From her own website LINK>The Adopted Life – “Your parents are so amazing for adopting you. You should be grateful!”
Angela Tucker is a Black woman, adopted from foster care by white parents. She has heard this microaggression her entire life, usually from well-intentioned strangers who view her adoptive parents as noble saviors. She is grateful for many aspects of her life, but being transracially adopted involves layers of rejection, loss and complexity that cannot be summed up so easily. Tucker centers the experiences of adoptees through sharing deeply personal stories, well-researched history and engrossing anecdotes from mentorship sessions with adopted youth. These perspectives challenge the fairy-tale narrative of adoption giving way to a fuller story that includes the impacts of racism, classism, family, love and belonging.
The search for her biological family was documented in the 2013 film “Closure.”
From the LINK>Seattle Times – Her new book from Beacon Press, “You Should Be Grateful: Stories of Race, Identity, and Transracial Adoption,” explores Tucker’s life experience, her work with transracial adopted youth and the history of adoption in America. It’s both a powerful manifesto and a hopeful text that calls for reshaping how we talk and think about adoption.
The book uses terms from John Koenig’s “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” Angela uses terms like “ghost kingdom” and “postnatal culture shock.” Angela says, “in the same way John Koenig feels there aren’t enough words to adequately describe all of our emotions, I feel that way about transracial adoption. We’re kind of boxed into things like, for kids, you’re an Oreo: Black on the outside, white on the inside. That morphs in adulthood, and what I hear adoptees I mentor talk about is [being a] racial imposter. I think it’s important we find new words that can articulate the complexity of our layers and also honor the truth of it.”
“It’s a beautiful thing to grow up having parents who understand at the root that an adoption is a sad thing, that we wish an adoption didn’t have to happen. I had parents who acknowledged that pain for all of us. I know so many adoptees for whom that part is not allowed any space. Even for those adopted for reasons that are legitimate, there’s still a loss. And bypassing that and going straight to, ‘You’re here now, look at this great life,’ many adoptees now can articulate it feeling like gaslighting. ‘Maybe I am crazy to wish for and to long for being connected to my kin. I have my own room, I have three square meals a day, I get to do all these extracurriculars. I must be crazy for not being more thankful for it.’ That gaslighting is, in this sense, synonymous with confusion.”
Until my FB friend, Laureen Pittman, author of The Lies That Bind (a book I’ve read and reviewed in this blog), posted about this, I was unaware of an adoption agency known as The Cradle. It turns out they have existed longer (since 1923) than Georgia Tann did and have facilitated more adoptions than she did (having placed more than 16,000 children), including internationally and including celebrities (just as Tann did).
As my friend points out in her blog, the film related to the trailer above – is NOT only a Hollywood produced film about adoption meant “to capture 99 years of [The Cradle’s] work through emotional, inspiring stories of adoption.” It’s a polished, obviously professionally produced and edited documentary-style film. But to say it’s “about adoption” is terribly misleading. What it’s really about is fundraising – to facilitate adoption.
The Cradle is a private adoption agency that’s been around for nearly a hundred years. The film is presented and stylized as a celebration of The Cradle’s work by showcasing several “successful” adoption stories from the perspective of the heroic savior adoptive parents and the counselors employed by The Cradle. The fairy tale-like stories portray adoption as something “magical,” and The Cradle as someplace where “dreams come true.” Lofty words and phrases describing The Cradle and its work, such as “destiny,” “meant to be,” “special place,” and even “divine intervention,” are sprinkled throughout the forty-five minute campaign.
She asks – What’s missing? It’s obvious to adoptees. Whether we’re “well-adjusted” or struggling, in the fog or out, wrestling with identity issues, facing secondary rejection, muddling through a reunion, or fighting against the powers-that-be in a closed records nightmare, the emotional turmoil of the adoptee is sorely missing from The Cradle’s fables of the adoptive family.
