Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

There is an "elephant in the room" in the adoption world.  In fact, there may be more than one. We dust and vacuum around it.  We arrange our furniture so we can go on with our lives despite it's huge presence. And although we may make passing references to it, nothing is done to escort it to its proper place.   It continues to cast it's huge shadow, hindering our ability to effectively carry on our work.

Adoptive parents are some of the most amazing people on earth.  I have made new friends  via adoption groups that will last a long time.  Should we ever meet  in person, I am sure we would throw our arms around each other like long lost friends.  We understand each other.  Similar to teammates or fellow soldiers, we hold a camaraderie based on enduring a difficult process and finishing.  We have scaled the mountains of paperwork together.  We love children together.  Adoptive parents are generous, giving their lives to help the world's most helpless.  So what I am about to address is not meant to dimish any of them or their amazing accomplishments.  It is strictly to address an issue that I feel needs to be tackled head-on.

The proverbial elephant is a saying that depicts something that is very obvious to all involved, yet for various reasons, no one is willing to acknowlege its presence, let alone address. In the adoption world, the secret is this:  adoption is hard.   Not just expensive, that's a given.  Difficult.

Those of us who have contemplated the orphan crisis in the world are overwhelmed by the huge need of millions of children.  We have witnessed hundreds of stories of helpless children being placed in families where they have thrived.  We have seen the "before and after" pictures of toddlers from Eastern European nations who were literally on death's door, who had no chance of surviving let alone living anywhere near normal lives, had they not been given a second chance in a family.  Their new shining eyes and smiling faces hardly resemble the shadow they were only months prior. We have witnessed the deplorable conditions of overcrowded orphanages, pictures of children living twenty or more hours a day in cribs, devoid of any human contact.  We have held orphans in our arms and our lives have been changed.

I am fully aware of my own limitations.  I cannot rescue millions of children.  I can, however, do my best to encourage you to roll up your sleeves and do something.  Sponsor.  Foster. Adopt.  Something.  And I know that when you truly experience the redemption process, you, in turn, will influence others.
Albert Einstein stated, "the most powerful force in the world is compound interest." What begins as simple multiplication quickly increases exponentially.

Enter the elephant.  The elephant says that anything I do or say that will encourage you to adopt is good.  Anything I do or say that would cause you to think twice about adopting is bad.   The adoption world has created its own sub-culture.   We feel we must learn its language. While "in process" (of bringing our children home), we quickly "adopt" a new acronym-filled language.  Not wanting to be found wanting, we secretly investigate the meanings of these acronyms such as PA, LID, TA and CCCWA  so we can communicate intelligently with our new friends experiencing this same new language.

The elephant says we must also learn the taboo words and promise to never use them.  We must never refer to the children as "orphans". (After all, how do you REALLY know for sure that their "birth parents" are no longer alive?)  Never carelessly sling around the word "abandon."  (What if they found out that is what actually happend to them?)  For sure never refer to the process as "rescuing children." (How egotistical are you, anyway?) And the most recent word I so foolishly threw out there, NEVER refer to the emotion that our children experience, no matter how old they are, whether or not they show signs of tantrums, hitting, spitting, kicking, or spewing vomit in the form of  the written word in order to demoralize and marginalize another person as "anger."  Hurt? Yes.  Frustration? Yes.  Anger?  (How patronizing can you be?)

The elephant says we must protect these children at all costs.  We must hover, making sure no one will offend them by pointing out the obvious--they don't look like our biological children.  Pity the fool who stops us in the grocery store to ask whether the children are "ours" or not.  Gasp.  We must make sure they fit in to our culture perfectly, while at the same time keeping vigil to expose them to their original country's every holiday and observance.  We must continually attend to their every need, feverishly trying to take back what was lost during those years before they were with us, even to the detriment of our other children.  And if this process proves to be too much for us as parents, if we find that we struggle in the area of emotional attachment to these precious ones (including tantrums, spitting, kicking, incessant whining, etc.) we must promise to NEVER ADMIT DEFEAT.  Never let anyone know you're hurt.  Never acknowlege the struggle.  Oh, it's okay if you couch it in vague terms, such as "please pray for me.  I'm having a very hard day."  That is socially acceptable in this culture.  Anything more than that runs the risk of jeopardizing your child's very existence, at least their mental health and self confidence.  What if they somehow searched the internet in the future and found out that you actually wrote about them?  And it wasn't pretty?  What if you admitted publicly that your child hit you, pummeled you with words, acted in any negative way and the world found out?  What kind of parent are you anyway?  You must silently endure, "take one for the Gipper."  Your child's entire future rests on your ability to keep your mouth shut.

