The Surprising Side of Adoption

 

There is a scene in the film Good Will Hunting in which the title character and his therapist are discussing their individual experiences with abusive fathers.

Sean: My father was an alcoholic, mean drunk. He’d come home hammered, looking to wail on someone. So I’d provoke him so he wouldn’t go after my mother and little brother. The interesting nights were when he’d wear his rings.

Will: Mine would lay out a wrench, a belt, and a stick on the table and he’d just say, ‘choose’.

Sean: I gotta go with the belt there.

Will: I always chose the wrench.

Sean: [incredulous] Why?

Will: Because [expletive] him, that’s why!

This attitude — the willingnesss to suffer any degree of hardship, self-inflicted or otherwise, so long as it denies authority or control to another — describes what we adoptive families often call “attachment issues.” It’s not something we often discuss in public, and get weary of explaining to misguided family members and friends, much less strangers (my wife wrote a book on this issue – send me a message if it interests you).

The clinical term for the most serious form of this is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a wordy way of describing a child who intentionally does things he/she knows will get them into trouble at home; things like urinating in Sunday school chairs (for attention), skipping numbers when counting out loud (for correction) or refusing to correctly pronounce certain words like “please” or “Daddy” because… because [expletive] him, that’s why.

Many of us have a romanticized notion of adoption. We think of Dickens, or The Little Princess: stories with sweet children desperate for good homes who become models of cheer once rescued from their orphan worlds. Rarely do we hear about the multitude of manipulation techniques employed by these children, skills honed within the dark corners of terrible institutions, and the back rooms of sleazy “uncles” in soiled trailers. Reality is messy, and often breaks one’s heart.

I was therefore surprised when, after bringing home two special-needs children from Eastern Europe, we were thrust into this world. Don’t get me wrong, we were prepared for the potential. But having a fully stocked earthquake survival kit doesn’t make the disaster any more welcome. I’d read books about what to expect, had prayed many hours over said expectations, and was ready to believe the best.

I still do, by the way. God can heal all wounds, restore all wrongs, and bring about transformation in a moment. This is what we parents living in the tall grass of post-adoption exile cling to: the hope that one day — sooner rather than later — love will indeed prevail, and that these children will set aside their apprehensions, and embrace a joy they’ve been denied by circumstance, and have rejected by choice.

Image Credit: Flickr user Dario F. DeJesus.

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  1. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Vince, I spent almost 3 years in a clinic doing evaluations on these children (usually the cognitive stuff).  You and your wife have taken on a difficult and significant work.  Your kids lives are immeasurably better because of you and Mrs. G’s choice and commitment.  Thank you..

    • #1
  2. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Thank you, Vince.

    Reality can be hard. People recover but there is a high cost. The good must pay for the bad. Hope always must be clear thinking and willing to deal with what is to get to what can be.

    I wish I knew how much is from nature and how much is from nurture. Just putting a person in a good environment does not change tendencies toward certain behaviors. Unfortunately people come from homes where the unthinkable was daily behavior so we are unprepared in how bad bad can be. I and I hope others will remember you in prayer because God only knows on some of these things. May He give you patience with a smile.

    • #2
  3. user_6236 Member
    user_6236
    @JimChase

    Thank you, Vince. I know a few families walking the path you are walking, and have heard some stories. Many don’t talk about them though outside their support structure and affinity groups. I trust you have such a system to help you navigate. Thank you making the sacrifice of love necessary to bring light and hope into the lives of your kids. God bless!

    • #3
  4. Indaba Member
    Indaba
    @

    Yes, life is messy and how people treat others behind a closed door is unbelievable. Living life looking forward to what is possible instead of making choices based on their past experiences is very hard to do for these abused people. The Internet is certainly beginning to show these situations and make bullies and cruelty catch up to those in power, even thirty years later.
    I would be interested to know what you think of the celebrity cases now being exposed like Bill crosby and here in Canada, gian gimmes hi at the CBC.

    • #4
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Out of curiosity, how old are the children with attachment issues at the time of adoption? How much time have they spent in foster care?

    Are attachment issues a likely problem if the adoption was finalized when the child was still a newborn?

