I met up with a friend recently for a morning tea before work. Though we had seen each other frequently, they had all been rather quick passings that hadn’t allowed for genuine conversation. It was good to sit down again for breakfast, like we used to do more frequently when I was younger. We discussed several topics from death to romantic life to my continued academic pursuits. I told her about my research into the subject of adoption dissolution and the online re-homing of adopted children.
Obviously concerned by the information I shared, she leaned in and with such an authentic voice, asked me, “And how does that make you feel about your adoptive experience?”
I was taken aback by this question from my friend, a marriage and family therapist who has been in practice for many years. While on the surface, it is an open-ended question, there is a definite intended answer. The expected answer is that these horrific instances of rehoming should make me feel thankful for my positive adoption experience. Is the bar really that low – that I should be grateful that my adoptive parents didn’t re-home me to strangers over the internet?
I went to work and came home, still ruminating about the morning’s conversation.
Adoptees are frequently told that they should feel grateful for their circumstances and indebted to their adoptive parents. This kind of power imbalance sets up a situation that isn’t conducive to a typical parent/child relationship.
I think what it comes down to is that there is a difference between expectations and rights. In my family, there was the expectation that my mom would read to me before bed and that my parents would drive me to school instead of me having to take the bus. These are little things that my parents did for me when I was young for which I am grateful, because they made my bedtime routine more pleasant and my mornings more convenient. And while I display appreciation for these types of affection, I don’t feel the need to be extra grateful that my parents chose to feed and clothe me, because these are rights afforded to every child by the United Nations and responsibilities that my parents understood they were taking on with adoption.
Children have the right to be housed and to feel safe in those houses. Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “every child has the inherent right to life,” and Article 18 states, ” Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.” In other words, taking care of one’s child is not optional. When a frustrated and under-prepared adoptive parent decides to hand their child over to an unvetted individual or couple through an illegal custody transfer, they are not considering the best interests of their child and ensuring their safety. Adoptees should not have to be grateful that their parents chose to raise them, instead of giving them to strangers. That our parents would take care of us is a basic right we were all afforded as children.
In addition to the implied gratefulness reaction in my friend’s question, this exchange also contained another common unintentional characteristic of adoption conversations. Too many times adoptees are asked things that would not be asked of non-adoptees. To me, every failed adoption is a tragedy, because even if no other abuses are involved, it is another compounded loss that a young person has faced. After hearing about other types of family tragedies, such as a man walking out on and abandoning his wife and children or a mother doing something negligent that caused permanent trauma to her child, it would not be a normal reaction to lean across the table and ask someone, “And how does that make you feel about your experience in your biological family?” In this conversation with my friend, I was forced to come up with an on-the-spot reaction to a question I should have never been asked.
The morning breakfast conversation reminded me that even intelligent, reflective, seasoned mental health professionals who have been steadily supportive of me and whom I would have expected to understand the nuances of adoption will sometimes miss the mark. No matter how children enter their families, safety, respect, and being treated with kindness should be the norm and not something that demands gratefulness.