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Poem for My Troubled Adopted Daughter as She Turned 18

Updated on August 21, 2014

Sometimes An Adopted Child Will not Recognize Your Love

Sarah came into our lives as a foster child at the age of nine. She had been sexually abused by her father, and both she and her younger brother Jason (who was five) came to us from separate previous foster homes. We had met Jason first, since he was in a foster home next door. I had gotten to know him for about eight months before we were sure we wanted to adopt him. We knew he had an older sister and wanted to be with her again. Finally we did our home study, got our foster care license, and the children came to live with us while we waited for the termination of parental rights.

We waited about 18 months. Sarah was hesitant about the adoption. She wanted to be with her brother, but always felt that we only adopted her because we wanted Jason, and she felt like part of a package deal. We didn't know how to reach her. She had always been a more troubled child than Jason, because he had not been abused -- just neglected. She had provided a lot of his care when he was still with his mother, since their mother was often high or sick because of her drug habit. Until the social worker explained otherwise, Jason thought Sarah was his mother, since he didn't remember his birth mother.

You can read more about the years Sarah spent with us in an article I wrote after her suicide at the age of 36. This is the poem I wrote for Sarah and sent to her when she was in a group home, a couple of months before she turned 18. We had a visit one day after she had read it, and she told me I had it right.

As background, you need to know some references outside the poem -- things Sarah knew but you probably don't if you didn't know Sarah well. Julie was our adoption social worker. The Tyrees were our next door neighbors who fostered Jason before he came to us. Heather and Joel were a brother and sister who were friends of Sarah. Jenny was one of Sarah's closest friends, and Todd was her younger brother. Many Bible characters Sarah was familiar with are also mentioned. Knowing this will help you understand this song for Sarah. I never expected to publish it. I have broken it into small sections, since it's long. It carries eight years of unrequited love.

The picture was taken at the Tyree home at Jason's fifth birthday party. He is seated at the front and Sarah is standing behind him, holding his chair. It was arranged that we would meet Sarah here for the first time.

Adoption Song, Part One

Sarah Arrives

To Sarah

O little girl

Climbing up onto my chair

Into my lap, in order to be rocked,

Where have you gone?

All of nine years old you were,

Filling all my lap and more.

Limbs and trunk extending on each side,

Trying to fit, wanting to be rocked.

But why?

Did you want a mother's love?

Did you want to rock within the arms of one who loved you?

0r did you want to be rocked

Because Jason had wanted to be rocked

And so he was rocked?

Who were you, little girl?

You never let me know.

When I came to tuck you in at night

You squirmed away from me

You wanted your real mother,

And you never let ME in

Never let me love you.

What did you want little one?

Is it my fault I did not bear you?

Is it my fault I did not know you as a baby?

As a toddler

Taking her first steps?

Saying her first words?

Is it my .fault I could not take you by the hand before

Jason was born in order to show you for the first time

The wonders of a bulb shooting up as a daffodil

to kiss the sun,

Or a butterfly sitting in beauty, sipping sweet nectar,

Or ocean waves creeping to the shore

To tickle your toes?

Would I not have liked to hold you in my lap and

Read you stories and more stories and your favorites

Over and over before Jason was born?

Would I not have liked to play you music, and teach you

To sing before you were three?

Could this have been,

Would things be different now?

But I could not.

Instead you were given to others to enjoy during those early years!

They did not do what I would have done

If I had known you.

They did other things, which only you know.

Things that finally left you hurt, abandoned, and unable

To believe in a mother's love.

But always wanting proof of it.

Adoption Song, Part 2

What did you want from me?

It seemed only what Jason had.

What did Jason have?

My attention in the way he enjoyed it,

To meet the needs he had.

He always knew what he wanted.

And whatever he wanted

That's what you said you wanted

Because he got it.

Did you know what you wanted?

Let's look at Jason:

A small boy who worshiped his sister,

Who could hardly remember his birth parents.

A small boy whose clothes would not fit you

Anymore than his needs, his desires, fit yours.

Would you have wanted his clothes?

Of course not!

Except, perhaps, for your dolls.

Then why did you want the other things he wanted

That fit him like his clothes?

He is he.

You are you.

To be each other's equal is impossible.

Had I put you on opposite ends of a see saw, you would have known.

