I’ve received some very specific, pointed questions about my stances on adoption lately. It’s no surprise. Now that my children are older and I have been steeped in some aspect of adoption as an adoptive parent since the year 2000 (and my whole life as the daughter of a birth-mother), both my opinions and my writing on the subject have evolved (though I strive to make sure details that belong to my kids remain private).
More accurately, I suppose, I have been more willing to express my opinions to their fullest extent. While I have always striven to share challenging and controversial dialogue about adoption, I have also held back a great deal. I did not want to offend other adopting and adoptive parents, nor my friends and family who have been so supportive of our adoptions. Furthermore, often times, I was scared — of people like the rude clerk or the pushy parent on the playground or SOHOYOLO351 on some yahoo group (people will go troll-level ballistic on just about any topic). So I only pushed so far. And I back-tracked a lot when I could see an interested expression turn sour, a comment expressing offense.
I was placing the comfort levels of everybody else in front of the needs of adopted children and their families of origin. But by holding back and failing to fight for adoption reform with the fervency that I knew it required, I risked offending my own children and their families. I risked tearing down over building up. I risked upholding the current status quo of adoption, one that often leads to trauma, human trafficking, re-homing, corruption, and abuse.
With that, I answer some of your sincere questions candidly — no holds barred, no tender feelings spared.
Why do you seem to hate adoption?
I hate adoption in the same way that I hate organized religion and missionary work: the original intentions are potentially useful and beneficial, but humans have basically distorted it to the point that it is often ludicrous, abusive, and sometimes dangerous in its current form.
Adoption in its purest form is a mechanism by which truly orphaned children (where both parents are deceased) are placed in the home of extended family. Where there is no available extended family, the community steps in. Absent of eligible members of the community or of a strong community base, a child might require placement outside of the community. In situations involving irreparable harm, such as repeated abuse or un-rehabilitated, debilitating substance abuse, this system may also be used as a last resort for children who are not true orphans (one or both parents are living).
Regardless of where the child is placed, the focus in adoption should be the well-being of the child first (that of the child’s family of origin next). Children are most healthy when they are raised within their family of origin — even when their family of origin is financially poor or in an economically disadvantaged area, even when their family of origin includes illness or handicaps, even when their family of origin is non-traditional.
These foci have opened adoption up to corruption, to functioning as a profitable business, to being a vehicle for human-trafficking, and to glamorizing and glorifying self-serving, often abusive, spurious forms of religious and secular “altruism”.
The focus of adoption throughout the latter part of the last century and into this one, though, has been on the adopting parent. Adoption has become primarily a means to parenting, particularly by those who struggle with fertility. Secondarily (though rising to the top as fertility technology develops and as a sector of religious groups further the epidemic of “Orphan Fever”), adoption has become a method of proselytizing (saving souls) and a perceived, though often erroneous, solution to struggles such as poverty and illness (saving lives).
These foci have opened adoption up to corruption, to functioning as profitable business, to being a vehicle for human-trafficking, and to glamorizing and glorifying self-serving, often abusive, spurious forms of religious and secular “altruism”.
Why do you think bringing children to Christ (saving souls) and taking children out of poverty (saving lives) are problems? Isn’t that what we should be doing?
[words in parenthesis are mine]
Using adoption to save souls is pretty self-centered. It requires a person in a position of power (adopting parent, adoption agency), as an outsider, to judge and condemn a major component of a child’s culture and history. It presupposes that the way the child’s culture is celebrating (or choosing not to celebrate) God directly affects the well-being of the child. It places the “savior” (adopter/adoption agency) in the position of holding all the power over the one “saved” (the adopted child) and the child’s culture and people.
The assumption is that one religion, that of the adopting parent, is the right religion. It also assumes that reaching heaven should be the ultimate goal of the child. This assumption has pulled many children from their cultures of origin and into families that do not respect the very core of who they are.
It is also a controversial belief for Christians. The Bible says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” Simplistically, if Christians believe this, then they have to believe that there is nothing they can do to affect the salvation of any other person. Essentially, if people are out trying to save souls through adoption, they are wasting their time. According to The Bible, that’s God’s job; not anyone else’s. Therefore, adopting to save souls is self-centered and theologically inappropriate. It is about what THE ADOPTER think God wants. It is about what makes THE ADOPTER feel good.
