It seems as though Russian adoptions gone wrong has been in the news for quite some time now. What started with Torry Hansen, the single adoptive mother who put her 7 year old son on a plane, alone, and sent him back to his country of birth, has spiraled into accusations of abuse and even murder of Russia's children adopted into America. And while I don't condone what Torry did, while I feel that she should be treated as any other neglectful parent would be, I do worry sometimes that the issues we read about in the paper and hear about on the nightly news might be affecting adoptive parents' decisions to seek help. Or, at the very least, might give us reason to pause and not truthfully answer that loaded question, "How is everything going with (insert child's name here)." Might stop us from sharing how exhausted we are, both mentally and physically. Might prevent us from disclosing how we secretly worry about the emotional health of our older, non traumatized, children. Might force us to hide behind the walls of our homes, (walls probably covered with remnants of last night's dinner), and not discuss how frustrated with are with our spouse, or how sometimes we just want to run away.
Maybe we feel as though we have to put on the "happy family" face so that we are not compared to these parents who may have made poor parenting decisions. Maybe we feel as though we will sound as if we are complaining, when, in reality, we are reaching out for help. Reaching out for understanding. Reaching out for compassion and a friendly reminder that we are doing OK. Maybe we feel as though we have no right to complain, because we wanted these children so very badly. Who are we to complain about parenting, when we moved mountains to bring these children home? And if you are on the other side of the adoption line, you may think us adoptive moms are over reacting. Every parent is judged. Every parent is unsure of certain parenting choices. True, no doubt. I know everyone is judged. This is what we do in America. And this is part of the problem.
Last month a family friend spent about 15 minutes with my family, watching me struggle to maintain a conversation with another adult while keeping my 4 year old safe and happy. My little guy was climbing into his tiny folding Spider Man chair and then launching himself from the seat of the chair into my lap. No amount of snacks, drinks, or distractions would stop him from this behavior. I know I appeared frustrated. This particular activity hurt me, and I had the bruises on my legs for weeks to prove it. Not to mention how unsafe it was for my little guy! Later my sweet husband told me that his friend had said, "I have heard that you just never know what you are going to get when you adopt, especially internationally." Wait, what?
Hey mom of a beautiful Downs Syndrome baby, did you know your baby was going to be conceived with that extra chromosome? How about you, mother to a pre-teen boy with Asperger's? Did you know? You, over there, mother to the beautiful teenager who cuts herself? Any clue when she was born that this would be your future? But that is what we do. Expect perfection. And for some reason, when adoption is in the mix, that perfection expectation grows. After all, we did this on purpose, right? We asked for this child. We asked for the drastic lifestyle change, the money spent on medications and therapy, the sleepless nights and the distance that can grow between a husband and a wife when so much energy is focused on a child. And it is comments like the one my husband endured, spoken by friends who don't mean to hur,t but, frankly, are clueless, that make it hard for families like ours to reach out for help. It is the constant media scrutiny of international adoption that makes us want to keep our dirty laundry packed up tightly inside the house. Believe me, neighbors, I don't like chasing my son down the street or forcing him into his car seat while he screams, any more than you like hearing our chaos at 7:15 in the morning. I know that you hear me repeating the rules to my young son, over and over again, and think I am just another helicopter mom. You might just thank me for those repeated rules one day, for those rules that, at the very least, keep our chaos in our yard and out of yours.
Unconditional love and realistic expectations, that is what it takes to raise any child, traumatized or not. ADHD or not. Unconditional love. I will love my boys no matter what. When I have been hit in the face during a temper tantrum and there are tears streaming down my face, I will love. When I have left the grocery store without everything on my list. When I have asked, three times, if my little guy wants me to open his yogurt, and then find myself cleaning up said yogurt because he, in fact, did not want me to help him, I will love. Realistic expectations. I don't know what the future holds, for either of my boys, and I will strive to not make them crazy with my expectations. Right now I expect to have issues when we spend more than 30 minutes in the car. I expect to, more often that not, have to eat dinner in shifts, so that we can minimize the meltdowns that lead to food all over the floor. (That particular meltdown leads to a meltdown of my own, every single time!). I expect to manage bedtime, every single night, for a while, to prevent that primal screaming my little guy conjures up when faced with spending even one moment without me. I don't come to these expectations easily. I have to remind myself of them daily. I have to re-commit to this life, every single day.
I don't know what the answer is. I am just now beginning this journey. I don't know what therapist, treatment, medications or supplements are best. I don't know what dietary modifications work or what form of exercise is preferred. I have a feeling that no one knows. This journey, like every parenting trip, is mine alone. I have to find the way that works the best for my family. But in doing that, I am going to make mistakes. And in making those mistakes I know that I going to need to be able to reach out. So I have to push past those perfection expectations. I have to get over the fear of being labeled as "one of those families". One of those international adoption families that can't control their child. One of those international adoption families who didn't know what they were going to get. Because my family, my life, my boys, were not brought together by some sort of lottery. No one wins or loses in adoption, or in raising any family, no matter how that family was formed. Didn't know what I was getting? Does any parent? In a very real way, my husband's friend was right. I didn't know what I was getting. I didn't know I was getting a super smart Chinese boy with very little common sense. I didn't know I was getting a Chinese football star. I didn't know I was getting a Russian boy who likes to wear flip flops and who loves chocolate cream cheese. And I am glad I didn't know. Every day I marvel at what new tidbit I have learned about my boys. Why would I want to miss out on that?
I don't know the details of any of the adoptive families who have sadly had their lives delivered to the microscope of millions of American homes by the media. I can't speak to their decisions. No one can. The only thing we can do is admit there is a problem here, and work together to create the solution. Better mental health resources. Therapists who understand the trauma an orphanage can create in even the youngest of children. Teachers who can see our children more holistically. I know my son doesn't fit the typical ADHD mold. He has other issues at play, as do so many of our kids. Friends who don't say stupid things. Strangers who look at our family, see no obvious challenges, and then judge our parenting. Oh yes, we see your looks. We know that you are thinking, "If that were my kid..." We know you are wondering why we appear to be "giving in" to our kids, or why we are offering so much hands on assistance when our children are clearly old enough to do things for themselves. Family members who outright question the validity of our children's unseen trauma. We need to become a community, working together for our children. For all of our children. Because right now, it's me and my family with the "issues". Next week, it could be yours. Don't worry, I'll be there for you!