Preparing for the Worst—The Problem with Adoption Education
My grandmother and most adoption educators live by the “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” philosophy. But does preparing for the worst, then make us see the worst? Does adoption education that focuses on the potential problems make adoptive parents paranoid and prone to overreact?
Tara, a new adoptive mom, posted the following comment on my recent blog Walking the Tightrope in Adoptive Parenting:
I’m a first time parent so I have no experience with raising little ones and I’ve been struggling with this subject lately. When I did my research while waiting to adopt I did what I always do, prepared for the worst. So I read everything about raising troubled children, dealing with attachment issues, The Primal Wound (wow), and others. So now that I am actually a mom I’m looking for (expecting) all these issues, or rather seeing all of these problems when it is probably just regular development.
Currently, I’m concerned that my son happily goes to any Tom, Dick, Or Sheila who smiles at him and says he is cute, and then cries when I take him back. I read that kids who seem to attach to everyone have attachment issues. So I’m wondering if I should take him to a therapist at 11 months old. On the other hand, that seems ridiculous. Wish I read a little less about the bad stuff so I wouldn’t worry as much.
I’m so glad Tara made this comment. As someone who runs an adoption education nonprofit, I am keenly aware of the exact point she’s making. We want parents to be prepared for the worst, but then are we not predisposing them to think the worst every time an issue, be it normal development or adoption related, arises. We truly try to keep things in perspective here, but I suspect that Creating a Family too is guilty.
There is a fine line between preparing you for the possible problems and scaring you needlessly. Tara’s feelings are common. I heard frequently that parents dreaded and often avoided reading adoption books or preparation material because they were “all so negative.” I remember having these feelings myself.
Much of what is available for adoption education was written specifically to focus on a problem (attachment, neurological disorders, etc.), and it was never the author’s intent to address the whole picture. These books are wonderful resources for families living that experience, but most families at the beginning of the adoption process lack the proper context to keep them in perspective. But adoption education that ignores the potential problems or does not address them thoroughly at the beginning would do a disservice to prospective adoptive parents and to the children they adopt. I’m not trying to be defensive, but at times it’s a mighty hard needle to thread.
Tara, I obviously don’t know your son. I do know he was adopted at birth by a highly motivated and loving mama who had waited a very long time and worked very hard to get her boy. For what it’s worth, one of my son’s was exactly like what you are describing. As a baby, he loved the attention of anyone and went freely to everyone. He didn’t seem to ever go through the stranger anxiety stage. Even when he fell down and was hurt, he seemed as easily comforted by others as by me, which I’ve got to tell you, hurt my feelings. Throughout his life, he made friends easily and freely. (I shudder to think that he is probably the life of the party in college now.) This son is now almost a man and has what they call “high emotional IQ” and great people skills. He likes everyone, and as one of his sister’s says, “He could talk to a stump and find it interesting.” His love of people and being the center of attention has been both a blessing and a curse for him (and for me and his teachers), but I don’t think it’s pathological in the least. The world needs folks like him and your little man.
Image credit: c.ronnie