When Terrill and Gregg Mervis adopted their daughter, Grace, from Guatemala when she was 7 months old, it was a monumental moment.
On her “gotcha day” in July of 2003, Terrill and Gregg saw that Grace had been lovingly cared for by her foster family in Guatemala City. Her birth mother had left a beautiful note for her, hoping that she would be cared for by someone with the means to give her a full life and the compassion to give her lots of hugs and kisses daily.
Back home in the States, Terrill never doubted she and her husband had the love, ability and compassion to properly care for Grace. After all, she worked as a nanny for many years. She knew kids and how to nurture them.
But like many 3 year olds, Grace had her own ideas about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go.
When even getting her into her car seat became a huge daily struggle, Terrill and Gregg knew they needed some guidance on how to address these daily struggles as their daughter seemed to become more headstrong each day.
“I was a nanny for 12 years for three families and I felt it wasn’t typical behavior,” Terrill said. “We began to wonder if this behavior was because she was adopted. We looked to our pediatrician for advice.”
Grace’s pediatrician referred them to Vincent DeGeorge, PhD, a pediatric clinical counselor at the Oak Adoptive Health Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. He started off the interview with words Terrill will always appreciate.
“He said, ‘The important thing for you to know is that you are doing everything right, but you need to parent her differently. This stubbornness is hard-wired in her. It isn’t because she was neglected as a child or because she is adopted,’” Terrill recalled.
She needed to hear that. “He gave us great advice, and Grace loved meeting with him, too. He gave us a plan to follow,” she said. “It took a while, but it worked great.”
The plan was to consistently enforce timeouts when Grace refused to comply. They emptied out all the toys in her room so she wouldn’t play during her timeouts.
DeGeorge met with them weekly, spending time with the parents and then time alone with Grace.
Grace is now a straight-A student at Miller South School for the Performing Arts in Akron. She excels at violin and visual art and enjoys riding her bike on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath with her family and friends.
Terrill has seen the national headlines about families giving up on their adoptive children and she’s heard stories from her many friends with adopted children.
As a parent mentor at Akron Children’s Hospital, she tells families undergoing struggles to not be ashamed to get some help.
“I have always felt personally that children from adoptive situations have a fighter instinct in them to survive. Sometimes they have to test to see if their new home situation is a forever thing,” said Terrill. “You don’t have to face those situations alone. I strongly advise my friends to get help from someone like Vince, who can help you navigate these parenting struggles.”
DeGeorge has also noticed the rehoming trend and is dismayed. He feels many families in these situations haven’t received appropriate education on adoptive health issues.
Through Akron Children’s Oak Adoptive Health Center, DeGeorge works with families to make sure they get the necessary support, from pre-adoptive assessments to ongoing parenting support.
“We all benefit when we can expand parents’ knowledge about the trauma associated with adoption and how it commonly manifests itself in family situations,” said DeGeorge. “Unfortunately, there’s a lack of appropriate training for health and mental health practitioners to deal with the unique behaviors of adopted children. Many people do not realize that we are here to help.”
Terrill said she finds it very upsetting when children are rehomed from one adoptive family to the next.
“That should never be a choice for adoptive families,” she said. “It is not a possibility for a birth family to just throw their hands up when times get rough and say, ‘We’re through.’ Why should that be an option for adoptive families?”