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Adventures In Adoption, or Water Isn’t Always Wet

Disclaimer: You KNOW I have something on my mind if I’m breaking a 2 year blog silence. Fasten your seat belts, I’m feeling stabby. And cussy. Really, really cussy.

A friend of mine alerted me to an article published recently in The Atlantic titled “The Adoption Paradox”. The clickbait summary read “Kids who are adopted have richer, more involved parents. They also have more behavior and attention problems. Why?”

Clickbait, indeed. What the actual fuck? Where do I even start? I read the article, and then, doing my due diligence, followed up and read the actual study. Both are, if you’ll excuse me, complete horseshit. I can easily dismiss the article because, let’s face it, The Atlantic isn’t the paragon of literary (or even editorial) content that it once was. It’s descended into a morass of cultural sensationalism better suited to coverage of the Kardashians than actual world/political/socially relevant events. The study is flawed in so very many ways, or as I’m more likely to refer to it, “fucked from Jump Street”.

Let’s begin with the obvious: The generalization that adoptive parents are affluent and well-educated is flat-out WRONG. Yes, I am aware of a few “affluent” adoptive families, but by and large most of us are middle class. I WISH I could identify as “affluent”. Not so much, there, Nicholas Zill. And “well-educated”? Maybe. There is a degree of difficulty involved with navigating the adoption process, which certainly isn’t designed for mouth breathers. Then again, most agencies assist families during the entire journey. Sure, most of us have at least SOME college education, but believe me when I tell you that there are PLENTY of adoptive parents who are most assuredly NOT going to be MENSA candidates any time soon. Ever. At all.

Before I lose you completely, you should also check out the section where Nicholas says that adoptive parents “put more effort into caring for their children than biological parents do.” The last time I checked, that was patently untrue. But I digress.

I think the thing that immediately jumped out at me, however, was this little tidbit: “yet they get into more conflicts with their classmates at school, display relative little interest and enthusiasm about learning tasks, and register only middling academic performance”. Hold up there, Mr. Zill. I’ll dive into an in-depth dissection of your methodology in just a minute, but for now, let me just go ahead and call “bullshit”. Every. Single. Adopted kid I know has integrated into his/her classroom with enthusiasm. I can’t think of ONE child who isn’t excited about learning tasks, and don’t even get me started on the academic excellence I’ve witnessed not only from my own child, but others as well. I can rattle off a list of super readers, math whizzes, science fanatics….all adopted.

Mr. Zill has, for the first time, relied on teachers’ analysis of child behavior for his “study”. While I agree that parent assessment is probably not always accurate (we *do* love our precious snowflakes), I have to object to relying solely on the teachers. Don’t get me wrong: teachers are AWESOME. Jack has phenomenal teachers. BUT. When a teacher (or anyone for that matter) who is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with adoption comes into contact with an adopted kid, they immediately get “The Look”. It’s usually fleeting, and for the most part they tend to forget it’s even a part of the child’s life. Good teachers get to know our kids; they learn their quirks and idiosyncrasies that comprise our tiny humans. But at the initial meeting, The Look comes into play. It’s a quickly masked combination of pity and curiosity. The great teachers meet it head-on; the not-so-great ones pretend it doesn’t exist at all. But here’s the thing: By relying solely on teachers’ observations, the adopted kids in the study were artificially scrutinized. They were put under a microscope. Teachers were given an automatic out if/when they observed behaviors that might have been completely normal in any other context from any other kid. I have no doubt that there were teachers involved who were quick to assign the “adopted” label to a kid who may have simply been having a bad day.

Now, I’m definitely not going to dismiss the author’s focus on attachment theory or traumatic stress theory. It’s certainly true that all adoption is born from a place of grief and loss. Yes, our children struggle on some level with both of those. I’m just not convinced that those two demons manifest themselves with any measurable regularity in the classroom. In no way am I discounting that it happens; I’m simply saying that our kids adjust. They adjust well. Yes, they have, and will, face hurdles, but it PAINS me to see adopted kids pigeonholed as learning deficient troublemakers. We adoptive parents kill ourselves to make sure the opposite is true. And not just because we’re wealthy geniuses.

My final beef with Mr. Zill comes in his conclusion: “Many adopted children do reasonably well in school and enjoy lives that are far better than they would have experienced had they not been adopted. And they do so at less cost and burden to the public than if the children were raised in foster homes or institutions”. Dude. Just no. Stop. Staaahhhhhp. Sure, it *might* be true, but we don’t really know that. Is my child better off with me than in an orphanage? You betcha. Would he have been better off with his first family, being raised in the culture into which he was born? Quite possibly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Adoption is a SELFISH choice. I made the decision to take this baby out of his birth country. My problem with his statement is that he makes adoption sound like a heroic choice. It’s not. Yes, there are scads of families who are in the trenches working tirelessly for their kids, and yes, that can be heroic. But not ONE of us adopted because we wanted to “save an orphan”, and if we did, well, then, our social workers should’ve smacked us upside the head. That is the WORST possible reason to adopt a child. By the same token, his flawed rhetoric has the potential to deter prospective adoptive parents, and that’s a real tragedy. These kids, no matter where or how they start, have immense potential. They can (and do) become anything they want to be (well, except President. My kid can’t do that, but that’s a different rant).

Listen: ALL kids face challenges. Divorce, parental drug use, bullying, illness, ADHD, learning disorders….the list is endless. The worst kid in Jack’s class comes from a stable 2 parent household. Parenting is HARD, y’all. I don’t care HOW you came to be a family; it’s the hardest work there is. It’s also the most rewarding. We don’t need any artificial obstacles thrown at us. We have plenty to deal with already, thankyouverymuch Nicholas Zill.

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