Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Russian (and other countries') Adoption Problem

The woman who sent her adoptive son back to Russia with a note stating that he was a sociopath is hardly a woman who snapped after singing "I'm a little teapot" one too many times.

She has done what so many parents who have adopted from Russia have been tempted to do. (To read more about this, go here and here).

The sad truth, and one that has been known for years, is that most children from Russia (or many other third world countries) come with problems. It's easy to see why. Here's the recipe:

1. Go to a third world country (and parts of Russia are just that)
2. Take one child being generally unwanted
3. Institutionalize that child for a long time
4. Couple that with him moving to another country and being forced to assimilate the culture

And voila! One freshly made (you choose):

A. Sociopath
B. Child with severe attachment disorder
C. Hell on wheels
D. All of the above

I've read of these cases for years, and I'm shocked that it's taken this long for anyone to take real notice of them.

What's amazing is that it took this one incident to put the spotlight on an issue that's been going on for a very long time. And truthfully, there's no solution. If you want a child desperately enough, you may want there to be a solution, but wishful thinking can't change facts.

Studies repeatedly show a child's personality is developed between 3 and 5 years of age. And these formative years are usually filled with trauma in the case of an unwanted child.

Now other sympathetic families are weighing in, telling of their miserable Russian adoptions. Some have rationalized, some have muddled through it all, but most speak of the toll it takes and the burdens they must carry due to the children they took on.

We are exporting other countries' problems when we take on their children, with rare exceptions.

Years ago I had acquaintances who chose to adopt from India because they felt specially attuned to that country (due to the whimsical fact that the husband played the Sitar). They went through a long and painful process, sending money to India, getting pictures, etc.

The baby was a girl. She had been raised since birth in an orphanage run by nuns, but the problem was that the orphanage had very little funding. Therefore, the children often didn't receive proper nutrition.

When this couple received the baby, she was about 8 months old, had been held rarely (so her head was somewhat deformed from being left in the crib so much), and she was severely thin and undernourished (she was the size of a newborn). As a result, their pediatrician warned them that there was likely to be brain damage or at least mental development issues.

The parents joyfully announced all this to us because, frankly, it was new. And any experience, when new, is something you think you can happily overcome, slogging through mountains and singing the theme from The Sound of Music. It was A Challenge, A Rite of Passage, A Chance To Show Off Parenting Skills.

But that child is now about 18 and I wonder how she fared. And if she lived. And whether or not the marriage survived. And when the bloom fell off the rose, did the Sitar playing husband leave or did he merely sink into despair? For usually it's the wife who takes on the true burden of raising a special needs child.

It is often very hard to bond with a child that is not your biological child, for the simple reason that hormones play a factor when a baby is born. Without your hormones singing that child's praises, it's much tougher to get past the bumps in the road, let alone the crevasses.

Thus, an adoptive child does not have the advantages that a biological child has. Over the years, I have had close friends who were adopted, and not one of them ever felt that bond. And, may I venture to add that it's because their parents apparently never felt that bond, either.

I am sure that there are exceptions: For instance, if a parent adopts a child right after the loss of a child, they may be able to transfer the bond. And there are parents who may truly believe that they are as close to that bond as they can be. One adoption site says that research shows that adoptive families bond as closely as biological ones. I'm not disputing that bonding occurs, but I question to what degree it occurs.

Adoption and assimilation of children is tough enough as it is, without adding other problems to the mix. Although we certainly don't have enough children to adopt within the USA (due to abortion and restrictive laws), going outside of the country isn't a better solution.


Ed said...

I must say that as someone who has been adopted by my stepfather at the age of 8, I think and love him as my father in every way and I am pretty certain the feeling is mutual. Most people don't even know that he is not my biological father. Of course the difference over what you wrote is that my biological mother was a constant in both equations. Still, I think bonding such as those filed under the biological kind can happen. I think it helps that I was young and had it been a few years later, perhaps things would have turned out differently.

I've known several people who have adopted kids and sadly, problems do arise, especially with the older children. However, I would be willing to bet that there probably aren't many more problems in adoptive children than in families of biological children. For every adoptive family I know, I can probably think of ten biologically related families with major problems only they can't send their children back.

Food for thought anyway.

Saur said...

Ed, Very good contribution, thank you. I should note here that I have a nephew who's adopted but I'm not close enough to that side of the family to know the inner workings and I have no idea how successful it is, but it SEEMS to be working out fine. Plus the boy was adopted shortly after the parents lost two babies AND he was adopted as a newborn. All factors to be considered.

Yeah, there's no doubt that there are bio families w/ problems. I'm having a problem with my son right now, but I still love him dearly and would never consider sending him away if it were up to me (though I do believe in getting kids help when it's needed).

Gary Baker said...

Kind of building on what Ed said, I was in the position growing up where I never bonded with my biological father. Part of it was that he was Air Force and he left on a two year unaccompanied tour to Italy when I was about 18 months old. There's a lot of bonding in that time that can be hard to recover. There were other things.

On the other hand, I have some friends at church that I think would take in the whole world if they could. They generally keep at least two foster kids and often more as the county needs it. They are just that kind of people. They have a lot of love to give.

I hear a lot of people say "I really want a child," and it makes me cringe. And the more desperate efforts they make to get one, the more I cringe, because if you don't have the patience to navigate the system to get a child, you probably don't have the patience for a child. And if you have a single person looking to adopt or an unmarried couple, I cringe all the harder, because if you aren't willing to commit to another adult up front, then how can you commit to someone who is utterly helpless.

Just so everyone knows: I am not slamming people who had children and then had a marriage break up. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my mom stuck it out with us through thin and thinner. She worked herself into an early grave trying to provide for us because parenting is a two person job and she was constantly behind. I learned a lot about commitment from her.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I have one adopted child, and she had some problems, but we kept going, and she is now the grandmother of my three great grandchildren. I have friends with eight children, five of whom were adopted (Two from Vietnam)and in spite of natural problems the family is very close. (and one of their natural children recently adopted a baby from China.) There are no generalities that work perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Saur, I disagree with you about not having enough kids to adopt in the U.S. I just checked the Adopt Us Kids website, and they have more than 3,000 children who are looking for forever families. Adopt us Kids doesn't even list all the children who need forever families.

Anonymous said...

I just checked adopt Us Kids website and did a search for children between 1 and 3 years old, anywhere in the country and any race. It came up with 22 children...all of them had severe medical conditions. Kids like these are not for every family. Don't believe that there are plenty of kids to adopt from this country.