The Greatest Adoption Myth

I posted this in November 2012, just a few short months after Confessions Of A Parent was born. I wanted to repost it because, more and more, I am having conversations with adoptive parents who have a mixed up view of their role in their new son or daughter’s life. It’s easy to view yourself as a rescuer or a savior, because your heart is full for the children you are bringing home. However, this viewpoint can be toxic if there’s not a clear understanding of what adoption really is.

We were so excited! Out of 5 families we had been chosen to adopt 2 little boys, who were biological brothers. We looked at the pictures the case manager passed around and without even knowing them, or having met them, we just knew- “Those little boys are our sons!” It was meant to be.


For the next 2 weeks we planned. We moved rooms in our home around to make space. We bought extra supplies (diapers, toys, clothes, etc.). We called our friends and family and shared the exciting news. We prayed. We anticipated. We hoped. And finally we went for our very first visit with them.

It did not go the way we expected it to.

The older brother stared at us for what seemed like forever. The younger brother continually scooted away from us and screamed- at the top of his lungs, the entire time we were there. Finally, the older brother warmed up to my wife and actually let her hold him. The younger brother did as well, but hesitantly.

Once we got the boys home, a day later, we continued to see struggles. The oldest brother connected almost immediately but the younger did not. Our first trip to Florida with him was disastrous. He spent the entire week screaming, pulling my wife’s hair, and throwing himself on the ground, not happy with anything. As I watched this unfold, I found myself at a loss. This was not how I pictured this going, at all!

I, personally, pictured something like this (honestly)- we would rush to the foster home the boys were living in, scoop them both up, carry them to their brand new car seats, play Finding Nemo the entire ride home, and smile contently at one another as we listened to their sweet giggles from the back seat. In other words, I saw us as amazing rescuers on a valiant rescue mission.


You see, we weren’t rescuers and this wasn’t a rescue mission. We were adopting 2 little boys from a difficult place. My sons didn’t need a rescuer, they needed a father. They needed a mother. They needed parents. And above all, they needed stability!

In their short existence, they had traveled to several different homes and experienced a revolving door of people and faces. Nothing was forever in their little minds. And that was traumatic.

Our world, our culture, has a way of glamorizing adoption. We have the Angelina Jolie’s or the Madonna’s who jump on private jets to third world countries and “rescue” children. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrities doing this, it is not representative of real-life circumstances. Nearly 100% (okay, maybe 98 or 99%) of adoption cases are NOT going to unfold like that.

The greatest myth when it comes to adoption is that everything will be perfect, the child will immediately latch on to you, and every dream you had in your mind, previous to the child entering your home, will come true. If this is your view, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you will be disappointed.

And more than ever, stop seeing yourself as a rescuer (if this is you). I saw myself as this and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m called to be a parent, not a rescuer.

Here’s what I’ve learned through my own personal (and painful) experience-

  • You must take on open-mindedness over a fantasy.
    If your adoption experience is fueled by fantasy you are going to struggle more than you know. You need to be open-minded to the fact that your new son or daughter may be coming from a difficult situation and that will prompt a lot of different emotions, behaviors, and reactions to you. Obviously this is slightly different if you’re adopting a newborn baby, but if you’re adopting from the foster care system or internationally, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.”
  • You must choose unconditional love regardless of circumstances.
    This is key because the circumstances could be very difficult or very hard to understand. Truthfully, we were blind-sided by this. We kept thinking that we were doing something wrong and that was why they were pushing us away or screaming in our face. However, the truth was that these behaviors were coming from a place of fear and the best thing we could do was love them deeply, no matter what we experienced!
  • You must provide the most stable, consistent environment possible.
    I can’t say this enough! I’m already a huge fan of consistency. But I’m the biggest fan when it comes to parenting. Today, nearly 4 years later, our two sons are stable, grounded, emotionally healthy and I do not believe that’s because we’re “awesome.” I think it’s solely because, through thick and thin, we’ve worked hard at being consistent and stable. We’re far from perfect at this (trust me), but I can honestly say that it’s made a world of difference in their development.

Question: Have you had a similar experience with adoption? What were some ways you navigated or coped with the emotions or behaviors your child (or children) had? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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  • Sheila

    Well said… We have adopted 4 children from Foster Care, and we were their foster parents all the time, but the three brothers we adopted had a very hard time. They didn’t want to be rescued from their parents. These children have a bond and a relationship with their birth parents. They did not see them as monsters they needed to be rescued from. They saw them as mom and dad. Even though as the stories start to unfold 2 1/2 years later, our boys did need rescuing, but they still don’t see it that way. They are thriving because of the routines and safe expectations. They know what to expect on any given day and it brings much security to their lives. Thanks for blogging about real parenting issues.

    • Hey Sheila, thanks so much for your comment. it is good to hear that there are similar stories out there. It means we are not alone and that we all have a road to walk down when it comes to foster care and adoption. So glad those boys have you as their mom, and glad to hear you are commited to consistency and clear boundaries.

  • Dorothy Ann Mahon

    My 2 pieces of advise to anyone doing any kind of care is…… If you can’t love them find something to like. and…. you can’t get respect until you show respect. I worked with youth residential and corrections for years before fostering. When you find the thing you like, your bond begins and if the only respect a child or young person knows comes at the end of a fist you have to show them what real respect is and that they deserve it. I am not talking about while they are misbehaving but you can show respect for who they are and the little things they do that are huge steps for them. You can love/ like someone but not like their behaviour.

