Children Don't Come with Return Policies

Close your eyes and imagine this -- you are seven-years-old. Your mother, one you have only known six months, puts you on a 15-hour flight by yourself with a bunch of strangers whose language you barely understand. You fly all day to get to a place where no one is waiting for you because no one knows you are coming. And you probably don't know this yet, but you're not even a citizen of that country anymore. You get off the plane and have to explain to yet another stranger what's just happened. You probably start to cry.

Most of us don't have too many vivid memories from when we were seven-years-old, but I have a feeling that young Artyom, aka Justin Hansen, will relive that memory for the rest of his life.

I am a mother by adoption, so you can probably guess that I have a LOT to say about Artyom, the Russian adoptee who his mother claims was threatening to burn down her house and was becoming violent.

I don't doubt any of that. All children have issues of one  kind or another -- some mild, some extremely serious. And there are some that come up more often in adopted children, like attachment issues, than in our children who come to us the "old-fashioned" way. But as I like to say, there are no "give backs" when it comes to children, no matter how they become part of our families.

My husband and I adopted our daughter from China nine years ago (yes, that's her in the photo!).  She was 12 months old at the time, and we knew there was a possibility that we would have to deal with attachment or emotional issues because she lived in an orphanage for a year. The orphanage caregivers we met seemed like nice women who genuinely cared about the babies, but there were eight of them and 100 babies to take care of everyday. With that kind of ratio, it's no surprise that some children who come out of that experience have a tough time building trust in their new parents and believing that these new people will love them and care for them and never leave them.

We hoped that wouldn't be the case but, as it turned out, we spent a long time working on attachment, bonding and trust issues with our daughter. As a somewhat typical fourth-grader today, PunditGirl is doing well now, but it never crossed our minds to put her on a plane back to China when the going got rough.

I wrote about this a few months ago when another mother, who had five biological children, adopted a sixth and then gave him up because of emotional issues and bonding problems.  I wrote then about our own experience:

We thought we were prepared. We dealt with a fabulous agency who made sure we knew that a good number of children adopted from institutions often have attachment and other emotional issues. We read. We listened. We talked. MY husband already had experience as a dad to two biological daughters. We thought we were ready.

We so weren’t.

But the thing is this -- no one is EVER ready for the parenting experience they get, whether their children are biological, adopted, foster or the result of today's myriad fertility options that may or may not result in a child that's biologically related to the ultimate parents. No one is ever really ready for a child with autism, Down syndrome, cancer, diabetes, ADHD -- no child is perfect and every parenting experience is different, yet most of us find ways to rise to the occasion and help our children the best we can.

Given what I know about international adoption, I have no doubt that young Artyom had serious emotional issues -- he was a seven-year-old living in an institution and had been placed there by an alcoholic mother. He told stories of being beaten with a broom in the orphanage (a story apparently other children from Russian orphanages have told, as well). I have no doubt that he threatened to set the family home on fire or threatened other violence, because I have heard that story before in connection with older institutionalized children who were later adopted. I have no doubt that the whole truth wasn't told by the orphanage. And I have no doubt that perhaps the family didn't get or hear the whole message from the adoption agency they used about the potential serious emotional and behavior issues a child like Artyom might have.

But there are resources. And there is help. That's what all the follow-up placement services are there for. No matter what the real situation was -- and who knows how much of the actual story we will ever know -- give-backs aren't an option.

I am sad for the other families who are waiting to adopt their children from Russia who are now in indefinite limbo as a result of this. And I'm sad for all adoptive families, including mine, who get painted with the broad brush of media judgment because families by adoption are still considered second-best in our country and scrutinized in ways that other families aren't. But most of all, I'm sad for Artyom and hope that something in his life will start to go right very soon.

Joanne Bamberger also writes the political blog, PunditMom, and is at work on a book about the increasing involvement of mothers in politics, due out this fall.

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Pundi... PunditMom

Stacy119, I have to wonder how many families by adoption you know if you believe that "a lot of people who go in for adoption want a little dress-up doll." This is one of the major misperceptions of adoption in our country and one that continues to hurt all children by adoption. I have never met a family who adopted -- ours included -- who merely wanted a show thing, as opposed to a real parenting experience. I think most families by adoption would be extremely offended by that remark.