You on the ground. he in the air,

You would not balance.

How can two so very different be the same?


Bill Gothard* says,.

"To love someone is to meet his basic needs."

Besides food, clothing, shelter. water,

What does a child need?

To be touched and delighted in.

But what if you touch, and one draws away

Not wanting to be touched?

And how do you delight in what you do not know?

And how can you get to know

If one won't trust you enough to let you in

Where you can learn to know?

How can you delight in always seeking one who hides?

And so you hid.

And while you hid

You demanded I meet all Jason's needs twice --

Once for him, and once for you.

When you got what Jason wanted

Instead of what you wanted,

You were unsatisfied,

Because his wants fit you no more than his clothes.

And because I was so busy meeting your pretend needs

I never had the energy to decipher your real needs --

The things that would have made you feel

As loved as Jason.

And so we both grew, unfulfilled,

Acting our expected roles,

Lonely and hurting,

You waiting to be delighted,

Me seeking a way to delight you

Both of us constantly disappointed.

You always trying to catch up with Jason.

Me trying to meet your expressed desires.

But knowing it was effort wasted,

Because they weren't your real desires

And you couldn't share your real desires

Because you were hiding,

And they were hiding,

Maybe even from you.

* Bill Gothard led a seminar Sarah attended on basic life principles.

The picture above was taken at a living history farm in Virginia in 1985.

What I Wish I'd Read Before Adopting Sarah

Hindsight is always great. Foresight is better, though. I knew we would have issues with Sarah, but we had little knowledge of how to deal with them. We made the mistake of thinking we could use the same parenting techniques that we one can use with birth children. Knowing there will be issues is different than understanding exactly what kind of issues they would be.

The Whole Life Adoption Book: Realistic Advice for Building a Healthy Adoptive Family
The Whole Life Adoption Book: Realistic Advice for Building a Healthy Adoptive Family

Adoption caseworkers tell you about problems your children have had (hoarding food, stealing, lying, being behind in school, etc.) What they don't tell you is how the child is actually feeling that causes him or her to act that way. They don't tell you what kind of environment will help the child to feel secure. One might assume that it would be the same environment that would make birth children feel secure, but older adopted children come with baggage your birth children probably don't have. They interpret things differently. This book will help you understand your child better so you can better deal with his or her emotions that cause undesirable behaviors. I wish I had found this book before our adoption adventure began.


Please take our poll.

What is your experience with adoption?

See results

Adoption Song Part 3

How can a mother know a daughter?

Usually they meet before birth.

Afterwords they grow together,

The mother trying to do things to delight the daughter

And expecting the daughter to enjoy it.

The daughter, happy to be held, talked to, tickled,

Nursed, bathed, and finally sung to sleep,

Looks at the mother, gurgles, coos, maybe smiles.

Then Mother smiles,coos, sings, and plays with her

And Daughter coos and laughs.

And so they go.

And so they grow.

Each trying to please the other in the way they learn


But what if they aren't together in the beginning?

How does the new mother know what has brought the infant,

The toddler,

The little girl


She remembers what brought her joy, and she tries it.

But she sees it doesn't fit.

This little girl is not a small version of herself

Come back to life.

This child is unique.

Not like her new mother's younger self,

Not like her brother.

She's still hiding.

Look as you will, you can't find her.

The only clues are

"Buy me this."

"Give me that."

So you do but what you can, knowing all along you can never buy enough,

That love is not found in stores.

What, oh what, can you give that fits?

What will bring wonder and delight?

Will she ever smile?

Were wonder and delight gone forever before we met?

Not completely,

For you still love your piano

And the freedom it gives you to create what is wholly yours.

And you love creating --

Whether with music or with mud.

(The picture was taken at a mother/daughter camp shortly after Sarah came.)

Adoption Song, Part 4

The county, in its wisdom, declared that Sarah ,

As the oldest, should come first.

She should come, Julie said, a few weeks before Jason,

To take her rightful place as big sister,

And allow us time to get acquainted.

So you came first, on a Thursday, I believe.

And then that same social worker decided that Jason

Should come on Friday to spend the weekend,

So the two of you could be together.

And then she decided Jason should stay.


I don't know.

Maybe the Tvrees* needed some time just for them.

