Russian Boy Returned to Sender

Russia has put a hold on all adoptions to the United States following a Tennessee mother’s decision to put her seven-year-old adopted son on a plane with a note of return-to-sender. Christians and non-Christians alike ponder the uncanny action of Torry Hansen. According to Guardian News and Media, her note read:

“This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues. I was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues … After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

As a former elementary school principal, I once experienced something all-too-similar. I’ll never forget the day I received the phone call from the emotional mother, asking me to deliver the news to my staff. Fortunately for the boy and his family, the termination of the adoption was handled humanely within the United States, and immersed in prayer.

It is not my story to tell, but my observations and learning are.

1. Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is a rare psychological disorder, but less rare among orphans in such places as Russia, where children outnumber caregivers many times over. Many infants are moved often and not held enough. The result can be lifelong neurological damage, inhibiting healthy relationships from forming.

2. Children with RAD lack the ability to trust others, and have learned to manipulate in order to survive. Often, these children can appear quite charming in public, but have a hidden self-serving side that can be violent. Because of RAD’s “hidden” nature, it is possible, even probable, that children may appear angelic in an orphanage, but show a devilish side once adopted.

3. Few are they who look past the drastic action of “un-adoption” to the heartbreak of the adoptive parents. Those who adopt from another country expend an enormous amount of time, money and emotion on the orphan. They claim him or her as their own. They love, feed, discipline, and tuck him or her in bed at night. They often must learn some of the child’s language, while teaching their own.

4. Many people who “divorce” themselves from the child they’ve adopted do so because they have found themselves in a situation of safety. Sometimes, the child’s behavior can threaten the very lives of other children in the home, or even the lives of the parents themselves.

5. There is hope for children with behavioral disorders, whether rooted in RAD or in anything. Truth is: None of us behave “perfectly”. Only Jesus did that. We are all on a spectrum, with some having fewer behavioral challenges than others. Children and adults alike, struggle to be honest, courageous, trusting, faithful, gentle and kind. This is why God has given revelation and skill to men and women in the medical and counseling fields. There are support systems. There are medications. There are methods of rehabilitation. There is prayer. There is God’s Word. There is help, and there is hope.

We should be careful to “judge not, lest we be judged” in this situation. Our judging should be limited to examining the law, discerning whether or not this mother broke the law, and considering what can be done to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Because of my personal experience with a student and family, I have sympathy for both mother and child. Everyone involved has incurred emotional damage, heaped upon all prior emotional hurts in the past. But the mother is an adult with a support system in the United States, while seven-year-old Artyom, once again, has no one.

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