Why would anybody adopt children?
December 14, 2004 10:47 AM   Subscribe

The responses to this question got me thinking: Why would anybody adopt children? The strong urge adoptees seem to have to return to their birth parents seems like a recipe for guaranteed heartbreak for their adoptive parents.
posted by jjg to Human Relations (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Because any home is better than no home at all, and not everyone has kids so that they can have an unconditional love fountain?
posted by u.n. owen at 10:51 AM on December 14, 2004

Because children need to be cared for.
posted by jonmc at 10:53 AM on December 14, 2004

I dont understand. Many of the responses in that thread said that they have no interest in finding their birthparents.

Likewise, one of my best friends gets upset if anyone refers to her adoptive parents as anything but just "her parents." To her, there is no difference and the few times she has talked about her birth parents it has been the way one talks about a minor detail. There's no heartbreak involved. Her family functions like any other family I've known.
posted by vacapinta at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2004

I don't see anyone wanting to RETURN to their birth parents - curiousity isn't the same thing.
posted by agregoli at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2004

Because wanting a child is not always purely selfish; sometimes people want to do something altruistic.
posted by luriete at 10:56 AM on December 14, 2004

My experience with adoptees [a lot of my friends are adopted which I think comes from being born before Roe v Wade] is that while many of them tracked down their birth parents, only one of them has had any lasting contact with their birth parent. In no case that I've ever really been aware of did the adoptee "return to the birth parents", they just often want to know who they are, and would sometimes like to meet them. I've thought that if I wanted to have kids I'd fairly seriously consider adoption because by the time I could make up my mind, I might be biologically unable to have them myself [or undertaking serious risks]. Having another person out there who could supply some sort of parenting role model or placeholder for a child seems like a plus, not a minus, to me.
posted by jessamyn at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2004

My father and his brother were both adopted. As far as I know, neither has ever had any interest in trying to find whomever it was that gave birth to them.
posted by skwm at 11:07 AM on December 14, 2004

Why would anybody adopt children?
Oh, I don't know--love, maybe? Wanting to have children? Wanting a family? Altruism? Or maybe some other reason? In the case of the two couples I know, the adoptive parents were unable to have children of their own. No offense, but I have to say it's hard not to get irked at the tone of your question--my first thought was, "If you think it's a bad idea, don't adopt any children."
posted by fandango_matt at 11:08 AM on December 14, 2004

Yeah, I know a fair amount of adopted kids and parents, and I think you're totally over-interpreting some anecdotal evidence. It's never easy, but having biological kids isn't very easy, either, and there are a lot of very good reasons for people to think about it seriously.
posted by LairBob at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2004

My wife sought, and found, her biological parents when she was 18. She has remained friends with her bio-mother since, talking on the phone, visits every few years, like that.

That has caused my wife's Mom some deep consternation, but no lasting harm, as far as my wife knows. Her Mom will always be her Mom -- the woman who sacrificed for her, shaped her life and holds the dearest spot in her heart.

While it's interesting to talk to the woman who bore her (some of the physical and behavioral similarities are interesting), she has never reconsidered who's Mom, and who's the woman who gave her away because she didn't want to give up her stewardess lifestyle. She has also found the connection useful for inquiring into patterns of illness (heart conditions, cervical cancer) in her progenitors.
posted by sacre_bleu at 11:10 AM on December 14, 2004

I know a couple of adopted friends and they're pretty much as vacapinta describes. Their adopted parents are their parents (which I would agree with 100%) and they might only seek out their birth parents for medical questions.

But I do find adoptions in the year 2004 to be a bit creepy when visitation rights are part of the deal. What's the term for that where the birth parents write letters once a month and get to hang out with the child once every six months?

