Family building via adoption requires effort, commitment, education, intentionality and a willingness to take a risk--by both parent and child. Each must muster the courage to open emotionally and be vulnerable to the other. When we dare to love, we also understand that the risk of being hurt exists. We accept that risk because we believe the opportunity to love and be in relationship far outweighs any emotional pain.
When we adopt children who have spent years in orphanages, we realize that the risks and challenges increase. The strategies on which children in orphanages depend for survival, don't magically fall away once these children are adopted. Experience taught them that relying on others is dangerous, that the only one on whom it is safe to depend is themselves, that caring about or for others only leads to heartbreak. This "successful" skill set kept them safe under adverse experiences. They believe in their methods. They have real-life data to prove the value of this self-isolating approach.
Seen in this light, it is no surprise that it takes tremendous courage, effort and a great deal of time before a child dares to risk trust and attachment. Often described as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder; it is also known as Reactive Attachment Syndrome.) I would argue it is less a "disorder" and more a strategy that has outlived its effectiveness. Their strategy becomes counter-productive and causes kids to deny themselves the love and security they crave and which adoptive parents are eager to share with them. While it is not easy to break through the prison of RAD, it is possible. Michele Weidenbenner has written a fictionalized story which begins in a Russian orphanage. Convinced by her experiences, Oksana believes that trust as an unafforable luxury. "Scattered Links"chronicles her family's triumph over RAD. Read my detailed book review here. Her story offers hope to those coping with attachment challenges.
When we interviewed Michele for this post we focused on this book but she has written many others as well.
I wanted to show the frustration that a parent might have who wants to bond with a child who can’t trust, who struggles with knowing how to love someone. I also wanted to show the child’s side of the story, so adopted parents and foster parents would see a different perspective, so parents might better understand why a child who’s suffered a difficult beginning might not be capable of loving or trusting someone.
Here is how one reader summed it up, which thrilled me:
“A thoughtful story about the complexities of the well-intentioned who set out to "rescue" orphans from horrible conditions, and the attachment difficulties that arise from adopting a child who has lived a lifetime of abuse and/or neglect. The book was realistic. The characters were well developed and real. It would have been so easy to have written this as a "Hooray for the good Christian couple who rescues poor orphans from a horrible existence." Instead the book looks honestly at the motivations of all involved, and calls into serious question the "happily ever after" ending that one assumes happens when older children are adopted. A serious but up-beat book. The ending is honest but hopeful without being overly cheesy.”
Before we adopted our daughter from Russia, we had been foster parents, too, so I read a lot of parenting books. However, it was the psychologist who did our home study who really pushed us to see that sometimes love is NOT enough.
I didn’t want to believe her though. I thought she was rude and a bit extreme, but she was trying to give us a more realistic viewpoint of what adopting a post-institutionalized child might be like. She didn’t sugar coat anything. I was naïve because I wanted to believe that she was wrong, that my child would bond with us because we would provide the right environment.
I had faith that God would give us the child He intended for us to raise, that He would help us through the ups and downs.
I didn’t adopt to ‘rescue’ a child, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I adopted a child because I never felt that our family was complete. I felt that I was being called to adopt, and that God had His own agenda. He was using me to facilitate His work. (We have two biological children, but I couldn’t conceive again.)
Great questions. There are a few typos that I’d love to go in and fix, but it’s not that easy. I had hired at least three or four editors and an oops editor before this book was published, and yet there are still a few missing letters and typos. I despise that, but reformatting everything and reloading the book at all the sites is really complicated, expensive, and timely.
As far as changing the plot—I don’t think there is anything I would change. There comes a time when you write a novel that you need to say, “It’s finished.” The Doubt Devil will often squeeze into a writer’s thoughts that will make us think it’s not good enough. We have to constantly fight him.
Perhaps I would handle the “Gotcha Day” day part differently. We celebrate the day that our daughter “got” us and we “got” her, but after you mentioned how this could be perceived, I might arrange that part differently.
I remember the day she texted me from school—she was a junior at the time—and she said how much she loved the book. She rarely read or asked me about my work, so I was thrilled.
I asked her your question today (she’s 20 years old now) and she shrugged. She said she couldn’t remember much about the book. She never thought the story was about her, and it wasn’t. Her story is different. However, I gave a character in the book her Russia name, Ruzina. She loved that.
Just like so many other families, we waited a long time for Olivia. We were paper ready to go to China (in 1997), but they closed their doors and said since we had two children they were not going to allow us to adopt from their country. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but they were making the rules. I was sad.
We were nervous about adopting a child from Russia because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and all the horror stories we heard about families who adopted a child from Russia with this disorder.
The process was long and uncertain, but what I learned along the way was to have faith. My faith grew. Adoption made our family closer.
I think I’ve always been hyper-focused on this. I didn’t know what it was called, but having a strong healthy relationship with our daughter mattered to me from the very first moment we met her, and it’s still a top priority.
At our first meeting with Olivia, I was looking for signs of attachment issues—did she look away when I made eye contact? Did she have sensory issues? Yes and yes.
She was 25 months old and weighed 16.5 pounds. (But today she’s only 4’11” and 100 pounds, so she’s a peanut.) She was developmentally delayed and walked with tight fists. She didn’t even know how to smile. But within days she learned to smile, grew stronger and met our gazes.
When we returned to America, we worked with an occupational therapist on sensory-integrated training, and enrolled her in First Steps—a program for children with developmental delays. She learned sign language and was given the opportunity to work through her. It didn’t take long before she began to grow and thrive. Watching this progression was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had—seeing through the eyes of a two-year-old “new born.” Everything was a new experience for her.
Adoption is a huge commitment and a life-long endeavor. The responsibility is great, but so is the reward if you don’t expect your child to thank you. Your child might, but don’t expect it. Don’t adopt for that reason.
Post-institutionalized children are special needs children regardless of their situation. Each child suffered abandonment. We don’t know how a child will be affected by that, but it can dampen their self-esteem and make life difficult.
Adopt for the right reasons –not because you want to do a good deed. Do it because you are committed to helping that child become an independent adult who contributes to society.
Be open to getting outside help to strengthen the relationship with your child.
Olivia will be 21 in a few weeks and still lives with us. We’re encouraging her on her college journey. She wants to be an environmental scientist, but also has a huge interest in teaching others about God, which is difficult for her because she’s an introvert.
I also love to coach Mom’s who are considering adoption. People reach out to me often. I don’t sugar coat it. I tell it like it is.
I write what’s on my heart. Most of the stories are about social issues, but I have a huge heart for children. Adoption is just one issue.
Cache a Predator, my thriller, is about a father’s quest to get custody of his five-year-old daughter.
My children’s book series, Éclair, is about a seven-year-old girl who has to live with her grandma because her mother is ill and her father goes to work. It’s a modern-day Junie B. Jones story. So many children are growing up in extended families—grandfamilies—that I wanted to write a series about that kind of family situation. However, there is humor in this story.
Fractured Not Broken, is a true story of a woman who’s rendered a quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver. However, there is an adoption piece to this story, too.
I have a YA series that hasn’t been published yet. It’s about a girl who has special healing abilities. However, she’s an adopted child, too, but that’s just a subplot to the story.
I also have a mid-grade novel that hasn’t been published yet, but there’s nothing in that story about adoption. However, there’s a centaur, a talking dog, and a frog in the story.
Award-Winning and Bestselling Author
John Maxwell Team Speaker, Coach and Trainer
Blog: Teaching Kids To Lead By Equipping Moms and Dads Twitter: @MWeidenbenner1