Laureen caught my attention, and caused me to go looking yesterday, when she wrote –
I’m so proud of my peers and friends in the adoption community: adoptees and many birth mothers who are brave enough to share their voices in the face of the evil, backwards for-profit adoption industry. We recognize that the adoption industry continues to commodify children and when we are witness to such blatant money-grabbing emotional-pandering as seen in the documentary-cum-fundraising film, “Stories From the Red Couch,” we band together. The 45 minute video is here – https://youtu.be/Gze92CxOOEA.
Laureen writes – This video comes on the heels of my last blog post, written as a review or reaction to the film. Apparently, and thankfully, I wasn’t the only one offended by the film and the continued, age-old tactics of The Cradle to promote and facilitate adoption and discourage (putting it mildly) family preservation. The voices in this rebuttal video are only a handful of the brave adoptee-voices (and one lovely birthmother) who had something to say regarding the “Stories From the Red Couch” video regarding the questionable practices of The Cradle. Be certain to read some of the comments below the YouTube video.
I will share some excerpts from this link where you can read Ashley Rhodes-Courter‘s essay about something that actually happened – Babies Don’t Belong Under The Christmas Tree: AN Open Letter From An Adult Adoptee. My image here comes from a feature in People magazine about the same story – Sisters Overcome with Joy After Finding New Adopted Baby Brother Under Christmas Tree. The date line is actually from 2015 but no doubt some adoptive parents will think this is a very cute idea that will also make them famous at least momentarily.
An adoptee’s perspective – In what they described as “one of the most magical experiences,” a Texas family posted a video on social media of their three daughters seeing their new baby brother for the first time. Captions accompanying the viral announcement included: “Sisters find newly-adopted baby brother under the tree,” “Parents hide new son under the Christmas tree for daughters,” and “Sisters’ adoption surprise!”
The children and family seem thrilled, but as an adult adoptee, adoptive mother, and social worker, I cringed and wished this family had been given better counsel. Not wanting to be hasty or “overly sensitive,” I asked professional peers and child advocates for their opinion. Most agreed that this video sends a variety of disturbing message to those not familiar with the intricacies of adoption. It was also the general consensus that surprising family members with a human being is not advised under any circumstance.
Even if adoption had been discussed in the family prior, it was made clear that the older children in the family were told nothing about this baby, and they had no idea they were about to welcome a child into their lives. The adoptive mother writes, “We met them at the door and told them that we had been out Christmas shopping and got them a gift to share…and it was under the tree!” Without knowing the context of the clip, a viewer might assume the little girls’ moment of delight, laughter, and tears was being expressed for a puppy, vacation, or desired toy. Adults understand the metaphor that children are “gifts,” however young children see the world more literally. The idea that the parents went shopping and came home with a baby reduces the complicated adoption process to a mere credit card transaction, likening the young boy as nothing more than a commodity.
While we are not told where this baby came from—or his price tag—it is likely these parents paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal and other fees for the privilege of adopting an infant. People enthralled by this “enchanting” scene would be better served to learn that there are currently over 120,000 foster children of all ages, abilities, and races available for adoption in America. People who believe it costs a great deal of money to adopt, would be interested to know that adopting children from their state’s dependency system has little to no costs, and many children come with subsidies to help pay for their medical care, education, and other expenses.
Adoptive parents strive to teach their adopted kids, family, and community that children are not possessions or accessories. These are little people whose needs are immense and whose love is infinite. Mothers and fathers adopt children because they want to be parents— not to be presents for their existing children. Children are not playthings to be ignored or dismissed when they cry, disobey, or getting boring; they are humans requiring years of care and nurturing. When I was still in foster care, a family who was interested in adopting me, stated: “We gave our kids the choice of getting a dog or a new sibling. They chose a sibling.” Fortunately for me, those screening the family realized this was completely inappropriate and explained this to the family.
Adoption already suffers from many skewed preconceptions. To some, adoption is a way “rich” people “steal” babies from “poor” people. Others believe they are rescuing children and should be praised for their sacrifice. Even worse, sometimes parents believe they are taking children on a trial basis and can return them if they are defective or don’t fit into their family. As a child, I knew many who were adopted—and later returned when they proved “unsatisfactory.” Adoption was a terrifying prospect for me because I knew that if I messed up, I could end up like one of those boomerang kids. As an adopted person, I must object when I see a baby depicted as an object. Parents never “own” their children and no child should be brought into a family—by adoption or birth—to fix a relationship, entertain, amuse or belong to someone else. The family is the resource for the child—not the other way around. For those of us seeking homes for waiting children, we want to find “A family for every child” and not a child for every family.