There's no doubt that things need to improve in terms of the amount of preparation that some adoption agencies give to potential parents about issues that can be common in children who have been in orphanages, Russia in particular because of the amount of fetal alcohol syndrome in some of those children. But I'm not sure how our government can convince other governments to give more accurate information about the children available for adoption. If one has a generally closed government and society, like Russia and China, I'm not sure how we get more accurate information. All we can do is the best we can in preparing ourselves, assessing the information we've been given and be truly honest with ourselves about what kind of parenting experience we are prepared for.

Stacy119 Stacy119

I am puzzled as to how you can generalize that way about adoptive parents as a group when I am addressing the state of affairs in parenting culture across society—including trends simultaneously affecting born children. The very notion that we reproduce for our own selfish "parenting experience" is precisely the issue I am raising. Parenting is not a "lifestyle" like wine collecting and yachting. We reproduce to provide humankind with a future. We raise our children for society— making every possible choice to ensure that our own contributions are sound and capable and will contribute to society. It's not about our personal gratification if we're doing it properly!!! And it seems to me there is plenty of undetected FAS here in society because we turn a blind eye to mothers who drink while pregnant so we do not offend those who plant the vinyards ..

mommy... mommyheymommy

Stacy119, I don't think you have ever resided with a child that kills the family dog, tries to hurt other family members, or defecates and smears it around the house as I means of defiance and control. It is HARD to say the least, and challenges every logical and typical parenting idea you ever had. Now, the kind of commitment and dedication it takes to walk a child through that kind of behavior and on to healing and wellness is HUGE! Walking with my daughter through the pains of her past was the deepest, darkest place I have ever gone. For you to come on here and say that I wanted a dress up dolly, quite frankly, pisses me off! I went in knowing that she would surely have scars, and MANY adoptive families I know and befriend, realized this going in as well. Your "not maternal to begin with" is painting with a very broad brush, and I think you might need to step back. A maternal instinct DOES NOT prepare one to walk the path of RAD with a child, and I dare anyone to live with a RAD child for two months and then make such obvious ignorant statements as yours.

mommy9 mommy9

I have to agree with Mommyheymommy.  I know that some adoptive parents may not have realistic ideas, but RAD goes way beyond reason.  Three of my 12 kids have RAD.  I have children who have pooped in vents, played in wiring until we had to turn off a breaker to save their lives, and other things that most people judging could never even imagine. I have 5 kids on the autism spectrum, one has Down Syndrome, and there are other special needs,but none compare to RAD.   My kids came from the US foster system not internationally.  I know several other families who went the same adoption route as I did and ended up with RAD children.  I know of three such families who ended up putting their children back into foster care.  It wasn't bc they went in blind or for the wrong reasons, but bc RAD is more challenging than anyone realizes until they are there. 


Judging must be an easy road for those who aren't ever planning to go there.  Adopting an infant or toddler with attachment issues is totally different than adopting an older child who has full blown RAD.  I lovemy kids dearly and hope to see them recover and grow into happy adults.  On the other hand, I sure the heck can't judge as harshly as you all are.  NO PUTTING ON A PLANE BACK TO RUSSIA SHOULDN'T BE AN OPTION, but at the same time you have to realize the desperation that parents feel to make such a bad choice.

mommy9 mommy9

By the way, I have a biological child and have adopted 11.  There is no difference in the way that I feel based on their method of delivery.  Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs are things that occur without fault from anyone.  RAD doesn't occur without serious neglect and no one to bond to in those first 3 years of life.  The judgement that everyone is giving now along with lack of help and support available to parents in that situation are some of the reasons that parents do give up.  Inpatient therapies can run $1,000 a day and don't have a good percentage of success.  It isn't covered by insurance in most instances.  There are few therapists who have experience working with RAD and those who don't have exerience usually do more harm than good. 


We are doing ok and we are seeing improvements.  I'm also home full time and homeschool many of my kids which is very helpful.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  I'm thankful that God gives grace every day and with Him all things are possible!

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