    • #5
  6. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    I often thought while raising our kids that, as blessed as we were, we should adopt as you have done. I admire you and your wife so much. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, because I’ve seen how these problems, and I believe they are almost entirely a result of neglect and abuse, can turn a family upside down. It just didn’t seem fair to the kids we have. God bless you. Hard as it is, you are giving the greatest gift you can possibly give.

    • #6
  7. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Out of curiosity, how old are the children with attachment issues at the time of adoption? How much time have they spent in foster care?

    Are attachment issues a likely problem if the adoption was finalized when the child was still a newborn?

    I was adopted at four days. So, essentially, at the ideal time.

    If I’m going to be completely honest, with myself and everyone else, there is no essential doubt in my mind that the fact made forming intimate relationships with women unnecessarily difficult, essentially showing up as an expectation to be rejected, which in my case I acted out by a strategy psychologists call “leaving first,” which I generally implemented by means of behaving in a sufficiently dysfunctional way as to cause the poor woman to leave. How handy! “I” got “rejected” again, just as I expected! Tragically, I just managed to act out this script again with a very good friend of eight years, leaving both of us bewildered, profoundly hurt, and no longer even speaking.

    Upon reflection, none of this is the surprise. The surprise is that we ever thought you could disrupt literally the single most fundamental human relationship there is, at one of the most, if not the most, fundamental time, and expect that not to have repercussions. I’m actually one of the blessed ones: so I lost a few girlfriends that way. Everyone does, one way or the other. As for my recent friend, hopefully she will forgive me some day. But I’ve now been married the second time for 20 years, I know (to some extent) what difficulties come from having been adopted, and can tackle them head-on without being blind-sided by them. Most of the time.

    • #7
  8. La Tapada Member
    La Tapada
    @LaTapada

    Another book that portrays adoption as solving a child’s problems is The Good Master, by Kate Seredy (I enjoyed it as a child and still consider it a good book).

    As two of my three children (now adults) are dealing with mental illness, I am learning to accept that good parenting doesn’t solve everything. It’s hard to accept that vast amounts of love cannot cure these things.

    • #8
  9. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Godel’s Ghost,

    When did you find out that you were adopted? Do you think that it is good idea not to tell a small child or is it best to tell? Do you have any ideas to counteract this? Has this been a wound your entire life wondering why you were rejected?

    Please feel free not to answer. I think people need to know as Vince’s conversation is doing the downsides. I am concerned as this relates to SSM which by definition separates the child from a parent. Unintended consequences are still consequences that must be dealt with.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Gödel’s Ghost: …which in my case I acted out by a strategy psychologists call “leaving first,” which I generally implemented by means of behaving in a sufficiently dysfunctional way as to cause the poor woman to leave. How handy! “I” got “rejected” again, just as I expected!

    ____________________________________

    In my experience, this is a classic dating strategy among hardcore he-nerds, even those that aren’t adopted. As an adopted hard-core he-nerd, you must’ve been double the trouble ;-)

    • #10
  11. La Tapada Member
    La Tapada
    @LaTapada

    Oh, and I meant to say, thanks for sharing. It’s good to be reminded that there’s more to life (much more) than politics.

    • #11
  12. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    La Tapada:Another book that portrays adoption as solving a child’s problems is The Good Master, by Kate Seredy (I enjoyed it as a child and still consider it a good book).

    As two of my three children (now adults) are dealing with mental illness, I am learning to accept that good parenting doesn’t solve everything. It’s hard to accept that vast amounts of love cannot cure these things.

    La Tapada,

    Would you consider writing a Conversation on this? I have known some people who have been bipolar and suffered with depression. This is hard. They are seemingly good people that struggle with an unseen foe. It seems life would be easier with a physical ailment. My heart goes out to you.

    • #12
  13. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Vince,

    Do you know about the December Series on Gifts? These 6 dates 12/11, 12/14, 12/17, 12/19, 12/27, 12/30; are open.

    If anyone wants to take part the link is here.

    http://ricochet.com/december-gifts/

     

    • #13
  14. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Out of curiosity, how old are the children with attachment issues at the time of adoption? How much time have they spent in foster care?

    Are attachment issues a likely problem if the adoption was finalized when the child was still a newborn?

