Reading all the stories and commentary about the recent Russian adoption fiasco have made me think of how much parents crave certainty and how little of it they can have. This story, from today’s New York Times, raises this point nicely in the context of international adoption.
When you become a parent, you give up a tremendous amount of control even as you assume enormous responsibilities. I recall being stunned by the realization that I could not make my children sleep–I could put them in a quiet room, I could sing to them, I could ensure that they were warm and well-fed and dry. But whether sleep happened? Not up to me. (If you are now thinking I was a naive parent, I will accept that judgment.)
That’s a trivial example. There are countless far more serious ways in which we cannot control our kid’s destinies–will they be strong and healthy? Will they be happy? Will they be good people? Parents have enormous roles to play in all this, but cannot be guaranteed any particular outcome.
It’s therefore fair to say that parenthood doesn’t come with guarantees, even though we’d all like it if it did, and that this is true no matter how you get to be a parent. Here’s where the NYT article added to my understanding.
These general concerns manifest themselves in particular ways in adoption, particularly international adoption. Dr. Jane Aronson, the subject of the article I linked to, observes that kids from China, Ethiopia or Russia (which are the top three countries from which US residents are adopting kids) face greater risks than American babies born to mother’s who get good prenatal care. (The last qualification is doubtless important.) People contemplating overseas adoption need to accept that risk, and it is her life-work to help prospective parents understand this.
The article ends with a lovely depiction of a couple, Phillip and Susan Shih, who have an adopted son, Paul. Paul was adopted from China and spent much of his first 13 1/2 months in an orphanage. There are undeniable consequences from this upbringing, which are described in the article. No one can say right now exactly what those consequences will be.
But that’s not what the Shihs focus on. They’re focussed on Paul, the child who falls asleep in their arms. While I’ll accept Dr. Aronson’s observation about the greater exposure to risks children like Paul have faced, I think there is a universal here. We all have to learn to live with the uncertainty that is a necessary part of parenthood, even if the degree of uncertainty varies. And perhaps we all manage in a way akin to the Shihs–we love our children for who they are now.
I suppose I wanted to link to this story partly because it is the sort of story that doesn’t make the news very often because, after all, what is the news here? Instances where things go dramatically awry will always get more attention than those where things go just as they should. That tells us nothing about the relative frequency of the different outcomes.