Sunday, July 5, 2009

Every child is entitled to parents who are not looking to "save" him or to improve the world.

I'm having trouble concentrating on work today - I keep going back and looking over the email we got from Liz a few days ago. I have a little folder of these now, although I know I should be deleting each one as soon as we find out that it isn't our baby whose situation the email describes.

This isn't always how it works, I'm finding out. Some agencies don't tell Liz or us when they are showing profile books. But there is one particular matching agency that does it this way, and we've been shown quite a few times through them. It goes like this: I get an email from Liz and my heart skips a beat. The title is something like "African-American Baby Girl due _______." Then I realize that this isn't my child's birth announcement and I can breathe again. Dummy, I think to myself, when you're actually matched she will call you. What follows is an email with information about a pregnant woman and the child she is carrying. I forward it to Andrew, we both read it and discuss the details and make a choice about whether or not we want to be shown. I spend a few dreamy days re-reading the email, imagining that maybe this is my baby boy or girl. Then a few days later there is another email from Liz, which again stops my heart but differently. Crap. I think. When we're actually matched she'll call.

As Liz learns where our boundaries are - so far we haven't been offered a situation we're not okay with - she will feel able to put us in without sending that email. Or, maybe, one of these days she'll actually call.

So now there that there is once again such an email sitting in my inbox, I'm thinking about the Transracial Adoptee's Bill of Rights. Some of the emails that have landed in my inbox from Liz this way have had truly, truly heartrending stories inside of them. They are stories of women who are very brave, yes, but also of babies who really need a start at life that their first mothers can't offer to them. Each one comes with a warning:
Caution: We are very sensitive to the fact that reviewing information of children weighs heavily on the heart. Please read the following with caution:

I'm not kidding. The emails actually say that. I laughed, the first time. But now I get it. My instincts kick in and I want to be the one to offer these little ones something better. And that's the danger. Not that I might be hurt by reading a sad story, but that I might let that feeling of wanting to be a savior be the main reason I say yes.

Every child is entitled to parents who are not looking to "save" him or to improve the world.

It must be hard to be family with someone who has "saved" you. It must be hard to be family with a person who you have "saved." The victim, the saved one, owes their savior something. Can you imagine growing up with parents who feel entitled to gratitude from you? Who became your parents because they pitied you?

And it gets even more complicated when you stir racial difference into this savior/saved dynamic. Savior=white/adult/financially secure. Saved=black/child/poor. Do you see?

Families are made of equals, ultimately. Sure, we are different ages from our parents and our children. This means the roles we play are different - disciplinarian, coach, teacher, provider vs learner, eater, grower, etc. These roles are fluid, they change as children grow up and parents grow older. In a transracial family there are other less fluid differences - skin color and natural aptitudes, for example. But savior and saved are not healthy familial roles.

One of these days I might get an email from Liz with a story about a baby I want to save. That desire is different than the desire to parent. I will do my best, when this happens, to recognize it, and to say no.


  1. You bring up a really good point here. I don't think I ever thought about it in these terms before, but I think you are right on. It is so not right to say yes to a situation out of pity or wanting to "save". It would create a power dynamic that is unhealthy. Interesting post.

  2. hi A, liz just sent our agencies the paperwork last week. if you want to chat email me at

    i'm so nervous!!!

  3. Great post! Hmmm, how can I subtley forward this to certain people I know? I get this a lot when I tell people we are adopting - "This is such a good thing you are doing!" "Children need homes." "This baby is so lucky." I know they mean well, but these comments can easily veer off into charity-adoption land.

    On the other hand, parenting biological kids or adoptive kids is all one big selfless act. You do it for your own selfish reasons in the beginning of course, but the day to day sacrifices are big. There is a reason newborn babies are so helpless and pathetic looking - and its interesting that this registers as "cute" in the new parents eyes. My point: I think there is some level of being a hero to any child you parent. Accepting a referral on the basis of "saving" that child alone is a questionable act, and if your reasons for parenting don't evolve past that, you're in trouble.

    For the record, I personally think WE'LL be lucky to adopt. It's a pretty competitive process, and not all prospective adopters make it to the other side. And that's probably as it should be.

  4. Wow, just linked to this from Facebook -- a really insightful read, A. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck to you on your journey to parenthood!

  5. powerful stuff. you have truly got your heads on straight about this!

  6. As always, I love reading your posts and getting a refreshing perspective. Hope you and A had a good Fourth. (My brother and his fiancee just got back from Seattle this morning.)


  7. New to your blog and what a great post.
    I remember those emails so well. We only received two I think but the heart stopping moment when you see them is the same every time. I still remember where I was when I talked with my husband about one of them as we hoped and dreamed that this would be our child. When I walk in that room today I pray for a child that is not my own.

    My mother just told me the other day while we were out with my daughter and received yet another look from a stranger that she wanted to put a sign on her stroller saying 'Yes she's adopted. She was saved!' I didn't even wait a second to respond to that statement. I know it's a common thought for many but as you mentioned is not the reason we adopted and is not a good attitude to embrace.

  8. Yes- it's a good thing to keep in mind. Good intentions- the best perhaps. But those good intentions can quickly become a barrier to true family.

    Insightful as always....

  9. Alissa, your entry here really spoke to me. I know what it feels like to be part of a family where the parents make it clear on a regular basis that they saved you when you didn't have any other option. I know first-hand what that does to the psyche of a child. Thank you for your insight.


  10. Thank you for all the comments!

    Anon - I agree that parenting is ultimately selfless...but I think that wanting to parent is selfish. Most of the impetus is selfish, that is, and the selfless part is what happens as you actually get into it. Sort of similar to romantic relationships and partnerships - we get into them for selfish reasons but the good ones end up being about selflessness and love.

    Lucas - thank you especially, mister. I can tell that your kiddo will have no such concerns and that makes me happy - for all three of you.