Adoption Blues, or Children Don’t Give a Crap About Your Good Intentions

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Saving the world, one child at a time. The fantasy vs. the reality.

I’ve worked at several preschools over the years.  I’ve also worked with children up through 8th grade.  When you are a parent, not a teacher, you see preschool just for the years your child is there.  Then you move on as  your child ages.

The teacher sees the same age year after year, and also parents dealing with that age.  Patterns begin to emerge.

Studies have shown that preschool workers, teachers and assistants, have low stress jobs.  I have to admit, nothing can make a bad day good faster than having a sweet 3 year old crawl in your lap and say “Read me a story!”  Playing in a sandbox during recess, I would teach preschoolers why there are pyramids all over the world while having fun myself.  (Pyramids are the shape things take when they fall down.  The reason there are so many pyramids is because all the other buildings a culture built have pretty much become rubble).  Teaching the youngest students has given me much joy over the years.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at a private preschool.  It is not the cheapest choice in town.  Far from it, parents sending their children to the preschool often expect to send their children on to the private school attached, and this means these are parents with money.  Professionals, lawyers, physicians, successful entrepreneurs, and a few trust fund families that don’t appear to work at all, send their children to this excellent school.   The parking lot is always full of Volvos and eco friendly vehicles.  This is of course, Vermont, and in Vermont having money means showing it off not by having the fanciest new Hummer, but showing your commitment to the environment by driving a hybrid and dressing in very expensive organic cotton clothing in the summer, and North Face fleece in the winter.

The luxury of such a school is that the children normally suffered from just one thing, too much love.  If you have ever taught at a head start program or school in a disadvantaged area, you don’t mind that these children are a little spoiled.  When people complain about children being spoiled, I remind them of the alternative that so many children around the world have to live with, not having enough.  My feelings is that it is good to see children perhaps a little too well loved. These  Vermont children may not have too many things, after all squeezing into a small hybrid is not as much fun as riding in a Hummer like that well to do child in Dallas, but they do have lots of parental love and attention.  Even most of the divorced parents tried to handled things well.  There was a real attempt at civility, for the sake of the children, that made me admire these well to do parents.

While working in a preschool is low stress, let’s face it, raising a preschooler can be very stressful.  They get tired and crabby.  They want things done a certain way, and no change from the routine.  They want that carrot sticks for lunch and not celery sticks.  If you love preschoolers it’s great to have them for a few hours, and then turn them over to their parents.  The parents get a break, and the teacher gets a few hours of happiness without losing it with the demands of these wee dictators.

The sad part of working in a well to do preschool though was seeing the children that came in that were obviously not doing well.  I will respect my own disabled child’s privacy here, but it was in preschool her disability first came to my attention.  This is the heartbreaking part of preschool.

Working so many years in the preschool, I came to know what was “normal” and what was “off”.  I hate to use the word “normal” because as a parent of a disabled child myself I believe there is no “normal”, but variations with humans.  Still in preschool it is so important to notice these differences so that intervention can start early.  I was not the person that had to make these decisions, but I also soon came to know quickly when something was worth noting. I also came to know the look in the eyes of parents, desperate to be reassured, “that’s just normal, right?”.

I admire more than I can say those who adopt children.  My own disabled child is not adopted, and I don’t believe in my own case that makes it any easier to deal with her disabilities.  Still, people with good intentions and money will often make the choice to adopt, and it can break their hearts.

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One couple adopted children from a home where the parents were alcoholics.  The children were under age 2, and the couple felt they had “saved” these children.  The children had everything: counseling, medical care, loving homes, and the best preschool.  Love and money alone were not enough to save these children.  At one point, the mother stopped me in the hallway (at this point just as a fellow parent as I was not involved anymore in directly teaching these children).  The mother just cried, she was heaving with tears, and she said “We just wanted to save them, you should have seen how they were living, and our life is hell now.  I keep hoping and hoping, and I resent that they have just ruined our lives.”  I understood she was just venting.  I assured her, as a parent of a disabled child, that at times you did feel this way.  I also assured her you just kept doing all you could, but in the end, she needed to understand there was only so much a parent could do to fix things.

I wish i could say things got better for this family.  I think perhaps they did get better when the realization that good intentions and money can not fix everything, allowed her to realize she could not save these children, but perhaps their lives would be better because of her family.  Things became even tougher when these children became teenagers, and I can not say if adopting these children was the right choice or not for this family.

Especially hard was one family I came to know. They had wanted to adopt a child that “needed us”.  The problem with adoption is that it is a long and paperwork filled uncertain process.  They had been thinking of China, only they really wanted a son.  They had 2 daughters, and they wanted a boy.  However, they were delighted to find an adoption agency that promised them a son, from South America, and they could have a child in as little as 4 months.  The other adoptions they had been looking into would have taken almost a year, but they were thrilled to be adopting “even faster than having a baby would take!”.

When their son, James, turned up at the preschool, 3 years after the adoption, I could see in the eyes of the parents the fear.  I came to know what that look meant. Their son was aggressive and loud.  “Raising a boy is a lot different than raising girls!” was their comment, but it was also a question.  Their son would not play well with others, but often that is what preschool is about so it is not a problem at first. Young children are usually ready around age 3 to learn proper social interaction, problems are expected but a preschool should be a safe learning environment.