It is colonizing a person’s spiritual base.
Meanwhile, in the adopter’s misguided attempt to save a soul through adoption, there is a strong chance that the adoptee is robbed of their birthright, of the culture that gave them life, of the spiritual practices and identity that sustained their ancestors, and of a healthy identity. It is colonizing a person’s spiritual base.
Using adoption to save lives can be destructive at worst, narrow-minded at best. First, a prevailing belief is that children who are poor and living in countries with less global power and available resources cannot live in happy families, that their parents cannot love them enough to overcome the poverty. This attitude is ironic considering that many who adopt to save lives also believe that their love will be enough to help children overcome the trauma involved in leaving their families, country, and/or culture. If adoptive parents believe that a biological parent cannot love a child enough to counter the effects of poverty, they must also believe that an adopted parent cannot love a child enough to counter the effects of adoption (and many don’t believe the latter).
It is also naive to believe that taking random children out of poverty will solve the inequality and injustices that caused the poverty in the first place. Though that one child will hopefully be properly fed, educated, loved, and housed (certainly not a guarantee), their family of origin and the community in which they were born will not be relieved of the poverty into which the child was born.
Basically, adopting solely to save someone from poverty is a tremendous waste of energy and resources. It might also be demeaning and condescending to many children once they realize why they were adopted.
You benefited from adopting from a developing country. Why did you do that and how do you reconcile that with your feelings about adoption?
I did benefit from both transracial adoption and international adoption. I get to parent two wonderful children because of adoption. This is not something I would want to reverse, of course, but it also does not negate what I have since learned. We adoptive parents who know more now, though, can and should do everything possible to try and mitigate the pain our adoptions might have caused.
From the time I was a young child, I had wanted to form my family though adoption. Living next door to Tijuana, Mexico, I often imagined that I would solve Mexico’s economic issues by adopting its children. Though naive (an age-appropriate assumption for a 6 year old), as I mentioned above, this is a strong and prevalent belief held by those of us in the position to imagine it and to make the adoptions happen.
Desperation and adoption can create a pungent cocktail.
Shortly after my husband and I entered the adoption process (domestically), we were told (erroneously) that we would not be able to conceive any children. Adoption, it seemed, was to be our only option if we were to add children to our family. This belief muddied the waters, adding an air of desperation to the mix. Desperation and adoption can create a pungent cocktail. By then, my views on adoption had at least evolved enough to worry that adopting from a system or country that had a waiting list of potential adoptive parents felt dicey. I worried that we might inadvertently become involved in a covert form of human trafficking.
After a great deal of research, we decided to attempt to foster-adopt. It was our understanding that children who were available for adoption through foster care would not be legally allowed to return to their parents. What we did now know at the time, though, was that many children in the foster to adoption system are indeed not available for permanent adoption. We were offered several situations that never materialized, not because the children were reunited with their families of origin, but because the red tape was too thick to cross. What we did not fully grasp was that the foster care system should not be a means to adoption. It should be a means to reunification with families of origin. It should happen in a virtual centrifuge that can spin out those factors that we in the United States consider barriers to parenting and happiness: economic class, unrelated criminal history (if every person who ever did drugs was not allowed to parent, many white, middle-class people I’ve known would be childless), neighborhoods, family history, etc.
We adoptive parents who know more now, though, can and should do everything possible to try and mitigate the pain our adoptions might have caused.
More devastated than enlightened at the time, we sought domestic adoption through an agency. “Feeling called” to adopt a child who an agency would have a harder time placing, we chose one that “specialized” in children of color.
First of all, “feeling called” to adopt is problematic language that now makes me cringe. One can feel prepared for adoption, passionate about adoption, even the perfect person to adopt. To “feel called”, though, implies everything I wrote about in response to question #2. As a liberal and progressive Christian, I thought myself exempt from this attitude. “We just wanted a child,” we told everyone, “and we wanted to choose a child who would have a harder time finding adoptive parents.”
