Why I (An Adoptive Parent) Am Not Pro-Adoption

by my Mother – retired social worker, adoptive parent, voracious reader

How many times have I looked at my daughter over the last seventeen years and been thankful for her presence in my life? Her laughter, her curiosity, her intelligence, and her humor have enriched my days and brought a kind of joy that I never could have imagined. The fact that we are together at all has sometimes seemed nearly miraculous to me. Out of all of the children who were in social welfare institutes in China in 1997, she was matched with our family. Adoption was just the beginning of a journey that has been filled with glitter and giggles, adventures and achievements, tears and travels, and most of all, love. How is it that I now am at this place where I question the very institution that created our family?

As with many caring people, my heart has always been touched when I have heard stories about children in need. Compelling portraits abound in the media of children who have been neglected or abused, their innocent faces staring longingly. Added to these images are portraits in the news of children languishing in orphanages, crowded together in spare environments with no one-on-one care. Is it any wonder that the first response for many adults is to think of adoption, of removing these children from such conditions and placing them in a loving homes? I suspect it is here where the rhetoric of “saving” or “rescuing” children first develops. But it is also here where we must be challenged to look deeper, to ask hard questions, and to move beyond adoption as being the first or only response.

Before there is an adoption, there is a first family. In looking only at the child, it is easy to let those first parents fade into the background, to relegate them to a past tense position with names such as birthparents, which make them into little more than human incubators. Or we create narratives about them, making them into either saints or sinners. We say that they loved their child so much that they sacrificed so the child can have a better life. Should any parent ever be asked to surrender a child so that child can have a better life? Is there not something inherently immoral about people of means becoming parents to the children of poor people around the world? What if we, the potential adoptive parents, sacrificed adopting a child and donated the same amount of money that an adoption entails to support agencies that work towards improving the lives of families in third world countries so they can keep and raise their children in healthy environments? And why do some agencies, businesses, and churches give grants to help people adopt? Again, that money could be better used to support services in home countries. Or how about those “sinner” first families, the ones who use drugs or alcohol, or who beat or severely neglect their children? What if resources were readily available to those families – excellent day care, easily accessed top notch treatment programs, decent housing, mental health services, job training for family supporting jobs, and on going emotional support for struggling parents? Could ripping families apart and children in and out of foster care and later adoption be avoided? I suspect that the answer to this would be “yes.” It wouldn’t work for all but would definitely preserve many families. Having worked in the foster care system for many years, I am well aware of the myriad of obstacles families face in trying to reunify with their children.

It is my belief that children belong with their first families whenever possible. Adoption should be a last resort and should be about finding appropriate families for children, not children for families. This means understanding that adoption is built on loss, and that loss is often permanent of first parents, siblings, a whole kinship system, parts of racial and cultural identity, and a sense of wholeness. Adoption is not a one time act where the door to one life closes and a new, better one begins. It is a life long process of self discovery and integration, with pain, confusion, and living with dualities often regular companions. We first must be willing to see that it is arrogant to assume that having more things, opportunities, and wealth is a fair trade off for losing that first family. If we value family, we will value them.

Like she has in so many areas, my daughter (the writer of this blog) has brought me to a clearer understanding of the many complicated issues around adoption – how monetary transactions have led to corruption, how first families have sometimes been lied to, deceived, or tricked into relinquishing children, how cultures can be punitive to single mothers, and how demand creates a climate for adoption to become more of a consumer venture. With all of these realities, I can’t, in good faith, be pro-adoption. That doesn’t make me anti-adoption either. I realize that there will always be legitimate reasons for adoption and that children can’t be allowed to suffer while societies change cultural or political values. It does mean, however, that I have an obligation to advocate for changes that will make adoption more transparent and ethical and less needed. I can start by supporting programs that help preserve families whether that is an organization for single mothers in Korea, micro loans to start small businesses for mothers in Africa, or parent education classes in the United States.

