Russian Adoption Problems In the Eyes of Russian Adoptive Parents

Mike and Tanya Mulligan Share Their Take on Russian Adoption Problems

Slater, Elena, and Margarita adopted from Russia.
Mike and Tanya Mulligan adopted three children from Russia and have struggled parenting severe behavioral issues. They feel that if Russian officials were honest, it would cut down on some of the Russian adoption problems within the system. Photo courtesy of Mike Mulligan.

I contacted Mike and Tanya Mulligan, an adoptive couple that I first met when they were featured on a 20/20 special about Russian adoption and the problems within that system. I knew they had an opinion on Torry Hansen and the drama she created when she bought a one-way ticket back to Russia for her 7-year-old adopted son. A flight he took solo.

Carrie Craft - I've heard some rumbling within the adoption community about concerns for Russian adoptees, that they may be uncomfortable or worried, fearful of being "sent back" How has the news of what happened to the 7-year-old had any effect on your children?

Tanya Mulligan - "My children, or at least the girls, aren't worried in the least. They seem to be secure in the fact that we aren't going to send them back. I think Margarita made a comment in passing that 'he must have been really bad.'"

Mike Mulligan - "The recent news has not appeared to have affected our children since they are pretty secure with their new lives."

Carrie Craft - "Why do you think the media seems to want to barbecue this adoptive mother?"

Tanya Mulligan - "This is a single mother who probably reached her breaking point. With her back against a wall, no one to help her, no systems in place for help, she felt trapped. I mean what was she supposed to do? Wait until the boy burned the house down, hurt or killed one of her family members? These kids are capable of murder and they don't have a conscious at all."

Dealing with Behaviors on a Day-to-Day Basis

Carrie Craft - "Tell us about a typical day with your children? What do you see in their future? In your future?"

Tanya Mulligan - "A typical day at our house starts at 4:30am for me. I put together the kids' lunches, make a latte and muffins for the girls. Put together a breakfast for Slater. I wake the girls up for school, tell them to have a good day and love you. I go to work for 10, 12 sometimes 14 hours. Mike gets Slater up, gets him dressed and groomed for school.

Supervises breakfast and drives him to school. He attends the FACE school in Tampa. Mike comes home and works in his office until it is time to pick Slater up. Slater comes home and does his homework in Mike's office so he can be supervised and not get into any trouble or destroy anything. I come home and make dinner. We usually eat as a family. Then I am available to help with the girls' homework if needed. Slater takes a shower and gets ready for bed. He is in bed by 8pm. My husband and I are usually exhausted by 10 and go to bed. Often we are so tired we fall asleep right away."

Carrie Craft - "What do you feel non-adoptive parents understand about adoptive parenting? Especially RAD?"

Mike Mulligan - "Many non-adoptive parents do not understand what it is like to bring a stranger into your home. So often, we hear "what would you do if this were your natural-born child? What makes you think you can blame others for your children's problems?" Many of the issues do not become apparent until years down the road; rather, they are apparent after the "honeymoon" period.

In other words, these (serious) issues would clearly be noticeable by adoption workers and agencies. Again, adoption agencies have a duty to inform adoptive parents of the children's past...be it good or bad."

Tanya Mulligan - "Regular Americans don't get it at all. If you have never had one of these children in your house and lived with it 24/7, you don't have a clue. It's great to be an armchair quarterback and direct and pass judgment. Until you have walked a mile in our shoes, it means nothing. RAD is a very different diagnosis. These children feel unworthy and rejected. They want to get back at any and every adult because of that rejection. Conventional parenting or discipline does not work. They just don't react the way you expect or react at all. It's almost like they are saying, see I knew you wouldn't love me if I did this or that."

Mike Mulligan - "Reactive Attachment Disorder is real. We found many adoption workers (after the fact, mind you) that blamed us for "not trying hard enough" or "not loving the children enough." While tenacity and love are important, they are not the answer for RAD."

The Lawsuit

Carrie Craft - "You have a lawsuit pending - can you talk about that yet? (the last time we spoke you could not) Who is it against and what are you hoping to accomplish or prove?"

Tanya Mulligan - "Can't really comment too much on the lawsuit since it is still ongoing. Our goal or what we hope to accomplish is to secure a future for Slater in a private institution that can care for him and his needs for the rest of his days. In that process, we hope to restore some sort of normalcy for my husband and I as well as the girls."

Mike Mulligan - "Our suit is still very much alive. As typical with any case these days, the wheels of justice move slowly. It is very important that prospective adoptive parents research and understand the true pitfalls of adoption from out-of-country. Tanya and I truly believe that many (adoption) agencies are not being honest with parents. How is it possible that these children (many of which are teenagers) only come with a few sentences worth of history? Language barrier is a problem that seems to be used against vulnerable parents."

Changing the Adoption Process and Broken System

Carrie Craft - "What would you change about the international adoption process? Especially considering Russia - or do you see issues with international adoptions period?"

Mike Mulligan - "Parents typically enter into international adoption with the best of intentions. With all of the forms, studies and medical clearances that need to be completed prior to adoption, it is very easy to lose track of what is important. Ask questions. Question your social workers. Make sure you have adequate savings available for when things go wrong."

Tanya Mulligan - "This system is broken on both sides but it starts on the Russian side. The American couples invest so much time, emotion and yes, money, into the process that they feel committed to NOT come home empty handed. These couples and singles parents have a false sense of security when they travel to Russia by the agencies. The reality is that you are alone in a strange country, with strangers that you are trusting to look out for your best interests. In reality, you are forced to travel with thousands of dollars strapped to your body, that you can't declare in customs, hand over most of that money to a Russian national that works for the adoption agency. There is no paper trail, receipt or going back at that point. The Russians are calling all of the shots. On top of that, let's not forget about the "gifts" that you have to give to everyone along the way to make sure your adoption will go through. More like bribes, to be perfectly honest. Then there are the children. Why are there so many of them in orphanages over there? Most were born to mothers who drank (heavily) during the pregnancy or to prostitutes with some form of venereal disease. Those kids don't have a chance in the country, so, they market them to other countries."

The Future for the Mulligan Family

Tanya Mulligan - "I am hoping to get Margarita graduated from high school and possibly into a technical school. Elena wants to go to college and get a scholarship for cheerleading.

We are very worried and stressed about Slater's future. He will need to be taken care of for the rest of his life. I don't know where that leaves us."

Mike Mulligan - "From the moment our son wakes until the moment he goes to sleep we have to be acutely aware of his activities. It is frustrating to have to monitor basic daily activities such as tooth brushing since he is twelve years old. Due to his disabilities, we do not believe he will lead an independent life."

Carrie Craft - "How is your marriage holding up? What keeps you going? Is there life after parenting?"

Tanya Mulligan - "So far our marriage is holding up. Some days are better than others. We long for a day when we can relax and just be ourselves. Right now we are thankful for each other. When one is having a very bad day the other picks up the slack and vice versa."

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I'm so very grateful that the Mulligans are so willing to share a bit of their lives, especially since they took so many personal hits and attacks the last time they allowed the world into their home.

It's nice to know people that not only know how you feel but understand what it means to be worn out by behaviors. Perhaps that's what more adoptive parents need, understanding ears and soft shoulders to cry on. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to that understands.

I was not surprised to find an understanding couple in Mike and Tanya Mulligan, we adopted from our State's foster care system, and they adopted from Russia. But when we share our concerns, and different behaviors we have seen in our children, there is a strong similarity.

So let's keep that in mind, instead of judging these families offer to be a support to them. Until you have walked a day in their life, you really have no clue.