About This Site

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “an invisible red thread connects  those destined to meet, regardless of the time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.” This proverb has become popularized in recent years among the general public, and these words can be seen on tattoos, posters, and “inspirational quote” boards.

In the international (specifically Chinese) adoption community, these words have a very different meaning. The Invisible Red Thread proverb has been used to propagate and encourage adoptions, convincing many that adoptions are acts of destiny.  The problem with saying that children are connected to the people “destined” to become their adoptive parents is that it is also saying birthmothers are equally destined to be in situations in which they have to relinquish their children and that these children are destined to lose their first families, countries, cultures, and everything they know.

I’m aware that some adoptive parents truly do feel like they received the child who was “meant for them.” But that child wouldn’t have been “meant for them” if it weren’t for devastating problems in their home country. Adoptive parents need to realize that adoptions are not destined to happen. They are the results of political and economic systems of oppression that entrap biological parents around the world, whether that be the social stigma against single mothers in Korea, the One Child Policy in China, and women’s inferior status or poverty in any country. Keeping the discussion of adoption at a “divine” level, and ignoring the actual political and socioeconomic issues surrounding it ensures that the problems which drive adoption will continue.  Thus parents will continue to be kept in situations where they are forced to give up their children or where they remain mislead and unaware of their child’s trafficking.

I know that most adoptive parents are good-hearted people and would not want to perpetuate child trafficking and harmful social systems. If we wish to avoid these very things, then it is imperative that we change the rhetoric surrounding adoption from a rosy, miraculous, heartwarming deed and remember the children who have lost families, cultures, and identities, the parents who have lost children, and the broken adoption industry where people profit from exchanging children and countries profit from exporting children.

Though the proverb says, “the thread may stretch or tangle, but never break,” it is time to acknowledge that the invisible red thread is broken. The adoption community has twisted these words’ meaning from the original idea of “connected lovers” to connected families, “regardless of the time, place or circumstance.” The circumstances leading to adoption, though, are devastating, and these words in relation to adoption are simply untrue and become very harmful to many adoptees.

Above: an image of a Chinese child with a red thread wrapped around her, presumably waiting to find her “destined” adoptive parents on the other end of the thread.

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25 responses to “About This Site

  1. Great blog and statement regarding adoption. Context is everything and for adoptive families, no matter how well intentioned, to assume that their newest member’s existence began the day the adoption paperwork was finalized is naive and, in some cases, cruel.

    Here’s another proverb I learned from a fellow blogger, “Lá rụng về cội” (The falling leaves return to their roots).

    Signed,
    A fellow adoptee

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    • Thanks for the compliment, Jeff! You’re right, context is so important. I hope this blog can provide a more accurate context of adoption as opposed to the overly light-hearted depiction seen in the media.

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  2. Thank you for posting this. I remember being a new adoptive parent nearly 14 years ago, and sharing the red thread mantra. It made me feel vaguely uneasy, but I wasn’t sure why. A couple of years later, partly thanks to international adoptees who spoke out on International Adopt Talk, I processed the fact that sadness and loss surrounded the very event that was the best thing that had ever happened to me. My daughter is now 14. And she talks openly with me about her feelings about her losses, as well as her gains. I doubt we would have the ability to talk about these things if I had continued to say, “we were meant to be together” and ignored the whole picture.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind comment. It’s so encouraging when I hear from understanding adoptive parents. My mother has articulated that same thought of the sadness in knowing that her great joy has been at the expense of someone else’s (and my) great loss. It’s great to hear that you two have open communication and that you are a safe place for your daughter to discuss all aspects of her adoption.

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  3. Our family has also learned so much… from our daughters… we have always encouraged an open dialog on any topic within our family.There is not a topic that is off limits.. no matter how hard the discussion.
    As our daughters have grown, it has helped, in allowing them to teach us about exactly what it is like to be an adopted daughter from China. It was at a great loss that I was given the honor to parent my 2 most precious daughters. Because of my great love for them, I wish that it was a perfect world, and no child would ever need to be separated from their birth families so that my daughters would never have had to feel that loss. I am there for them forever and through it all.

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    • Thanks, Eileen, for keeping the discussion open and recognizing that adoption cannot occur without significant loss. I’m sure your support means the world to your daughters.

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  4. Upon leaving China 18 years ago with my first daughter, I experienced a deep sadness knowing that she was losing the culture of her birth. I knew that even if she were to return in the future, her ethnicity would be the only thing that tied her to this place, and she would return a stranger. Still, the future that would have been available to her as a female child growing up in an orphanage in the mid-1990s would probably have been very bleak. I did take comfort in hoping that the loss of her birth heritage would be somewhat balanced by the gains of having a loving extended family and opportunities that would have been denied to her otherwise. My daughters both know that their lives did not begin with their adoption into our families, and both have processed that idea in very unique ways even from each other. One daughter is extremely interested in her biological roots, and the other is not. There is definitely no “one size fits all” perspective in adoption. I live in hope that they will have some means of tracing their birth families in the future, and will definitely help them search if they want to.