    According to a meta-analysis,  children adopted before 12 months of age show no differences, statistically, in attachment compared with their non-adopted peers. Unfortunately, the pressure in international adoption is from Leftists who are concerned about disrupting children’s right to live in their birth culture much more than about the actual children’s welfare. So international adoption is getting rarer, and adoptive parents who prefer a younger child are considered selfish; all the pressure is towards adopting much older children.

    I was so blessed to be able to bring my daughter home when she was 3 1/2 months old.  Every day I try to remember to count that as one of my greatest blessings.

    • #14
  15. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Lucy Pevensie: the pressure in international adoption is from Leftists who are concerned about disrupting children’s right to live in their birth culture much more than about the actual children’s welfare.

    Yes. This is so unbelievably disgusting.

    • #15
  16. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    iWc:

    Lucy Pevensie: the pressure in international adoption is from Leftists who are concerned about disrupting children’s right to live in their birth culture much more than about the actual children’s welfare.

    Yes. This is so unbelievably disgusting.

    It shows their true colors. They would rather abort in both senses of that word than take responsibility. The left talks a good game but when it comes down to caring the “welfare check is in the mail”.

    • #16
  17. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    10 cents: I wish I knew how much is from nature and how much is from nurture.

    This is actually the wrong question! “Nature vs Nurture” is a question we ask when we are trying to predict the behavior of animals.

    While people are physiologically animals, we are capable of free choice – of transcending BOTH nature and nurture.

    The breakthrough is when people realize that they can actually choose to do other than what their instinct or background tell them to do. It can be like a light switch: “I want to do X, but I CHOOSE not to!” can be such a sweet moment.

    When parents, however, describe and treat their children as the sum of their nature and nurture (“It’s all right, this is normal for ADHD/Spectrum/Slow/Challenged kids like you” or “you are just like your father!”) then we are teaching them that they are not, in fact, capable of free choice.  That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Free choice is scary. Most people reflexively shy away from it. But as and when children (adopted or not) come to believe that they can master themselves, then we make it possible to bring holiness into the world.

    • #17
  18. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    iWc,

    We agree. I am not a determinist. We choose are actions. Nature and Nurture give us predilections that can be built upon or overcome.

    • #18
  19. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think part of the problem with the adoptions of older children is that we, as a society, are operating within a conflict:

    (a) The adoption is formulated and occurs within the haze of altruism–to help the child. That’s in the agencies’ thoughts and actions.

    (b) As soon as the adoption has been made formal, a switch is turned, and now the relationship is considered typical of all parent-child relationships, as if there were no preexisting problems and as if the parents had been in control of the child’s life from the moment of conception.

    I am sympathetic to the parents.

    It is a special and difficult situation.

    The only thing I’d consider is that biological parents deal with these problems too. There is a large group of homeless teenagers in this country (6,000 in Massachusetts alone) that parents have basically abandoned, most often because they have no choice.

    On my street, a nice middle-class street, a couple moved out of state and left their 18-year-old troubled child on the Cape in the homeless shelters. They couldn’t help him, and he was doing all kinds of things that were antisocial and often illegal. I’m sorry it happened, and I don’t really blame them. They couldn’t bear to watch what happened to him. He’s better off being monitored by professionals who have no relationship with him.

    • #19
  20. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    By the way, Vince, I am so sorry that your kids are suffering from this.  As much as I wish that all children were able to find families as babies, the truth is that there will always be older kids who need families. And it will always be hard for everyone, but it will still be better for the kids than that they spend their whole childhoods in institutions. I have Christian friends here who adopted a child from Russia when he was 2. He seemed okay until around age 6, but then things started to fall apart, and they are still struggling now that he is 14.  It is a good thing that you, and they, are doing.  May God bless you in the endeavor.

    • #20
  21. user_549556 Member
    user_549556
    @VinceGuerra

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Out of curiosity, how old are the children with attachment issues at the time of adoption? How much time have they spent in foster care? Are attachment issues a likely problem if the adoption was finalized when the child was still a newborn?

    Ours were both five when they were adopted two years ago. We have several friends who have adopted children domestically, infants at birth, babies or toddlers out of foster care, some with the same challenges, others without. There doesn’t seem to be a specific age or circumstance that triggers it, except for the fact they were adopted.

