I recently read this article about adoption. In it, Lee talk about her struggles with loving her adopted child, and how these caused her to recognize the depth of her own sin and rely on God for grace.
Which, on the surface, seems great. But this article does not sit well with me.
I don’t know this woman--I don’t know her whole story, and I don’t know the specific struggles of her adopted child. But the fact of the matter is, she doesn’t know the specific struggles of all adoptive parents either.
I know many families (including my own) that struggled hard-core with adoption. In countries with institutionalized orphanages, kids are often neglected and abused, leading to intense behavioral problems.
These behavioral problems develop in children who experience severe abuse or neglect at early ages, and as a sort of psychological defense mechanism, they basically become incapable of forming healthy attachments. They act out in all sorts of ways to ensure they stay in control and attachments are kept at bay. Compounding this issue, these children are often charming in public--which leads people to think that whatever the issues are, they must be the parents’ fault. Shame, confusion, and judgment abound.
A recent article on the Huffington Post describes the experience of these parents all too well:
Parenting kids with attachment trauma feels like driving in a foreign country where the road signs are illegible, a familiar process is suddenly uncomfortable, and fellow drivers are honking, flipping you off, and shouting that you’re doing it wrong — despite your best efforts to do it correctly.
This experience is why I have a problem with Lee’s article. The problem for families in everyday attachment battles is not a “lack of maternal instinct” or the sin of the parents. Granted, all parents make mistakes, and sin patterns definitely inhibit effective parenting. I agree with her that parents, like everyone else, are “scoundrels made up of a mix of righteous and prideful motives.” But for families with traumatized adopted children, the problem is a psychological and behavioral disorder. I shudder to think that families in crisis mode would read this article and think it was some deficit in themselves that was the source of the turmoil. It’s not.
Let’s not over-spiritualize. The behavior problems of these children are not caused by the adopted parents’ sin just like depression is not caused by failure to trust God.
Other phrases jump out at me as well: “I had no ready explanation except the feeling that she must be rejecting me.” If your children have these behavioral problems, they straight-up are rejecting you. That’s how they are psychologically wired to operate. Again, I don’t know if Lee’s child has these particular issues - but for any parents whose children do, reading that undermines their reality of actual, persistent rejection.
The last paragraph particularly irks me:
After two and a half years with Nora home it’s still hard—but totally worth it. I wish my sin was easier to eradicate, but God continues to root it out of me. Loving Nora is easier, and deeper, than I thought it could get. I see huge strides in our relationship. Her smile is bigger and her giggles are louder as little by little she lets her guard down. She even has taken to snuggling and has become my most affectionate child.
I’m very glad about this progress--it is awesome that she has seen growth in both herself and her child. But the implication here is: Once you deal with your sin, parenting will be easier and you will automatically see progress in your child’s relationship. This is a lie from the pit, and brings all sorts of false shame to parents who have been struggling for years without any observable improvements. Let me affirm that I think the basic tenets of her article--that difficult situations show us our sin in new and often alarming ways and that there is still grace in those situations --are 100% true. But we have to be careful not to imply that our sin is the source of those challenging situations. Even if the parents were sin-free people, there would still be issues.
Update: Lisa wrote a follow-up post here.