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    • Thank you for your openness and willingness to help your daughters search if they so choose. For me, the positives don’t outweigh the negatives; I carry both with me wherever I go. It’s interesting that your daughters have processed their experiences in different ways. I know a set of twins who have processed their adoption completely differently, as well. One studies adoption from an academic angle and the other is much more interested in her cultural roots.

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  5. I am so very glad that I stumbled upon this blog today. I, too, am an adoptive parent and though I share the sentiments above about the great loss and trauma our children go through to become “ours,” I never once thought about the OTHER side of that quote. The thread IS broken for our children and to perpetuate the one-sided view of that quote is something that I had not thought of before. I look forward to reading more from you.

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  6. I believe the poster above said it correctly “no one size fits all” with adoptions. I firmly believe that my daughter was “meant” to be my daughter and us to be her parents. So, I am fine with the Red Thread Story. However, this doesn’t mean her life started at adoption (17 months old). It doesn’t mean we ignore the trauma and painful past. It doesn’t mean we sugar-coat the truth. And yes, bad things in society shouldn’t happen and we all should work to improve them, but bad things do happen – poverty, One Child, stigma against single mothers, gender inequality, etc, are all real and they come with real consequences. So, I guess I am saying, we need is balance. Either end of the spectrum is negative and too simplistic…..the red thread is “broken” or that the red thread means rainbows and unicorns. We need to take into account what should be and what is.

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    • I firmly believe the red thread is broken and that I was in no way meant to be with my adoptive parents. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that I love them. I think we take into account what should be and what is by not stopping at adoption, but looking at changeable societal norms that would allow first families to stay together. I absolutely see the value in balance, but I also starkly believe that adoptees should be able to voice their truths without being judged as either “well adjusted” or “bitter and angry.” This tactic has been used for too long to create tension within the adoption community and prohibit positive change from happening.

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  7. I just came to this site for the first time. I will share it with my daughters when they are older. Thank you for your comments on this. I think all the time about the birth families of my daughters and I would do anything to reconnect them to those families. So many of the wonderful traits of my daughters – I would love to see them in their birth parents. My girls are so different, what must their birth families be like? I have never agreed with sentiments that suggest my daughters are “lucky” and will have a much better life here with us than they could possibly have had in China. That’s a hopelessly narrow and arrogant and destructive view. I hope my girls can find their families some day and reconnect with them – if they want to. It will be their choice. That “uneasiness” one reader mentioned – I have it, too. Because I know mothers – and fathers – went through unimaginable, gut-wrenching agony when their children were gone. And are likely still going through it and will all their lives. I give thanks every day for my “blessings” but I never forget where they came from – someone else’s tragedy.

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  8. I do believe in destiny as I have seen many things in life that have no other explanation – good, bad or indifferent. I was drawn to China and felt I was destined to make a commitment and parent a child from there. Red thread? It doesn’t matter what you call it. A rose by any other name… All I know is that as my daughter becomes older and ventures into adolescence my commitment to her becomes stronger to be there and help her navigate the hand that was dealt to her. And for me that is what happened – a hand was dealt – and her journey is different than the one that would have been in a less complicated, screwed up world. My fortune to know and love this amazing human being is totally the flip side of societal disgraces. But I think it is demeaning to the commitment that adoptive families make to a child to say that they were not meant to be together. It is definitely Plan B. But for whatever reasons destiny did bring us together and all I hope is that I can give her the foundation, strength and soundness to not let the hand dealt negatively define her. We talk about the amazing, inherited traits she has. We talk about what she has garnered from her western family. If and when she wants to explore learning more about her roots and biological family, I will be there to help, to facilitate if possible, but I do believe condemning the “rhetoric” around adoption as being rosy rather or blind goodness is harsh. My daughter was four and considered special needs in China. She is not considered special needs in the United States. I think most of the community I know who adopted from China went there because they felt it was something they could do to help a life being obstructed by political, social and economic inequities. Did this bring us happiness? Of course. But our happiness was not at the expense of someone else’s misfortune, it was a response to someone else’s misfortune that gave our life more meaning. My daughter talks frequently about wanting to adopt when she grows up. And she talks about wanting to know what her birth parents are like. That’s the best balance I can ask for in a world filled with misguided governments and social inequities that led her to my door.

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  9. As a birth mother, I feel so very strongly that that same red thread relates to myself and the parents who would raise my son. When they walked into the room, I knew them and they immediately felt like my family. I believe that he was destined to be theirs but i also believe that he was destined to come to them through me. I believe that we were ALL destined to meet.
    It was the greatest anguish of my life but it has also been the greatest growth and what stretched my heart to new capacity. Just because it hurt doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be and their gratitude for their great blessing is not a denial of or insult to my loss.

