Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children.
by Jane Ballback
The story of the woman who sent her newly adopted son back to Russia put a spotlight on how complicated international adoption can be. So much depends of course, on the way the adoption was handled, whether a legitimate and ethical agency was used, how old the child is, and how prepared the adoptive parent is. Many people, I’m sorry to say, really believe that love will be enough to solve all problems.
I had almost an ideal international adoption experience. I used Holt International Children’s Services, in my mind one of the most ethical and credible agencies in the world. I adopted from Korea where they have a well-established foster program so my children were not institutionalized, and they arrived when they were five months old. It doesn’t get much better than that and I still had many issues to deal with.
I’m reminded of the woman I met a few years ago who adopted a five-year-old from a county program that takes kids from foster care and works to find a permanent family. This woman was well-educated and well meaning. What she was not, was prepared for her new son. When she and I first met, her son had been in her home a year. It was Christmas time and she was telling me that the previous Christmas her newly adopted son tore open all of the packages, despite the fact that he was told he needed to wait. She also told me of several other behaviors that she found strange in a five-year-old boy. He seemed to her to be much younger than his chronological age.
She was actually quite right about that. Dr. Patricia Cogen, author of Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, makes a distinction between chronological age and “family” age. I think this is a very important distinction because it begins to explain why older children have a hard time adapting to family life. They simply can’t handle what they don’t understand and have never experienced. She went on to tell me that he had settled down a great deal over the years time, and she had just asked him what he wanted for Christmas this year. He told her his wishes and asked, “Mama what you want?” She said, “I want a good little boy.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Can I stay when he comes?” By now my heart was breaking for both of them. I said to her, “Please find help as you continue to parent your child, because what he said was incredibly enlightening and like many adopted children, he is simply waiting ‘for the other shoe to drop.’” I told her I thought that her life with her son would be smoother and calmer if she understood what he was obviously thinking, feeling, and “acting out.”
I read as much as I could before I adopted my children, and continue to read all through my parenting experience. I’ve mentioned Patty Cogen’s book, because it is simply one of the best I’ve ever read. I was fortunate enough to find a local child therapist, who was herself adopted. When I felt like I could not figure out what was going on, or what to do next, I called her. If you are lucky enough to live in California there is also a wonderful resource called The Kinship Center with a core belief that every child deserves a family. They provide a broad spectrum of services for adoptive parents at all stages of their children’s lives. I’ve met many staff members there and couldn’t be more impressed.
Another obvious resource is the adoptive family support groups that are everywhere. If you subscribe to the magazine, Adoptive Families, they have websites you can access to find a support group near you.
Whether you are waiting for your child to arrive, or you are in the middle of your parenting experience, the best thing you can do is find the resources that you will need to understand your child and the needs that all adopted children have…to one degree or another.