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Children aren’t little angels. They are lovely little devils that aren’t grateful at all to their parents (this goes for any child), but everyone loves each other anyway!

One technique used was the “Peace Table”, if two children could not solve a problem they would sit at a small table.  The table had a small vase with flowers, and the child holding the vase was allowed to speak.  When the child was done speaking, the vase was passed to the other child, who then had a turn to speak.  This helped children be heard, only the person with the vase could talk, and also made sure both sides were heard.  Almost always things ended with apologies and lessons learned.  It was difficult, the preschoolers were learning self control and listening skills, but while not all children liked the “Peace Table” it became a favored method of solving problems by the children after they had been at the school for a few months.

Sadly,  James would cause endless fights and the only attempt at the “Peace Table” ended with a James attempting to bite the child he had a disagreement with.  Poor James was soon avoided by all the children, and he spent his days doing his favorite activity, playing with blocks.  Any attempts at direction were met with a puzzled look.  James it should be noted wasn’t some demon child, or bad seed, he simply did not have the capacity or ability to concentrate and focus as much as he would like to.  He loved his parents, he would run to greet his father with a far too physical hug at the end of the day.  His father  usually picked him up since his mother had trouble controlling him even during the car rides to and from school,

Later, the mother tearfully explained that they were trying “everything”.  They found out the adoption agency they used had been shut down, their son might even have been stolen.  He still needed them, but it was no longer the emotional “saving” they had envisioned.  There was also a sense of grief, how could they have done this to their two daughters?  The daughters avoided their brother, the entire focus of the family was on “saving James”.  This was not just emotionally draining, it economically draining, as insurance covered only so much and the father had to take off more and more time from work to help deal with James.

This is not of course any different than any family with a child with a disability.  My own family learned to take pride in how we help our daughter, and pride in how hard she works herself.  We remind ourselves as hard as this has been on us, it is nothing to what it has been for our child.  Parents wish that somehow money, time and love could cure all disabilities.  It can make things better.  You learn to redefine “normal” quickly.  You learn to watch the movie “Stepbrothers” and laugh (it’s a must for parents of adult disabled children).

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Parenting can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, one that you may never find, but you keep looking anyway.

The adoptive parent though, perhaps has even more to deal with.  They chose this.  I have heard:

“Why did we pick that adoption agency?  They lied to us!  Why weren’t we more careful?”

“We thought if we didn’t take the child, the child might die.  It was emotional blackmail.”

“We were assured every child was healthy.  We have a certificate from a doctor!”

“Why did I do this to my family?  I just wanted to make a difference in the world.”

“I get so angry, I once told my child that if it hadn’t been for me he would be dead.  I felt so guilty.  I just get angry, I forget he didn’t decide to come live with us, we chose him.”

These are all good parents.  I don’t know any parents that tried to readopt their children via the internet.  I don’t know any parents that sent their child back to the orphanage or even divorced over adopting these children.  The parents I met and know even now are incredibly strong people giving of their time, money and emotions to children that truly do need them.

The children however, are never ever going to say “Oh thank you, I would be dead if you had not adopted me, or perhaps sold into sex slavery.  I will behave myself and be forever grateful.”

Children are selfish creatures.

I remember shocking someone when they were asking for advice on how to deal the subject of death with their child.  The child’s grandfather was dying, and her son just cried whenever he was around his grandfather.  I gently brought up the subject with the child, and found the child’s main worry at age 6 was who would take him fishing.  His grandfather would take him fishing every weekend, and the boy seemed to be selfishly worried about missing out on an activity he enjoyed.

The mother was very upset when I recommended she assure her son he would still be able to go fishing, and perhaps ask her husband or brother to consider taking the child along on their fishing trips.  It seems only the grandfather had the patience to take a 6 year old along fishing.  The child became much calmer about his grandfather’s impending death once assured fishing trips would continue, and he was then able to spend much needed time with his grandfather before he died without breaking down in tears.  He even was able to assure his grandfather “Don’t worry, I will keep fishing after you are gone.”

Now, this seems horribly selfish.  As parents we have to remember though that children are totally dependent on us.  Of course they love us, but perhaps evolution has also programmed them for survival.  Often the first thought for a child is “Who is going to take care of me?”  This isn’t wrong or bad, it’s a very real worry for a child.  They don’t know that the loss of an adult means another adult will take care of them.  As a small child, I felt a sense of comfort that if anything happened I knew my aunt was going to take care of me.  I didn’t even know her very well, but there was a sense that if something happened, there was someplace I was going to go.

Children are wonderful,  but anyone choosing to be a parent should be commended for bravery.  I would never change a thing about my children, even my disabled one that teaches me so much with how she handles the challenges life presents to her.  She’s amazing and inspirational.

But when I read about parents trying to readopt or complaining about how their adoption experience meant to “make a difference in the world” just isn’t working out, I have a moment of pity.  Just a moment, as I know all the families that I admire that felt that way, and yet kept on doing what has to be done.  Those are the people that are allowed to have those thoughts, because they don’t act on them.  If you ever hear a parent expressing second thoughts about an adoption, don’t judge.  Just listen, and offer to help.



Categories: adoption, Family, Travel

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