I have worked for a private agency and two different county agencies that place children for adoption. Two of these agencies also write home studies and provide pre-adoptive trainings. I have sat in on another private adoption agency’s training. I am now working for an organization that does not place children, but provides pre- and post-adoption training.
What I have found is that there is a very wide range of information available to prospective adoptive parents depending on the agency they choose, the area in which they live (access and availability), and the type of adoption they choose. But most of the trainings I’ve attended are pretty good. A lot of information is shared; including the difficult aspects of adopting a child. Most of these trainings cover all the range of behaviors, diagnoses and challenges that come with children. A few trainings have been down right reality check smack-downs for prospective parents. I’ve seen the shock on some prospective parents faces as they learn for the first time that adopting a child isn’t just a magical fantasy.
I talk to adoptive parents three, five, ten years later. And they tell a similar story. No matter how much they were taught in the trainings, they were still caught up in the fantasy. They realized they didn’t believe what the trainers were telling them. They were optimistic, thought, not my child. Not me.
I think that often times those prospective parents that have the most realistic sense of what adoption will be like are those who have actually been knee deep in children. It is rare to find a couple in their 30’s or 40’s – whose only experience with children are their nieces and nephews – who truly have an understanding of the wide range of behaviors, diagnoses and feelings of adopted children. Maybe it’s just a greater learning curve that has to happen.
Not to say these couples can’t parent well – of course, many can. And I might be over-generalizing. But based on my experience, couples often come in thinking their adopted children will behave like, well, children who are born to them. That is, without any trauma or history of loss. Without a culture of origin. Because after all, they (the parents) love their adopted children as if they were born to them. These couples I compare with couples who wait until they’re financially stable and at a good point in their careers to have children and then have these impossibly unrealistic ideas of what their children should be like. Like children who sit quietly at the dinner table and eat all their vegetables and always remember to floss.
I’m absolutely not against women waiting to have children, and I am not saying that either age or careers alone have some causal relationship with having unrealistic expectations of children, adopted or biological. Maybe having been a young mom, with no real role models outside my own experience of being a child of a young mom, I didn’t have a standard of perfection or an ideal of a perfect child. I was flying by the seat of my pants a lot of times.
I’m not saying age is a factor when it comes to adoptive parents expectations as much as I wonder sometimes if the older one is, the more time one has had to imagine the "perfect" scenario. For adoptive parents who choose to adopt after infertility or reproductive troubles, there is often an extra, added pressure to have the "perfect" family. Too often, I have witnessed this expectation of the "perfect life" and the crash and burn when their kids don’t live up to the fantasy.
It’s great to have ideals, but as my 14-year old daughter reminded me a few nights ago, "you can’t wait for an ideal world. They’re called ideals for a reason, because it’s not reality."
It’s time our society got off the island and started being real.