Someone Else's Problem
This is the seventh post in our series, The Reality of Adoption: Confronting Common Myths. To read the overview of the series and find links to the other installments in this series, click here.
Myth: All adopted children will experience problems and issues.
Reality: While some adopted children will experience problems and issues, the pervasiveness of such problems is not as significant as is generally assumed. The heart of the matter, however, is that adoptive families have an opportunity to provide a child with unconditional love for a lifetime – and that love has the power to transform the lives of everyone involved.
It is more often thought than said, and it’s loaded with assumptions, myths and fear. We see it reflected in many different ways, from off the cuff statements to feature length motion pictures. I’m referring to the commonly held notion that children who were adopted have more problems than others, and for whatever reason or no reason at all if you adopt you are likely to spend a lifetime dealing with “someone else’s problem.” Sound harsh and unfair? It is, especially because on so many levels it is untrue, unfounded and obscures the true joy and blessing that so many families find through adoption.
When talking about this topic I often hear adoptive parents somewhat defensively remark that there are no guarantees that children born into families won’t also have problems themselves. While certainly true – children that enter a family whether by birth or adoption can be born with or later encounter problems, issues and challenges of various kinds – it seems to also miss the point. This line of argument likely leads directly to even more questions and discussions about if and to what extent adopted children have more problems and challenges, what those might be, whether they can be overcome and on and on.
Instead our starting point must always be to affirm that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), each fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in the image of our Creator. This is true of all children, not just those without so-called “problems.” That the brokenness of this fallen world came crashing in on a child resulting in abuse, neglect, abandonment or relinquishment in no way takes away from that child’s God-given worth and preciousness. We must always keep this in mind as it alone - not a child’s history, issues or behaviors - determines that child’s true value and worth.
With that in mind, the question still remains: Do children who were adopted experience and exhibit more problems than children born into families? The answer is yes . . . and no.
Some research and studies and have shown that adopted children do experience (in varying degrees) higher incidences of social, behavioral and educational problems and maladjustments than non-adopted children. (Psychological Issues in Adoption by Brodzinsky and Palacios (2005), p. 118). These differences are based on a variety of factors and causes, such as age at adoption and past history of abuse or other harm. However, these differences are far less dramatic in non-clinical studies than they are in clinical studies (Psychological Issues in Adoption, p. 118). In addition, while the differences can be significant, the overall effects of these differences between adopted and non-adopted children are shown to be of a small to moderate magnitude (Psychological Issues in Adoption, p. 119). Yet at the same time, various studies show that adopted children are on par and even in some cases ahead of their non-adopted peers (see generally Psychological Issues in Adoption and a 1994 study by the Search Institute comparing adopted teens with their non-adopted peers).
The bottom line is this: each child that is adopted is as unique as each family that opens its heart and home to welcome her. Many adopted children will face challenges and issues of various kinds. These may be due in part to a prior history or abuse, neglect or trauma, the grief and loss associated with adoption itself, or they may be unrelated to adoption altogether. Whatever the case, we are left with this basic question – will these children have the unconditional love and support of a well prepared and committed family?
I am certainly not suggesting that those considering adoption, nor those of us already traveling the adoption journey, ever take lightly the potential problems, issues and challenges that children may experience. For this reason it’s extremely important that we examine our motivations and expectations, take the initiative to become educated on a wide range of relevant topics and intentionally seek out meaningful and supportive relationships with others who will offer their insight, prayers and encouragement. And far from being just a few more items on the long list of adoption “to do’s” that are important before a placement, these steps must be an ongoing part of every families journey well after their child is home.
Despite whatever difficulties and challenges may come, the miracle and the blessings of adoption remain. What others may see as “someone else’s problem,” adoptive families know as their privilege and joy. Adoption grants us a different perspective, a unique vantage point if you will, about what it means to love unconditionally. And as we learn to fully embrace our children with this unconditional love in action, amazing things will happen – not only for our children, but for us as well.
Here are a few additional resources relating to this topic: