Monday, March 31, 2008

What Adoptive Parents Never Talk About

Recently I have been thinking a lot about adoption. This is expected as I am an adoptive parent. Lately I've been thinking about the big picture of adoption, not just my own family.

Prodding my brain in that direction are things going on with other adoptive or pre-adoptive parents, some of them good friends. There are things in the news, like adopted children who are the victims of violent crime. Then there are things I have read recently, like Too High A Price, a book I mentioned in this post and this post.

And then there are little things, or things that may look little to other people. For example, my chiropractor just put up a huge picture frame in his office. It contains nicely matted photos of his many grandchildren, including over half-a-dozen adoptees.

My middle son just finished the competitive show choir season. All season his main dance partner was also adopted. What must it have been like for them, on the bus or warming up, to know that the dancer they rely on most is also the only other person in the choir to understand what it is like to look nothing like your parents?

My sister is also an adoptive parent. Like me, she adopted a sibling group after having two biological children. It is interesting to observe the differences between our children. Some of them are simply due to personality, like any other individual traits. Others can be traced straight back to the child's experience prior to being adopted. The children my sister adopted lived in an Ethiopian orphanage for several months between leaving their biological family and being adopted. The children I adopted languished in foster care for years.

More than anything else I've been thinking about what I would tell a room full of prospective adoptive parents, given the chance. I know how important it is to state things in positive terms, but in this case I just can't. I'm issuing warnings. I'm giving voice to the inconsolable pain other adoptive parents have expressed to me and that I have felt myself. If you are considering adoption, especially of any child older than a new-born, I'm talking to you.

1. Adoption will not make you happy.
2. Adoption will not save your marriage.
3. Adoption will not vindicate you as
a) a good parent
b) a good Christian, Jew, Muslim, etc.
c) a good person
4. Adoption will not make the adoptive child/children happy.
5. Adoption will not make you feel fulfilled.
6. Your birth children will not understand.
7. When your 8-year-old throws a 3-year-old tantrum in a restaurant the other customers will not understand. *
8. When you are too emotionally exhausted to call any of your friends they will think you are just blowing them off.
9. Lots of kids say they hate their parents once or twice and might mean it at the time. Unless you are prepared to hear it over and over from a kid who really does mean it, deep down in their heart of hearts, do not adopt a child with any emotional issues. And they ALL have emotional issues. *
10. People will ask you "where you got" your children, as if you picked them up at a clearance sale.
11. At least once a clerk or receptionist will refuse to believe your adoptive child is yours. "Do you work at a group home? Are you a foster parent?"
12. If you talk to non-adoptive parents about your children's bizarre behavior (hoarding food, eating paint, adolescent enuresis etc.) they will not believe you. *
13. When you are extra strict about small behaviors because you know they can snowball everyone will think you are mean and controlling.
14. No matter how preposterous the charges of abuse your child makes up about you, they will be investigated.
15. If you are white and your adoptive children are of color they will never be entirely at home in either community.
16. If you are white and your adoptive children are of color some white people will feel the need to explain to you the error of your ways.
17. If you are white and your adoptive children are of color some people of color will feel the need to explain to you the error of your ways.
18. Your adoptive children will not be greatful you adopted them until they are fairly mature, if ever. After all, it is one more thing that happened to them as a child that they had no control over. In a child's eyes getting adopted isn't that different from being moved from one abusive foster home to another.
19. Your adoptive children will not trust you. *
20. Your adoptive children will treat you like you are stupid. *
21. When they turn 18 you may ever see or hear from your adoptive child again. It may be because they hate you. It may be because they think they need a fresh start where no one knows their history. It may be because they want to be with one of their birth parents, no matter how abusive they were. There is nothing you can do about it.

* These are specifically associated with Reactive Attachment Disorder and don't apply to some infant adoptions. At some point I will write about Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is key to understanding a lot of what goes on which children who have been adopted, especially those who have been through the foster care system.