Maybe the county needed the space free for another child

And wanted Jason out sooner.

I've no idea.

I know that the only time the county showed any wisdom, It changed its mind.

So you decided you were part of a package deal,

Because we knew and loved Jason before we had the chance

To know and love you.

In every family blessed with children

One child is always born first.

Do the parents decide which one?

Do they only love the first? Or the last?

Is Heather less loved than Joel?**

Or their oldest sister?

Are they treated the same?

Of course not!

Each is loved uniquely, because he is unique.

Is Todd less loved than Jenny?*** Or Jenny less than Todd?

Are they treated the same?

To treat siblings the same is not only impossible, but unfair .

For they are not the same.

Jason let us know in many ways what he wanted.

He wanted love.

He wanted attention.

You never let us know what you wanted.

You only hinted.

And now I see.

You wanted not love, but control.

Something we could not give.

Because it wouldn't fit a child.

A package deal? No!

Another wrong guess about what you wanted.

We thought you missed Jason and wanted to be with him.

We wanted to let that happen.

But you weren't content to be his sister.

You wanted to be his mother. ..

And we couldn't give you that,

Because it doesn't fit a child.

You could not delight in being just a princess.

You wanted to be queen.

And we could not give you that,

Because it doesn't fit a child.

Because you were never content to be a child,

You never had the chance to grow up.

And now that people say you are old enough for the adult roles to fit,

You regret your lost childhood.

Whose fault is it?

Who knows?

Was it your child-mother who pushed her daughter

To take charge of her brother too soon?

Was it your father who pushed his child into adult things too soon,

As he had her mother before her?

* Jason's former foster parents, who lived next door to us.

** Heather and Joel are brother and sister and our families were friends.

*** Jenny was Sarah's best friend, and Todd is her brother.

Adoption Song, Part 5

Adam and Eve ate the fruit.

And we have all eaten it since, each in his own way.

Not content with what God has given,

We search for something better.

Instead of searching for Him, as He meant us to,

We decide He put us in the wrong pasture.

So we refuse to eat the grass He's provided,

And search for what to our eyes is a greener pasture.

And we dig under, or jump over the fence.

Is the grass better?

At first, yes.

It's different. It's new. It seems sweeter.

It's chocolate chip cookies, not plain old bread.

But after a while it gets lonely.

God doesn't answer when you call.

But who needs God?

What sort of Father would put you in such a rotten pasture as the one you left?

What sort of God would put Joseph in the pit,

Then let him out to be a model slave,

And then a prisoner?

What sort of God would put His people into slavery,

Then let them out

Only to wander in the desert for forty years?

Whatever did He mean to do through all that hardship?

He was making them strong enough to carry His special blessings.

He was preparing them for His salvation.

Those, like Job and Joseph, who trusted Him through

All the suffering and endured

Were saved and richly blessed.

Those who looked elsewhere, to gods they made themselves

And could control


What do we do with God's gifts?

We can accept them with gratitude and use them

In his service for His glory,

And let God exalt us if He pleases.

Or we can spurn them, and seek to satisfy and exalt ourselves,

And later be humbled by the hand of God.

What delight the fulfillment of our fantasies can give us!

How sick they can make us!

But few of us are content to learn from the experience of others.

We insist on tasting the fruit ourselves.

Thus, the responsibility for tasting becomes ours --

Not Eve's, not our father's or mother's

Not the county's.

After we taste, do we run from God?

Or to Him?

Or do we go back and forth?

If we run to Him, will He receive us?

Or will He cast us out?

If we disappoint Him, will He leave us alone?

Ask Peter. Or John. Or King David. Or Paul.

They are all his children still,

And finally grown up.

Grown up?

When is a woman grown up?

With her first period?

Her first sexual experience?

When she's 18?

With her first full-time job?

When she graduates?


Only when she listens to God and willingly obeys Him

Without anybody telling her to.

Adoption Song, Part 6

God gives parents so that children can learn to fear God,

Trust Him, obey Him,

And enjoy His friendship.

When it is evident that a child is listening to God, and doing what He says,

The parent will stop trying to tell the child what to do,

For He knows the child cannot do bettor than

To do what God tells her.

My daughter, you are feeding in the pasture you have chosen.

It is a good pasture.