    • Dorothy, respect is a major deal. I agree with you. Some children come from situations where respect was commanded and not earned. It must be earned. Thanks for your comment.

  • So relieved to find an adoptive parent that “gets” it. To be honest, I’m a Christian, but I really didn’t expect the person to “get” it would be a Christian. I was adopted internationally to disillusioned parents. They did their best, I did my best. It didn’t work out during my childhood. Still open to patching things up in adulthood. I vowed never to adopt.

    And here I am with my husbands boys who I love as my own. Though it’s not official legally, it’s official in my heart. I’m doing the scariest thing that I never would have attempted to fail or succeed at. I expected to co-parent with their mother (which I was prepared for) but not for this. But God is my strength and my source. I’m terrified to hurt my kids the way I was hurt or otherwise. But, similar to what you wrote, I just plug on and tell myself that it’s a long journey and that God will be faithful to our family building efforts. So far so good. I am so blessed. Thank you.

    • Meredith, thanks so much for your comment. I am glad to hear that you are open to a mend. Hang in there. Keep holding onto the hand of your King who never fails!

  • Barbara Young Paden

    Our first child, adopted 10 years ago from Russia, has always been an absolute pleasure. Our daughter, adopted 4 1/2 years ago also from Russia, screamed and screamed for the first 3 years. She was terrified of men and wouldn’t go to my husband for ages. Our perfect son went deeper and deeper into depression. We have a fantastic therapist, we have talked to our daughter (and our son) about how horrific it must feel to know that you were given up by your biological mother. The more we were able to feel their pain, try to guess it, try to make it ok for them to talk about it, the easier (not easy, but easier) it’s been. We baby them when people around us think we’re coddling them. We’re trying to “meet them where they are” rather than expecting them to always be age appropriate. God, I love them, but the hard times were so hard I never thought we’d come out on the light side of this long dark tunnel!

    • Barbara, sounds like there’s a lot of love in your home for these children. Keep pouring your life into them! Thanks for your comment!

  • Lori Davis Gardner

    I worked in a residential facility for 11 years & a large number of the children were placed there after adoptions failed to thrive as they called it. In the sessions with the adoptive families you could clearly see & hear in their voices that the reality was simply not what they had hoped for or it was more difficult than they thought. I always felt that there should be more training or discussion about what it will really be like when you adopt. My husband & I have a 2 year old & are planning to start foster parent training soon & I am glad I stumbled upon this article, thank you for sharing your experience.

  • John Boulton

    Never been in this situation ever once in my life since I’d never adopted. But it looks like some very good information to share.

    • Hey John, glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your comment.

  • Mandy

    Truth: even if your child does not remember their biological family and had a stable environment from birth, there can and probably will be hard times eventually. My son is 8, and just beginning to mourn a loss that he doesn’t fully understand. Even though it doesn’t seem possible, he “misses” his biological family. It’s something that’s really hard for me because we have a good relationship and I want to think that that is enough, that his past doesn’t matter, but the truth is that it does matter. It’s part of who he is, and it’s something he will need to struggle through with our help.

    • Mandy, we’ve experienced the same thing with one of our children. We have a solid relationship too. Keep walking with him.

  • Paulette Black

    This article touched my heart. I adopted a baby boy at 2 months old. He cried a lot and would only let his dad and I hold him, sometimes my parents, but was expelled from daycare due to crying. That was in 1981, we divorced in 1984 and I became a single working mom, with Dad in his life, but not wholeheartedly. During the teen years, my son became increasingly disagreeable, poor motivation & grades, etc. and although he was in a private school, had tutors, attentive grandparents, and tons of love from me, he became enamored with the bad crowd in the neighborhood. By age 19, he was smoking grass and in a gang. Never went to college or trade school, had a couple of low wage jobs, aspired to “chill” or become a “rap star”. After serving 4.5 years in federal prison for possession of a dangerous substance with intent to distribute, he’s still in trouble and in and out of custody for infractions – driving under suspension, no insurance, failure to appear, etc. He was furious with me and his Dad this last time (June, 2016), for not getting his car out of impound,while he was in the County jail for a couple of month. He shouted, pleaded, cursed, yelled and said, “I wish you and Daddy had left me where you found me so somebody else could have given me a better life.” Wow, that blow went right to my heart. All these years of offering opportunities, trying to talk with him about his feelings, dreams, decision-making, faith in God, etc., I had suggested he might want to do a search for his first mom, and I would support him, when we talked occasionally about adoption, but he never wanted to talk about it long “just curious”, he would say. I am heartbroken and realize now he has some likely genetic characteristics suggestive of sociopathy, along with substance abuse issues. Had I known more at the time of his adoption or anywhere along the way, I would have gotten him and us into therapy. It seemed like an admission of not being capable of handling parenting however, so now I’m depleted and depressed, feeling like I failed him. I hope the adoption field has progressed to the point of advising parents it isn’t “just like you had him yourself”, the baby isn’t a “blank slate” and you can’t just “take him home and love him”, which were the things we were told by the state as we were ushered out the door with our new bundle of joy. We were naive and enabling and perhaps in denial. (Insert a big sigh here) I regret our lack of insight and resent the lack of advice and support. I’ve spent several years studying adoption however, and have a better grasp, but now my readings are also related to co-dependent personality and addiction and co-occurring disorders. My advice is to get to therapy fast, even if you think everything is ok! Seek out therapists with understanding of the adoption triangle/constellation.