Last fall I met a young man adopted internationally. He had been home for one year, and I was taken by his maturity and language development. He is a young teenager, and I was getting to know him a bit before a WACAP event.
I must confess that I had this narrative in my head that I try to avoid, but as I tell true stories of lives transformed, I find that I slip into its familiar hold. When adoption happens, lives truly are changed for the better: both for the adoptees and the adoptive family. However, adoptees – in my experience – rarely need rescuing, and adoptive parents are neither saints nor saviors. I confess, however, that I get caught up in the romance of an orphan once lost, now found.
This young man, however, destroyed any idealistic narrative in a matter of seconds. As I was asking about his story, given that he is mature enough to give voice to his experience, I focused on the time he spent waiting. He remembered WACAP staff visiting him, yes. He remembered talk of adoption and work to find him a family, yes. So, when I asked what it was like for him when these “heroic” adoption professionals left the orphanage, motivated to find his family, his reply was firmly rooted in realism, rather than romance.
“What do you mean,” he asked. “I went to school. I had homework.”
He had no patience for my attempts to carve out a soundbite. There was no way he was going to entertain even the slightest amount of emotional manipulation. That wasn’t his experience. He loves his family, he is thriving in adoption, and he appreciates the turn his life has taken. He is not, however, beholden. His adoption experience, as most adoptees will confirm, is more complex than this. The beauty of it is folded in, among all the disorder. Like life, really. So normal.
We like to think of time suspended as children wait for adoption. But that’s not the case. They are living life, building relationships, and learning. Sometimes, in our misplaced messianic fantasies, we weave a narrative of a child’s life on pause, just waiting to begin. This idea fuels an infuriating portrait of children warehoused and pre-packaged for shipping. Just place your order.
I write this post because the concept is a prerequisite to success in adoption. Like any type of parenting, we must reject any notion that our children are lucky to have us, or that our children owe parents their endless gratitude. Adoption is far more complicated, which makes it much more interesting.
About WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks: Greg joined WACAP as CEO in December 2014. Serving children and families has been the focus and passion of his 20-year career in nonprofit executive leadership and business administration. With an extensive background in international adoption and foster care, Greg is committed to bringing hope to the children living without a family … and helping them home.