Really, though, when I reach deep down into my gut and search for the raw truth, there was this aura of doing a good thing, helping someone — even, dare I say it, saving a child. It permeated everything we did regarding adoption, from the narratives the agencies fed us to the responses we received from the general public (“You’re such good people.” “They are such lucky children.”).
If you are not cringing now too, you should be about the fact that we chose an agency that “specialized” in children of color. I now posit that this notion that children of color are harder to place is a subversively racist marketing ploy by adoption agencies standing to profit off of well-meaning, though misguided, white, middle-class Americans. That there are more black children to place is likely a result of a child welfare system that penalizes black mothers and their extended families more regularly than white mothers, often times resulting in an unfair loss of parental rights, systemic economic disparities, and a system that privileges white children.
I believe the assertion that there are millions of starving orphans who need homes and nobody adopting them — is an even more insidious version of this trope used by unscrupulous agencies and orphanages to entice adopting parents to adopt internationally. It has been a particularly successful form of advertising for many whose goal is to make money from an adoption industry.
So you adopted black children and became an activist for adoption and racism. Why didn’t you write this stuff before you adopted black kids?
I am a white person who has fought against the racism that hovered over my youth my whole life. But none of the fighting I’ve done stripped me of my white privilege. Nor did it shield me from inheriting enough racism to have to fight against my own racist leanings.
I am a liberal white woman who talks the talk but can’t possibly walk the whole walk. Partly because I will always benefit from white privilege. Partly because I don’t have to walk it 100% of the time and partly because I am weak enough to sometimes lean on my privilege.
I am a liberal, white adoptive mother of black children who once thought that my husband and I could parent black children as they needed to be parented — that it would be difficult, that we would all struggle, that we would not be perfect — but we could give them what they need.
I am a liberal, white adoptive mother who now knows that we can’t do this alone because there are so many factors that lie outside of ourselves. There are sticky uncertainties that accompany transracial and international adoptions in particular. There are the communities and resources we don’t have to the extent that we need them because I don’t know all the places to look. There are the cultural nuances, the cultural norms, a language, holidays that I can try and replicate but will never quite get. There is the very real struggle that two of my children will never match their mother, father, and sister.
More than this, though, there is this American culture embedded with racism so deep that we don’t always recognize it when it is right in front of our faces. It is far too big for any one person to conquer.
But I am the liberal, white adoptive mother who can’t let the criticism of other white people continue to silence the voice that I have to be for my kids, for their peers, for their family of origin, for their country and people, for their future loved ones and children.
So, even though I come later to the game as an outspoken activist and, hopefully, a useful ally, it is my duty to continue moving forward.
What reforms in adoption do you suggest?
This is my rudimentary list:
1. Agencies that process international adoptions must provide funding in each country they process so that the country can provide their own social workers and infrastructure to assess potential adoption situations and potential adoptive parents.
Agencies may not profess, require, favor, or affiliate with any religion. All adoptions must be processed through a civic system, absent of religion.
2. Potential adoptive parents must seek mandatory counseling with an agency-approved provider for a prescribed amount of time prior to adopting. The counselor will confirm whether or not the potential adoptive parents are ready to adopt. Once potential adoptive parents are certified by the counselor, they will continue counseling to determine the best fit for adoption. They will also continue counseling post-placement. If potential adoptive parents are adopting transracially and/or internationally, they will be required to seek further agency-approved education accordingly.
3. Agencies may not profess, require, favor, or affiliate with any religion. All adoptions must be processed through a civic system, absent of religion.
4. Any and all adoption disruptions will be processed through agencies that specialize in disruptions.
5. All adoption records will remain open to parents placing their children for adoption and adoptees, regardless of the status of the adoption (open, semi-open, closed).
6. Adoption agencies must undergo yearly audits that include rigorous inspection of all documents and paperwork, financial auditing, and interviews with randomly chosen women and men who placed children for adoption through them, adoptive children, and adoptive parents.
7. Foster care will be limited to work towards family reunification. Should a child within foster care, after all attempts at healthy reunification have failed, require adoption, they will enter a new program that endeavors to place them in a home prepared to serve their specific needs.
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