Apathy – a foster kid’s constant companion


Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
indifference – unconcern – torpor – listlessness

Apathy was the unspoken elephant in our home last week.  If I were being honest with myself, I would probably say the past month.  Apathy.  It’s like melancholy…. it comes and goes without warning and obvious reason.

I first noticed it with Nick’s home school studies.  He was not putting in the effort to learn.  He thought he could just breeze through his math and writing assignments without any effort and still pass the weekly tests.  At first, I decided to let him continue with this lackluster studying.  I figured that he would learn a valuable lesson of what happens when you do not put the effort into his grades.  He did not.  Apathy.  Blank stares when I read off his poor grades.

ATL Botanical Garden
Nick never went out to dinner while in foster care.  His big dinner “out” was (if he was lucky) McDonald’s drive-thru.  Admittedly, Mike and I go out to eat more than we should.  When Nick first came to us, we had a lot of family visiting and it was easier to go out to dinner.  It got to be habit that we went out at least two or three times a week.  Realizing how much eating out was killing our budget, we reeled it back in to eating out only once per week… if that.  The past month we have been busy traveling and have eaten out more than usual.  When we go out, Nick just sits there.  He no longer engages in conversation.  He is not interested in trying new foods.  He just mopes.  Apathy.

His room is a total mess.  He does not do any of his chores without being told too.  TV has lost it’s shine for him… although he still can sit and watch his favorite shows and be engaged with them.  He is still eager to help out whenever we ask but we ask to ask.  Occasionally, he will ask to help without our prompting.  And, lastly, when his swim lessons started up again last week, he dreaded going.  His swimming lessons were the highlight of his week.  After he went, he was happy but before the lesson, he dragged his feet.

In a normal child situation, parents might be tempted to seek intervention or perhaps anti-depressant meds.  But being a parent of a foster-to-adopt child, it is not that easy.  There is not a quick fix.  There is something bugging Nick.  He may not even know what it is or how to verbalize why he feels apathy.  From our training and therapy sessions, I have a pretty good guess to what it going on…. fear.  Nick & Thor

It is my job to try to figure out why he has a fear.  It literally could be anything.  It could be that he is not getting good grades and has a fear that he is stupid.  This fear came with him to us.  He made us promise him to get him into a “smart kid” college when he is older.  It could be the fear of not kicking hard enough in swimming to push him to the next level.  His coach is super supportive but Nick takes the smallest of criticism like a ton of bricks.  We have a very old and sick dog.  His time on this earth is extremely limited.  This pup use to watch over Nick and they have become very close.  Perhaps Nick is anticipating his dog’s passing and unsure how to handle the situation.  Even I do not know how to handle that situation with Nick…. or myself.  This will be our first time with Nick dealing with loss.  Although, Nick has known loss all of his life…. he has never experienced it with us.

Or all of Nick’s attitude could be a flashback from his past.  He does not always share all of his past with us.  I believe he does not want to talk about it because it gives it a new life in his present life.  This is something that we have worked a lot on in therapy.  Nick has one more month of school.  We have set down new rules to try to improve his study habits and grades.  He is on restriction from all electronics.  He can read or help out around the house but no ipod, tv, xbox, etc.  It won’t matter because to a foster-to-adopt child that has never had these electronics or toys or even a pillow, it is expected to be taken away.   I think it is time to start up our family adoption therapy again if for no other reason than just a “check-up.”

My hope is that he can shed his constant companion and realize how much of life he misses when he invites Apathy out to play.

5 thoughts on “Apathy – a foster kid’s constant companion

  1. Thanks for this. Our ten year old girl is in full-on Apathy mode now, too. You’re right–kids who’ve had nothing really don’t care if you take everything. Hubby and I realized last night that we might be going about this wrong…instead of having a late bedtime that is dropped back to an earlier time due to infractions, we’re going to try setting an early bedtime and they can earn additional time to stay up by doing what they’re supposed to do. We’ll see how it goes…

    • Apathy is so difficult with foster-to-adopt kiddos and add in the hormones of the tween years, it becomes a challenge!

      We still struggle with grounding/restriction and taking away electronics etc but have started a new program with it. If he gets one week of restriction, he can work off half with pre-determined point based chores. Some chores (raking leaves) equal very little points while others (cleaning/scrubbing out the cat box) has a higher point value. My thinking is that there is still some restriction and he can decide for himself what he wants to work off and how quickly. Sounds like your bedtime plan is similar. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

      • I will–let me know how yours does, as well! Yes, the hormones…her play therapist mentioned that for kids with trauma, it usually takes twice the time to recover (so, 2 years of trauma=4 years to heal). Our girl experienced neglect for 5 years. Therapist did the math the other day…”So, if all goes as expected, she should be doing well by 14 or 15. (pause) Right in time for the craziest parts of adolescence. Well. Good luck with that.”
        Right. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Adoption = Can I Leave Her in Haiti for a Week? | Adoption =

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