Disruptions & Rehoming in Adoption Part 2
Anyone worth their salt in advertising
can tell you two tips to pulling at the heart-strings in marketing: use cute puppies and cute babies (Harris Interactive Polls on Marketing). We appear to be hard-wired to respond to “cuteness”. That may seem harmless when we are looking for cheap car insurance or choosing a soft drink brand. It is another matter altogether when that same “cute” factor seeps into the world of orphan care, adoption, and the judgements of the public on those who are involved in this societal subgroup. (Read more on the “cute factor” in orphan care here: “Abandoned Kittens & the Meaning of Life”.)
With the explosion of the issue of adoption disruption and rehoming into the public discourse, due in part to the recent NBC News series, “The Lost Children”, we come abruptly face to face with our images of what adoption is, what an orphan looks like, and what we assume the ending to the story must be. Part of the reason this series has touched such a nerve, perhaps, is the sudden realization for many outside the adoption world that not every story involves a “cute” child and a “happy” ending. Whether we realize it or not, adoption and orphan care has long been surrounded by a simplistic view that basically sums the process up as:
Here’s the truth: Adoption can be sticky, messy, unpredictable, and completely unlike any movie version you have ever seen. Here’s another truth: Adoptive families are not saints, very imperfect, often unprepared and idealistic, and, while their intentions are usually good, the reality of a broken, neglected, abandoned child struggling to understand what a family is will sometimes push certain families in certain situations past what they are able to handle. Broken human beings (even little, “cute” ones) sometimes break other human beings.
That all sounds very depressing. But it is NOT hopeless. While recent media reports exposing this dark, difficult world often leave out the very real struggles that can lead a family to make desperate decisions, they have also neglected to tell the countless beautiful, miraculous, and redemptive stories of the thousands upon thousands of families that have been able to do far more than just “survive” their adopted children, but have discovered the secret to healing and new life beyond the brokenness. This is one brief attempt to address some positive steps we can ALL take to go beyond the realization that cuteness and good intentions are not enough, and attempt to better address the needs of both the adoptive family and the child who is so deserving of love and healing, and a safe home.
For Adoptive Parents
1. Ask yourself the hard questions before you ever sign up to adopt. Can I handle a child who is “broken”? Am I willing to get help if I need it? Am I looking for a cute, easy child or do I realize this is a child who may have experienced trauma I cannot imagine?
2. Research and line up help BEFORE your child comes home. A great family physician is only the beginning. Look for experienced counselors and therapists who understand attachment and adopted children. Look for support groups. Ask your agency the hard questions about what kind of assistance they can offer you after the child is home. Ask your social worker for resources on post-adoptive issues and ensure he/she will be there to offer guidance when needed.
3. Read, question, and listen to those who have adopted before you. Don’t assume your story will be easier than theirs! It might be, but do not be so proud to think that you have “prayed harder” than anyone who has gone before. God does not have favorites in the adoptive world. The reality of your child’s grief is their reality. While I’m a huge believer in the power of prayer, that does not make your child’s pain any less real, or any less intense.
4. Listen to the advice of social workers, agencies, and counselors when you make a choice of age, birth order, and number of children to adopt. Not to say that going against conventional wisdom never works out (we adopted out of birth order once, and it worked out but it was a challenge!), but there are good reasons those who deal with adoption every day will recommend certain “best practices” such as policies on birth order, time in between adoptions, artificial “twinning” and number of children in the home. Don’t be quick to dismiss wise counsel.
5. Recognize the difference between issues that you CAN get through, and those you cannot. Many families go through a difficult period but are able to resolve the issues and eventually deeply bond with and heal the wounds of their child. While you do need to be willing to get support and help when it is tough, it is normal for there to be periods of high emotion and stress. But NEVER allow yourself to face a situation that involves the safety of your child, your other children, or even you, without immediately accepting the reality of how serious the situation has become and quickly and fiercely going after help.
1. PLEASE do not emotionally pressure families into adopting children that are older and/or have excessive special needs simply because they are about to “age out” of the system, or because there is a lack of younger & healthier children available. Our hearts simply ache when we hear desperate story after desperate story and see photo after photo of precious children who tear at our hearts. But so many families are rushed into adoptions they are simply NOT prepared to handle. While I completely understand your desire to help these children find homes (and it breaks our hearts, too), we cannot continue to assume families who have very good intentions and big hearts also have the skills and unique abilities it can sometimes take to help a child with larger challenges fit into and thrive in a family structure.
2. Please be honest with clients about the issues that are far more common than agencies are sometimes willing to be open about. If handled correctly, it does not have to scare clients away (except for those who quite possibly need to be!). It can actually wake families up to the realities and cause them to better prepare themselves for a child that is not a toy, but a human being that has been wounded by life.
For Everyone Else
I know you thought you didn’t have a part to play here. I know you have never even considered adopting, never will, and really only thought about the issue on the occasions when some adoption horror story hits the news. But I even have some homework for you:
1. Don’t judge. I know it is excessively difficult to withhold your judgement when you think of cute, sweet little kids being sent back to their home country on a plane alone, or farmed off to strangers met on the internet. Trust me, as the mother of 5, 3 who were adopted, those stories keep me up at night. But, simply put, you have not walked in the shoes of those who set out with an idealized hope of changing a child’s life only to discover they failed in massive ways.
2. Be part of the solution, not just a bystander quick to toss around harsh tweets, bitter posts, and callous comments without enough information to make a valid and credible suggestion for improvement.
It is progress that light has been shed on this dark, secret struggle and hopefully it will spur all of us to pull together and work harder to safeguard vulnerable children. We have such a long way to go. But the trail behind us, while littered with some casualties, failures, and missteps, is also completely covered over with children from all over the world, once broken and desperate, now beautifully healed and whole, walking hand in hand with families who, though far from perfect, faced their pain and fears full on…..and led them forward anyway. The success stories, far and wide, surpass all others.