What’s Wrong With Gotcha Day?

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While walking with a friend to dinner, I chatted about my day and important recent events. When I looked over to the spot she had been standing, I saw just some scattered leaves along an empty sidewalk. Suddenly, from behind a tree, she sprang out and ran into me, springing off of my shoulders. “GOTCHA!” she shouted, and we both fell into a simultaneous laughter at my oblivious state and her stealth. This light hearted, prank-pulling manner is exactly the context in which I think of applying the word “gotcha.”

However, in the adoption community, this word is often used in a celebratory way to talk about parents getting children. A common term is “Gotcha Day,” referring to the day that adoptive parents first meet their adopted child. Some families celebrate this day like a second birthday, other’s go out to eat as a family, and others do nothing at all.

It sounds great; what could be wrong with “Gotcha Day?” Isn’t it just another holiday, another occasion for presents? In actuality, a lot is wrong with the entire concept of “Gotcha Day.” The phrase itself sounds very possessive. As shown above, one definition of “gotcha” is “used to express satisfaction at having captured or defeated someone.” This is certainly not the way most families want to view adoption. The second definition listed is “publicly tricking someone . . . especially by means of an elaborate deception.” Again, trickery and deception are not concepts to be celebrated. The reasons families make an effort to celebrate “Gotcha Day” is to stress the love they have for each other and the happiness of being together. If the purpose is to extend love, then the name “Gotcha Day” is completely inapplicable.

Furthermore, many cases of adoption, do unfortunately, involve coercion and kidnapping. The statistic for China specifically is that more than 1 out of every 4 adoptions involves either fraud or trafficking. For children who may have been victims of trafficking, this phrase can be especially difficult to hear and in some cases triggering. Even in the cleanest of adoptions, the words “Gotcha Day” prioritize the feelings of adoptive parents and dismiss the pain associated with adoption. It focuses on the adult’s experiences of events and ignores the fact that adoption cannot occur without loss or abandonment.

While adoptive parents may be ecstatic the day they meet their children and find it something worth celebrating, the truth is that first “Gotcha Day” is not an exciting or thrilling day in the adoptee’s life. It is terrifying being handed off to strangers who don’t resemble you at all. Though the orphanage officials had told me that my parents were my mom and dad, I was three years old and knew that I had already had a 妈妈 and 爸爸. My reaction to the fear I felt was by remaining silent for over a week. Other children reacted to the stress by refusing to eat or poop or by throwing temper tantrums. One adoptive mother remembers her daughter being placed in her arms. “She was shivering and shaking, and my husband and I knew we would never celebrate this moment of visceral pain for our daughter.”

My last criticism of “Gotcha Day” is that it furthers a rhetoric of child commodification. The bottom line is that children are not something to simply be gotten like a computer or kitchen appliance.

What about an alternative to “Gotcha Day?”

Hey, that’s a good question! I’ve heard of some families celebrating Homecoming Day” instead of “Gotcha Day.” While this does have a slightly nicer connotation than deliberate trickery to get a child, I’m still not a fan of this idea either. It bothers me when I hear prospective adoptive parents say, “we’re waiting to bring her home.” Adoptive parents need to realize that these children already have homes. Adoption is not bringing home a child. It is instead reassigning home to that child in hopes that maybe he/she will identify with that place. So, in my opinion, “Homecoming Day” could also be very damaging.

I think the best solution I have heard of is the concept of holding a “Family Day” in which both biological and adoptive family is celebrated. Because the day an adoptee met their adoptive parents is in many cases a more concrete date than their birthday, it is an important known date and time marker in their life, so I understand why people have the urge to celebrate it. I think that a portion of the day should be devoted to remembrance, though. Remembrance for the child’s first family who brought them into the world and loved them for however long they could, remembrance for the orphanage staff who also cared for the child, and remembrance for the devastating situation that made that adoption possible: these are all very important in acknowledging a wholesome image of the adoptive family. Of course not everything has to be serious. The telling of funny childhood stories and exchanging gifts and eating out can still happen, but I think it is absolutely imperative to acknowledge not only the adoptive parents’ feelings on that day. The adoptee, adoptive parents, and birthparents are all are integral to the adoption triad, but too often one or more of the components are forgotten.

Quote from: http://www.today.com/moms/gotcha-day-celebrations-spark-debate-among-families-who-adopt-8C11545542

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45 responses to “What’s Wrong With Gotcha Day?

  1. Well said. You raise some interesting points. The Surgeon General has named Thanksgiving as Family History Day. When family members gather together on Thanksgiving Day, it’s a great opportunity to talk to family members and learn more about their health and history.

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  2. I love this so much. As an adoptive parent, it is so important to me to listen to adult adoptees and follow your measured wisdom. I would never ever use the term “gotcha” and I get so very weary when I hear adoptive parents making excuses about how when *they* say it is just different. Really? No, it’s not.

