La La How The Life Goes On

National Adoption Month Musings

Posted on: November 30, 2015

As we close out November as National Adoption Month, I’m serving up some thoughts on adoption; international, transracial adoption specifically.  What with the troubling push in some circles to “promote” adoption and the silencing of adoptee voices that don’t confirm the Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy adoption narrative , I hereby offer some hard questions for potential adoptive parents to answer before they decide to pursue adoption as a means of building their family.

  1. Are you interested in adopting a child for any reason other than it is a method for building your family? To be specific, are you feeling “called” to adopt? Are you feeling that you have “been given a heart for” adoption by a supreme being? Are you motivated by sacred texts that exhort you to care for “widows and orphans?” In short, is there anything other than a burning desire to be a parent pushing you toward adoption?  If yes, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: If your overarching desire is to help widows and orphans, consider all of the myriad ways you can contribute to their well-being without adopting. Are there programs in-country that support family preservation? Are there microlending programs and such that can help a widowed mother keep her children by earning a living wage? In short, if you truly feel called to adopt as a philanthropic gesture, even as a “bonus” outcome, you are adopting for the wrong reasons.
  2. As you consider adopting a child of another race, from another culture, do you look around at your friends and family and see other people of that ethnicity? Do you see ANYONE of a different ethnicity or race than your own? (NOTE: Your One Black Friend From Work does not count). If the answer is no, please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child cannot and must not be your first (or even second or third) contact with that culture. If you have never in your life met a Korean or legitimately socialized with people of Korean or wider Asian ancestry (meaning, people who would have a key to your house, who have met your parents, etc. Real relationships), you have no damn business adopting a child from Korea.
  3. As you project yourself forward in time to when your child can hear and comprehend the comments and jokes and attitudes of relatives and friends, are you 100% committed to cutting people out of your life who harm your child? I mean this in the most serious way. Are you ready  to tell old Uncle JimBob that he has 5 minutes to get his head right and never tell a racist “joke” again or your relationship is over? Are you ready to have people you love tell you that you are oversensitive or PC or holier-than-thou when you do not allow them to “other” your child with “humor”? Transracial adoptees who are now adults speak painfully of Christmas dinners where jokes and comments were made, relatives shushed, and the awkwardness swept under the rug. Where people who were supposed to love them mocked their birth culture, their appearance, their history. Are you ready to take no prisoners as you protect your child from ignorant if well-meaning relatives? Up to and including cutting all ties with them? If the answer is not a raw, painful, determined Yes, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Some of the worst damage inflicted on our kids comes from relatives and friends who “love” them but who refuse to acknowledge that just because they don’t find something offensive, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
  4. Are you ready to move to a new city or state for your child’s sake? Do you live in a majority white town? Would your child attend a majority white school? Even among non-white kids who were not adopted, the negative effects of being “the only” in a sea of white people are well-documented. Will people find your Ethiopian-born son adorable when young but a Scary Black Male when he is older? Will classmates’ parents permit him to date their children? Will he constantly have to answer questions about his appearance, his differences, with the effect of chipping away at who he is at his core? If you cannot answer with 100% certainty that you would pack up and move (and in fact, if you are not already planning for it), then you should not adopt a child of another race. Pro Tip: Note that the people who are loudest about “minorities” needing to “get over” issues like this seem to carry the most fear about whites no longer being the majority. You might ask them if being a minority is the no big deal they say it is, why would they be concerned about becoming one? If the one Chinese kid needs to toughen up in a school of 799 white kids, then surely one white guy shouldn’t get so bent about being the only white guy. Right? Just asking (sips tea)..
  5. Do you recognize that every member of the adoption constellation is more important than you? Do you honestly truly believe it? Adoption is not and never should be about finding a child for YOU. Do you acknowledge that it is rather about finding a family for a child, and that the child and birth mother must always come first? You are not owed a child. You do not deserve a child. A birth mother reserves the right to “change her mind” at any time. A birth country reserves the right to make determinations of parental fitness with zero concern for your beliefs. If you feel, even in some tiny pocket of your heart, that you deserve a child to love because you have so much love to give, then please do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: When you speak ill of a child’s birth family or birth culture (even if you think it’s justified), you communicate to your child that her origin (and therefore she) is defective and shameful. Never, never speak ill of your child’s origins, even as a “joke.” Without those origins you would not have this precious child. Speak and act accordingly.
  6. Finally and most importantly, do you acknowledge that you must change your life to accommodate your adopted child rather than the other way around? Do you commit to the belief that it is never the responsibility of the child to adjust herself in order to function within your life parameters? That YOU will have to do the heavy lifting, that YOU will have to have the difficult conversations, that YOU will have to make the changes necessary for your child to grow up happy and healthy? If you adopt a child, then YOU are taking on the responsibility for ensuring the life, health and happiness of your child. If you don’t fully grasp this, do not adopt a child. Pro Tip: Your child owes you nothing. You will banish the word “grateful” from your vocabulary. You will immediately shut down any discussion by random people of “what her life would have been like” if she had not been adopted, as if to imply she is so much better off now. We have no idea what her life might have been in her home country; it may have been better or worse; who knows? Assuming this life is “best” is the worst kind of self-involved cluelessness.

In sum, there are a million wrong reasons to adopt a child, but there is only one good reason: you want to be a parent, and legal, well-regulated, legitimate adoption is one means of doing so. If any part of you feels like you are saving a child, that you are pleasing a god, that you are healing the world, I beg of you to sit with those feelings and truly ask yourself if adoption is right for you. If you think raising a child of a different race will be more or less the same as raising a child of your own race, I beg of you to sit with those thoughts and truly ask yourself if you have done the research and the work that ethical adoption requires. If you think that life will essentially stay the way it is now, only with a cute little baby added into the mix!, I beg of you to explore those thoughts and root out the inaccuracies. Life will never again be the same. You will no longer be a white family. You will see and hear things about race in our country that only yesterday you would have absolutely vowed were not credible and not happening. You will owe it to your child to address those issues. You will lose friends in the process. You will agonize over how to disconnect from people you thought you knew. You will fear their loss. And then you will look at your child’s beautiful, smiling, trusting face and realize you don’t miss those people at all.


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