God is providing much of what you need,

And maybe all you are able to receive

Until you grow some more.

Would God deny you what you need?

If He, in His wisdom and love, denies something you want,

Do you really need it?

Will you receive what He has given with joy and do all you can with it?

Or will you spurn it and jump the fence again?

Whatever you do,

God will still love you.

If you jump the fence He will grieve for you, and so will we,

But you will still be his child, just as you are ours.

Since you've jumped our fence,

We can't help you without your permission,

Except to pray for you.

And we do.

And if you jump God's fence, though he will love you,

He won't spare you from the consequences.

Your life is before you.

In less than two months, all the choices will be yours.

And all the responsibility for your choices.

We wish you well.

Copyright, B. Radisavljevic, 1991.

Picture is of Sarah and her birth mother sitting together at Jason's memorial service in 1991 after Sarah was 18.

More pictures of Sarah's early years with us.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
In the judge's chambers completing the adoption.Taken in the courthouse on adoption day.Another on adoption day.Sarah's tenth birthday party, where she was the princess.Our first Christmas as a legal familySarah at the 1987 combined birthday party at the beach.
In the judge's chambers completing the adoption.
In the judge's chambers completing the adoption.
Taken in the courthouse on adoption day.
Taken in the courthouse on adoption day.
Another on adoption day.
Another on adoption day.
Sarah's tenth birthday party, where she was the princess.
Sarah's tenth birthday party, where she was the princess.
Our first Christmas as a legal family
Our first Christmas as a legal family
Sarah at the 1987 combined birthday party at the beach.
Sarah at the 1987 combined birthday party at the beach.

Please share your thoughts. Maybe you've been adopted. Maybe you are an adoptive parent. Maybe you are thinking about adopting a child. Do you know someone who had a tough adjustment, as parent or child in an adoptive family? Do you have any advice for parents thinking of adopting? We'd love to hear from you.

Please let us know you were here.

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    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Beautifully written and very insightful. Angel blessings for a lovely and very moving poem

    • Frischy profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      This poem resonated so much with me. Change a few of the words and I could have written it to my own adult daughter, adopted at just a few weeks shy of age 8. Like you, we entered this adoption expecting a hurt and needy child to respond to love, only to hit a brick wall. What can you do when after many years your love just bounces off and never seems to hit its mark? What can you do when you do all that you can think of to bring joy, delight, pleasure to the child and nothing succeeds? When you do this dance for years and years until the point when your child, now a teenager, looks at you with derision for continuing the dance? How do you let go when your child leaves for good, when you run after her and she slams the door in your face? You let her go, but your heart won't let go, can't let go. So you are then alone with your memories and all of the "what ifs" that keep you awake in the night.Thank you for opening up this difficult topic that no one understands who has not lived through it. It is bound to help some other mothers who are on this lonely and heartbreaking journey. Hugs to you, brave mother!

    • MomwithAHook LM profile image

      Sara Duggan 

      7 years ago from California

      thanks for sharing your heart - parenting is hard enough with birth children - when they are not yours by birth it truly is a guessing game even for the child as he/she tests the ground which is different from what they have known.

    • javr profile image


      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I cannot imagine the anguish of such a child. Bless you for trying as hard as you did to rescue her.

    • vauldine profile image


      7 years ago

      I have an adopted daughter who is 23yrs old and equally troubled. I link consciouness with you in your concern.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      I didn't realize that there was more to the Sarah story when I blessed the other lens. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to bless this lens as well. This this beautiful and powerful.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      8 years ago from Scotland

      Barb, you know my story...I was moved by your words, I had a hard time accepting my adpotive parents when I hit the teenage rebellion stage, but they did provide for me a home, maybe not the best by my fathers standards but my mother was the sweetest most loving mother you could want, I know there are 1000s' of children who need not just loving homes, but help with their inner demons, I live every day with my fathers suicide (no wonder I am writing about my life story) and the turmoil it left me, the guilt, not knowing and the questioning, only through meeting people like yourself and hearing their stories allows me to be able to get through just a little bit more, it has been a pleasure to have made your accquaintance, I always found it a subject people would hedge away from both adoption and suicide however I think the more it is talked about the better understanding we have of it.

