Current Issue / DU Alumni

In adopting a troubled older child, alumna Karen Argust has found immeasurable rewards

With each success Elizabeth attains, we rejoice and reach for the next golden ring,” says alumna Karen Argust

Karen Argust is the first to admit that her daughter is “difficult.” Her adopted child has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reactive attachment disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The 17-year-old, who acts more like a 13-year-old, also is showing signs of personality disorders.

But for Argust, Elizabeth is a gift of love, a test in strength and worth every struggle she’s encountered.

When the state separated Elizabeth from her birth parents, she was just 3 years old but was the primary caregiver for her two younger siblings, whom she diapered and fed. Three years later, Elizabeth experienced a failed adoption, and by the age of 8, her emotional and behavioral disabilities were so severe she was deemed unadoptable.

That label was a challenge that Argust, BBA ’89, couldn’t resist. In 1997, two months shy of Elizabeth’s 10th birthday, Argust adopted the troubled child and brought her home to Littleton, Colo.

Argust didn’t adopt an older child by chance. “Older kiddos need homes the most and are just as worthy as a newborn,” she says. And although she didn’t bring home an infant, there were nights when Elizabeth needed to be rocked and cuddled like one.

Argust is well rehearsed, almost clinical, when listing her daughter’s difficulties—her disabilities, school struggles and trouble  aintaining friendships. This fall, because of her poor impulse control, Elizabeth had to move to a residential youth treatment center and then to a foster home. (She is working very hard to be home by the holidays, Argust says.)

But Argust softens when she talks about the obstacles the two have overcome, and she beams at Elizabeth’s accomplishments: With counseling and support, Elizabeth is keeping friendships and doing better in school. She has gone from special education classes to regular high school classes and was on the summer semester honor roll. Argust boasts that Elizabeth is a volunteer aide at her high school, where she works with mentally and physically disabled children and where the administration says she “shines.” Argust is ecstatic that Elizabeth wants to go to college and study forensic science.

Argust even credits Elizabeth with helping her to grow over the years. She has learned to ask more questions and find her own resources and support system. She has taken numerous parenting courses, and most importantly, she says, learned to speak the language of doctors and lawyers. “Elizabeth has empowered me and enabled me to do things I ordinarily wouldn’t do,” says Argust, who claims to have once been a timid person.

“It’s easy to say you don’t have enough money or enough to give,” says Argust, who is a champion of adoption. “You just need to make a place for a child and realize that love won’t solve everything.”

She says adoption is one of the hardest things a person can do, but she also says it’s the most rewarding. “I won’t say I have never had any regrets about adopting a child as a single parent. However, would I do it again? Yes—without a second thought!” she declares. “Life continues to have its potholes for our family, but I try to hold on to hope. With each success Elizabeth attains, we rejoice and reach for the next golden ring.”

Once Elizabeth matures and settles into life on her own, Argust plans on adopting again. “By that time, I’ll be 50 years old. But I have so much more to give.”

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