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    • I’m so glad that you feel what was meant to be happened in your situation, but I strongly believe it is in no greater plan to have children kidnapped or trafficked or placed into the adoption system through fraud, which is often the situation internationally – think about countries like Guatemala or Vietnam that had their adoption programs shut down due to corruption or the Hunan scandal of 2005 in which more than 1,000 children with living families were taken and sold to orphanages and then adopted out mostly to the United States.

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  10. My husband and I adopted our six year old daughter, five years ago, from China. I wanted to believe in the story of “The Red Thread”, as so many adoptive parents do, but, I believe circumstance and personal behaviour affect our destiny more than the supernatural. Still, my love for my daughter seems so bottomless, it is sometimes hard to not believe in destiny. I just found your site today, and will include it in my favourites. I’m sure your perspective will help navigate discussion when she is older and has more questions about her origins.

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  11. I found your site today and I understand you have some negative views about the red thread. I understand you could have a jaded view given the things you have witnessed and heard about with adoption. I too have been going through my own struggles with wanting to adopt domestically and I will copy what I wrote today. Hopefully you will see there are bad dads to every story but there is hope through God. If it wasn’t for the destiny God wrote for you, you may have ended up no where. The tangled string is nothing more than the trials and tribulations that we go through in this life. We still have free will for how we choose for our lives to end up, whether it’s with a biological parent or a new one that God hand picked for you.

    I find myself answering this question a lot more recently, and I’m ok with it. We are adopting overseas for many reasons, one is that God has placed this on our hearts and we feel led to do this. It has taken us a long time to be in the place we are today and comfortable enough to do this. When we lost our younger son I could never imagine myself trying to have another child or adopt. The emotional pain and struggle we went through was too much to bare. So now i fast forward and understand more now then I ever have why so many parents end up adopting in other countries. The struggle to adopt outside of fostering is almost impossible in the states. We went to the gps classes, home studies, background checks, cpr class, water safety, taken physicals, have emailed DHR more times than I can even remember. We have applied for kids, left numerous voice mails, called the state office and still gotten no where. So the one question I once asked myself, why don’t more people adopt these kids that have nobody here in the U.S has been answered. I know in my heart DHR still does good things for kids but, placing my own anger and frustration aside it apparently is to not help these kids get forever homes. It truly breaks my heart knowing this, seeing this first hand. So this is where God stepped in and softened my heart to the idea of going overseas for adoption. I want this for my family and I can’t express enough to everyone how much we need the support. It doesn’t matter if it’s through shoes, prayer, or however you feel led. Just please know that we feel blessed to have all of you helping.

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    • Hi Ryan,

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your younger son, and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I understand that we have some different views religiously, and it is my belief that a loving God would never have a plan for someone to not be able to keep their baby (in China this was due to a faulty governmental policy) or plan for a plane of babies from Vietnam to go missing and for all of those children to die.

      I know that your comment, “If it wasn’t for the destiny God wrote for you, you may have ended up no where,” was well-meaning, but remarks like that are actually extremely painful and insensitive to adoptees, which I feel like you should know especially if you are planning on adopting. These comments create an extra layer of gratitude and indebtedness that isn’t present for biological children, and an adoptee can never have a “normal” relationship with his/her parents if he/she is supposed to be extra grateful for his/her life circumstances. Shaaren says it well, when she says, “being an adoptee is like getting into a horrible car accident and surviving with devastating injuries. But instead of anybody acknowledging the trauma of the accident, they tell you that you should feel lucky.” If you are adopting, please acknowledge the trauma and loss involved and the grief that will follow the adoptee forever.

      You’re right that the U.S. foster care system needs a lot of improvement, but it is a good thing to have all of these background checks and home visits for and extra steps for the safety of adopted children. The rates of adoptive parent filicide are way too high. People often look to international adoption because it is a more public “humanitarian” example, it is more exotic, there is a far lesser chance of the child being able to find and be in contact with their first family, and in some cases, it is easier to get approved when folks “agency hop.”

      Please make sure the agency you use, if they don’t require as many screenings, is doing good work. Most children adopted from Uganda and Ethiopia, for example, have family in their home countries who were tricked or coerced into giving them for adoption and when the children learn to speak English, the truth comes out. I can in now way think that child trafficking is a part of God’s plan for any child – even if they are trafficked into a well-meaning, loving adoptive family.

      Interesting article: Why Christians Like Me Should Listen to Critiques of Evangelical Adoption. https://www.thenation.com/article/why-christians-me-should-listen-critiques-evangelical-adoption/

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  12. As an adopting parent thank you so much for this post. You put into words my thoughts on the subject. The act of adoption is based on good intentions but we need to remember that good intentions are not enough. And mostly we need to remember that adoption shall always be primary concerned with the well being of the child and then with the well being of everyone else.

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