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    • Thank you so much! Support from adoptive parents is very important to me as an adoptee. It is such a wonderful feeling knowing that older adoptees’ voices are being heard and that parents want to learn from our experiences.

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  3. It’s nice to hear an adoptee’s take on “Gotcha Day”. As an adoptive parent (and a former adoption social worker) I have always shuddered at that term due to the possessiveness of the term. You raise other interesting and valid points about other options. We have always used “Family Day” because it reflected what the day meant for all of us, not just my husband and I as the adoptive parents.

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  4. Thanks for this post about using the phrase Gotcha. I’m an adoptive parent also and I hate the term Gotcha. It’s Family Day at our house and I believe my children have three families … First/birth families, foster/orphanage families and us. I hope adoptees continue to post about such subjects so that us as well as other AP’s can continue to learn from them.

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  5. It’s the saddest day of an adoptee’s life… nothing to celebrate about the day I was taken from my mother and sold to strangers…

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    • There are so many emotions associated with this day for adoptees – sadness, fear, anxiety. . . The celebratory, jokiness of the phrase “gotcha day” really leaves no room for the adoptee to express these painful feelings of being taken away.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As an adoptive Mom I have also chosen not to use the term ‘Gotcha Day’ but rather it is ‘Family Day’ to us. The day that God brought us together to become a family. My DD is 4 and she knows of her China birthmother and her nannies but we’re still working on more details as her age permits. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your insight as an adoptied child.

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    • Thanks for reading this article! Age appropriateness definitely does limit what one can share, but it’s wonderful that you’ve already started incorporating some knowledge of her first family and country.

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  7. This was a great article to read, and it makes me feel good to hear an adoptee talking about this day. We have always used the term “family day”, I always did think “gottcha day” sounded really creepy! For our son, who was in an orphanage for a long time, I think we think of that day as pretty happy, the day he finally got to leave the orphanage with his family (either myself or my husband was living near the orphanage for 6 months before he actually got to leave with us). I need to be reminded that there are more emotions about this day swirling around inside of him than there are for us. We are also in the process to adopt a little girl who is currently living with an amazing foster family. We plan on trying to do a slow transition to our home, but I know that to her it will feel like strangers are taking her away from the people she loves. Thanks for reminding us to be as sensitive as possible to our kid’s feelings and emotions.

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    • Thanks so much! It makes me feel great to know that adoptive parents are open to listening to the voices of adoptees. Being as understanding and as sensitive as possible is something that I’m sure your children will appreciate.

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  8. I appreciate your perspective on this. You’ve raised some important points, as terminology (and the unspoken message behind it) is very telling, and very important. In our family, we honor our daughter’s wish to use the term “Got’cha Day” because that is what she preferred over the other terms (Family Day, Anniversary, etc) that we suggested to her early on when we explained the significance of the day. Granted, she was elementary-aged when we adopted, so it’s likely that she found that term more endearing due to her young age and may later feel differently. But we understand the complications the term implies and will be willing to use a more inclusive term in the future if she indicates she’s ready for that. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Thanks! I think it’s so important to give children choices and some sort of agency (which you have clearly done), especially when these children have already had so much decided on their behalves. Adoptive parents can only do what they believe is in their child’s best interest, but it’s great that you will be open and receptive to making changes if she decides she likes something else better in the future.

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  9. Wow! I always had a problem with “gotcha day” and we have never celebrated it. I feel I have learned so much since we brought our daughter home from China back in 2005. We return to China towards the end of this year for the first time. She is nine. I don’t presume to know or understand the things she will feel when she meets her very loving foster family (we have several letters they wrote about their love for her). I always tell her without them she would not be the awesome young person she is today. Anyway, thank you for this and for being willing to share.

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    • Thanks! I’m always learning new things about adoption, too. It is a lifelong process, after all. Good luck and best wishes for your trip. Staying connected to people who love your daughter is such a wonderful gift you can give her. The more people who love a child, the better!

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  13. Hi, thank you for this thoughtful post. In our home we do celebrate adoption day because our daughters insist. We connect the name of our daughter to the day, for example Amy-day. We are also in the very lucky position to be in touch with our youngest daughter’s birthfamily in China. We speak to them once a month and we visit them for a few weeks each year. We know how much pain my daughter’s parents have endured because of losing her and we know it is not easy for them not to be able to raise her. A word like ‘gotcha’ day is as far as I am concerned totally inappropriate.

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    • Thanks for reading and for the nice compliment. It’s so remarkable that you’re in touch with one of your daughters’ first family. That’s a luxury I’d love to have. Thank you for keeping that connection in tact.

