Myth: Children will be eternally grateful to you for rescuing them from their terrible life.
Fact: No child can be perfect enough to fulfill your expectation of “grateful orphan.”
It is hard for some to believe that children who have endured abuse, famine, abandonment, or institutionalization will ever be ungrateful. But the life the child is living is, at least, familiar. Even children who live in abusive or neglectful homes consider them “home,” and few would ever choose to leave. To the child, adoption is not rescue, it is change—and change is scary. Many children who live in orphanages come to view them as home, too. We can’t expect that children will be grateful just because we have met some of their needs. How many of us would be so grateful to neighbors who brought us food when we were ill that we would graciously turn our lives over to their control? Altruism by itself is not a good reason to adopt.
Myth: All these children need is love and a good home and they’ll be fine.
Fact: Most available children, both in the United States and abroad, will have adoption issues that “love and a good home” alone cannot fix. Regardless of how good their new homes are, they will have to work through fears and anger related to abandonment and rejection. These fears and anger often surface during the teen years as adopted children attempt to form an identity and struggle to decide which qualities of both families to retain.
Myth: Most of these kids will never recover from their abusive experiences. They will never attach to their new families and will grow up to be criminals.
Fact: While some children are indeed so damaged by long-term abuse or neglect that they will never overcome their legacy of pain and violence, most of these kids will attach to their new families and become productive adults.
You do, however, need to educate yourself thoroughly about the effects of long-term abuse and/or neglect, multiple foster care placements, or life in an institution before you even begin the process to adopt. Read as many books as possible, and talk to as many people as you can who have adopted older children.
Myth: The risk of attachment problems rises proportionately with the age of the child at adoption.
Fact: This is not necessarily the case. If an older child formed a strong attachment to a primary caregiver in infancy and remained in his birthfamily or with one foster family for several years before being adopted, he may have less chance of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) than a baby or toddler who has spent the first nine months to two years in an orphanage or a series of foster homes and who never forms a primary attachment. What is true is that most older children have likely been abused and/or neglected either before or after their relinquishment. Their risk of attachment difficulties depends on the strength of their initial attachments and their individual circumstances and personality.
The quality of care in the institution or foster homes that your child was in plays a large part in his ability to carry forward an early attachment. In orphanages with minimal staff and few toys or one-on-one interactions, the child will learn to depend mostly on himself to meet his needs. Repeated moves can make children exceptionally fearful of trusting and loving anyone again. It’s important to get as much information as you can about your child’s early years.