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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37 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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…

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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?!

  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?

    • 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!

  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.

  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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