"Our Son Has Special Needs"

Lisa wants her husband to help with all the demands of having a special-needs child, but Phil thinks it's just too hard and a strain on their relationship...can this marriage be saved?
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Her Turn

"When we adopted our 4-year-old son, Max, last year, I thought that Phil and I finally had the family we'd always dreamed of," said Lisa, 35.

"I couldn't have been more wrong. "I had three miscarriages before getting pregnant with our daughter, Annie, who's 8. Afterward, my doctor said I probably wouldn't be able to conceive again, so a few years ago Phil and I started to talk about adopting.

"We used a reputable agency that places children from Russian orphanages. The paperwork was endless, but a year after we applied we heard that a 3-year-old boy was available. We'd requested an infant, so we had some concerns. We knew about a psychological problem called 'reactive attachment disorder,' which is common in children who suffer trauma or neglect in the first months of life. Kids with RAD often have trouble feeling safe and cared for. But we decided to move ahead anyway. Who knew how long we'd have to wait for an infant?

"Russian law requires potential parents to travel to Moscow, meet their child, then wait for the court to finalize the adoption. Annie came with us and the three of us had a two-hour visit with Max. It went fine though he seemed shy. The orphanage director told us he got along well with everyone. We spent two weeks in Moscow waiting for a court date, then learned it was reslated for the next month, so we had to fly back later.

"It wasn't until the court hearing that we learned Max had been neglected by his drug-addicted biological mother and physically abused by her boyfriend. Max has scars on his torso from cigarette burns. We were angry but too invested to turn back. The adoption went through and we left Russia with our son.

"Once we got home I took Max to a developmental psychologist, who confirmed our fears: Max suffered from RAD, as well as dyslexia and ADHD. I took a six-week leave from my job as an executive recruiter, thinking it would give us time to bond. I was soon overwhelmed and exhausted. It's just so hard to be Max's parent. The first time he rode in a car he howled the whole time. He can't sit still and has a meltdown if he doesn't get his way. None of the disciplinary methods we used with Annie -- like time-outs -- make the slightest difference in Max's behavior.

"We hired a nanny from Ukraine, who left after a month because Max was so difficult. We're now on our third nanny. I enrolled Max in nursery school but the director asked that we withdraw him because he constantly took the other kids' toys. I should probably care for Max fulltime but can't afford to quit my job.

"Phil was as excited as I was about adoption but now acts as if it was a huge mistake. It didn't help that he lost his job a month after we got Max home. Luckily he found another one, but it's less money and the insurance no longer covers all of Max's health expenses. Now Phil wants to move to a smaller home. What could be more disruptive?

"I hardly recognize Phil anymore. No marriage is perfect, but ours was close. We talked about anything and everything. Now we hardly speak, except to argue. Phil favors Annie and has no patience with Max, whom he yells at for bad table manners and running in the house. Phil acknowledges that Max is fragile, yet a minute later he's bellowing at him for taking Annie's video game. Now, is that a criminal act or typical little brother behavior? When I tell Phil he's being unfair, he snaps that Max isn't nice to him and likes me better! He even accuses me of paying more attention to Max than to him. Excuse me? Who's the grownup here? He's behaving like a seventh grader, and I've had it."

Continued on page 2:  His Turn


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