Parenting African Heathens is Super Hard


Parenting African heathens is super hard.

A couple, the Barbours of Pennsylvania*, were so overwhelmed by it that they abused their children, but only the ones they’d adopted from Ethiopia. They beat and starved them, causing seizures from head trauma in one and malnutrition in the other. Well, their trial has officially ended. Did you guess that they got what they deserved?

They did not. They got off pretty lightly: five years probation for dad, a former prosecutor, and 6-12 months incarceration for mom — with eligibility for alternative housing,  (which, based upon my cursory google search for “alternative housing”,  I can only guess means 6-12 months in a teeny tiny log cabin with solar panels and a sustainable garden).


Good thing the kids they so severely abused were the adopted Africans and not the two they birthed all by themselves. Otherwise, they might have gotten a real punishment.

(I tried to figure out what that real punishment might be by bravely trudging through this enthralling PDF on national child abuse penalties by state, but all I really learned was that Pennsylvania apparently employs constables.)

It used to be that when I read abuse stories with headlines that included “adoption” or “adopted kids”, I’d grow so annoyed that I’d be tempted to down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food as phast as a phox on steroids. Did I say “tempted”? I meant “propelled”.

My intentions were good. I was over-zealously outraged that they felt the need to mention that the children had been adopted. I have always believed that when you choose to adopt a child, you are the child’s parent and should be both respected and held accountable as any parent of any child would. I like to call this belief, “The Duh-Doy Directive!”

Nowadays, though, when a story like this one emerges, I think it is vitally important to mention that the children were adopted from Ethiopia (or a similar facsimile thereof). As I have written before, too many parents are adopting, especially from African/Caribbean nations, armed with bulging savior complexes, as in “I’m saving the poor, starving, heathen children because nobody who is hungry and a heathen could ever possibly be truly loved and cared for by their starving, heathen African parents.”

Why do I suspect this to be the case here? Largely, because the mother’s defense included this confession: “I have always sought to serve others.I hope they will understand my intent and have it in their heart to forgive.”

And then there was this gem from the judge, to which the Barbour’s attorney gave two proverbial thumbs up:

Her attorney told reporters outside the courtroom that he agreed with the judge’s assessment that the Barbours’ adoption of two children from a poverty-stricken African country had been an “act of charity gone awry.”

“These two wanted to adopt children from a third world country to try to give them a better life,” Robert E. Stewart said. “I think it was just a matter of being overwhelmed.”

Let us dissect.

First, what does “serving others” have to do with this case — unless mom is trying to demonstrate that she should get special dispensation for abusing her African children because she was saving them? And what intent are the children supposed to understand and forgive? Perhaps that she was simply trying to beat the living Ethiopia out of them, working hard to Americanize and Christianize and wrap them up in a pretty pretty American bow for church?

If you ask me, the worse crime here is that the Barbours adopted the children in the first place.


Humans of the internet, the judge, who heard the whole case, and the Barbours’ attorney, who presumably knew a great many more details than anyone else, called their adoption “an act of charity.”

Stop what you are doing right now and go find a kid, preferably your own, but any kid will do. Now tell the kid that the reason her parents wanted her was because they were compelled to do “an act of charity.”

Did the kid cry? The kid should be crying. Because I think I would cry if someone told me they love me as an act of charity.

(Also, to clarify, “an act of charity gone awry” is when a hurricane re-routes your plane full of medical personnel and supplies en route to do free surgeries and vaccinations — not when you beat your adopted baby girl into seizures.)

An alarming number of parents, including the Barbours, join the ever-expanding Orphan Fever movement, and then are utterly shocked and inconvenienced by the child’s strong emotions and reactive behaviors about having been “saved”. Perhaps their mega-churches are forgetting to mention these awry acts of charity on “Orphan Sunday”, when they parade scrubbed-up maybe-orphans and their maybe-tragic, maybe-heart-breaking personal  stories in front of the intimate bunch of 237,000 parishioners in the pews, right before the offering.

Some adoptive parents deal with the totally unexpected trauma their maybe-orphans-for-sure-heathens experience — due to having been ripped from their families and community and then denied their culture plus being demonized — by totally ignoring it. Others worship at the alter of the Pearls and their special-order de-Africanizing rods, and still others cleverly re-home (read: “kick to the curb”) their children — that they rescued from their families of origin — with total strangers they meet on the internet or by sending them to rehabilitation homes (or re-abusive proselytizing prisons, as I like to call them).

(Do I sound snarky? I feel snarky.)

I am pro-adoption, but at this point, only if it is nailing-95-theses-to-a-church-door-reformed adoption. I think it is best when children stay with their families and communities of origin if possible and safe, even if that means the children will grow up poor.

(Please feel free to school me right about now since two of my own children joined our family through adoption from Haiti, an African-based country that we later learned was a hotbed of savior-adoptions — until the earthquake happened , of course, and a bunch of maybe-orphans became really-orphans and savior-adopters were like, “Shit no — that place can kill you.”  

I worry pretty much daily about our adoption. Despite every effort on our part to involve the first parents and process with them their intentions — as we suspected that parents were lied to by the adoption agencies who were in it for the ca-ching cha-ching ba-bling ba bling** — and despite our lovely family and how much I love all my children, I still constantly wonder about the ethics of our adoption.  And what it has done to our children’s first families. And everyone else involved. And how much we ourselves might have been influenced by orphan fever, albeit the liberal, hippie version. After all, even supposedly*** infertile couples can get the fevuh.) 

To sum up, stories like this one remind us why adoption reform is so necessary. They pummel us with a few harsh realities regarding adoption:

1. Adopted kids are often undervalued, thus the ridiculously light sentence given to the Barbours. I am told by adult transracial adoptees that this struggle does not necessarily go away by adulthood.

2. Adoption is still plagued by the adopt-to-save mentality, which damages everyone involved (except perhaps the happily-on-their-way-to-heaven adoptive parents — unless they are totally overwhelmed by their selfish kids, their pastors, and the agencies who are spewing their good intentions all the way to the bank).

3. Adoptions from African-based nations and the like are often poorly screened and hap-hazardly executed, thus making them both easy for adoptive parents, and wildly unethical.

4. Adoption without reform is just a step (maybe less) removed from human trafficking.

5. Child abuse is a heinous crime and is never ever a better option than poverty and hunger and living in an African/Caribbbean (or likewise) nation with people who love the child as anything but charity.



*   Any relation to the possibly-fake Craigslist killer, who now resides in a prison in Pennsylvania?

** Hip cultural reference supplied by 14 year old daughter.

*** Though diagnosed with infertility prior to our adoption, we were surprised by a pregnancy afterwards.