The Corner


‘Every Adoption Begins With Brokenness’

Today The Atlantic published a piece detailing what it called the “adoption paradox” — that adoptive parents tend to be wealthier, better-educated, and “put more effort” into raising their kids, yet adopted children often struggle even more than kids from single-parent homes. For example, the Institute for Family studies has released research showing that young adopted children perform less well on tests and tend to have greater discipline problems. The numbers are telling. First, problem behavior was more common:


As The Atlantic explained:

As measured by their teachers, young adoptive children were more likely than biological ones to get angry easily and to fight with other students. If a 50 percent score represents an average level of this type of “problem behavior,” adopted kindergarteners were higher than average, at 64 percent, while children with two biological parents were at 44 percent. Children in single-parent, step, and foster families all had fewer behavioral issues than adopted kindergarteners, at 58 percent, although this difference was not significant. A similar pattern (63 percent versus 43 percent) emerged for adopted and biological first graders.

The academic measures weren’t encouraging, either. This chart of math skills, for example, shows adoptive children performing significantly worse than children from other families:

None of this should be surprising to adoptive parents. It’s simply better for children to be raised by their birth mother and birth father. Even a broken home — where a child at least tends to stay with one birth parent throughout childhood — is better than the situation most adopted kids initially endure. In the adoption community, parents often remind themselves that “every adoption begins with brokenness.” In other words, there is often immense suffering and heartache before an adoption, and that suffering carries with it real consequences for children who often struggle to bond with new families.

As I’ve said before, my youngest child is adopted. Abandoned by her mother, she was initially raised by her grandmother and grandfather. They were desperately poor subsistence farmers living in southern Ethiopia, and when her grandfather died, her grandmother couldn’t maintain the farm. So they began to starve to death. There simply wasn’t enough food for two people. When she turned two years old, my daughter weighed a mere 14 pounds. Her grandmother abandoned her to the adoption agency to save both their lives, and she was then moved from an orphanage in southern Ethiopia to a more advanced facility in Addis Ababa. Four months later, we arrived from the United States and moved her again to a completely unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar family, where she started her new life.

My daughter’s story isn’t uncommon. We know quite a few adoptive families, and the stories can be heartbreaking – we have friends who’ve adopted victims of sexual abuse, former child soldiers, and people who were horrifically physically abused. A friend’s daughter literally panics every time her mother leaves the room, facing an involuntary surge of fear that she’s never coming back.

Stress like that has an extraordinarily powerful effect on a child’s developing mind, and adoptive families often find that they spend years creating the bonds of attachment that happen naturally between a caring biological mother and child. In other words, adoption isn’t about fairy tales and Hollywood endings, it’s about love and a commitment to do everything in your power to repair broken bodies and broken hearts. And through it all you rely on the grace of God — as each day reminds you of your profound limitations. Charts like those above remind me that the world is fallen, that our adopted children need their new families, and that parents should demonstrate abiding patience and deep resolve as they love their children for a lifetime.


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