Tragic Turn in Russian Adoption Brews International Controversy

The internet is abuzz—from Yahoo News to NPR to the Daily Beast—with the tragic controversy surrounding a single mother from Tennessee, who sent her adopted Russian son back to Russia, solo on a plane, claiming that he was acting out in ways she could no longer handle.

The mother certainly merits the sharp criticism she’s earned, and, if we can find it, compassion and prayers as well.  She cleary lost grip on the reality of what adoption represents:  that is a permanent intertwining of lives, a sacred commitment.  Her choice was like that of a new mother imaging she could simply reverse motherhood by taking a crying newborn back to the hospital—just as, sadly, sometimes happens.

The story highlights a number of important issues.  A few of these are:

The vital importance of thorough understanding and preparation before adoption. Initial reports strongly suggest that the mother had no anticipation of the difficulty she might face in seeking to care for the 7-year-old boy.  Children who have spent many years in an institution often carry wounds that take time, sacrifice and much patience to heal.  The simple truth is that because every child so deeply needs the love and permanence of a family, years in institutional care are not without consequences.  This, of course, is precisely why adoption is to be far preferred to orphanages whenever possible, and why it’d be a tragedy multiplied by thousands if the Russian government allowed this exceptional case to halt international adoptions, as they are now threatening.

The need for community. Adoption should never be viewed as a “just-me-and-my-child” undertaking.  All parents, especially single ones, need the support, encouragement, advice and practical aid of others as they raise their children.  This is particularly true with adopted children coming from difficult backgrounds.  This is why the local church is key to a full vision for adoption.  Adoption should not be seen merely as a family wrapping around a hurting child, but as a community wrapping around a family wrapping around a child.  The best church adoption ministries never focus just on the process of getting a family to the point of adoption, but on the whole journey that will include many years of great joys and real challenges after the child has arrived.

The significance of motivations. Adoption should never be undertaken merely as a way to fill our own cavernous needs.  It’s always wise to avoid judging motives, but it does appear that the Tennessee mother was adopting in large part to fill an emptiness within her own life.  Of course, just as with marriages entered for such reasons, adoptions in which the child is primarily a means to personal fulfillment, comfort, or other self-focused reasons are bound for trouble. No other human being will ever fill the gaps in our own lives completely, especially those with profound needs of their own.  So, if we are not prepared to give much more than we receive—whether as parents or in marriage—we’re likely to “want out” before long.

There are real risks that this sad situation could derail other Russia-to-U.S. adoptions, and thus relegate thousands of adoptable orphans to life in institutions.  In light of this danger, our friends at JCICS have done a great job pulling together a concerted response to this situation.  They’re seeking to confront the serious wrong done to the 7-year-old Russian boy, while also working to send a clarion message to our friends in Russia that this situation does not reflect the reality the vast majority of adopted Russian children experience in the U.S.   If you have stories that can help them convey this message, I’d encourage you to join their “We are the Truth” initiative here.