We adopted our son in 2016. Prior to that, he’d been in 4 different foster placements. Prior to that, he’d been “in” 3 different families with different fathers and different half-siblings arriving. No wonder we haven’t gotten to know him well – he’s had to evolve a fractured sense of identity numerous times! Who he WAS, is no longer who is IS. So we’ve been wondering… who is this child? What could he become? What will he be like?
Permanency Permits Personality
I truly believe that the families and culture the we are surrounded by help to form our identities. Our value systems and behavioral norms, even our use of language is patterned after those we are around – especially in the early years. Even at this point, I wonder how much of “him” is actually part of us. …Although, I do appreciate having some other person to blame for a few of the choices he has made. Oh, how God works his wonders.
Let the Shaping Begin!
Within a month after placement, we told our (foster) son that we intended to become his forever family. (As long as that was something he also wanted and the courts allowed it.)
We were cautious, but wanted him to know right away that we weren’t like the other homes – we weren’t going away. Something odd started to happen. Besides switching our names to “mom” and “dad,” he also switched his own name!
This shocked the social workers and led us to conversations about his abnormal attachment issues. We never did anything about it. He tried variations of his birth name. For example: “Jack” became “Jake,” who then switched to “James” the next week, followed by “Lake.” This went on for about 3 months and 5 or 6 names.
Every time he told us which name he wanted to test out, we agreed. We told him he could be anyone he wanted to be. (Though, socially, this was very awkward.) Once, at the pool, my son was up to no good and the lifeguards were trying to gain his attention. I yelled a series of names out across the water… one at a time, hoping he’d respond to something.
“James, come here!” (Nope, didn’t work.) “Lake, it’s time to get out!” (No, nothing.) Ugh. I might as well jump in.
For a long while, our child explored his gender identity.
He dressed in female costumes, he put on make-up, dyed his hair, painted his nails, and more. Our adoption agency raised their eyebrows at us as if to say “Is this still the kid you want??”
Once again, we did nothing about it and continued to tell him he could be whoever he wanted to be.
We spent a few years exploring hobbies and sports. We tried karate, gymnastics/tumbling, swimming, bike riding, running… I put him in public speaking, art class, craft class, tried music… even had him audition for a play. We had no idea what he liked or wanted to do – and some part of me wondered if HE even knew?
How many opportunities had he ever had before to try something new?
I think it’s fair to say he had a mixture of an identity crisis… and an identity reformation. He took his time and explored everything we had to offer – including the most expensive science camps and multi-sport camps our community had to offer. Almost nothing was held back from him if he showed the slightest interest. Until… about 6 months ago.
Our Son: Emerged
Recently, our son has shown consistency in his preferences, consistency in his dreams for the future, consistency in his language use, dressing habits, and more.
It took him a long while, but I think we are just now “getting to know” this kid. And, the best part is, I like him.
I wish I could have had a time traveler visit me a few years ago and tell me that the insanity in my home would settle, and that this child would blossom into an intelligent, math-minded, detective-series reading, Boy Scout. Maybe that would have given me some hope?
Still, my reaction has been “Wow.” Who could’ve known what an amazing kid he was to become? When these babes are placed in the right situation – in fertile soil – they grow! And I thank God that I’ve been able to witness this process and see how good His plans are for my family. God knew exactly what my son needed… and who.
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalms 139:16)
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The author writes from an unabashed, had-it-up-to-here, daily defeated and re-strengthened by grace and hope… kind of place. An adoptive mother of a curious kiddo, full of spirit and sass, tells her tales of homeschooling, fostering, and raising children with special needs. Her writing has been published in Autism Parenting and Screamin'Mamas magazines, as well as on her blog at She has also authored a non-fiction about parenting foster youth with extreme special needs which is awaiting publication.