Mother’s Day as an adoptee

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It’s that time of year again. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of over-sentimentalized holidays that have been so overly commercialized that non-participation now ensures you just look like a social a-hole.

The photo here is of an awful, racist card that I picked up at a cute little boutique in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. I bought it and saved it as a reminder that this holiday is, in so many ways, really really problematic.

I will admit that it was nice to have my kids make me breakfast and cards on Mother’s Day and I always recognize my mom and my fantastic mother-in-law on this day. I consider myself very fortunate that I can – many people can’t for any number of reasons.

So, here is my standard Mother’s Day recognition:

Today, I recognize and honor all of the mothers of loss, those who didn’t get the opportunity or recognition to mother their children because of death, adoption, incarceration, estrangement or other reasons. On this day I also hold up everyone who has experienced mother-loss; those of us who have a mother or mother-figure we are unable to wish a Happy Mothers Day to because of death, adoption, incarceration, estrangement or other loss. Let’s take the time to reach out to our friends and family who may need extra support today.

And finally, please – if you’re tempted to make or purchase a card like this one – just don’t do it.

“Forever families” returning adopted children

I follow a well-known re-adoption site on Facebook. For a few years now, I’ve been following this site, after the Reuter’s re-homing story came out, and I was looking to see if there were similar sites on Facebook. This site, which I am not naming (but others in the linked blog posts below have) is not a re-homing site in the strict sense because these re-adoptions are supervised under an agency. However, the result is largely the same – children who were placed in their “forever family” are now living with the reality that that “forever family” isn’t at all “forever” but just another temporary pit-stop in their already bumpy road to long-lasting, securely attached relationships. Most of these children, from reading the descriptions, have behaviors that the current/recent adoptive family finds too problematic. Sometimes, these are because of disabilities, but it is hard to know that for sure.

For the past few years I’ve been tracking the postings on this site, collecting data that I hope to analyze at some point. A couple of weeks ago one of the postings caught my eye because of the time span involved. A child was adopted from China, and the adoptive parents were seeking a new home for this child after less than two months. From other commentary I read online it seems likely that the adoptive parents knew they were not going to keep this child and had planned to try to “re-adopt” her once she arrived in the U.S.

pid_23481I happen to also be reading a book I just learned about, by Leslie K. Wang, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. Wang’s book, Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China, discusses the movement of Chinese children – particularly girls – to U.S. and other Western countries for adoption and about the boys and disabled children left behind, cared for largely by “donations” resulting from the adoption fees. For the past several years, the availability of “healthy infant” girls from China has been very, very low. It’s pretty well known now that most of the children available for intercountry adoption from China are “special needs” so I would have hoped that this family had worked with an adoption agency that had helped them understand that any child they adopt would be highly likely to have one or more disabilities. Then again, from my own research and that of Liz Raleigh and others, we know agencies are not always helping prospective adoptive parents understand this reality.

The post on this Facebook group was particularly difficult to read; the adoptive parents who decided they didn’t want to care for this girl nonetheless had a lot of demands for who they thought should adopt – including, “her current family will consider a new family who is Evangelical Christian and committed to teaching Sophia about the love of Christ and how to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Interesting, that the family who is giving her up, has so much power to decide what type of family to whom they will release the child. I’d say the parent’s religion is less important than finding parent(s) who won’t re-home her would be ideal, yes?

The re-adoption post for this little girl from China was making the rounds at the same time as a UK adoptive parent’s first-person account of returning two children back to the child welfare system after four months.

Four months.

Two months.

Much of my current research looks at and analyzes adoption displacements – temporary or permanent placements of adoptees from their adoptive families. In both of these cases, the adoptive parents argue that the agencies did not disclose medical histories and that the adoptive parents were not prepared for/did not have resources to manage their adopted child’s needs. I believe it – sometimes full knowledge is not disclosed; intentionally, because it’s not known, or because the agencies were unable to get the full information themselves. Sometimes out-of-home placement for treatment is needed. But to abandon that child you so faithfully and legally swore to parent “as if they were your own” in a court of law?

Many adoptive parents are strongly upset at the notion that they are not considered the “real” parent. If we are to consider all children, no matter how they came into the family, as just “our children” then I have a question for those who re-home or re-adopt their “child.” Would you re-home or place for adoption a child born to you after you discovered they had disabilities?

For more reading:

Red Thread Broken: Disrupted Adoption of Five-Year Old

Sunny J. Reed: Dear White Woman Who Returned Her Adopted Children and In Response to Those Who Support Returning Adopted Kids

[Cover image from Pinterest]

Book review: Selling Transracial Adoption

downloadI recently finished Liz Raleigh’s book, Selling Transracial Adoption: Families, Markets and the Color Line.

The research that is the basis of this book is incredibly important and ground breaking. As a self-described systems person, I was thrilled to read a book that really explores practice, and Dr. Raleigh’s research does this well. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the research approach itself and the care in which the stories of the adoption professionals are told.

Throughout this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement often; I’ve heard similar things from adoption professionals I’ve worked with over the years, and in an interesting turn, many of the things I’ve heard from adoptive parents over the years are echoed in this book as well. There were multiple times when I wanted to say out loud to someone, “Yes! What this worker said is almost word-for-word what [adoptive parent] said!”

…which then led me to a question – in what ways is the “script” so entrenched in our culture that the discourse of adoption is not just predictable, but frighteningly verbatim? It’s almost as if certain discourses of adoption are so culturally embedded that when we think we are describing processes, feelings, behaviors and/or thoughts about adoption in our own unique way that in reality we are only parroting what we have heard a million times before? I almost wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of Selling Transracial Adoption to my dissertation study because the discourses are so parallel.

But to get back to my original review: another part of what I appreciate so much about this book is that it shows the systems processes that are often larger and broader than what individuals tend to recognize. Adopting a child is very much experienced as an individual/family action with individual and/or a couple’s motivations and desires. Whether a person is adopting or parenting children born to them, most of us don’t think about how our own parenting motivations and processes contribute to larger social, cultural, capitalist, bureaucratic and institutional systems. Within intimate family spheres, we also can dismiss the injustices that are present in the larger systems and when it comes to adoption, this is particularly true when thinking about race and disability.

Some readers might be challenged with the main arguments of this book, particularly if you come from an individualistic perspective. Some parents might also feel that their choices to adopt are pathologized; I encourage you to read through and think less of your own particular story and really pay attention to Dr. Raleigh’s sociological analyses. This isn’t about any one family or any one adoption agency. I thought it was very clear that this book is not about blaming individual adoptive parents, adoption workers or adoption agencies. This book does, however, ask us to thinking about how the racism, ableism, and adult-focus (even within a supposed “best interest of the child framework) of our culture and society (in the U.S. at least) plays out the way we practice adoption. This book really asks us to step back from our own personal stories and ask a couple of important questions:

  • In what ways does our social and cultural environments mask our individual choices? That is, are we being misled to believe we are making independent and ethical choices regarding adoption or is the structure of the adoption industry actually leading us through well-established channels in ways we don’t even know?
  • Why has adoption become one of the social services that has become financially stratified in ways that mirror consumer/business services – where the child becomes commodified?
  • How can adoptive families reconcile the reality of this racially commodified “service?”

I highly recommend this book – if you are a social worker and you work in, or are considering, child welfare/adoption work, this is a MUST READ. I would include this as a required text for anyone who thinks they want to do adoption-related work.