Read the follow up piece on being “Freshly Pressed” and all of the attention this blog post has received here.

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171 responses to “Why I (An Adoptive Parent) Am Not Pro-Adoption

  1. “Adoption should be a last resort and should be about finding appropriate families for children, not children for families.” This was the best line! Too many people who adopt are thinking about themselves, and the children they want. They should be thinking instead about what they can do for the children!

  2. I am both an adoptive mother of 4 and have been a foster parent of nearly 70 children over the past 20 years. I teach classes to potential adoptive and foster parents. The main point I try to get across to them is that they are never going to be able to replace the birth family nor will the child ever forget that first family. The social service directive is to try to make it possible for the child to be reunified with the birth family if at all possible by evaluation strengths and weakness and working to help the family regain custody be meeting their needs. When all else fails then adoption should be the next avenue pursued and if that is not possible then long term foster care. The system is not perfect. The money directed to the care of children should include ways to enable birth families to raise their own children. There are times when this is not possible and as broken and unfair as the system seems, unfortunately, it is the best alternative there is for so many of the children. I strive to help my children stay in contact with family. The birth family and I share the child. Visits, letters, cards, calls all can help but not replace the loss. Open, honest communication, acceptance and preservation can help children and both sets of parents continue to show love.

  3. I agree, with you, that more efforts should be made to help a parent or a family member keep their child, and there needs to be funding to support these families.

  4. For years, I have worked in court with parents caught up in social services system. The odds are definitely stacked against them and I agree with all my heart that more help is needed to preserve families. Too often, parents are made to feel like bad people or worse because their children are taken from them and too often, there is rejoicing when children are adopted by foster parents. Adoption should always be bittersweet.

  5. What a smart post. I am an adoptee and am grateful that my bio mom did not abort me and that my adoptive parents adopted me but it has been a long road emotionally. I am 50 years old and this is still painful for me but much better. Thank you.

  6. As a former Child Welfare Social Worker, I completely agree with this post in MOST instances. I can’t really speak towards adoptions in other countries as I am unfamiliar with their processes, I can say, at least with the organization I worked for (also, a non-profit) we offered immense amounts of services to preserve families and/or work towards reunification. Our optimal goal was to keep families together. Unfortunately, in many circumstances (not sure what the statistic is) there are children who were born into families who sadly, didn’t want them and refuse offered services. We had services to transport parents to/from visits and worked around their schedules, job programs for families, etc. I was saddened to see how many of the families I worked with not only refused these services, but also refused participation altogether in attempts to reunify. I love this post and the kindness of your heart to adopt a child from another family, but I also believe that in some cases (perhaps fewer and far between) adoption is the best and only chance some children have in making it in this world. Keep up the great parenting!

    • I agree that adoption is the best option for some children, but I believe it should be a very last resort – especially out of country adoption. Far too often we look at adoption as a solution to a problem instead of seeing it as a side-affect. Adoptions internationally are caused by corruption in government, oppressive policies, poverty, lack of education for women, gendered stereotypes, discrimination, and unequal distribution of financial resources compared to wealthy westerners. Adopting a child out of their country does nothing to change the social conditions that made adoption available in the first place, so while it may be a temporary solution to get one child out of poverty, it is not a solution to the larger systemic issues at play.

  7. I agree with you. But at the same time, most families don’t want to get help they don’t want to stop being an addict they don’t want to stop abusing it’s what they want to do. So even spending more money on that won’t help if they don’t want the help. My uncle is one if those people, you can give him all the money in the world to get help and he will not do it. Never ever ever. I agree, a bit but at the same time giving more money to keep families together is still not the best. For most people do not care to get help so they can never be a happy family

    • Addiction is not the primary reason children are taken away from there parents. There have been over 100,000 children adopted out of China because of the One Child Policy or because their families couldn’t afford medical services. There have over 150,000 families separated in Korea because of the stigma surrounding single motherhood or discrimination against biracial babies. There are countless numbers of children in Uganda who have lost one parent to AIDS while the remaining parent simply didn’t have the funds or the support necessary to raise a family. These parents want to be mothers and fathers, and you cannot tell me that providing them with money, communal resources, and more opportunities for education would not keep these families together.

