Avoiding the Savior Complex in Adoption

Remember that it is not about you. It has never been about you.

Virginia Spence July 31, 2018
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So you want to adopt. You have a longing to love and nurture a child. You fell in love with a child you have never met; but, once you fell in love, you knew that child was meant to be part of your family. You saw a need and wanted to make a difference. The desire to adopt can be a noble one, a calling even. However, it is very easy to slip into a mindset that, by adopting, you are a hero swooping in to save the day. This is called having a “savior complex.” People with a savior complex think that they will find love and acceptance through their good deeds. When a person with a savior complex sets out to adopt a child, they have the goal of rescuing a child from his/her situation. Here’s the rub though: children don’t need to be rescued or “saved.” Rather, they need the unconditional, tenacious love of a family. Here are a few things to keep in mind so that you can avoid having a savior complex in your adoption journey.

For starters, you need to realize that adoption isn’t about you. Seriously, it isn’t. Adoption is about finding a home for a child who needs one—a family for a child without one. Once a child enters your home, everything from that point on will be to ensure your child is cared for. You may be surprised at how much energy (mental, physical, and emotional) that you pour into your child. Parenting, adoptive or biological, is a constant sacrificing of self for the good of your child; however, with adoption, a degree of loss and possibly trauma is added to the equation. Things can get messy. Whatever your situation, very little will be about you from this point on as you seek to help your child acclimate to his or her new life and to grow and succeed going forward.

You also should not expect your child to be grateful to you for adopting them. Adoptive parents may find themselves quite shocked that their newly adopted children aren’t more grateful for being adopted, but it is totally understandable that they don’t express “gratitude.” Face it adoptive parent, adoption is created from a very hard place. Children become available for adoption because of a trauma or a loss, and their worlds are turned on end. In foster care, children may have been torn from their parents or abused by a trusted adult. Sometimes, these kids have been passed from foster home to foster home or from group home to group home where the situation never changes, and the permanency is a pipe dream. Children in orphanages find themselves parentless or from families that cannot adequately care for them. Often, they are in a situation in which they have no say over their lives and may not have a choice on what happens to them next. Some of these precious ones have lived more life in their few years than most adults live in a lifetime. Many have been to hell and back as they watched their worlds crumble. They may feel alone, scared, and loathe trusting another grownup, who may let them down like countless others before them. Given those facts, is it any wonder that a child may not come out and “thank” the adoptive parent for adopting them? Nor should you expect it. A biological parent doesn’t expect their biological child to come out and thank them for letting them be in their family. Why should an adoptive parent expect their child to do so?

An adoptive parent explains it so well in a letter to their adoptive child: “You never have to feel grateful for your adoption. We don’t have to have special gratitude for something that is inherently ours. And my love? That’s yours. It was yours before we met. It will be yours when time is gone. It was, and is, your right to have. My love for you is something I want to be so part of your being that it doesn’t cross your mind to even contemplate its existence. Take it for granted. Assume it will always be there. Because it will. There were losses in your lives. I know them. I respect them. My love for you does not take away those losses. But those losses don’t mean you owe us some form of special gratitude. Don’t ever believe someone who tells you they do. I don’t need you to be grateful; I want you to know, to assume, to not even think that there was another option except me loving you. Because there wasn’t. This love? It was here waiting for you all along. You simply claimed what was already yours.”

Children need the unwavering, tenacious love of a forever family, but they don’t need a parent with a savior complex. The fact of the matter is that you can never be their savior. Take them out of a bad situation? Yes. Give them a loving, forever family? Yes. Save or rescue them? No. This article aptly states that the children “already have a Savior, who loves them more than you possibly could. A Hero who died on the cross over 2,000 years ago—for them, for you, for us.”

So, there you have it. Things to keep in mind as you adopt. Just remember that it’s not about you. Avoid the savior complex because Jesus is the only one worthy of that title.

Are you ready to pursue a domestic infant adoption? Click here to connect with a compassionate, experienced adoption professional who can help get you started on the journey of a lifetime.

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Virginia Spence

Virginia Spence and her husband Eric are the proud parents of two awesome boys who joined their family via domestic infant adoption. Their journey through infertility and into the world of adoption awoke in her a passion for life at all ages/stages, especially the tiniest lives in the womb and the women who carry them, and a desire to champion the cause of those who choose to adopt. Virginia desires to be a voice for adoption through advocacy and education as well as an encouragement to those suffering through infertility. Virginia loves to read and considers herself a coffee connoisseur. When she isn't writing or drinking giant mugs of coffee, Virginia can be found watching Paw Patrol and racing hot wheel cars with her boys.


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