I'm not so sure that's a great idea. I can't imagine a five or ten year old understanding why they have to go see strangers named Judy and Carl once every few months for an afternoon instead of hanging out with their parents.
posted by mathowie at 11:10 AM on December 14, 2004

I'm not married (nor am I in a relationship at the moment), but when the day comes that I eventually (hopefully) get married, I really think that I would like to adopt rather than have biological children. Obviously this is something that must be discussed with the spouse, but since I don't have one, these are all just my thoughts.

I don't have any health problems that would prevent me from conceiving or having a child, but I do have a fairly bad back, and my doctor once mentioned that a pregnancy might land me in bedrest for at least the third trimester. Also, since my back (and knee) problems are genetic, I wouldn't want to pass it along to a child. (I make it sound like it affects my everyday life. It doesn't, but it's still quite unpleasant at times.)

Also, there are a lot of children in the world who are born to parents who don't want them and are put up for adoption. Obviously, there are lots and lots of children that are adopted, but there are also some who aren't. Knowing that, I'd rather raise & love a child who otherwise would have grown up in an orphanage, instead of creating a whole new, separate baby.

And don't even get me started on the overpopulation thing. There's enough people in the world - I don't need to add another one. But to adopt one who's already here, IMHO, is a great option.
posted by AlisonM at 11:13 AM on December 14, 2004

Why not adopt? People have medical complications, infertility issues, and so on are all quite valid reasons to adopt. Or as Dan Savage said in his book, "I wanted to get fat."

In my parents case, they wanted to have a sibling for my sister - but as my dear old mom said, "There was no way I was going through labour pains and morning sickness again." :-)
posted by carabiner at 11:13 AM on December 14, 2004

mathowie - I talk to and visit my biological daughter regularly. It's not a matter of visitation "rights" - her parents and I discussed it before she was born. They were very open with her, and she has known that I am her birth mother from the beginning, but there is absolutely no confusion of parental roles. We also agreed that if she decided at some point that she didn't want to have contact with me, then we'd stop contact.

She's quite happy and well-adjusted, and thinks being adopted is pretty neat, because she has all kinds of extra people who love her in addition to the awesome parents she has.
posted by bedhead at 11:20 AM on December 14, 2004

Also, I'm really glad that her parents decided to adopt - in their case it was due to infertility - because as a 16 year old with no income and myriad other issues, I felt that I wouldn't be the best person to raise her. I wanted what was best for her.

(I hit post too soon! Sorry.)
posted by bedhead at 11:24 AM on December 14, 2004

If money weren't an issue, I'd be falling all over myself to adopt a child. I love kids but don't want to be pregnant again. My Mom and several friends are adopted, and most of the experiences relayed to me have been quite postive.

Some folks do it as a type of activism. Luis Guzman has stated in several interviews that this is why he and his wife have adopted so many kids.
posted by whatnot at 11:59 AM on December 14, 2004

jjg, it sorta sounds like you're suggesting parents with kids had them not because they wanted them, but because it was some sort of "Oh shit! I'm about to bust out a baby!" experience.

I think most good parents don't have kids by "accident", they truly want a child. And, of course, some prospective parents can't have children naturally, so they find another option.

As an adoptee myself, I don't have some sort of "urge" to find my birth parents. You might call it a curiosity. I find it doesn't go beyond the interest of a non-adopted child might have in their family tree, though.
posted by shepd at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2004

My sister is adopted, and yes she'd like to find her birth parents... but not to reject us and run off with them (I'm picturing the three of us standing coated in dirt from the spinning tires of a convertible as she gives an insulant "see ya suckers!" from the back seat). She probably has a ton of reasons for wanting to do so (including, I imagine, curiosity about her biologic parents and desires to reconnect with her "culture of origin"... is that a phrase?), many of which I would never assume to know. And we certainly don't feel threatened by it.

As for why you would adopt? My sister is family. We were a family, my parents wanted more family, we added my sister. It's funny, in the current setting of setting definitions of "families" I can tell you that family is so much more than shared DNA.