    • #21
  22. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Gödel’s Ghost: …which in my case I acted out by a strategy psychologists call “leaving first,” which I generally implemented by means of behaving in a sufficiently dysfunctional way as to cause the poor woman to leave. How handy! “I” got “rejected” again, just as I expected!

    ____________________________________

    In my experience, this is a classic dating strategy among hardcore he-nerds, even those that aren’t adopted. As an adopted hard-core he-nerd, you must’ve been double the trouble ;-)

    I’m not adopted and I do it too.  I’m not sure why this tendency gets attributed to adoption.

    • #22
  23. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    10 cents:Godel’s Ghost,

    When did you find out that you were adopted?

    At age 4-5.

    Do you think that it is good idea not to tell a small child or is it best to tell?

    It’s crucial to tell. Waiting until adolescence (“when they can understand”) is an enormous mistake.

    Do you have any ideas to counteract this? Has this been a wound your entire life wondering why you were rejected?

    I explained poorly: I don’t wonder why I was rejected. I never felt rejected. On the contrary, I’ve always known the point was my birth mother loved me enough to want an intact family for me. And I knew this before I met my birth mother. :-)

    My point is rather that the separation that being placed for adoption entails has emotional consequences that look an awful lot like “feeling rejected” and are acted out in those terms, but they’re so primal and unconscious that they’re decoupled from any awareness or “feeling” at all. My explanation of it is entirely analytical, because it must be: it certainly doesn’t arise from any such feeling. Conversely, though, I can recognize a tendency to become overly attached, emotionally, that I’m convinced very much is a consciously-experienced manifestation of the effects of the separation.

    So “rejected” is really the wrong word, and I think I now better understand why people talk about “separation anxiety.”

    Please feel free not to answer. I think people need to know as Vince’s conversation is doing the downsides. I am concerned as this relates to SSM which by definition separates the child from a parent. Unintended consequences are still consequences that must be dealt with.

    We’ll find out how it plays out. One way or the other.

    • #23
  24. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Cato Rand:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Gödel’s Ghost: …which in my case I acted out by a strategy psychologists call “leaving first,” which I generally implemented by means of behaving in a sufficiently dysfunctional way as to cause the poor woman to leave. How handy! “I” got “rejected” again, just as I expected!

    ____________________________________

    In my experience, this is a classic dating strategy among hardcore he-nerds, even those that aren’t adopted. As an adopted hard-core he-nerd, you must’ve been double the trouble ;-)

    I’m not adopted and I do it too. I’m not sure why this tendency gets attributed to adoption.

    A => B \=> B => A

    Sorry: A implies B does not imply B implies A. So the fact that B applies to you (“I do it, too”) does not imply A (“I”m adopted.”)

    Why is it attributed to adoption: the statistical correlation (to the extent it’s been rigorously studied through years when closed adoption made it rather difficult) is overwhelming. Again, in terms of modern developmental psychology, no one should really be surprised. What probably should happen is that adoptive parents should receive some sort of training in how to observe and help their adopted adolescents navigate dating waters that are plenty treacherous enough without the added unconscious backdrop of separation anxiety (or whatever we should call the phenomenon) gumming up the works. Added points for Christian adoptive parents helping their adolescent adoptee overcome a stark raving fear of their own sexuality, half because of what they’ve learned as Christian teens, half because of an equally unconscious, visceral connection between this separation anxiety and Christian teaching about premarital sex, which is how my birth parents got themselves into this mess, etc.

    • #24
  25. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Vince Guerra:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Out of curiosity, how old are the children with attachment issues at the time of adoption? How much time have they spent in foster care? Are attachment issues a likely problem if the adoption was finalized when the child was still a newborn?

    Ours were both five when they were adopted two years ago. We have several friends who have adopted children domestically, infants at birth, babies or toddlers out of foster care, some with the same challenges, others without. There doesn’t seem to be a specific age or circumstance that triggers it, except for the fact they were adopted.

    Again, statistically the increase in risk is associated with adoption after the age of one year.  Obviously, that means that there is some risk when adoption occurs before the age of one, just as there is some risk of attachment issues when children are raised by their biological parents.  (That’s why the whole “attachment parenting” movement started.)

