Sometimes I tease my wife about the fact that she's got a doctorate in clinical psychology and is widely reputed among her colleagues to be a gifted child psychologist, yet is as much at sea in raising our own little hellions as I am. She tells me that it's actually somewhat a joke in the mental health profession that their kids wind up disturbed. I can live with that, I guess; at least statistically one or two of them will drop out rather than going to an expensive college, and I can buy a cool car.
There's another group widely assumed to be naturally gifted and excellent at parenting: adoptive parents. But we're just not. Adoptive parents are used to people cooing "Oh, that's so WONDERFUL that you adopted a that child," often accompanied by suggestions that the parents are "rescuing" the child, that the child is inherently better off with the adoptive parents, and that the adoptive parents are somehow noble saviors. Well-adjusted and reflective adoptive parents tend to despise this, as I've said before in the course of discussion adoption. Well-adjusted adoptive parents recognize that they are the extraordinarily blessed ones in the relationship, that the adoptive-parent-as-savior concept is poisonous to a child's self-esteem and development, and that it perpetuates a sentiment that justifies trafficking in children from developing countries. Yet people still insist on believing that a family that wanted a child enough to adopt one is somehow naturally better prepared for life's unpleasant surprises. They're not.
Russia threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families Friday after a 7-year-old boy adopted by a woman from Tennessee was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.
Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, told The Associated Press that she and the boy flew to Washington and she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the Moscow airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
It sounds as if the adoptive family was completely unprepared to deal with a child with behavioral issues. Rather than seeking help from private or public resources, the family chose to ship the child back like unceremoniously returning a defective product to the store. I'm not saying that no adoption disruption is never appropriate — sometimes a family, whether adoptive or biological, just isn't capable of addressing a child's needs. But decent people, having made a commitment to a child, ought to make every possible effort to live up to that commitment, and that includes seeking help and disrupting through official channels, not dumping the kid with a one-way ticket.
Irresponsibility is not a zero-sum game: without diminishing the parents' guilt, we can observe that the adoption agency in this case probably did a piss-poor job of vetting the family and making sure that it was capable of dealing with entirely predictable emotional and behavioral issues.
A lot of adoptive parents are quite outraged by this story. That's understandable. But the outrage should be tempered with a bit of mercy, humility (meaning recognition that adoptive parents are just as broken as anyone else), and awareness of the stance we normally take towards the birth parents of our own children. To use the currently correct term, our kids' parents "made an adoption plan"; to use the language people are using about this family, some of them "abandoned" their children. If we rail too hard at the Hansen family, our kids might wonder how we view their parents, and how they should view them. We should criticize the Hansen family and their response to their situation carefully, without dehumanizing parents who decide that they are not capable of raising their children and, out of love, seek to find them another home.
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