Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? – Luke 14:28
Lately I’ve heard story after story of failed adoptions. Stories of parents bringing kids home and the needs being far more than expected and having to seek a different home from the child. Other times the combination of a child and a particular family is toxic from the get-go. This process is called a disruption. Sometimes the child goes to another home in a private family to family adoption and sometimes the child goes into the foster care system. Rarely, the child is returned to their sending country. These situations are not easy for anyone and there is heartbreak all around.
Before I go on, there are those freak cases of totally nutso adoptive families being approved to adopt who never should have been and ruining a kid’s life. I’m not talking about those cases in this post. I’m talking about decent, well-meaning families being in crisis. I have nothing but compassion for parents in these situations. A few weeks ago I spent an hour on the phone with a mom at the end of her rope, looking to place her son in a different home. No one plans to do this when they adopt. I don’t believe anything is gained by throwing stones at adoptive families in desperate situations. My purpose here is a frank and open discussion about how these situations can potentially be prevented from escalating to the point where a disruption occurs.
I’m not an expert here, and I can only say what things my family has done to make sure we could meet the needs of our children. I realize it might seem like we’ve had it pretty easy with our kids. We are incredibly blessed by all of our children, but it hasn’t been a cake walk. There have been challenges along the way. I’ve chosen not to share the specifics of them here because I don’t think that’s fair to my kids. Basically, what I am sharing here is the sum of conversations with parents on the verge of disruption. When I considered what possibly could have stopped this from happening, this is what I’ve come up with.
I think these situations should make all prospective parents pause and ask, “What if my kid does that?” Before you bring that child home, run through the worst case scenarios in your mind and decide what your level of commitment to that child is. I know it’s human nature to think “it will never happen to me.” Remove the pre-adoptive rose colored glasses and ask yourself – how long and at what cost are you willing to love that child even if they don’t particularly want to be on the receiving end of your love?
This is something I thought long and hard about before bringing our children home. What if the worst happened? What if the child was aggressive or a danger to others? What if they lied, stole, or broke the law? Clearly, that would be a symptom of some pretty deep turmoil, right? Those behaviors would be a sign that all was not well within the child.
I decided I would do what I do when my other kids are sick: I get them the medical care they need to get better. But I also don’t leave that sick kid right next to the healthy ones while they get well. Keeping everyone safe is absolutely a priority, and I understand there are times when a child needs to be removed from the home for a period of time for their own safety and that of others. There are ways of doing this productively. There are places that offer therapeutic, inpatient help. There are mental health respite services available. There are therapists and counselors and even in some cases medications.
What if your child needed those kinds of interventions? Most are quite expensive. I made myself consider this before adopting and decided we would sell our car, house, move into an apartment, and do whatever we had to do to get our kid help. I would call up everyone I knew and say, “I’ve got this kid who is sick and needs to get better. Can you help?” Because that’s what you do when your kid is sick. You fight for them to get well. I was deeply moved reading this account of an adoptive mom fighting tooth and nail to help her child.
I’ve not been in that kind of a position, but I can surmise it is a very hard spot to be in. Loving someone who is unable to love you back sounds unspeakably hard. But the needs of the child MUST, I repeat, MUST come before the needs and feelings of the adoptive parent. You might not feel warm and fuzzy and that’s okay. It’s not about you. Adoption is about dying to self and laying down your own desires to be a part of God’s redemptive work. I was so touched today when a fellow adoptive mom candidly shared about the tough season she’s in with her child. She said she’s been having to work really hard to love this child. But she’s doing it. She’s laying down her own feelings and consciously choosing to love her child, even in the really difficult moments. She’s not wallowing that the child isn’t loving her back. This mom has learned that it might take years for that to happen.
Let’s consider now in practical terms what adoptive parents can do to equip themselves for the potential of these situations:
- Go into adoption unafraid, but with eyes wide open. Face all the possibilities.
- I think prior to adopting a child over about 2, it is wise to meet the child and observe the child and spend time with them. I mean, before a court appearance and anything is legal. Before you go and promise a child “forever,” if at all possible, I think meeting them is wise. We never thought we would adopt out of birth order and displace our eldest child. I honestly would not have been comfortable doing so without meeting our daughter first. When I met her, I knew by seeing her interact with other kids that we would be a good family for her and we could meet her needs. Will you be able to see all of the potential issues by a short meeting with a child? Of course not. But you might get a sense of who the child is and if you can effectively meet their needs. If this can’t happen, I would ask for multiple opinions about the child from orphanage staff and anyone you might know who has visited him.
- Decide ahead of time what you will do if happens. Where will you seek help? What resources are available? Who will you turn to?
- Consider how you will structure your home to ensure the safety of everyone before completing an adoption of an older child. Tragically, most older children coming from institutional care have seen or experienced inappropriate things. If you are adopting out of birth order, how will you make sure everyone is kept safe? In our home, I have a camera in our upstairs hallway area. If I send my kids up to get their pajamas on, I can hear what’s happening. We also have an open door rule where no two children are ever behind a closed door together.
- Force yourself to ponder what would justify disrupting your adoption. Talk about that ahead of time. As much as we’d all love to think nothing could ever cause us to disrupt our adoptions, what if you spent every dime you had and exhausted every resource and still found your child had needs you could not meet? What if those needs caused the child to be a danger to himself or others? I don’t have an answer here. I’ve never been in that situation. I do know there are times disruptions are necessary. I know there are some times adoptive parents give everything they have and it’s just not enough.
The point here is adoptive parents must count the cost before making lifelong promises they may or may not be able to keep. We all must do our due diligence.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: I am full of compassion for families in these crisis situations. Please, before you make any comments about not judging the adoptive families, remember the child. That is my concern. None of us want to see more kids stuck in these situations.
Wow! Thanks Lara! I told you it wasn't all butterflies and rainbows. But I think it needed to be said!
Originally posted by Lara at The Farmer's Wife Tells All on April 25, 2013. Reposted with permission.
Lara Added this to the bottom of her post - it applies here too! "Mean comments about adoptive parents faced with disruption will be deleted. I will not be party to bashing anyone. This is meant to be a productive discussion about how to prevent disruptions from happening."