  Not yet.  At almost three years home, not yet.   Oh she trusts that I will have dinner each night and that we will drive her to events and I will get her new socks and wash the dirty ones.  But the big stuff, or even new small stuff? No.  On the flip side of that coin, I need to trust her, fully, too.  And, I don’t.  Not deeply to the core.  (Shame on me? Perhaps. Indeed.) OH, I can give her the benefit of the doubt…but even trust on my side has a ways to go to be fully rooted. (And, really, when you’re talking about teens in general…I think the motto needs to be “trust, but verify.” So we’re already in a caution/hazard zone to begin with.)  For you folks who have a relatively recent adoption of an older child, take note.  Things take longer than most presume.

It’s a funny thing about Trust.  It cannot be GIVEN.  If so, I would have heaped it upon my hypervigilent teen daughter, and had her soak in vats of it in order to have it seep into her pores and bones, and heart and mind.  I would wrap it around her to tamp down her anxieties.  Heck, I would weave a shawl from it and keep it wrapped around ME; for my own trust issues.  However, it cannot be given.  It must be EARNED.  And it has to be EARNED in each direction.  I have to earn her trust; she has to earn mine.  Mine for her is further along, I understand her very well now and can anticipate most of her behaviors, even as some frustrate and wear on me.  Her trust for me, for us?  Well…that’s a thing that might very well be a LONG time coming.  And of course, I hate that.  She cannot understand so much of this new world and culture and family.  Her disabilities make this so terribly much more difficult, she cannot understand always the steps we take or what we say/do when we are working for her good. Her trauma background, the hypervigilence and anxiety that result just  throw fuel on the fire of her fretting suspicions.

So  how to earn trust? I don’t know.  Truly, I don’t.  Other than just walking the walk and putting in the time and proving to her, again and again and again – in the small things and the big ones –  that we always work for her best good.  Showing her that we mean what we say and we say what we  mean.  “An elephant’s word is 100%” 

How do you moms ALL deal with these trust issues? I’d love to hear how they are handled.  Right now, I suspect the best answer is simple: “Time.”  But, as an impatient mom, I want to pull a Ronnie Reagan and say, “{Mr. Gorbachev}, tear down this wall!

5 thoughts on “Building trust in older child adoption

  1. Pingback: Building trust in older child adoption | Another Espresso, Please | Child Adoption Process

  2. Oh Wow! is this not the biggest issue going most of the time! I have six adopted kids in various stages of trust — including my trust of them. Some have been here 10 years and some 6 months. The truth is… do we trust anyone 100%? Trust grows through the lifetime and is always on a continuum. How I wish my kids knew (all the time) that I love them, that I will do my best to care for them and that,what we as parents do, is intended to be in their best interest. I realized this week that one of my kiddos really does not know that rules we make are for the good; hence the constant resistance and fighting back. We just keep chipping at the wall . . .

  3. I love your thoughts. And I can’t help but wonder if ALL adopted children have a unique take on trust whether it is cerebral or not. It almost has to be inherent, yes? Because at the core, at some point in our lives–whether just days old or years–we have learned that this concept or feeling or GIFT of trust has been broken. Those who we are supposed to be able to trust the most have broken the pact and jumped ship. And no matter how logical or necessary the reasons…no matter what those on the “other side” have to give or offer….it’s a core that has been disrupted. i love that you talk about it and that you process it. And maybe with these older kids the wall MIGHT always be there. Sigh. but that won’t stop you from learning to climb it, some days conquer it and other days beat your head against it. And you have many who will help you do all three if you need it. xo

  4. And lack of trust isn’t limited to adopted children but to adults who as children had no reason to trust someone to love them unconditionally….looking for that answer myself.

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