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Monday, 14 June 2010

Theory, Reality, and Acceptable Risk

Having some deep thoughts here.

When signing up to adopt a healthy infant through international adoption, I wonder to what extent adoptive parents REALLY consciously consider the unknowns and say "yes" to those possibilities. You know, anything from attachment issues to genetic/organic developmental delays which might not be immediately apparent, to unknown biological family mental health histories which could surface in our children. I suppose anyone who has a child, no matter how that happens, is saying "yes" to some of those risks, and to others, and hopefully in a conscious way. Generally, is it that we hope for the best, and figure we will cope with the worst if it happens? I suspect that it is really difficult to dig deeply into ourselves in regard to these issues and questions when everything is so hypothetical - "if" and "when" we eventually adopt we will "hopefully" and "most likely" have a healthy child, with no major surprises. At some level we (meaning we adoptive parents) must know that we could eventually be living with some pretty serious stuff, or at least some stuff we had not ever pictured ourselves living.

In international adoption, things are complicated in part due to the possibility of very limited family and developmental history, and the inability to meet and interact with a child before adoption decisions are finalized. And, so far we have said "yes" to all that. All those unknowns. And maybe it is somehow comforting to know that "what will be will be" - We signed up, but after that, the matching - with the little person or people who end up becoming our children - is out of our hands. We can only trust that an appropriate match is made based on the information available.

But what about when something shows up in a referral (or domestically, as more information is gathered about a proposed child, or one identified through a photolisting) that is a little (or a lot) outside of our initial scope, based on what we felt comfortable with, or how we pictured our child?

How do parents decide their "actual" limit when faced with a scenario involving a specific child - one whose face and identity are known, and who has been identified as a possible match? What then?

I really do believe that to adopt, parents must recognize and be OK with unknowns, and with various issues that reflect where our children have come from so far. But that's relatively easy to do in theory. Reality, however, may be different. In theory, to say that your child "could" end up with a lifelong developmental disability, or conduct issues, or a mental illness - that is one thing. When something is flagged with a specific child, that gets complicated. What if the child has lots of qualities and characteristics you like, but also presents with an issue you really never would have actively sought? Does that automatically mean the opportunity should be passed over? I doubt it...but I am sure that deciding where your limits actually lie could be a pretty tricky thing.

On one hand, stretching original boundaries could be totally appropriate, if you spend time working through thoughts and feelings, and any tweaking of your concept of child and parent, family and future, and realize that you are comfortable moving forward. In life, I fully believe that we sometimes need a bit of a push outside our self-imposed limits to experience things we would never have chosen on our own.

On the other hand, you are still making a theoretical decision. You have no way of knowing how you will actually feel, or what life will actually be like, if you move forward with this child. You don't want to end up resenting that you stretched your original boundaries. You don't want to be caught up in a moment, perhaps not wanting to let this match go because there are things that seem good or appealing about the child, or because you don't want to say "no" and let others down, or because you feel selfish saying that you really don't want to take on this unexpected issue (it's not you, dear child, it's me, the self-centred adult that I am who wants a "perfect" son or daughter according to my pre-conceived definition), or because you have some idea that this is your "chance" to become a family, and don't want to let it go.

When the illusion of the ideal child fades in the light of reality - even if that reality is still just on paper - and you realize this is a real child with real issues, how do you discern which issues are OK, and which are legitimate reasons to close the door and move on? You don't have to say "yes" when theory becomes reality. But you don't want to say "no" flippantly, either. What if that controlling, instigating behaviour isn't at the core of a child otherwise described as kind and polite and thoughtful, and can be overcome? But what if it is...what if it is so rooted that there will be more and bigger issues...? What if the developmental delays are life-long, and will impact education and career planning...but what if they're not? What if you say "no" to a wonderful child who would do really well in your family, or "yes" to a child whose troubles overshadow them and your family in painful and difficult ways? What is acceptable risk, and how do parents make that call?

Over to you...


Laurel said...

Thanks for these well written and candid thoughts Joy. As in all questions of the heart, your situation holds with it potential for great danger and at the same time great opportunity & reward ...
Claim God's peace as you struggle through all these deep thoughts and questions.
with love, Laurel

Erin @ Sky Blue Pink Roses said...

You ask the tough questions.

There have been kids in photolistings that catch my eye, then I read their profiles and see something that we decided we weren't comfortable with. I'll dismiss them. Then I'll see their picture again, and it will bother me. I'll read the profile again, and wonder whether or not we could handle their issue. I'll think about the fact that it's a real child, alive out there somewhere, who really needs a family. I'll wonder if maybe we should be that family. Sometimes, I'll decide that I should stick with the thoughtful decisions we made, give up on the idea of adopting that child, and pray that the child finds the right family. A couple times, I've made a phone call for more information. It hasn't worked out yet, but somehow all of this experience is preparing me for the real thing. I just hope we'll be ready for that reality when it happens.

Krista said...

Great post! I can totally relate to your thoughts and feelings as I am currently in the process of adopting through CAS. Making decisions in the abstract is easier then when you are faced with the reality of a little person with a complex history! You don't want to minimize risk factors and behaviours but you also don't want those to completely define a child. I think you have to look at (a) can I parent this child in the here and now, every day? and (b) do I have (or will I be able to find) the resources (emotional, etc.) for the worst case scenario of what the risk factors may mean? All the best to you!

Paula said...

Wow Joy, this is some deep stuff! I applaud you for being so open and honest, vulnerable and real. I have a flood of thoughts as I read this, only to conclude one thing one moment then question it the next! Just as you are saying in your blog.
Something I keep thinking about however, are the friends that I have who have biological special needs. They were never given an option, a choice, or time to prepare. Life was "normal" one minute and the next they faced a life-long journey ldarning how to love and care for their dear ones (all family members included as it afects everyone). Like you said, you never want to "pass over" a precious child because of something you feel you can't handle, when in fact, I believe God gives/allows us things in our lives ALL the time that we can't handle (don't think we can) so that we will need to depend on Him, so that we will realze the limitations of our own strengths. How many times have you heard testimonies of people who say, "If someone had told me this would me my life, I never wouldn've believed them..." or "given the choice, I never would have chose it, and now, would never change it".
Wow, you're in a tough position. My mind and emotions are tired just trying to think about this from the outside - I can't imagine what it's like for you and Geoffe wrestling with these things.
I know you are wise, and think things through thoroughly so I will be praying for you and for perfect wisdom and direction!!