Get the Extended Warranty

Posted on April 12, 2010


There’s no shortage of things that can get me incensed, but this weekend’s news brought one home that’s a no-brainer: the woman (I won’t dignify her with the title of “mother”) from Tennessee who shipped her adoptive son back to Russia. As the father of a son who we adopted at 13 months old from Romania, I’m more than appalled at the consumer-type mentality exhibited by this woman and her mother (who arranged the child’s unaccompanied flight back to Moscow). Adopt a “defective” kid — or maybe he or she doesn’t enhance your home’s color scheme — and some people think the child is like a piece of merchandise that can be returned. Yes, adoptions can be disrupted as long as there is good reason and as long as all resources are exhausted. This child was never seen by a psychologist, or psychiatrist. He was only seen, at home, by a social worker to document the child’s status for the Russian authorities.

Many adoptive children suffer from some sort of attachment disorder. It’s only natural, especially when they’ve been abandoned as babies and left in an institutional environment. A child with problems with attachment can run the gamut of behavioral disorders — from ADHD to oppositional behavior to rarer cases of extreme violence. These children need love, but love (in itself) is not enough: They (and their parents) need professional help — something this woman did not even attempt to secure for this boy. And this is something that your average social worker is not adequately trained for. Children with more severe attachment disorders (called reactive attachment disorder, or RAD) are excellent manipulators (even at 7 years old), presciently skilled at controlling adults. They know to be on best behavior with strangers (like a social worker who visits for maybe a half-hour every few months), and even with their adoptive parents until they feel secure in lashing out (which happened in this case). A trained eye would have been aware, and would have let this woman and her mother know how to access resources that would help them cope with this boy and try to turn this bad situation around. This woman did not even try because it’s easier to pull on that consumer logic and ship the goods back to where they came from. It’s a shame a trained eye was not around to try to intervene, to let this woman know she was not alone…

The hardest thing I have ever done is become an adoptive father. And, aside my marriage, the most rewarding thing. But it’s something that cannot be done without help. There are no guarantees in life (something I tell my son when he cries that life’s unfair, and that I’ll never know what it is like to be adopted — and I know that he’s right there: I will never know how it is to feel adopted). There are no guarantees that if you could have a biological child that that child will be OK (“oh, sorry, we do not want a child with Down’s, so back up into the uterus you go”). It’s a shame this woman just doesn’t get it. It’s also a shame there was no safety net for her. And it’s a greater shame that she’s now made it even more difficult for those who truly want to undertake the hardest thing they’ll ever do.

Shame: one thing adoptive kids live with their whole lives (they think: “I must be bad. Why else would my birth mom & dad give me up?”). This cycle has got to end somewhere.