That is the hypocrisy that exists in this world.  The result?  A skewed portrayal of adoption.  The fairy tale stories of children redeemed fill the internet.  The silence of the many struggling parents are hugely ignored.  Parents experience guilt, shame, and loneliness, for they have no reference point for the anger,  (did I just use the "a" word?), depression and disillusionment they feel. And although much is written to better understand children from hard places and the struggles they face, almost nothing exists to help parents understand their own emotions and struggles in the process.  In our attempt to protect the children, we alienate the very ones that have poured out their hearts, souls, and finances to elicit change.  We ostracize the very ones that  helped.  We shoot our own soldiers.  Not on purpose, mind you.  Friendly fire is unintentional.  And we are often oblivious to the extent of the subsequent damage.

There is another term in the adoption world:  "disruption."  It is the "d" word.  A horrible word.  Technically it is dissolution, the breaking of a relationship between family and adopted child.  It refers to a situation where a couple (or single parent) brings a child home by means of adoption, struggles for an indiscriminate period of time, and eventually comes to the point that for the sake of their own mental health or the safety or health of their other family members, "re-homes" their adopted child.  The child is passed to a new family by means of an agency, or often by a simple legal document granting power of attorney to a new family.   Void of criminal background checks, home studies, or any other protocol followed to originally adopt them,  the implications are huge.  The danger cannot be overstated.

Disruptions and dissolutions are the blight of the adoption community that, left unchecked, have silently spread throughout the Western world.  It is the silent epidemic for which no one wants to admit any responsibility.  We characterize "those parents" as abusive and neglectful.  We dismiss them as careless and irresponsible.  We gasp at their inability to cope.

Yet, should we in the adoption world be held accountable?  Do we unknowingly contribute to a family's demise?  Are we in any way responsible for the irreparable damage inflicted on the once-again abandoned children in this underground re-homing process?  In our effort to protect our children, have we unknowingly caused further injury to other children?

The elephant in the room is not a cute, pink domesticated pet.  It is a large dangerous animal that is silently wreaking havoc on innocent lives.  It is our duty to admit its presence.  It is our responsiblity to address its damage.  And it is our obligation to corporately obliterate it.

The world's children and those who hope to make a difference depend on it.


  1. My heart has been broken for this very issue since Jason and I started the adoption process 6 years ago.
    Our son suffered a failed adoption before he came to us. We have seen firsthand the damage this causes to children.
    But on the other side of the coin Jason and I were taken to the brink of failure ourselves. We came to the point of moving home for support from family and friends to save our family. This caused us financial hardship but it was that necessary.
    Fortunately it worked even though we did not feel very fortunate at all at many points in the process. Particularly when friends believed the “fairy tales” you referred to and scorned us, ridiculed us, and even told us to stay away from them because we made them sick. We were given lists of our actions that they deemed inappropriate and these actions were the very things we were told to do by the adoption councilors. The councilor’s advice worked but this friend was unwilling to believe the not so pretty realities of adoption. If we had had a small safety net that was primarily made up of people like this we could have very well failed ourselves. For adoptive families that do not have the support they need the process of bringing a child with severe emotional needs into their home is nearly impossible.
    The adoption process has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I wouldn’t go back in time to change my mind. But when people come to me and ask what I can tell them about adoption. I start by saying how rewarding it is and very quickly begin to tell them it is not for everybody and it is extremely difficult.
    There needs to be more support.

    1. It is easy to get caught up in the fairy tales if you haven't experienced it yourself. I am not condemning those who are caught up in the fairy tales as it might sound in my coment. I have been there myself. But those of us who know the truth can't be silanced by political correctness.

    2. I'm sorry you went through that, Nicole. My biggest concern is that because we don't hear the difficult stories and how people made it through, we will isolate ourselves when we struggle. Good job for finding a new safety net!

  2. Amen!!!!

  3. Very well written and very well put! Thank you,
    Regards, Claudia Huisman, The Netherlands

  4. Well written! I am a who has seen several of my children 'redeemed', and I am a parent to a child who will struggle his entire life with the repeated trauma he was exposed to the first 14 years of his life. It wreaks havoc on an entire family, and there is simply no relief. I am not against 're-homing', nor dissolution for the sake of the family and child. Because of a few horrible instances, it has been mischaracterized. We have been both blessed and forever changed. I know that the hardest times have drawn us closer to the Lord. I couldn't do this without Him! But I wouldn't want to go through many of those days again.

    1. Thanks, Connie: I'm not against re-homing either in certain circumstances. I do feel much of it could be prevented with the right support. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.