    • AuthorNormaBudden profile image


      8 years ago

      One of the hardest things I find in reading some of your parenting lenses is looking at the photos of your children and not having to wonder what they look like now. I can only imagine how you and your husband must feel...I know you're much stronger than I am because I don't know if I could deal with it all, much less than write about such personal experiences.

    • BarbRad profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      8 years ago from Templeton, CA

      @AuthorNormaBudden: Norma, I often wonder what they look like right now. I wonder if people stay the same age in Heaven as they were when they left earth or whether everyone is grown up and the same age, etc. I always picture them as alive and as they were when the memory I've having occurred. I have some happy memories of both children and I tend to dwell on them. Time has a way of erasing the painful things when enough of it has passed if one is not bitter or nursing grievances. God is a great healer of memories.

    • BarbRad profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      8 years ago from Templeton, CA

      @anonymous: Michael, whatever you may have thought, we loved her, too. Jason's loss was devastating to all of us, and I'm quite sure it contributed to Sarah's death. She is buried beside him in Long Beach at Forest Lawn Sunnyside. You were there. It was where she wanted to be buried. Bob Gnewuch and Kosta officiated at her memorial service. If you want to talk, go to the top of this page on the right and click through to my profile and use the contact button. I prefer not to communicate through FB. We still have copies of the videos of the memorial service.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am in a complete state of SHOCK, pain, sorrow. I loved Sarah completely, with all of her weaknesses. Helped her. Saw her a few years ago when she reached out to me, and came west for a visit. The loss of Jason was more than traumatic for her, and after Kosta called me, and I had to tell her, I witnessed a Sarah no one has. I still love you, wherever you are......

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      8 years ago from California

      Sexually abused children often never let anyone love them. They all hide in one way or another. 9 short years is a drop in the bucket of a lifelong journey of healing and finding your place in the world. It is difficult for not just you, but the child as well, because in many ways they don't know what they want, this is normal for "them". For all the Sarahs in the world. Even the most highly trained professionals do not always reach these children, and almost never in the first years. Group Homes often times control outside behaviors but not the inside turmoils. I know I was a Family Counselor in Treatment Centers for many years. You gave her your best, and that is all you could have done.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Beautifully done, blessed.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      [in reply to BarbRad] Oh Barb, you make me ache for you. So very sad what happened to your daughter Sarah. It is so like a person to blame one's self for not being able to reach another person in trouble. You on the other hand sounds as if you did EVERYTHING humanly possible to reach her with your love. For some reason, which you will probably never fully understand, she was unable to receive and believe in your devotion. Remember only the good times and let the dead rest in peace. Remember, life is oh so short.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I’ve written two comments and erased them because I just don’t have the words to express how moved I am. I guess that is the best way to say it.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for this lens from the heart!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      9 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Thanks for sharing your beautiful poetry. All we can do is do our best and leave the outcome to God.

    • BarbRad profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      9 years ago from Templeton, CA

      [in reply to Adult Adoptee] Thanks for sharing that. When I finally met Sarah's mother at Jason's memorial service, it became evident that Sarah had not bonded with her, either. I really think the only person she ever bonded to was Jason, and when he died, her world fell apart. Loving out of a sense of duty is still better than not loving, and is, in a way, more noble than natural familiar love, since it doesn't come naturally. On the other hand, any love, even that in marriage, takes work to build and maintain. The trouble is, you will never have the opportunity to find out if love would have been the way you expected it might be if you had stayed with your birth mother. Sarah was disappointed in her birth mother's response to her when she finally found her again after she left. I guess she expected to be welcomed with open arms as a long lost child by the mother she had idealized in her mind for several years. The welcome was not as warm as she expected.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I was adopted as a newborn & unfortunately never emotionally bonded with my adoptive mother. I love her but it's mainly out of a sense of duty. When I was young, I always thought "the grass was greener" elsewhere. I felt different as an adoptive child, like I really didn't belong w/my family. Perhaps Sarah was just so emotionally scarred; she just wasn't capable of expressing love the way her brother was. It must have hurt you as you only wanted to provide her with a stable & loving family. But it seems she just couldn't reciprocate your love for her. Though I never knew Sarah, I can relate to her in many ways. I'm so sorry for your family's loss.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      So much heart ache and pain. This teaches us much. May it comfort you to put it out there.


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