Romanticizing Your Child’s Story

A “well-meaning” family member said to us when we brought our daughter home, “she never needs to know she’s adopted.”  She was 23 months old!!

It’s LYING to your child.  Don’t do it.  Don’t lie to them about anything!

As an undergraduate at the University of Alabama (1998-2002), I chose East & Central European Studies as my minor.  Obviously, I read some amazing Russian literature (Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Gorky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pasternak, etc.).  I learned more about Russia’s rich and very interesting history.  Most people already know about the beautiful things in Russia.  What comes to your mind when thinking about Russia?  Ballet?  Gymnastics?  Soccer?  Hockey?  State Hermitage?  Tretyakov Gallery?  We tend to think about the positives.  I wanted to learn as much as possible for the child I wanted to adopt.

Fast forward to 2008.  My husband and I arrive in March in the city our soon to be daughter is from.  Kansk, Krasnoyarsk Krai- in Siberia!  It’s nothing like Moscow or St. Petersburg!  Quick history/ geography- Russia is on two continents.  The area west of the Urals is part of Europe and the area east of the Urals is part of Asia.  The autonomous region of Krasnoyarsk is east of the Urals along the Yenisei River.   Kansk was founded as a fort in 1628 and is known for its coal, cotton, timer, hydrolysis, and food industries.  It’s also home to a large air base and is crossed by the Trans-Siberian Railway.  The actual city of Krasnoyarsk is the 3rd largest city in Siberia with about one million inhabitants and is one of the largest producers of aluminum.  Their hydroelectric power station is the fifth largest in the world and the second largest in Russia! It’s a very beautiful place!  One of the best known forests, Stolby, is in Krasnoyarsk.  They boast many popular stores like Nike, have chain restaurants like Subway, California Pizza Kitchen, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and they even have a Baskin Robbins!

Back to 2008 and we are meeting our soon to be daughter.  She is Russian but knows nothing of the magnificent history and rich culture of her country.  Instead, at the age of 23 months old, she knows hunger, thirst, abuse, neglect, and that her cries go unanswered.  She had only seen adults who drink, smoke, use drugs.  I’m naively determined to show her the book I’ve purchased about Anna Pavlova, a talented Russian ballerina.  It’s completely foreign to her.  She doesn’t know she’s from Russia or that we’re from the USA.  We purchased beautiful ornaments from her region for our Christmas tree at home.  We bought several Russian things for her, including a national costume in Moscow.

My husband understands and speaks a little Spanish and I understand and speak a little French and German.  We decided to learn a few key Russian words and phrases like I love you, Mommy, Daddy, hungry, thirsty, etc.  We learn quickly that she doesn’t know these words in Russian.  Our translator seems exasperated and finally says, “just speak English.  She’s never heard those words in Russian!”  We slowly comprehend what our translator has revealed about our beautiful 23 month old daughter who is standing in front of us.  She’s gone through 23 months without ever hearing I Love You in ANY language!  I’ve given birth to two daughters and tell them multiple times a day how much they are loved.

Back to the topic at hand.  Tell your child on an age appropriate level about his or her background.  Don’t “sugarcoat” it.  Don’t say her birth mom made an adoption plan for her if the child was removed due to abuse or neglect.  While we’ve always been honest with our daughter about her heritage and background, we have tried to teach her about the good things in Russia (see first two paragraphs).  However, as one of her therapists pointed out, that wasn’t the Russia our daughter knew.  She only knew cold, abuse, and neglect.

We love our daughter and we say it in English.

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)


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