Friday, September 21, 2012

Adopting a Kid, Not a Cause

From the Her.meneutics blog at Christianity Today:
There are three bad things that happen when we emphasize the missional aspects of adoption while minimizing our longing for children.

First, we marginalize those women, our sisters in Christ, who suffer the trial of infertility and who pray month by month for the Lord to open their wombs . . . and we’d do well to remember that the Lord often received their plea for children with compassion. Their desire is not inferior in his sight.

Saving the world one adoption at a time also risks objectifying our children. Adopted children are no longer allowed to be simply kids. They become involuntary ambassadors for a cause.

I live in Mississippi. I am the Caucasian mother of two black children. But my children were not adopted to be overtures of peace in a racial reconciliation campaign. One of my children came from a continent where a child dies every minute from malaria. But he is first and foremost my child, not my personal platform for children’s health initiatives. . .

Finally, when Christians focus on response to a need—the number of global orphans, the bleak future of older orphans, and so on—we encounter a third problem: a false hierarchy where some adoptions seem more worthy than others. For example, there’s a sense in the adoption community, to which I belong, that couples who adopt international, special-needs kids are doing something more valuable than couples who adopt same-race, healthy infants. By ignoring our common joy in family, adoptive parents often lack mutual respect for one another.
My problems with adoption-as-a-cause include this author's number two problem -- objectifying our children, making them "involuntary ambassadors for a cause."  But I have other problems with it, too, as I said in a post entitled What's wrong with rescuing orphans?:
The first problem -- gratitude.  Have you ever heard the old saw that a man ought to date a homely woman, since homely women are likely to be grateful for the attention?  It's an ugly suggestion, isn't it?  And we can all look at such a relationship and see it as inauthentic, exploitative, unhealthy.  Any relationship where one person feels superior and the other is expected to be grateful is completely corrosive.  Talking about adoption as the rescue of needy, pitiful orphans by white knights on white chargers sets up that same unequal power dynamic.  Feeling inferior is profoundly damaging to self-esteem, identity, human dignity. I think it's not just damaging to adopted persons, but to adoptive persons, too.  Feeling superior does terrible things to your character, too.
And the suggestion is that, like that homely woman, the "rescued" adoptee should be grateful for everything that everyone else gets to take for granted. 

* * *
Which leads me to a second problem with "rescuing orphans" -- ends justify the means.  Movements can be world-changingly positive.  They can also be dangerous.  Sometimes when we focus on the great need of orphans to be rescued from deplorable conditions, we start to believe that ANYTHING we do to cure this great wrong is justified.  We don't stop to ask if the children are truly orphans or if they have extended family who can care for them, or if they truly need to be adopted. 

* * *
A third problem with adoption as rescue -- it won't work.  Let's face it -- the "orphan crisis" we hear about, the 132 million or 147 million or the 163 million orphans around the world (those are UNICEF numbers, but they don't really represent true orphans), will not be solved by adoption.  Even if we successfully placed all 163 million orphans in new adoptive homes, the conditions that produce orphans -- war, poverty, illness, gender inequality -- would keep on churning out orphans.  The ONLY way to resolve the orphan crisis is to work to end the conditions that cause kids to need out-of-family care.  The orphan crisis will end when we take care of vulnerable FAMILIES.
* * *

A final problem I have with the rescue theme is that it is often presented as a uniquely Christian obligation to adopt orphans. .  .  .
And once adoption becomes a uniquely Christian obligation, we start excluding suitable adoptive parents based on some Christian beliefs, having the perversely opposite effect of making it harder to place orphans.  Gay and lesbian parents, unmarried couples, single women, Muslim parents, atheist parents, parents considered insufficiently Christian or the wrong kind of Christian, just won't do, it seems, when we see adoption as a Christian mandate.

There are lots of churches and organizations and individuals, Christian and otherwise, who are doing great work in caring for orphans.  I applaud their work, I donate to such organizations.  But caring for orphans and adopting children are two different things.  I don't confuse my charity work with the adoption of my girls.  I wish the rest of the world would keep the distinction in mind, too.


Anonymous said...

so well said and appreciate you putting it out there for others to ponder.

Anonymous said...

so well said and appreciate you putting it out there for others to ponder.

The Gang's Momma! said...

Very well said! And balanced, too... Thanks for the share.

QingLu Mama said...

Very well said. We were just speaking of this at an FCC board meeting.
I adopted my children simply because I wanted children, and obviously the only way was to adopt an orphan. No "saving" going on, just plain family building.
Hope you don't mind if I share this on Facebook....

-J.D. Humenay said...

I agree. It's such a balancing act. We're looking at it the same way as we define which route for adoption is right for our family (foster to adopt or private adoption of infants). It's so easy to get caught up in the "cause" - I mean, if you're human (christian or not) I'd hope you'd WANT to help out kids living in need of love. But at the same time, you're adopting a PERSON, not a puppy.

As an adoptee I remember someone once saying, "Wow, you're parents must be just amazing people. To take in 2 orphans...." um... it's not like we showed up on their doorstep w/ our best rags and puppy dawg eyes. Our parents were shocked by that ignorance. They just wanted kids - so they adopted. End of story.

Michele said...

The rescue theme is so demeaning! Just today I ran across a blog of a woman advocating for families fundraising for adoptions. She insists on using rescue, rescued and rescuing in describing the act of adoption. My head is still spinning.

Leah said...

I actually think that adopting DOES require us to commit ourselves to several causes, not least of which is adoptee rights. How can you adopt a child and not support access to original birth certificates and oppose adoptee deportation?? I would also hope that parents who adopt become committed to ending the need for adoption in the first place by supporting relevant social justice causes -- indeed, I would argue that they have an ethical obligation to do so.

Unknown said...

That's so true I agree with your consent. Child adoption is a beautiful thought and everyone who is childless should go for it.

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