Of course it has nothing to do with nationality, but that is what Sarah perceived. She was too inexperienced to understand her statement as judgmental, nationalistic, politically incorrect, or anything other than observational. For five years Sarah had spent her time in a home where coincidentally, the girls were all from Russia and the boys (except for the baby of the bunch) were from the United States. In fact, Sarah’s observation—that girls from Russia are hard—included herself in the grouping.
Sarah and her three sisters comprised a group of only four of seven siblings born in shacks and abandoned “houses” in Russia. Two of them had been adopted earlier and had vanished without a trace. Another remained in Russia, too damaged to leave institutional life. A limited view of only our family might make creating a stereotype that girls from Russia are hard, easy. It’s not Russia, though.
While Sarah’s statement, that girls from Russia are hard, was all inclusive, she would still have segregated her observation group by degrees. Sarah wasn’t the hardest, by far. She wasn’t the easiest, either. Her only little sister had difficulties adjusting to her new family. That isn’t surprising. Our minds come pre-programmed to believe that our first families shouldn’t fail, and when they do, trauma follows; without exception. Just like a serious car accident, the trauma varies among all that go through it, and no two people experience the same thing. Sarah’s little sister took it far better than most, but there were still issues.
We only learned of Sarah’s oldest two sisters when we were completing her adoption and it took another year-and-a-half to find them and bring them home. The Russian social worker who helped us to accomplish that difficult feat didn’t tell us that girls from Russia are hard, but she did say that these ones would be. In fact, out of concern for our family, she recommended that we not adopt the fourteen and fifteen year-old girls. It was right for her to make that recommendation. We would have been wrong to follow it.
Sarah, herself, had been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and her observation that girls from Russia are hard would have also accompanied a feeling that girls from Russia HAVE it hard.
The second-to-oldest sister came with her own difficulties that are unlike those that cause many to think that adopted girls from Russia are hard. This sister was moderately mentally disabled. Learning English came very slowly, even though she had surpassed her Russian speaking abilities within the first year of her relocation. This sister was a sweetheart but she required so much help from every angle.
Sarah, herself, had been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and her observation that girls from Russia are hard would have also accompanied a feeling that girls from Russia have it hard. She had seen friends adopted from her orphanage and wanted that for herself. She and two friends actively prayed that they might be adopted and have their own families. Little did Sarah know how difficult it would be to attach to that family once her prayer was answered.
The person whose actions were the embodiment of Sarah’s feelings; that girls from Russia are hard, was her oldest sister. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder were all diagnoses used to try to apply best practices to help that troubled girl. In fact, that daughter eventually required institutionalization to get the specific and critical care that she needed. She has advanced far since then and continues to progress. But that was light we couldn’t see during the time of Sarah’s tenth birthday.
At that time, Sarah, as many pre-teens do, was contemplating what her own family might be like one day. She was particularly thoughtful about that subject when she approached her mother. “When I have my own family,” she said, “I’m going to have ten kids. I’m going to get five boys first, from my tummy, and five girls from Russia.”
When my wife questioned the order of family building (not dissimilar to ours) Sarah responded: “I need to get boys from my tummy, first, to help me; because girls from Russia are hard.”
While Sarah’s understanding that girls from Russia are hard was wrong, and should have been rendered to something of the effect that “girls from traumatic backgrounds are often difficult,” she had hit the head on another issue. She understood how much family members had done to help her and her sisters.
My wife and I had always tried not to tell my daughters how lucky they were to have a family because to us, “luck” would have meant they didn’t need to have a new family. We never discussed the costs of adoption, health or treatment around our children because we didn’t want them to question whether we thought they were worth it, or wonder if we thought they owed us something because of those costs. We were also careful about making a big deal about sacrifices that other family members had made because we wanted our children who were adopted to know that all of our family members were deserving of everything we had and that children who were members of our family first, or by another method, had no special claims.
Sarah’s statement that she needed “boys from her tummy, first, to help her, because girls from Russia are hard,” did much to resolve our concerns.
That doesn’t mean our hearts didn’t ache when family members were not shown the respect and appreciation that we thought their sacrifices merited. That was painful. We hoped that one day, our children who were adopted, would understand that others had given much to help them. We also hoped that they would use that knowledge as an example that they too, should help others. But there were dark days when we didn’t think that realization would ever come.
Sarah’s statement that she needed “boys from her tummy, first, to help her, because girls from Russia are hard,” did much to resolve our concerns. It wasn’t necessary for us to “preach” what their brothers had done, for our daughters to learn. Children who are adopted aren’t stupid. They learn from observation, just like everyone else. And like so many of the rest of us (myself included) they often reject preaching when it is crammed down their throats.
So if your children that are adopted are slow to recognize the sacrifice of others, don’t sweat it. Don’t try to force it. When you adopted them you gave them a chance. You gave it to them. You don’t get to take it back. That chance is theirs, to do with as they please, just like you have your own choices. Don’t be disheartened. Don’t give up if your “girls from Russia are hard.” Eventually they realize on their own the positive effect that others have on their lives.
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