I cannot help wonder how the adopted boy will perceive his arrival. At some point in their lives, most adoptees struggle with wondering why they were rejected by their birth mothers or families or origin in the first place. He may wonder if he did something wrong, if he wasn’t loved, if this family simply had more money or resources than his birth family. Many adoptees already feel different than birth, or previously adopted children. Because the posted arrival pictures and video clip don’t allow for any nuance or explanations, all he (and the world) will see is that he was presented as “surprise” for the other members of the family, instead of being innately a member himself. The celebration should have been about him, not how others react to him. It would have been more appropriate and equally compelling to have the parents tell the children that the family had been matched with a baby; or, as one family did, surprise their foster children with adoption papers.
An adoptee friend of mine alerted me to this article that is an interview of Scott Simon. It touches upon an interesting tangential or is it potential argument for adopting based upon the environment. The title of the article is NPR’s Scott Simon on Adoption and Environmentalism. Before I go any further, I’ll quickly answer that part – the interviewer mentions reading the book and coming across this passage: “Adopting a child to prove something is not a healthy motivation. I would seriously consider alerting the authorities if I heard a prospective parent say, ‘We want to adopt because it’s the most environmentally responsible thing to do. Don’t want to increase our carbon footprint, after all!’ ”
I give Simon and his wife some credit for trying assisted reproduction first. I don’t know how far that went with that effort beyond the most traditional and conventional method of invitro fertilization. When that effort failed, their next thought was “there are children in the world already who need us, so why don’t we do that ?”
I don’t know how much the couple investigated the whole orphan industry in foreign countries. I know quite a bit that is unsavory and deceptive in those situations and I don’t intend to do more than mention there is more going on there than a gullible hopeful adoptive parent might wish to know and is completely willing to remain ignorant of. The fact that I have issues with transracial adoption generally should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long.
Simeon and his wife adopted from China and to their credit (though it will not actually prove to be enough to offset the loss of native culture for his daughters) they have tried – they see a family therapist and their children go to a weekly cultural class that teaches Mandarin stories and songs.
Simon says, “you ought to have children out of joy, not out of sense of duty.” Yet, I question, is not thinking you are “saving” children some kind of sense of duty, what is often referred to in adoption circles as saviorism.
He perceives adoption as a kind of global warming addressing the needs of 150 million orphaned and abandoned children in this world. I refer the reader back to my previous comment about transracial adoption and these children in foreign countries. I would add here – most are not orphans or abandoned. They do come from poverty stricken families who expect their children to return to them some day after a good education in the United States and that actually rarely is successful, even if the adoptee makes an effort because that child has been severed from their cultural roots and has a difficult time relating.
Simon admits that adoption is “good for those of us who adopt. It’s transforming — literally, physically, emotionally transforming.” I do not doubt the truth of that statement. This does not consider the child them selves. Simeon mentions talking to adoptees for his book “who say they have no interest whatsoever in meeting their birth parents, and I think it’s possible that five months or five years or 10 years after saying that, they may feel differently.”
There are MANY adoptees today constantly doing their best to reconnect with their genetic biological families. This I do know is true. My own mom who was adopted tried and failed to be able to reconnect with her mom as she was deceased by that time, and later on inexpensive DNA testing through Ancestry did not bring her the results she was seeking – though it has been a great assistance to me. My dad (also adopted) never expressed the same interest and in fact seemed fearful of what he might learn.
As a person who became a parent for the second and third time at an advanced age, I do agree with Simon that “Having children is a profoundly personal decision and personal experience, and I can’t put myself in the position of judging.” I stop short of agreeing with him that “[adoption is] a very good thing to do.” because at this point in my own self-education, I don’t believe that – in most cases (honestly, not every possible circumstance – I reserve a strong belief there may be exceptions).
