I could write a lot about the joys of raising boys based on my own experience first hosting, then adopting, two brothers from Russia in 1998.
From the first weeks the then 6 and 8 year old brothers visited us up until today, now that they are kind, smart, competent (and handsome) young men 22 and 25 years old, there was never a time we wished, “If only we’d chosen girls.” Yes, even during the adolescent bumps that weren’t easy by any means.
I admit the first days of the hosting program were a challenge to us—an older, childless couple used to a quiet routine at home. These guys got loud when they were excited (and everything excited them!), moved fast, made the dog a bit nervous, touched everything, especially light switches and electronics. But they also were friendly, happy, very funny, open and cuddly, and they touched our hearts throughout any ups and downs we experienced as we got to know each other during hosting and later during the post-adoption transition.
They talked lovingly and glowingly about their birth mother at first, quite disconcerting until we realized that children who had established emotional bonds in their past had a great advantage in learning to love their soon to be mom and dad, not to mention grandparents, aunts and uncles, and little cousins. They were warm and loving, showing special affection and connection to me, their mom—yes, even during the tough teenage years when we exchanged lots of exasperated, often angry “I love you…but….” As with all families, we’ve faced challenges, some serious, as we’ve all grown up together, but we never doubted we love our sons, and they love us.
I’ve drawn a lot on our personal family experiences in the 12 years I’ve been the director of the Bridge of Hope hosting program run by Cradle of Hope Adoption Center. We’ve brought over 700 older children from Russia, Ukraine, China and Colombia to the US for visits to meet potential adoptive families, and almost 90% of them have found forever families here.
Probably 75% of families who inquire about hosting and/or adopting an older child are only interested in girls. One of the most challenging aspects of our work has been trying to counter the myth that girls are easier or better or more loving or less likely to present challenges than boys. After working with hundreds of families and children, I am convinced that it’s just not true.
We’ve come a long way in international adoption, far from the days we thought love, good nutrition, and sunshine were the tricks to raising “normal,” happy kids no different from our birth children. The fact is all our older adopted children—girls and boys—are the products of unhappy, unhealthy, neglectful, sometimes abusive or traumatic pasts.
How well children come through a difficult childhood is not primarily based on gender, but numerous factors that are not gender-specific. Just some of the issues--How severe was the trauma or neglect they experienced? Was an orphanage a haven or a further nightmare? What innate personal characteristics does a child have to foster resilience? Did the child have physical or mental handicaps that made him/her more vulnerable? Were there any people in the child’s life who provided love, bolstered survival skills, and offered hope?
All our children—and we as their parents and families—must understand that coping with adoption-related issues is not something over and done with in childhood, adolescence, or even young adulthood. As adopted children mature and their intellectual processing abilities grow, so do memory and new levels of comprehension and questioning, well into adult years. This is a lifelong process, for all boys and girls, men and women of adoption.
When we’ve talked with girl-focused families about considering boys, we’ve faced these myths and expectations, which are belied by our agency’s 24 years’ experience working with thousands of children:
- MYTH #1: Girls are gentler and more compliant than boys, less likely to disobey or “act out” in physically aggressive ways. Children who have experienced trauma and fear, whether in a dysfunctional family or an institution, learn to survive in classic fight or flight mode. We’ve seen some children who hide and retreat when faced with conflict, while others of both genders have learned to fight conflict with aggression. An angry and frightened girl is just as capable of “fight” mode as any boy.
- MYTH #2: Girls are guaranteed to do better in school. We haven’t done scientific studies, but our contact with families and years of counseling them indicates there isn’t a huge gap proving that adopted boys have more learning disabilities than adopted girls. And of the possible syndromes affecting adopted children—FAS, RAD, ADD, ADHD, ODD, executive functioning issues, not to mention just plain lack of interest in studying or attacking “hard” subjects, etc.—I can tell you we’ve worked with many parents of girls and boys alike facing these concerns. Any general truisms about girls performing better in school than boys go out the window when we consider all the specific factors that can affect school performance of our adopted children.
- MYTH #3: Girls are easier in their teen years. I don’t have any friends or clients who say teenage life is easy with girls. In fact, many say their sons were much easier to deal with—not that there aren’t normal teen issues—but the level of emotional hysteria can be far less with boys. And let’s face it—if we’re talking about raging hormones, my experience is boys have no lock on that issue. Getting into trouble with the opposite sex? I was often shocked at the aggressive behavior of girls pursuing my sons and their male friends, lamenting “What are those girls’ mothers thinking?” And then I realized moms of girls, too, were fighting similar battles to ours as parents of boys.
- MYTH #4: Girls mature faster than boys. That’s the common thinking, but our adopted kids face special challenges maturing, regardless of gender. Many factors slow their pace—issues from their early lives, as well as transitioning to a new country, culture, language and family. Current studies on brain development indicate that “adolescence” continues until the mid-20’s, and some studies of adopted children show that the process continues even longer. Our kids don’t necessarily leave home or settle into jobs and careers as fast or move in a straight line from high school to college graduation. I know many families still counseling their “adult” children—young men and women--on basics like making good choices, living independently, striving to achieve, etc.
- MYTH #5: Girls are closer and more loving to their families. One of the joys of my work has been seeing little boys, just like little girls, opening their hearts and their arms to their new families. And I can tell you little boys love and want to protect their moms. All kids at some point go through “You’re not my real mother”…”I hate you”…”Why don’t you just send me back to (country of origin)?”…”You’re the meanest, stupidest parents in the world.” Yes, usually during the scary teenage years. But having lived through that, I can also tell you when they emerge on the other side, girls have no edge over boys in loving and caring for their families.
Bottom line? When we embark on an adoption journey, we are signing on for a unique experience that requires stamina, flexibility, hope, unconditional love and strong faith, and tremendous understanding and drive to help our children to grow and thrive, despite whatever they faced in their lives before they met us. Boys, just like girls, need love and are just as capable of giving it, too, if they’re given a chance.
I’ve seen many families who after years of waiting for the perfect girl, decided to host a boy and found themselves falling in love in just a few short weeks. It does happen, all the time.
Mom of Two Young Men
Director, Cradle of Hope’s Bridge of Hope hosting program
We are a Hague-accredited international adoption agency in operation for 33 years. We provide homestudy services in MD, VA and DC. We provide placement services for families across the US who want to adopt from China or Liberia or are interested in adopting domestically.