Happily Ever After…it has a nice ring to it but it’s not about reality. Yet, happily ever after is what many adoptive families envision of their futures once they bring their child or children home. The adoptive families I am talking about here are not the domestic adoptive families who are bringing home newborns (though I’m sure they want happily ever after too!). I am talking about the families who through domestic or foreign adoption seek out and bring into their loving homes those children who, in their brief lifetimes, have experienced rejection, abandonment, abuse and/or loss. The children I speak of are often at least the age of 2 when they are adopted. My own children were 4 and 9 when we brought them home.
If anyone wants to adopt with the idea of being celebrated as a hero or being nominated for sainthood – I strongly recommend they immediately go to the nearest pet shelter and adopt a dog or cat and abandon the idea of adopting a child altogether. A dog will think you are the best thing to happen since the invention of steak. A cat may think you are nice to snuggle with but I can almost guarantee that it will be a different story with a child.
I think in this instance, it may be wise to fess up to the fact that there has been a time in my own life when blissful delirium prevailed in regards to adoption rather than sober understanding. I was the epitome of the new expectant mother who had not yet been tempered by labor pains, sleepless nights and messy diapers.
If you have read my book, you know that my husband and I adopted two children from Russia as a result of my being commanded by God. As the mother of 4 healthy and active biological children I may be a somewhat atypical adoptive mom in that had I not experienced “divine intervention” I am almost certain that I would never have pursued adoption. However, once my orders from God were in place, I became just like the giddy effervescent new can’t-wait-to-be-a-mom mom.
My (then uneducated) rational told me that any orphaned child that came from a disadvantaged background where poverty, neglect, abandonment and abuse were once experienced would welcome the opportunity to seek refuge in a loving safe home. I looked forward to welcoming my new children into our home and providing them with an environment they could thrive in. Given their experiences, I honestly believed that my adoptive children would be able to appreciate the blessings of a loving family in a country of great opportunity in a way that my biological children would be incapable of.
Fast forward through 6 1/2 years of searching for my children, the adoption paperwork, the trip to Russia, our return home and our first year of playing charades with our children (charades is necessary when you speak different languages) and then you get to the reality. Though our adopted children gasped as they got their first glimpse of a Walmart store, their enthusiasm for embracing their new family was less gratifying. They resented parental direction, seemed unable to grasp moral lessons, and essentially seemed to care for little else than the food they ate and being warm. Over time, we came to understand that their deliberate attempts to keep their new family at a distance stemmed from the emotional disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The reality is that most of the adopted children who come from eastern European countries (including Russia) and Haiti have RAD. (I am not familiar with the RAD statistics for other countries) Children with RAD are resentful of parents (mothers in particular) and feel they are fully capable of self-parenting. They commonly lie, steal, manipulate, triangulate, make false allegations and warmly embrace self-defeating behaviors in order to feel that at all times and in all situations they are in control.
The abnormal behaviors associated with RAD generally result when infants and toddlers are not given the care and protection they need during those first critical months of life when children generally first learn to trust and to attach to their caregivers (usually moms). As a result, brain development is impaired and they learn to primarily use a fight or flight response to everything they deal with in life. As healthy parents, we care that they learn to love and trust and develop. As children with RAD, they care that they survive, that no one can hurt them again, and that no one has power over them. Conscience has little to no effect on these children and so the lengths that they are willing to go to in order to keep their hearts isolated and protected are truly heart breaking. They will deliberately try to prove that they are unlovable and unstoppable.
When I first learned about RAD, I was so sure that my love and the love of my family could help my adopted children overcome any and all of their problems. However, I truly should have known better. In my book, A Glimpse of Heaven, I refer to my experience of being taken back to heaven and seeing the preparations being made to prepare each of us for life on earth. During that experience, I witnessed that some of God’s spirit children rejected Him. I can tell you that there is not a more loving being than our Heavenly Father and there is not a more loving atmosphere than heaven and yet love did not overcome God’s rejection there and it is not enough to cure children of RAD here. Children with RAD have to want to overcome their emotional issues. Then and only then can love be a powerful tool to help them.
I felt that I needed to write about the truth of adoption because of several conversations that I have had with family and others who have adopted children with RAD. The overwhelming consensus from those conversations is that adoption is good and necessary and yet too many individuals are stepping into the experience with their eyes closed tight and equipped with little to no real life understanding of what they are accepting to be a part of.
I happen to live within a about a mile of two other families besides my own who have adopted children with RAD (All of us ignorant of RAD at the time we adopted and the ramifications of what that meant). In each family, biological children were also a part of the family.
Not coincidentally, each family has:
• Experienced significant behavioral problems with their adopted children
• Gone to great lengths to help their adopted children (counseling, etc).
• Have had their adopted children make false allegations.
• Experienced rejection and have been ostracized by extended family and friends who have believed the false allegations made by adopted children.
• Been accused by friends and family of being abusive, mean and inept parents.
• Been victims of theft, lies, and triangulation
• Been victims of heartbreak as they have experienced the rejection and abuse from the very children they have loved and have endeavored to help.
In one of those families, 8 adoptive children were welcomed into their home. In the other family, 4 children were welcomed into their home. In each of those cases, a significant financial burden was incurred. I personally know no one who would take on that kind of financial and parenting burden (even under the best of circumstances) for any other reason than a generous loving heart and a desire to help a child. Yet, too many too often have been willing to condemn them and judge them.
In hindsight, each of our families wish that we would have known and understood the significant emotional issues that our adopted children came equipped with. I, for one, would have still adopted my children but my handling of them in those crucial first years would have been dramatically different. I cannot know if the outcomes would have been different but I certainly feel that I would have been more prepared.
After all that my family and I have been through as a result of our adoption, I am still a believer in adoption and I believe that all children deserve a loving, safe home. I know that the reality is that too many children know hunger, cold, abandonment, abuse and an environment too void of nurturing. However, I also know that those who bring those children into their homes who have started life in less than stellar circumstances need to do so with an understanding of the skills they will need and task they are undertaking. And…they need to know that while love will be critical and essential…it will not be enough to remove the barricades from the hearts of their children.
Parenting of any child is a demanding and difficult endeavor. Under the best of circumstances, parenting is not and never has been for the faint of heart. However, as a parent of 4 biological children and 2 adopted children, I can verify that although the love and concern for each child will be the same and each child comes with their own unique challenges no matter how they become part of a family – the courage and mettle required to parent a child with RAD requires the best heart and soul a person can offer.