Muffled giggles coming from the Bryants’ playroom fall silent when Hannah Osborne starts her countdown outside the door.
“Three, two, one…ready or not, here I come!” The routine usually starts when Osborne arrives at the house and rings the doorbell. The children tell their mother, Kelly, not to open the front door until they are hidden. Once she finds and tags 6-year-old Lillian, 7-year-old Sam, and 11-year-old Joshua creatively tucked into corners and behind furniture in the playroom, the children are content to allow their parents to spend time with Osborne, a case manager from MCH Family Outreach in Waco.
Mark and Kelly Bryant married in 2010. Their relationship started online while Mark lived in Kosovo and worked with university students and Kelly worked with students in China.
“We talked about adoption when we were dating,” Mark said. “We knew that about ourselves early in our relationship. I remember walking down the street with her in China when I visited her and I asked her if she had ever thought about adoption. She was right there with ‘Oh, yes, a little girl.’ We knew we had to pay attention to our own stories and experiences and would adopt internationally.”
The family’s growth started with Joshua, who was born in 2011 and lived in a group foster home in China. The couple gave birth to Sam in January 2015 and then adopted Lillian, born in August 2015, from an orphanage in China.
“Sam and Lillian have always measured within an inch and a pound of each other, so we call them our twins,” Kelly said, smiling at her children from different backgrounds.
The Bryants were aware of potential challenges that could arise from adoption and did a good bit of research into attachment issues and trauma-informed care. They said Joshua’s and Lillian’s growth progressed differently due to their varied circumstances.
“Joshua lived in a foster home with parent figures, which gave much more of a family dynamic,” Kelly described. “Lillian lived her first year in an orphanage where she didn’t really receive much attachment to adults.” As the children grew, tension among them would sometimes boil over. Additionally, one had a difficult time accepting or showing affection to Mark due to attachment issues.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly and Mark began to notice an increase in the relational struggles between their children.
“Being together 24/7 because of the pandemic, there was a step up in intensity,” Kelly said. “There wasn’t enough buffer between the kids. They were constantly butting heads; the relational struggles were pronounced. In my opinion, they were poking at each other’s core wounds from adoption.”
As Kelly looked for resources the family could tap into, a friend suggested contacting MCH Family Outreach in Waco.
“Kelly did a lot of research looking at options for clinical counseling and learned about MCH,” Mark said. “We talked with Hannah on the phone and were surprised to learn about all the services MCH offered, especially framed in TBRI, because that’s what we were already using.”
Osborne encountered a family ready and willing to learn and grow.
“I remember leaving the first few meetings with the Bryants so excited about how eager they were to learn, talk about their parenting and engage in reflective work,” Osborne said. “They had a background in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), so we worked on tailoring therapy for their family needs.”
Mark said Osborne’s methods were less like teaching or instruction and more of a relational exchange.
“The approach Hannah used is great in that all three kids even had a role,” Mark said. “I tend to be a linear thinker, so we identified what we wanted to do and set goals. Hannah’s approach was well thought out and methodical, supplemented by great resources for us to learn from and use as a family.”
“We’re very open with people, but having someone ‘looking under the hood’ and walking with us through things has been so good,” Kelly described. “Hannah worked with us on how to diffuse tense situations when the kids are at each other. The meetings felt very natural – we touched base, checked feelings and worked our timeline.”
Osborne utilized activities engaging the whole family, which led to heartwarming breakthroughs.
“The kids have normal sibling challenges, but it’s heightened because of brain and attachment issues,” Osborne said. “We did nurture group activities together and spent time doing activities and playing games. We also had intentional practice of relating well in calm moments and introduced regulating techniques for the tense situations. We work on sibling interactions but also growing heart connections with parents.”
Through the activities, Mark and Kelly saw their child who struggled with attachment warm to receiving hugs from Mark, which has grown to bedtime stories and even singing together.
“As we worked on that, it was beautiful to see our child begin to show affection toward me and initiate hugs,” Mark said. “I’ve also noticed growth between the kids – they might not always start and end well, but there’s more moments of them playing well together and being intentional about the things we’ve learned.
“The great reminder behind all this is we are learning what is going on with our kids and what should be going on developmentally and how it might be impacted by adoption and trauma,” he added. “It’s good to understand how and why someone might be acting out.”
In Waco, adoptive families are further strengthened by adoption support groups for parents. A group for adoptive mothers meets biweekly at a public setting where children can play together and mothers have time to connect and dialog with one another to share stories, encourage and support each other.
Marissa Smith, a program administrator with MCH Family Outreach, said each of the outreach offices across Texas and New Mexico can tailor case management to meet the unique needs of adoptive families.
“All of our 13 offices are equipped to offer post-adoption services through Family Solutions and even Gap programming,” Smith said. The Gap program assists grandparents and other relatives taking care of children in the absence of parents.
Kelly said they see more instances of their children showing kindness and generosity to each other.
“We praise and celebrate those moments,” she said, adding that the growth her family has experienced has left her “evangelistic about the resources MCH has provided. It’s been such a blessing to us.”