Oh, now I'm getting mushy.
posted by deliquescent at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2004

No offense, but I have to say it's hard not to get irked at the tone of your question

I'm sorry, my question was hastily and poorly worded. I guess my question is: Do most adopted kids seek out their birth parents? If so, do the adoptive parents know to expect this? And if that's true, how do the adoptive parents reconcile themselves to the fact that they're creating a situation that will eventually bring them such pain, when the kid decides to check out his or her options?
posted by jjg at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2004

JJG - what pain? Who cares if they do? After umpty-ump years of love, and support, and trust, (and yelling, being punished, oooh hating, getting the other in trouble, and everything) she's suddenly going to run off and join another family.

when the kid decides to check out his or her options

See, I think that may be the problem with how you're looking at it.
posted by deliquescent at 12:14 PM on December 14, 2004

Sorry, that should be a question.... "...she's suddenly going to run off and join another family?"
posted by deliquescent at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2004

jjg, two points:

1) I think you're still conflating "seeking out their birth parents" with some kind of grievous injury. They're not necessarily the same thing at all. Having an adopted child who becomes curious about their biological parents is definitely not automatically a huge tragedy for the adoptive parents.

In the vast majority of cases, it's either not that big a deal, or it's even something that helps make them closer. On the occasion when it does cause some pain, I can't imagine anyone generous enough to adopt a child regretting their choice.

2) That being said, almost any parent will tell you that the hardest thing about becoming parent, bar none, is the deep, almost infinite level of vulnerability that you expose yourself to. Never before in your life could you ever have imagined yourself more able to be hurt.

The whole point, though, is that you accept that risk as part of the overall package. The one particular issue you've focused on, as a very specific issue in very specific circumstances, is just one of a million different ways that life could break your heart through your child. When you decide to become a parent, adoptive or not, you simply cannot focus on those risks--they would overwhelm you, and they all pale in comparison to the joy that same child can bring.
posted by LairBob at 12:38 PM on December 14, 2004

My sister and I were both adopted. She sought out and found her birth parents and formed a close relationship with her birth mother and her family. It's weird how smoothly she integrated into that family. I will say that it initially worried, and yes, hurt our adoptive mother. My sister did this when our family was going through turbulent times and it almost seemed like a deliberate slight against our parents (she was a hellraiser back then, and has grown up since). It's been about six years since and everything's cool. Everyone gets along well. Still, it wasn't a painless process.

I haven't sought out my birth parents for two reasons: Out of respect for my adoptive parents who brought me up and gave me their all, and out of respect for my birth mother who decided to actually go through with the huge effort of being pregnant with me, giving birth to me, and giving me away, instead of getting an abortion. I think jjg's perception of the inevitable pain adoptive parents will have to suffer is exaggerated, but there's some truth to it too.

I certainly don't condemn those that do seek their birth parents, and I'm certainly curious about my ancestry and such, but for me it's a matter of respect and counting my fucking blessings that I exist at all.
posted by picea at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2004

picea, you couldn't have put it a better way. I'm with you 100%.
posted by shepd at 1:30 PM on December 14, 2004

But I do find adoptions in the year 2004 to be a bit creepy when visitation rights are part of the deal. What's the term for that where the birth parents write letters once a month and get to hang out with the child once every six months?

I believe that you're thinking of open adoption. My godson's sister has a relationship with her birth mother that is very healthy and even encouraged by Mom. It really depends on how willing all parties are to maintaining ties, as well as a mutual understanding of roles. If at all possible, I'm in favor of this arrangement, if only because it avoids the trauma of not knowing where one came from.
posted by Avogadro at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2004

I think this is analogous to issues people have with parents in general - some people grow up and just don't relate to their parents. If I knew that I had a different set of parents of some kind or another out there, I would seek them out, hoping that they'd make me feel more like a member of a family than the family I grew up with. But I'm not adopted - I'm just a semi-alienated personality or something.