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  14. We acknowledged my son’s adoption day when he was younger – a nice dinner and reflective conversation. Never called anything “gotcha” day though. As he’s gotten older (he’s 10 now) he has decided that he doesn’t want to celebrate the adoption with anything special. Events like this will always be directed by him and his wishes.

    I’m in a lot of foster parent / adoptive circles and I’m always surprised when foster parents want to celebrate the “gotcha day” of their newly adopted child. Every time a foster child is removed from their family of origin trauma is involved. Why on Earth would you want to celebrate THAT?!

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  15. Thank you for expressing this so well. As an adoptive parent, I dislike “gotcha” but could never really explain why. This was excellent. I forwarded it to our agency, who recently did a celebration video marking one of their anniversaries and it was called “gotcha”. I believe agencies need to focus more on the adoptee – because that is their real client. I would also be interested in the source you quoted for fraud and kidnapping as 1 in 4 for China adoptions. I suspect that is related to non -special needs adoptions?

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    • Hi Karen. Thanks for reading! I agree that agencies should be more adoptee centric. Brian Stuy actually believes the number to be higher – 3 out of every 4 adoptions from China involving fraud or trafficking. Naturally, the risks for this type of corruption is lower with special needs adoptions, but not eliminated completely. As traffickers and orphanages have learned that Western prospective adoptive parents are just as eager to adopt a child with a healed cleft lip, special needs children have also been subjected to this unfortunate abuse.

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  17. i think this is not only significanly true for parents and adoptees, but also for biological children. as a sister to four children from ethiopia, that day was somewhat traumatic. it changes everything. it almost feels like having a guest stay at your house,but they never leave. dont get me wrong,i love my siblings as f they have always been here, but i would not refer to their first day as gotcha day. rather it is the beginning of a long journey. and the hard times will be looked upon with sadness [or possible laughter] and the happy times with joy. i just have to keep trusting in God nd believe that he is working everything out for the good of those who love him!

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  18. “Gotcha Day” never sounded right to me but for both of my girls, adopted from China, now teens, we celebrate “Happy Adoption Day”. One of the most revealing moments came when a few years ago, I asked my now 18 year-old “what is your favorite holiday?” She didn’t hesitate at all and immediately answered “Happy Adoption Day!” I was surprised because it is a more low-key celebration- dinner at an Asian restaurant and sometimes a gift but we always talk about how it was the day we became a family. (I was expecting her to say Christmas or Halloween) And so adoption day has a positive note in our family because it celebrates our coming together as a family whereas, we were not together on the day of their birth and so “Happy Birthday” celebrations are missing their birth parents. Just another way of looking at it and turning a negative into a positive. I also question the 1 in 4 Chinese adoptions being fraudulent. I don’t believe those numbers.

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  19. I become mother to my girls in 1996 and 2001. I can only hope and believe that they were true orphans owed mainly to the one-child policy in China.

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    • That is the best we can hope for in the adoption situation. My guess is that many of the early adoptions were “clean,” and the corruption and trafficking didn’t rise significantly until after it was clear there was a profit to be made from exchanging children.

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  21. I am reading your website with mixed feelings. Our adopted Chinese son was born with bilateral cleft lip and palate. He was born in the Gansu province, one of the most heavily polluted regions of China. So polluted that even the “potable” (tap) water at the hotel and throughout the city of Lanzhou was recognized to contain Benzene, a known hazardous petrochemical production by-product and proven carcinogen, when we were there to adopt our son. He was abandoned on the steps of a health institution a few days after he was born. His birth date is estimated. He spent the first 22 months of his life in an orphanage on a steady diet of sugar milk and noodles, with meat, dairy and vegetables being a very rare luxury. Far from the ideal nutritional regimen of an infant. When we met/adopted him he looked like a baby just under a year old. He still could not walk. He had zero speech and he was, as previously described malnourished. Everybody, EVERYBODY stared at him, likely judging because of his gaping cleft. We brought him home (it was a nice change, no more staring, just an occasional smile), had his cleft fixed (three surgeries so far, more to go), taught him to walk and started his speech therapy. Our American adoption agency has a partnership with the adoption agency where our son spent the first 22 months of his life. They are involved in the operation of the orphanage. They have been starting partnerships with more and more Chinese orphanages. Our Chinese guide while in China told us the director of our son’s orphanage is good at getting her hands on the hefty donation we had to provide as a part of the adoption process. That was good news. The rest probably ends up in the pockets of various corrupt Chinese officials. I am older and infertile and adopting a child with minor special needs through international adoption seemed like the most viable option. Financially, it was a big stretch. We realize that someone’s misfortune is our fortune. What constitutes the misfortune here, though? The fact that our son did not develop properly? The fact that his parents were probably extremely poor? The fact that he was born into a one child policy? You describe the term “Gotcha Day” as inappropriate, insinuating trickery or possession. “Family Day” being more appropriate. For me “Gotcha” in the “Gotcha Day” represents the first embrace I could give to my son with a huge cleft lip and palate. “Family Day” compared to that sounds really neutral. We have been talking with my son (who is now 4.5) about his life before ‘us’ and will continue to do so. Every now and then I think about his birth parents and thank them and tell them the boy is in good hands. I thank them for making sure he was found and taken to an orphanage – unlike many other handicapped or healthy newborns who are simply ‘disposed of’. We live in the part of the US with abundant Chinese population. The vast majority of them (the rich ones with a choice) left their country voluntarily for various reasons. Our son filled a void that otherwise would have been very present in our lives. We are giving him life that he otherwise would not have had.Your portrayal of the adoption context is very simplistic. I appreciate your effort to draw awareness to the crime and distorted notions in the world of adoption but your picture of the adoption scene seems incomplete: without the silver lining that’s clearly there and without the (good) flip side of the coin.

