Q: Our families were very excited that we were adopting and involved through each step of the process, and sent nice cards and gifts. After we returned home from Russia with our two daughters, however, we realized we could not parent the older girl. She had been abused and was abusive to our other children. We tried therapy, but, in the end, we found a childless family who adopted her. We are at peace with our decision. Our families are not. They say we gave up on our daughter. We have no idea how to mend the fences.
A: Your families reactions are, unfortunately, normal for an adoption disruption. They feel this way not because they don’t love you, but because they don’t understand disruption and they are grieving in their own way for the grandchild or niece they will not have. Disruption is a no fault situation that does occur, although rarely. It is not your daughter’s fault that she had been abused, nor is it surprising that, in turn, she became abusive to your other children.
The placement choice that you made—parents with no other children—sounds like an excellent one for a child with these issues. Let your families know that the child has the best chance of dealing with her history, bonding appropriately, and enjoying her childhood in this type of family unit.
Recognize that your family’s anger is the result of the grief they are feeling. Say things like, “You must be sad that she will not be your grandchild; we are sad that she will not be our child.” Share your reasons for disrupting, as well as the opinions of professionals (including the social worker for the adoptive family) who supported your position. You made a logical (albeit heartbreaking) decision that was in the best interests of your family and the child. Finally, ask them specifically what you can do to make them feel more comfortable with your decision. In one case that I handled, the grandparents requested a photo and updates on the child. In another, the grandparents made no requests, but the offer began the healing process.
Understanding all of the aspects of disruption is something even experienced professionals struggle with. So it is not surprising that extended family members have difficulty accepting the situation. My experience is that, with love, communication, and time, your extended family will come to terms with their grief and realize that you need their support, not their criticism.