My one adopted friend found her birth parents and was intrigued by little random genetic things that most of us take for granted ("you have yr mother's eyes," etc), but other than that, it didn't change much. She still doesn't relate all that well to any of her parents, but she loves them, and she's found new 'family' in NYC, away from her christian, beauty pageant, anorexic, middle america upbringing.

re: open adoption, the idea in theory seems reasonable, but I would kind of agree that too much 'visitation' could be a down side, especially if there comes a point when birth mom gets her life together and decides she wants her kid back... I'm sure most cases would work out, but it's not hard to imagine some messy situations. I guess if it's expressly clear that birth mom is basically an 'auntie' or something, it could work, but I can imagine a lot of birth moms feeling like they deserve a bigger piece of the pie, so to speak.
posted by mdn at 2:03 PM on December 14, 2004

My husband and I have adopted two children in semi-open adoptions. (Our youngest son is biologically our oldest daughter's uncle.) While there isn't an ongoing relationship with the birth parents, there is some contact with the extended family around birthdays and holidays, and when and if the children ever express an interest in knowing where they've come from, there will be an avenue for that to happen without an extensive search or all of the secrecy rigamarole, and that would be fine with us.

We may adopt again. For us, it's more important that we have the means and the structure to provide a good life for a child who might otherwise not be given an opportunity to live or would be in unpleasant (or worse) circumstances than to worry about "what if" scenarios about the future.

When kids grow up, they can break from their parents in a lot of ways, and can break their parents hearts in a lot of ways. So adopted kids have another route by which to do that? That's not a reason to leave kids who need a family and a home wanting.
posted by Dreama at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2004

I think that adoption can be complicated by lots of things, including adoptive parents' anxieties about whether their children's interest in getting to know their biological parents constitutes a rejection of them, somehow.

Fortunately, the sense I have is that most family therapists and others who deal professionally with social services around adoption have a pretty good sense of how to support people through this process.

If you'd like to read a book on this topic, I highly recommend The Family of Adoption, by Joyce Maguire Pavao.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on December 14, 2004

mathowie nuclear families may find "visitation" weird but for people growning up with large extended families it's pretty normal. One of my cousins pracatically lived at an aunt's place which wasn't unusual at all for us.
posted by Mitheral at 2:12 PM on December 14, 2004

Mitheral, it took me a while to get your last sentence, but you mean that your cousin lived at his or her aunt's place, rather than your cousin lived at your aunt's place (which isn't so unusual, after all), right?

I had two "great-uncles" who weren't related to me at all genetically--they just came to live with my great-grandparents because they were friends of my biological great-uncles who couldn't live with their parents for various reasons. I think they still saw their parents, though--this happened in two quite small communities.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2004

I'm not sure that it's right for a couple to give birth to more than two children, what with overpopulation. (Or, rather, I'm not sure that it's right for me to have more than two children, what with overpopulation.) If I want to have more than two children, I anticipate adopting.
posted by waldo at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2004

I'm adopted, and I've thought about finding my birth mother, and I've gone as far as finding out what it would take, but I don't have a burning desire to do so. My parents are great, yes, we have the usual parent son arguments, but they have been really good parents. I'm grateful i don't have the issues i see other people have with their parents.

I guess it comes down to the relationship I have with my parents, if it was lacking something I might go looking to fill the gaps with my birth mother.
posted by jbou at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2004

And if that's true, how do the adoptive parents reconcile themselves to the fact that they're creating a situation that will eventually bring them such pain, when the kid decides to check out his or her options?

I think you're over-exaggerating. Like I said in the previous post, my parents supported me 100% in contacting my biological parents. They always encouraged me in my search, and my dad went out of his way to get all the brochures and forms that I needed while I was making my decision around the age of 18. They have never fretted that I would leave them despite the fact that I was a horrid teenager and didn't connect with them at all. There was no reason to leave -- despite the fact that I didn't get along with them at the time, I knew that they were the people who'd raised me and given me so many opportunities. I knew where home is.