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    • Hi Margaret, I don’t believe my perspective on adoption is one-sided or simplistic. I recognize that adoption is a complicated process for various stakeholders and, in some cases, necessary. I do know, however, that the mainstream media portrayal of adoption is not accurate and that many people do not think about the various nuances and remain unaware of the vast amount of corruption that drives the industry. I also know that there should never have to be a “silver lining” when children have been trafficked or taken from loving families because of political policies, because these situations never had to exist to create the silver lining in the first place. It’s great that your son has a loving home, but I think that no birth family should not be able to raise a child they love and want because they don’t have access to the adequate healthcare to remedy a minor health concern like cleft palate. It is my belief that poverty should never be a reason for family separation. I also believe that children should be brought into a family to simply be children, and not to fill a void. It is such a burden and responsibility for a child to have a job description already. Additionally, if you truly believe that many Chinese children were “simply disposed of,” I hope you will consider reading some literature like “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love” or watching “Somewhere Between” a documentary in which one of the girl’s birth parents didn’t want to relinquish their daughter, but another family member did instead. These stories and many others of the like bring to light the suffering and anguish birth families go through when making these heart wrenching decisions. If your belief is that your son’s country is filled with people who just “dispose of” their children, how do you plan to raise him to grow strong in his identity as a Chinese American? I understand that “Gotcha Day” conveys a meaning to you that Family Day doesn’t, but I hope that if your son feels differently about the term you will follow his lead.

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  22. Thanks for this blog post. I never was fond of the ‘gotcha day’ slang. We always called it our family anniversary until recently my grown daughters started calling it ‘gotcha day’ because that’s what their friends understand. I think I’ll reverse the trend back to anniversary.

    Celebrating is complicated by many things including both girls have different anniversary months but almost the same day of the month. I’m not good with dates and inevitably I almost forget or get the exact day wrong. The girls have learned to remind me its time to go out for dinner and celebrate. One anniversary is very close to my daughter’s birthday which was assigned by the authorities since her exact birthday was unknown. Her birthday is also very close and sometimes on a national holiday when it falls on Monday. I wonder what will happen to our family anniversary when they marry and have new anniversaries to celebrate.

    I read one time that becoming a family through adoption is like becoming a family through marriage. Its a legal process. The bond that forms is a family bond. That made sense to me and I’ve explained it that way to my daughters and their friends. I always make sure to mention that there is no divorce from adoption. Just like my parents remained married throughout their adult lives, my daughters and I became family through a legal process that will never be undone. I’d be interested in knowing what adoptees think about this way of educating others about adoption.

    The thing from this post that alarmed me was the statistic that 1 in 4 adoptions from China included fraud or trafficking. I’ve never heard this before. As an adoptive parent, my heart is sick. I volunteered to give children a home and a loving parent. If I’ve been deceived, I will be angry and disillusioned.

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    • Hi Brenda, thanks for reading this post. “Gotcha Day” is the most common phrase used, so it makes sense that your daughters have picked up the term. You’re right that adoption is a legal process, but it differs from marriage because adoptees as children do not have the agency to choose to leave their country and culture or the ability to make a decision on who adopts them the way married couples mutually choose each other. Also, as much as we would like to believe that there is no such thing as a divorce from adoption, that is simply untrue. Many adoptive parents have turned to the internet to exchange adopted children they no long want or feel they can parent due to behaviors unforeseen. (See: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/ ) Corruption is rampant in the international adoption system. The most famous case of clear large trafficking from China is the Hunan Scandal of 2005, where over 1,000 kidnapped children were adopted internationally.

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  23. Good day, I am so happy I found your website and would just like to say thanks a lot for a remarkable post and an all around entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design). I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it, so when I have time I will be back to read much more. Please do keep up the great work!

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