There is one reason to adopt--to provide a child a family. There is nothing in it for the parent. The parent must be internally motivated to do it for the kid. Nobody else will be impressed, grateful, proud of you, etc. to a degree that will make it worth it. The parent should not expect anything good to come from the experience. Not that it won't, but because it won't be enough to sustain you. If you aren't doing it 100% for the kid you are going to be miserable.

There is a good chance you will spend a lot of time miserable anyway, but if you are doing it just because that kid/those kids need a family then so long as you have provided one you have succeeded. If you went in expecting adoptive parenthood to make you happy you will feel like you failed whenever you aren't doing cart wheels. It's been a hell of a long time since I've done a cart wheel.


JZ said...

This is a very informative and realistic look at the things that adoptive parents face. As a couple on our road to adoption, we found the information very helpful and know that others will as well. Thank you for compiling this list and indeed giving us a look at what adoptive parents never talk about. Well done.

karen said...

This is a very raw, honest list. Thank you for placing an unapologetic light on the issue. This is very helpful information. My partner and I have often considered adoption, but have hesitated for different reasons. Your insight is invaluable. It is clear that you are very self aware and unafraid to get real, so to speak. A natural compass is an invaluable asset. I believe it will serve you and your children well. I'm glad to have found your blog.

thoughtforfood said...

Very informative and VERY true! I raised my own daughter, adopted my husband's daughter and am now raising my oldest daughter's two living children. My own daughter is the ONLY one who hasn't told me on a regular basis(and I mean daily) how much they hate me and wish I were dead. I've had my grandkids with me for almost five years now and they still hate me every day. Today I was told that they wish they were still at the foster home I took them out of (where they were beaten and forced to eat their own vomit). So while this surely applies to adoptive parents, it also applies to anyone raising OPC. (Other People's Children) Thanks for the straight talk.

DJ Dual Core said...


You are welcome.

Having a child you love say they hate you hurts in a unique way. In that regard, I'm sorry you are one of us.

You make a good point that it isn't just adoption or older child adoption that brings these kids into our lives. We need a way of talking about it that doesn't exclude people.

Hahn at Home said...

Your list is dead on. Having had foster kids who had severe behaviors different from these, I feel it. It hit home when my foster daughter cried out for a hug at the termination hearing for her drug addicted prostitute mother who hadn't shown up for months and months of supervised visits and looked to be so high we'd have to pull her off the chandelier. These kids, despite the fact I sometimes had to sleep with one eye open would have been adopted had it not been for my divorce.

Two of the three kids I adopted came with learning/language/ development problems. My daughter is mildly mentall handicapped. I had the werewithall to be able to find them services and the ability to keep it all on track. If left alone, it would have gone south quickly.

The system is irretrievably broken.

People who adopt these children don't ever do it for accolades - if they do, they're stupid. It's a grinding, difficult, sometimes tortuous test of even the sanest, most loving, and maritally secure people out there.

It is all about the kid. Always was. Just too few people step up to do anything about it.

karen said...

Just checking back in to let you know that, as you may have noticed, you've started quite a conversation. This is a good thing. A nice lady who goes by "Blondie" left a comment on my post from last friday which she states she intended for you, but was unable to leave it here due her not being a blogger member. I'd thought you might want to read what she had to say. Best regards - Karen

Christine said...

That would be a good paper for PAP's to sign before moving forward in the process!

DJ Dual Core said...


Thank you. That is where the list came from, in a way. I remember the classes the state of Iowa made me take before adopting and I was thinking about what I would add to them, if I could.

The thing is, I don't know if it would make any difference. I was so convinced that my then wife and I were setting out to both God's will and "the right thing" that no nightmare scenario from any other parent would have changed our minds. ...and I'm not saying it should have. I'm not saying I should not have adopted. I think I did do the right thing. I'm saying I don't know that anything anyone told me could have made me understand the true cost of that decision.