In my situation, contact created a couple of issues for my biological parents. My birth father had a fiancee when we first made contact, and she went out of her way to deliberately sabotage it because she believed that I was going to come running home to my real daddy and break up what they had going. It got to the point where she'd called me and told me to stop contacting him. But because my birth father had been waiting 19 years to get in contact with me, he broke up with his fiancee because she was jeopardising his relationship with me.

Meeting my birth mother opens up old and painful memories for her. It was a forced adoption, and although we get along well, the couple of times I've met her it's drained her quite a bit -- kind of like two lives colliding. Spending time with me must remind her of that difficult decision, and out of respect for her and her family, I've only met up with her twice.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:25 PM on December 14, 2004

As a subnote: for the adoptive parents, the hokey saying If you love them, set them free: if they love you, they will return applies here. Although that saying goes for any aspect of parenting, really. Yes, it's a trite saying and I'm not normally fond of trite sayings, but my situation showed me that my parents loved me enough to encourage me to learn about who I was, and know that I wasn't going to run off as soon as I found out.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:30 PM on December 14, 2004

mathowie: What's the term for that where the birth parents write letters once a month and get to hang out with the child once every six months?

The phrase is "shared parenting," and in fostering and adopting, it's an important model for helping children to form effective bonds with their adoptive/foster or birth parents.

It may seem creepy, but the 'old' style of adoption, i.e. 'owning' a child, is creepier imho and can be destructive to a child's self-concept. It's been proven that children do much better when they can make choices about maintaining connections to their past, and are empowered to do so by the child's planning team. Of course, this is age dependent; adopting an infant is a whole different universe than adopting a ten year old. Sadly, kids 9+ have a much harder time finding permanent homes, often causing life-long emotional deficits.

That's one of the reasons why adoption is still important in our society; often, family reunification is impossible or clinically advised against, so permanency is in the child's best interest. Foster families disrupt for many reasons, and when this happens, it's been shown a child's emotional/social development atrophies by 1-1 1/2 years. This can lead to syndromes like Radical Attachment or Oppositional Defiant Disorder(s), which if not sufficiently addressed may cause criminal/abusive behavior in adulthood. The myth of the perfect little white baby is mostly gone, unless you adopt from Romania; most of the kids in the system are there as a result of abuse, neglect, or sudden trauma. Not only is adoption vital to society's best interests, it is vital to the future of an individual at the mercy of society. Love from a nurturing and supportive family is what ultimately helps the child to heal, grow, and gain empowerment over what may be a very confusing past. If we're going to have all these little humans in the world, they must be cared for and given the opportunity to have a childhood.

Caveat: I do this kind of social work, thus the rant.
posted by moonbird at 5:11 PM on December 14, 2004

(thanks for the quick delete matt)
posted by moonbird at 5:29 PM on December 14, 2004

In contrast to picea, I certainly won't ever seek out my birth parents, not due to feelings of respect and gratitude, but due to a bottomless well of rage that most people seem to leave behind after adolescence.

I'm incredibly angry with my birth parents, and as horribly entertaining as it would be to unload on one or both of them, they don't really deserve it. I'm deeply ungrateful to them, for everything.
posted by mwhybark at 6:17 PM on December 14, 2004

Nothing that hasn't already been said, but to reiterate:

People adopt for many, many different reasons- but they all have the common dream of parenting a child, passing on what they feel to be important, and knowing the joy of raising children.

My adoptive parents are my parents- I would never refer to them as "my adoptive parents" in any social situation or any venue, save one in which I was qualifying the situation (i.e. an askme post). I love them to pieces, they have given me SO much, I am who I am largely because of them.

That said, I have some burning questions, not the least of which is a medical/health background. A pedigree would be nice- even pet owners get that. (but not necessary)

I would like to respect my birthmothers' wishes to not be known, but I am entitled to at least that one piece of information. If she turned me away, I would be perfectly happy to go, but I'd need that piece.

My parents are also supportive of my choice- they know me, better than almost anyone else, and they know I'm not going to run off and join another "better" family.