    • Additionally, I need to add that most addicts don’t want to be addicts and have their lives controlled by a substance. They’re just caught up in a cycle they can’t seem to break. Not wanting to get help is the addiction speaking, not the person.

      • I’m posting my view. Everyone has a different view on everything. If we all the same view on everything life would be dull and boring

  8. Great post! For many years I worked with an agency that’s whole motto was “we believe children are raised best by their own families.” We offered services geared towards reintegration of the children with their families with the hope that foster care and respite was temporary. I completely agree that maybe we should adopt communities as priority to hopefully provide better homes and parents for children.

  9. I just want to say thank you for this post. Thank you for this blog. It is very professional and thoughtful. My husband and I have 4 children born in and adopted from China. They are 10, 9, 8 and 7. I’m excited to continue to follow the writings here and other resources given. This has inspired me that by coming a long side my children, I can make a difference for them and others.

  10. With respect, I think this piece paints with rather to broad a brush the variety of institutions surrounding adoption, as well as the psychological dynamics involved.

    You ask the question, “is there not something inherently immoral about people of means becoming parents to the children of poor people around the world?” I think the answer follows from the observation that poverty was not the principal driver of adoptions from China–the one child policy was. Was the One Child Policy as practiced in the 90’s “immoral”? I’d submit that the there’s lots of room for discussion on that point. But without settling that question, I find it very hard to see how adoption, including the practices following on China’s One Child Policy, can be called “inherently” (i.e., always and everywhere) immoral–as if the practices in e.g., Russia, indict those of China. How can we be asked to evaluate the morality of the global forms of adoption without even taking a stance on the One Child Policy?

    Consider: young Chinese parents don’t need infusions of Euros or American dollars to make their way in the world. Perhaps they need new forms of political representation. Chinese poverty is increasingly like American poverty: it is a poverty of economic justice that is not addressed by handing out money at the margins. It is about changing how wages are set and how profits are allocated to labor. I suspect you’re right that in many places outside China, money given to families is more justly employed than it would be in adopting these families’ children. But the cases differ.

    You note that “adoption is … a life long process of self discovery and integration, with pain, confusion, and living with dualities often regular companions.” As an adoptee myself, I mistrust this kind of adoption community exceptionalism. Try that quoted test out on any young person. Are there many adolescent that doesn’t feel him or herself engaged in a life long process of self discovery… attended with pain and confusion?

    And as for this: “we first must be willing to see that it is arrogant to assume that having more things, opportunities, and wealth is a fair trade off for losing that first family.” Who really is this addressed to? If adoptive parents approach family making as an economic gain for its members, they have already lost most of what counts in family life–love and a deep sense of security that rests on compassion, not on stuff. Any parent who conceptualizes their family life substantially in terms of the value of goods and services available upon family membership has already lost most of what family has to offer. But surely such a materialist ethos is not “intrinsic” to the character of adoptive parents! And if it is not “intrinsic” to them, the point isn’t relevant to the intrinsic immorality of adoption either… raising the point seems only to prejudice the question.

    • I’m an adoptive mother; my son is now 42. We got him from Vietnam when he was 9 mos. old. I have thought a great deal about adoption over the years and my conclusion is this: when at all possible children should remain with their families of origin. Only in circumstances of extreme crisis (war, famine, natural disaster) should a child be removed from his home culture, and even then the child’s identity should be preserved. International adoption is a complex issue, and simple pronouncements just won’t do, but the scooping up of babies from poor countries by affluent Western families is exploitation and needs to be curtailed. The interests of the child should come first, not the adoptive parents’ desire to have a family.

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