    • #25
  26. EstoniaKat Inactive
    EstoniaKat
    @ScottAbel

    My wife and I are also in the process of adopting. The child is male, ethnic Russian, 18 months, and the mother was a heroin addict and HIV positive. The boy was born by c-section, had to go through withdrawal, but is thankfully testing negative for HIV.

    What this start has in terms of its future, it’s hard to say. The literature is not definitive. But he is a delightful kid, smiles a lot, and curious about everything. We’re going to give it our best. We found out today we will get him Tuesday.

    Although from the group sessions we’ve been to, there are all sorts of issues – a mourning period from the orphanage, etc., that at a minimum, we are going to have navigate, described in your post.

    • #26
  27. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    iWc:

    Lucy Pevensie: the pressure in international adoption is from Leftists who are concerned about disrupting children’s right to live in their birth culture much more than about the actual children’s welfare.

    Yes. This is so unbelievably disgusting.

    Thank God that our social worker encouraged us to adopt internationally. Because no matter how much pressure the Left puts on international adoption, that pressure is nothing compared to the political minefield of domestic adoption. Cross-racial adoptions are nearly impossible — unless you’re connected — and you’re pressured to take hard-to-place kids.

    Also, we were older when we adopted. The fact is, young birthmothers often balk when it comes time to relinquish the child. They look at older parents and see their parents, and if they had wanted to have their parents raise their child, well…

    To that point, the couple in front of us was about our age and obviously well-off Lefty (I would guess trust-funded artists or professors). They heard the same advice as we did and the same explanation. Their reaction: “That’s age discrimination, we’d sue!” And our social worker calmly told them what’s what: “There’s no court in this state that would take a child from its mother’s arms and give it to you two. You’d be lucky to not get countersued yourself.”

    • #27
  28. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Scott Abel:My wife and I are also in the process of adopting. The child is male, ethnic Russian, 18 months, and the mother was a heroin addict and HIV positive. The boy was born by c-section, had to go through withdrawal, but is thankfully testing negative for HIV.

    What this start has in terms of its future, it’s hard to say. The literature is not definitive. But he is a delightful kid, smiles a lot, and curious about everything. We’re going to give it our best. We found out today we will get him Tuesday.

    Although from the group sessions we’ve been to, there are all sorts of issues – a mourning period from the orphanage, etc., that at a minimum, we are going to have navigate, described in your post.

    I strongly recommend an evaluation at the International Adoption Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence (or similar facility near you via a referral). Also, the founder, Dr. Skurkovich, is a Russian native.

    • #28
  29. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    I think the fact has to be faced that an infant comes with a lot of “software” already loaded. They have a personality and will have tendency toward living a life like their parents. I think the momentum is in that direction. This is a feature not a bug for good parents. I am not saying anyone will make certain decisions but that certain decisions are easily made by the second generation. They react to things in similar ways. We take this for granted physically that the child has the same body make up as the parent. I think the mind also comes from the birth parents more than most of us think. If the parent like to “light fires”, the child will find it “natural” to “light fires”. I am all for overcoming bad behavior but it can only be overcome by knowing how strong a foothold it can have.

    • #29
  30. user_137118 Member
    user_137118
    @DeanMurphy

    I don’t know if my situation applies or not.  I was adopted by my dad, but my mom is my birth mother.

    I didn’t find out that my dad wasn’t my biological parent until I was about 12.  It was presented to me as a “family secret that you are finally old enough to know.”  I had questions about my birth father, but I got conflicting stories from my mom.  I love my dad and am glad he’s the one that raised me.

    All that said, I am quite nerdy and socially awkward, even still at 52.  I was very lucky to find a woman willing to be my wife and we have been married for 25 years.  I never really “dated.”  I asked a few women out, but it never worked.  My relationship with my wife started as a casual friendship, not a dating situation.  I had female friends, but I was always “friend zoned.”

    I never did get to meet my biological father, he died a few years ago.  Due to closed adoption rules in my birth state, I was never really sure who he was; and only after reading his obituary did I find out enough information to be sure.

    I met one of his daughters, my half sister, and she confirmed my suspicions.  She knew about me, and even had contact with my extended family; but my mother kept the kibosh on any communication with me.

    • #30

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