Is Love Enough?


A few years ago I was taking a counseling Ethics class and had to do a paper and presentation on an ethical dilemma. I chose International Adoption, posing some questions like:

  • Adoption…or baby buying?
  • Is it ethical to adopt a child from a different culture than your own?
  • Is Love Enough?

These provocative questions got the class thinking, and discussing, adoption from a different point of view than is traditionally upheld. Each point could be its own entry, but I want to focus on this question about love being enough.

In my time as a crisis counselor, I worked with MANY families who had adopted: domestic infant, international, or from foster-care. And all of the families I met were dealing with some major issue (duh, it was a crisis counseling service), that stemmed back to adoption and adoption trauma…yes…even the families with the children who were healthy white children adopted as infants. While certainly other families had issues, there was something unique about these adoptive families, where they would mention things like, “but I love her, I didn’t realize that this could happen, I took her in, I showed her love.”

I keep thinking about the stories we hear, about Russian adoptees being sent back by their parents after being a handful, or even here, in Washington, so many stories of Ethiopian adoptees being starved and whipped for “bad behavior,” and ending up dead or in foster-care because of the abuse/neglect from their adoptive parents. Certainly those are extreme cases, but even the loving families that I saw, were struggling to make sense of why their child was so fucked up (to use a very non-clinical way of describing it). There was this overwhelming sense of naivete, that because these children were loved, and saved from a life of living with a crack-whore birthmom or in a foreign country (a dominate narrative told in adoption-land), that they would grow up to be okay.

But IS love enough?

For children who were raised in orphanages, who might be struggling with Post-Institutionalization Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, or any type of physical/cognitive delays, is simply loving them going to fix it? Standing from this perspective, the answer is clearly NO! But for some reason, families who desperately want children, who go to such great lengths to obtain these children, still operate under the belief that love is enough. Their love is going to fix everything.

But, who would tell a soldier’s wife that her love is enough to fix her husband’s PTSD from serving 5 tours in Iraq? Nobody I know would. And even, on a less-extreme case, when Potamus is sick, or if he broke a bone, or seemed to be suffering from depression, I cannot imagine simply trying to ‘love’ the pain away…ya know?

These questions were meant to get my fellow counselors thinking about working with families from a new perspective. Because, for so many, the myth of adoption being a miracle, has clouded over the fact that an adopted child is wired differently because of their experience, and simply loving them is not going to fix things…it will help, but there are many other things that need to happen to help the child be successful.

In my crisis work, I was fortunate to be paired with a 67 year old adoptive mother, who “got it” and had lived it, and was able to connect to many of these adoptive parents in a way that I was not. And I was able to connect to these children/teens in a way that other therapists were not. And adoption was discussed (because most often others hadn’t even recognized where the pain/dysfunction was stemming from).

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6 Comments

  1. During one of my MSW placements I worked with an adoption agency and SO VERY LUCKILY was placed with another MSW who was an adoptee. Without that perspective it would have taken me MUCH longer to realize all these standard narratives. She and I often discussed her desire, like you have stated in some posts, ‘fewer adoptions’ but how to accomplish that and how to identify the best placements was something we’d go around and around on for hours because….things are so complicated aren’t that? Again, thanks for sharing!

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