Two adoption stories that have stayed with me …

One was a family that contacted me after reading an article of mine in the local paper about older child adoption. They called and said they were considering adoption and would like to meet with me and Hannah. We met at a nearby park.

We walked in the park, watched Hannah on the various apparatuses, and talked. They were excited, worried, and nervous and had many questions.

But what has stayed with me was their reason for adopting an older child: “Because an older child would be more appreciative of them as parents.” They would have memories of their “bad” life and be thankful to their parents for their new life. They felt that a baby or toddler might not have these same feelings of appreciation.

I think about this couple sometimes. I wonder if they adopted. If so, did their child appreciate them? If not, did they learn that more important than their children appreciating them is for their child to feel safe and loved unconditionally?

My other adoption story that has stayed with me is of a little girl, about four or five, adopted from Russia. The father brought her into a Russian bookstore after she’d been home about a month. The girl was delighted to meet someone who spoke Russian, since neither of her parents had learned any Russian, nor had they found a translator to help out.

The girl told the store owner her Russian name. Her father chastised her and said, “That’s not your name. You have a new name. Your old name is not part of you now. Don’t say that again.”

As the girl began to tell the store owner about things she missed in Russia, and the store owner translated to the father, the father again chastised the girl saying, “You live in America now. We don’t talk about Russia.”

These stories haunt me, partly because of my worries for the children. But they also haunt me because they mirror (embarrassingly) some of my own initial thoughts about adoption and adoptive parenting.

Here’s my story … While I didn’t expect my daughter to appreciate me (exactly), I did expect her to be polite, kind, and sweet towards me– at least most of the time. However, due to Hannah’s reactive attachment disorder, she’s often been mean, nasty, and horrid towards me. I will say that now that she’s healing, I do appreciate her kindnesses toward me more than I ever would have before.

Also, when Hannah first got home, I thought “her past is her past.” Wrong. Hannah’s past, her heritage, her Russian-ness, are very much a part of her. I’m glad I’ve learned the importance of helping her integrate her past with her present.

Hopefully, we, as adoptive parents– like all other parents– we read, learn, and change for the better as we parent our children. The strength, esteem, and success of our children depends on it.

Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan’s training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She’s also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is OlderChildAdoptionSupport.