In search of a stable family

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Two days of the proclaimed "honeymoon period" passed before the charming eight-year-old girl placed with us exerted her will - a will of iron.

Our foster child, Rebecca, was born to an older mother with two teenagers and an abusive husband. Her mom delayed two years, then relinquished the struggle, and Rebecca, to adoption.

An adorable wispy blonde, Rebecca had been placed immediately, into a family that had two teen sons, but dreamed of daughters. The mother excelled in swimming, the boys were champions, and Rebecca, who preferred dolls to physical exertion, was expected to shine as well. It wasn't a happy match.

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As she grew older, fierce battles erupted, ending in Rebecca enduring peanut-butter-sandwich mealtimes, alone. Unable to get along with her, tired of trying, her adoptive family stashed her in a bedroom after school.

When Rebecca joined our family, we felt shocked by her behavior. Fulfilling images of family meals we'd known raising sons evaporated.

I began our dinner conversation, "How's school, Rebecca?"

She grimaced. "Shut up!"

I tried again. "What's your teacher's name?"

"Shut up!"

"Bad day, honey? Let's talk."

Her repetitive reply resounded through our kitchen. I shut up.

School was always a problem for Rebecca, according to the adoption agency. She was smart; the obstacle was concentration. How could she concentrate with her life in turmoil?

We realized nobody had ever inquired about her day, her feelings, her opinions. Family habits were new to Rebecca: bedtime stories, singing on drives, and study hours.

She had no experience in sociable things we took for granted, but weeks of patience brought her finally to the point where she enjoyed hearing, "What's new, Becca?"

After three months, her social worker, Sharon, decided that she appeared ready for adoption. The couple chosen seemed ideal. Their dogs, cats, and two-story house met Rebecca's criteria. Afternoon visits developed into overnights. The couple, Rob and Dana, stayed for chats with us after Rebecca's visits.

Then, complaints surfaced. "Does she shout, run upstairs, eat slowly here?" they asked. Then, unexpectedly, Dana said, "I wanted daughters but Rob prefers boys." Sharon confided that bonding wasn't easy. Rob and Dana disappeared and Rebecca never mentioned them again.

A family with two toddlers took Rebecca next in a trial weekend visit. Soon, the phone rang, and it was the social worker, Sharon, whispering, "Come immediately! Rebecca's withdrawn." We found her cowering under a bed, Sharon nearby, consoling her. Competition with the preschoolers was too much.

Summer passed in counseling. There was no talk of placement now; another failure would be disastrous. After Halloween, a family with two teenage sons picked her out. I was haunted with visions of previous brush-offs, but Rebecca adored the attractive clan. After three weeks, though, the father began complaining. Did he really expect to find an eight-year-old, mired in years of rejection, to be as sedate, smart, sociable as the girl next door? Wasn't that asking a lot?

It was. And she wasn't.

Rebecca tried hard for success, but it eluded her. Nights were spent in my rocker, her teary cheek on my shoulder, as slowly we eased her past disappointment. Each rebuff cut us as deeply as it did her and I realized that I must fully socialize Rebecca to find a supportive family - one thrilled to snag a special girl.

After a year with our family, calm descended. Then the call arrived. But Barbara was a single parent and it was hard to give up the dream of a nuclear family in a two-story house.

Still, the day we met Barbara, we relaxed. Surprised to land an eight-year-old, she truly was glad to snag this special girl.

I can't say all went smoothly, but Barbara was patient. For the first year, Rebecca let off steam during her weekly phone calls to us. Then the calls diminished until the fourth year, the calls stopped. Only a Christmas card came.

On the fifth anniversary of Rebecca's adoption, we attended a celebration party and discovered that Rebecca was a lovely teenager, as congenial as anyone could wish.

As our evening ended, a warm glow came over me as I whispered, "Farewell, Becca," for the final time.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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