I am so ridiculously lucky to have been adopted by a couple who REALLY WANTED ME. I am filled with gratitude, every day of my life. (this is not to say that my bmother didn't want me.... but clearly, she had reasons for not being able or willing to keep me- but I got a pretty good deal, in the end.)
posted by exlotuseater at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2004

I'd just like to say that I am extremely encouraged by what I'm hearing adoptees say about their desires (or lack thereof) to search for their birth-parents. I have a son "out there" somewhere who turned 35 the day before Halloween - for all I know I'm a grandma!
I've never tried to seek him out, for many reasons - primary among them that his parents did the real work, I did what many (most?) women of child-bearing age can do - bore a child. It was hard, but it was also over in nine months, and did not involve the work and love of caring for, nurturing, and providing for another human for a minimum of 18 years. I was always afraid that my efforts might seem a slight to that work. Thanks for allaying those fears.
posted by dbmcd at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2004

As an adopted child, my reasons for wanting to meet my birth parents are out of medical and cultural curiousity. I've never been able to feel a strong ethnic pride, because I don't know my true ethnicity. I can't be sure what diseases I'm at risk for either.

But, and this is huge, my non-birth parents will always be my parents, my real mom and dad.
posted by drezdn at 8:13 PM on December 14, 2004

Everything Matt said. I'm adopted and avoided that thread specifically because I wouldn't have been helpful--there's a selective bias in it; the poster wanted advice or stories mainly from adoptees who WERE interested in their birth parents. I'm not and never have been aside from seeing them as a rich area for imagination.

For many people, including myself, parents are defined as those who raise you and love you to maturity FAR, FAR more than as those who gave a quick genetic contribution. :) Hell, friends of mine from broken homes who aren't adopted have voiced the same opinion before even knowing my background, simply because they feel it on the opposite end--they've realized their birth parents (the only ones they have of course) are nowhere near as much parents as whoever they were lucky enough to come into contact with (neighbors, other relatives) while their birth parents neglected them.

There is scant work being done out there about attitudes on adoption in a crit theory sense, but it's growing; as I recall, Barbara Melosh recently wrote an excellent book on attitudes about the adoptive relationship from all imaginable perpsectives (social workers, adoptees, adopters, birth families, different cultures and time periods), and in one reader edited by Marianne Novy lit scholars comb writers from George Eliot to Shakespeare to Barbara Kingsolver for attitudes about adoption--many surprisingly progressive, open-minded, and positive.
posted by ifjuly at 2:20 AM on December 15, 2004

I'm adopted and feel the way that was articulated so well by exlotuseater.

My question is this: didn't other adoptees receive basic medical information about their birth parent's health tendencies? I know, for example, that my genetics put me at some risk of getting diabetes. I also have some (minimal) information about my birth parent's hobbies and interests.

Never tried to contact them. I am already really blessed on the parent-front. No need to be greedy.
posted by MotorNeuron at 5:14 AM on December 15, 2004

My parents adopted my sister because they felt I needed (and I wanted) a sibling. My mother wasn't so keen on doing the childbirth thing again and with so many children of color needing a home, why not adopt?
My sister is a year and half younger than me and I'm happy to have her in my life. I think she looked for her parents at one time, but I'm not sure if she ever contacted them.
One of my oldest friends, who is also adopted looked for her birth mother (mostly to understand some health issues)and has a great relationship with her, but she says she wouldn't trade her parents for anything.
posted by black8 at 6:23 AM on December 15, 2004

Ya Sidhedevil what you said. My cousin is the child of my mother's sister. The aunt is my cousin's father's sister so I'm not sure she is even my aunt technically but that's what my siblings and I called her. And my cousin probably spent 60% of his waking teenage out of school hours at his aunt's place and maybe stayed over a couple times a week. Point being if I decided to go over to a relatives' place and stay for a week or a month they'd just set another place and reassign chores.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 AM on December 15, 2004

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