The interviewer indicates the possibility that the Simon’s happy family came about through the unhappy circumstance of China’s draconian one-child policy. His answer is something I need to deeply contemplate as I don’t know everything, though I do know some that troubles me – we did not get our children from a family or a single mother; we got them out of institutions. If we hadn’t adopted them, or somebody else hadn’t adopted them, they would’ve grown up in institutions. They wouldn’t have grown up in institutions in the way that we understand growing up — they would have stayed there until the age of 12 or 13, then they would’ve gone into farm or factory work, or worse, which is too terrible to contemplate. It’s China’s one-child policy that took them away from their families. I don’t think anything would’ve been accomplished by leaving them there. I say a few times in the book, it’s our blessing that began with a tragedy, a tragedy that’s also a crime.
Simon ends on a belief that adoption is preferable to creating a family using the new technologies as adoption is an ancient practice (though until modern times no one profited financially as an industry). I disagree with him on that point as well. That should not surprise anyone as I have two sons for whom my husband is the genetic biological father thanks to a new technology that allowed me to use a compassionate and generous woman’s eggs – twice – years apart, yielding for us two 100% genetically biological siblings.
The image is NOT the person who’s thoughts I will share today but it is not uncommon that people who foster end up adopting one of their foster care children. And so, here’s the story for today.
I’m a foster parent and have adopted from foster care. I’ve been in this (adoption related) group for a bit and I have been trying to learn and listen to all of you. I absolutely hate the toxic positivity and saviorism in the adoption world and the lack of understanding about trauma and the systemic issues that cause removals and adoptions that can largely be prevented. This needs to stop. However, I’m not understanding what you would suggest current foster parents do?
We didn’t go into foster care in order to adopt, we went into it to prevent family separations. We have always been active in helping the parents, in anyway that we can, get their kids back and keep a relationship with them. We have only adopted in cases that were extremely abusive and dangerous to the kids.
I don’t understand what your solution for these kids would be besides adoption? Kids that themselves have chosen not to continue a relationship with their family. Kids that say they want a new family. I see people in this group say to do permanent guardianship, but how is that not treating them as less than your other kids? Not letting them call you mom/dad if they want and not legally being a member of the family.
My kids were old enough to understand what happened and they asked for us to adopt them. They wanted to heal and have a safe and stable family. I’m in no way a savior or a hero or anything close to that for adopting. I just want to be there for these kids. I’m open minded, I want to hear from the adopted adults on their thoughts, which is why I joined this group. I want to do what’s best for them now and for their future and I have no desire to erase their history or original family from them.
So in response, not in regard to this specific situation, but from the big picture point of view came these important perspectives –
The solution is actually really simple. Address the reasons kids end up in care. Neglect is the number one reason and usually stems from addiction. So, tackle addiction with better programs that work that are not just accessible to the rich. Better social supports so families are not struggling. We need to reduce removals.
Guardianship has been practiced forever. Families have raised kids not their own since the dawn of time. It does not require legally severing a child’s identity. It does not require falsifying documentation. You can love and care for a child without that. They don’t need your last name to feel loved and cared for. It’s literally just paperwork. Adoption is not necessary.
A good adoption story (they exist, in fact, it can be said that both of my parents who were adopted, had good lives) does not make children being removed from their parents ok. Families need to be helped BEFORE they get to a point of their kids being removed. As a society, we need to truly care about family preservation. Society needs to wake up enough to stop seeing adoption and foster care as something that saves children. Until that awareness becomes common, nothing about foster care or adoption will change.
Adoptees may never feel a sense of belonging to their adoptive family because it’s not their family. That may be hard for people who believe in adoption to accept but it is the obvious reality. If there were less foster/adoptive homes, the system would have to change. A change in what qualifies for removal, a change in what it takes to get kids home. All the money now wasted on foster homes could go back into social programs to help families.
If you want to help families, get out of the foster system if you are a part of it. Start working with local shelters and other organizations that help struggling families avoid Child Protective Services. Join programs that help foster youth aging out. Be an ally to parents caught up in the system. It’s a warped system that profits off of the destruction of families. It is also that simple.