Over the holidays, I spent time with my extended family and a comment from a cousin got me to thinking.
First I have to tell you that I’m not new to adoption or to weird comments about adoption. I’m one of the old-timers, although in deference to my aversion to the adjective “old” used in any connection to me, I’d prefer to say that I’m experienced, or that I’ve heard it all.
Second, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my extended family loves all my kids regardless of how they joined our family. And third, I realize that these comments are not horrendous or mean or monumental in any way. In fact, it’s their very ordinariness that gave me pause.
“You Got Lucky”
Over dinner, a cousin off handedly commented that we had “gotten lucky” with our adoption. Now, in truth, I do think we got lucky. On most days I think I got lucky with all my children, with my husband, and even with my dog.
I mean “lucky” in the sense that I did nothing to deserve my good fortune. My kids, and marriage, and dog are all pretty good, and I know I have been blessed. Perhaps my cousin meant it this way as well, but I think what she meant is more along the lines of “You got lucky that your adopted child is so great since many of them have lots of problems.”
Adopted Kids Have Lots of Problems?
There seems to be a pervasive notion in our society that adopted kids come with lots of problems– that the act of adoption itself automatically causes psychological damage. I’d like to say that ignorance of adoption is the cause of this belief, but in fact, many professionals in the adoption community also subscribe to the idea that children carry a life long wound by being separated from their birth family.
I have interviewed a number of people on the Creating a Family radio show that say the child will carry this primal wound for life regardless of the child’s age at adoption or the circumstances surrounding the adoption. It’s fair to say that there is diversity of opinions on this topic. Check out:
It’s Not That Simple
At the risk of being called a Pollyanna or ostrich, I believe that the reality is not that simple. Many factors influence how adopted kids fare in life, including the age of the child when he was relinquished or removed, the care the child received prior to removal or relinquishment, the temperament of the child, the temperament of the adoptive parents, genetics, the preparation the parents received before adoption, and the post-adoption support that is available. I am convinced that these are just a few of the factors that influence the psychological health of adopted kids, and I reject the idea that all adopted kids suffer a primal wound that will influence or affect them for the rest of their life.
Adoptees as a Whole are Doing Pretty Well
When I say adopted kids are doing “pretty well”, I don’t mean that they have no problems or that they don’t have issues related to their adoption that they need to work through. The truth is that adoption involves both losses and gains, and most adopted children will need to address both in their life. All losses involve sadness, but this sadness does not necessarily cause psychological trauma or major issues in their lives.
Most adopted kids and adoptive families have the usual ups and downs of all families and the issues associated with adoption and first families are one of the many things that are handled as part of family life. The kids usually grow up to be healthy happy adults and are about as connected with their families as children born into the family. In other words, adoption works.
We Are Indeed Lucky
In an ideal world, no child would ever be conceived that could not be raised by their birth family in a healthy loving environment. But we don’t live in that world; we live in the real world of extreme poverty, poor decisions, addiction, incarceration, abuse, and neglect. In this world, adoption is the best bet for many children and there is no reason to believe that the very act of adoption will damage them. And yes, I suppose my cousin was right, the families that adopt them will indeed be lucky.
Updated April 2015. Originally Published January 2008.
Image credit: Michael Verhoef