Adoptive Families

I Rescued these Kids

Remember how my kids are adopted through foster care? No? Well, they were. Three at once. My husband and I rescued them from a terrible life of bed bugs and behavioral issues. I’m a hero, truly. You should be in awe.

That’s what some people think, anyway. Their eyes get all misty as they tell us how amazing we are. Some of them tell us God meant for us to have these kids. Of course, if God meant for us to have these kids, that means he meant for them to have shitty lives before they met us, which would make God kind of an asshole. I’m pretty sure these people are telling us God is an asshole.

But I digress. I’m not here to bitch about God and whether he personally arranged our adoption. What actually bothers me is the rescue scenario people seem stuck on. It’s not a good scenario to be stuck on, and I’d like to tell you why:

It puts a lot of pressure on us. If I rescued these kids, I owe it to them to be the perfect mom. I have to constantly prove that I’m the best person to raise them, and my kids have to constantly be grateful for being rescued. No one can live up to those expectations.

My kids actually had a foster family caught up in this rescue scenario. They took three little kids to every museum, restaurant, and store they could think of. They bought the kids tons of stuff. They worried endlessly and convinced themselves these kids had Terrible Problems. (After all, if they didn’t have Terrible Problems, they wouldn’t need rescuing.) The kids, in turn, were always tired and nervous and desperate to please these rescuers.

In the end, the parents burned out and the kids had to be moved without warning. That botched rescue actually did cause Terrible Problems for a while.

But the pressure isn’t the only problem. It’s the people who coo and sigh over how selfless and noble adoption is. Just doing that marks us. It makes us other, unusual, outside. The same people who get all misty about me rescuing kids can get a bit worried about those same kids causing trouble. After all, who knows where they’ve been? They probably come from bad stock. If I’m a hero, my kids might be villains.

If the adoption works out and my kids are doing well, I get most of the credit. If things go sideways, well, maybe some kids just can’t be saved. It was really nice of me to try, though.

So sure, it’s flattering to be put on a pedestal. It’s great to be told I’m so great. But anyone who’s been on a pedestal knows that they’re lonely and dangerous places, and no place to raise a family.

Jo S

Jo S. is more scared of you than you are of her. She's a stay-at-home mom in the heart of Utah, where three kids is considered a small family. She cooks, crochets, blogs, and runs a small but dedicated skeptical book club.

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  1. I empathize with this post 100%! My husband and I adopted our son from an orphanage in Ethiopia. We did so because we wanted to be parents, and he needed parents. We did not do it to “rescue” him. He is not “lucky” to have us for parents, nor do we expect him to be grateful or thankful that he was adopted. Grinding poverty, famine and the African AIDS crisis are not “lucky” for anyone involved, including children caught in this tradgedy who are adopted, like my son.
    There are people who decide to adopt from nations like this specifically to “rescue” them, including many Evangelicals who believe it is ordered by God to rescue these children. Many are woefully uninformed about early trauma (including PTSD), grief, and attachment issues. They picture cute babies or children looking at them with grateful, beatific smiles. They are not educated or prepared to deal with the reality, which can be (but is not always) a really tough slog for a long time. The tragic case of Hana Williams and her brother is result of this Evangelical rescue syndrome.

    1. People who go into adoption with that fairy tale (and often missionary) attitude just . . . you’re right, it leads to awful situations for everyone involved. We got into it the way you did–we wanted to be parents, these kids needed parents. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a family. I’d hate to scare anyone away from adoption, but you do have to be practical and informed, and a lot of people caught up in “rescuing” kids are the opposite of that.

    2. “They are not educated or prepared to deal with the reality, which can be (but is not always) a really tough slog for a long time.” Which is what parenting is whether you adopt or have kids some other way!

  2. This is a really important post – I had never considered hat the pressure to ‘make up’ for a child’s early experience could damage both the parents and children so much, like with your kids’ former foster family.

    I’ve seen this pressure work the other way too, with even quite outwardly balanced families carrying the subtle pressure that adopted kids need to be grateful to their parents somehow – and don’t have the right to decline any opportunity their birth parents might not have been able to provide. In general, I think it’s healthy for all parents to acknowledge that we mostly had kids because *we* wanted them, and that our kids owe us nothing apart from decent human courtesy (when the are old enough to achieve it!)

    1. People adopt for most of the same reasons they choose to have biological kids. If I was only in it to help kids, I’d just volunteer somewhere. I adopted because I want to be a parent, and it would be unfair to let them think I only did it for their sake.

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