Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Intercountry adoption can be a wonderful way of building a family, as well as giving a vulnerable child a safe and loving family to grow up in, with all the opportunities and freedoms he or she would not have otherwise. I can share multiple stories with you in which this is true. I also must share that there are unique challenges in adopting a child from another country—challenges that are not necessarily insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless.
As a veteran adoptive parent, I am occasionally asked for advice from couples or individuals who are thinking about adopting a child from another country. One of my first pieces of advice is that one must go into the process “with your eyes wide open”, meaning that in multiple areas, one must expect the unexpected. One cannot pursue intercountry adoption with the naïve mindset that one is on a rescue mission to pluck some poor child out of his or her miserable surroundings. Unfortunately, this was a mindset of many (but certainly not all) people who flooded into former Soviet bloc countries like Romania and Russia after the fall of communism to adopt children from the often-hellish orphanage and institutional conditions there. After adopting and bringing those children back home to the U.S. it was many of those parents (who had good intentions, mind you) who actually needed a “rescue mission”—for themselves.
When adopting internationally (which is another term for intercountry) our eyes should be most wide open in the area of attachment and bonding, especially when adopting older children, defined generally as children two years and older. Having our eyes wide open in this area first involves our awareness and understanding of a child’s background in order to be effective in parenting them. There is a plethora of solid and time-tested research available that proves how a child’s personality is largely formed by age two. This includes their attachment behaviors. Realizing that our son—whom we adopted at age seven from India—had lived in an orphanage for two-and-a-half years, informed us that his attaching to us would present some challenges. Yes, there were some challenges, but we were able to work through them for the most part. For other parents, the experience is much more difficult, and for others, much easier.
*Michael, adoptive dad to seven-year-old *McKenzie (adopted from China at age six) shares an excellent example of his daughters’ adjustment challenges: “Even after a year, McKenzie is still attached to me far more than my wife. In the beginning she wanted nothing to do with my wife. We were told that this was not uncommon for girls, especially since they were largely cared for by many women in the orphanage and having a male figure in their life was new and different.” Now, one would think that McKenzie’s reaction to her parents might be just the opposite—but again, this just goes to illustrate that we cannot predict how a child will attach in a radically new environment. Within the consistent and loving family environment provided by Michael and his wife, there is a very good chance that McKenzie will gradually warm up to her mom more and more as time goes on.
If you are seriously considering intercountry adoption, talk to other parents who have done so. Ask them specifically how the attachment and bonding process went with their child. There are also some excellent resources out there such as the books The Connected Child and The Connected Parent by Dr. Karyn Purvis. (There is a listing of great resource books on the “Resources” page of this website.) Above all, if you feel strongly called to adopt internationally, do not let any of the difficult stories dismay you. Keep your “eyes wide open” and do your homework.
More to come next week! Thanks for reading, and I welcome your feedback.