Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

June 24, 2006

Cultural Assumptions

Adoptees who challenge the system confront the weapons of shame and secrecy used by the Culture of Obedient Lies in its doomed battle against the Culture of Angry Truth. --Bob Alberti

Back in the 1990s, when I was still doing my search, I subscribed to a long-lived and large adoptees-only listserv called adoptees@ucsd.edu. The adoptee who ran the list, Jeff Hartung, graduated and the list ended, but I managed to print out some of the discussions and kept them in a folder. Now that I found the Chosen Babies list and have the ability to blog, I feel as if the hole left by the list's demise has been filled. Nevertheless, I often return to re-read some of the posts I saved. From time to time I will post some of them here.

The following list post was from an adoptee named Bob Alberti, a univeristy professor in Minneapolis. It was part of a thread called "Adoption Battles."

"A lot of us [on the list] have been debating responsibility, fault, parenting skills, and what's-best-for-the-child. There are no easy answers when chewing over these issues.

1. The dilemma created by adoption--whether private or state--is the imposition of human decisionmaking in the creation of a parent-child system.

2. If you mentally excise adoption-related issues from these discussion, the resulting structures still have serious problems.

3. Western (or American) cultural assumptions concerning children are at the root of many of these problems; cultural assumptions regarding class, including poverty, homelessness, drugs, despair are next.

In America, we are willing to look the other way when children are born into bad situations. Children grow up in poverty and hoplessness all around us, all the time. As a society, we turn our backs. Their fate is "the luck of the draw" or "the will of God" or "the poor will always be with us" or "the responsiblity of their parents."

Enter adoption. A child is removed from one home and placed with adoptive parents. This almost always involves an increase in socioeconomic class for the child, from poor "disadvantaged" parents to middle-class "normal" parents. The adoption is contested. The child remains in limbo for years, and eventually is returned to the birth parent (s).

The problems:

1. The hand of Fate is replaced with the hand of Society. Now we have someone to blame for the circumstances in which the child is placed. All of our bottled-up frustration over children raised in poverty and want comes surging forth. Rather than working as a culture to eliminate poverty and imporve the welfare of all children, we focus our ire on individual cases where blame can be assigned.

2. The needs of the child are not adequately addressed by the courts. In fact, the needs of the a- and b-parents come first, followed by the needs of the Court System itself to proceed through every step of the legal sequence without disturbance. The child's needs come last. [my thought: every child left behind].

3. Part of this results from the fact that the children have no voice: children need lawyers and advocates solely for THEMSELVES within this system.

4. Part of the problem is the result that children are treated as inanimate prosessions to be owned rather than as individuals, a result of a long history of treating children--and until recently, adult women--as possessions.

5. And part of the problem is that the Court System itself is moribund, conservative, and slow to respond to change.

The "quality of parenting" is brought into question here where it remains taboo elsewhere in society. One need not look very far to find people raising children who ought not to be raising goldfish. From the nightmare horror stories of "mother's boyfriend shakes baby to death" (this happened last week here in Minneapolis) to the simple occasion of your neighbors who are treating their children in a way that makes your stomach turn, people don't raise their children the way one or the other of us believe children should be raised.

Unfortunately, short of overt, public abuse of their children we tend to allow these people to raise their children as they desire. In fact, it is unacceptable to intervene: "do-gooders" who call Family Social Services on abusive situations are viewed thereafter with suspicion. The phrase "Don't tell ME how to raise MY child" is the ultimate expression of self-rightous indignation.

But once the Hand of Society has touched a child, it becomes acceptable to question parenting skills, and in fact becomes the responsibility of Society to assure a healthy upbringing for the child. We switch from a prohibition on criticism to mandatory criticism.Why? Possibly because now we have someon to blame and FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR PARENTING for fear of infringing on the "right to parent" of all persons. We have a literal "dilemma" (from "di-lemma" which means "two assumptions") we assume that parenting rights cannot be questioned, but simultaneiously insist that children must be protected.

The needs of the child are used as a mask for socioeconomic discrimination. If a single father attempts to reclaim a relinquished birthchild adopted by a couple, the father's "ability to parent" is brought into question. What is actually being discussed is the acceptable social structure for a family. Picture the relative "rights" of the following persons to parent: a lesbian couple; a gay single father; a mixed-race couple; a couple living in a trailer home; a couple living in a ghetto; a couple of one race adopting a child of another.

Each of these challenges our cultural assumptions of what a valid family looks like. Yet on a case-by-case basis we admit that any of these structures could provide acceptable parenting: only in a generalized case do we question their validity.

We claim to be looking out for the "best interests of the child" when in fact we are frequently exercising our bigotry. As a culture, we need to accept a wider variety of "acceptable" family structures, and focus more clearly on the individual qualifications for parenting rather than on prejudiced assumptions.

But look at many of these situations and one thing is clear: the adoption may EXASCERBATE a problem, adoption may be a catalyst which inflames the problems, but the problems themselves exist, and are experienced every day outside of the arena of adoption.

It may help, when reviewing these issues, to keep the elements comprising the total problem discreet. ADOPTION IS NOT THE CAUSE OF SOCIETY'S PROBLEMS: ADOPTION EXPOSES SOCIETY'S PROBLEMS.

The Right to Parent, the Quality of Life of Children, Children in Poverty, Children of Nontraditional Families, the Needs of the Child, the Problems of the Court System, Children as Chattel, and on and on. None of these issues is truly an issue of Adoption: all of these issues are problems outside of Adoption as well as within it. And as distressing as cases like Baby Richard are to us, we need to realize that situations like his are being battled out in Family Court every day all over the nation; they just don't get the same press.

These are not "adoption problems," these are "cultural problems." We can only begin to repair them by reconginzing the inherent cultureal flaws underlying our basic assumptions and rigourously questioning our fundamental belief systems.

As we work to repair the individual problems plaguing our culture, whether the rights of Adoptees or the needs of Children, we need to keep in mind the "big picture" of the problems, where attempts to fix one thing simply aggrevate another."


Blogger Joy said...

Interesting thoughts Marie.

I think baby Richard was a case where the bfather had not been informed of adoption, found out and fought it.
I think maybe he won.

I may have made all this up.

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

Joy-Guess I should stop being so lazy and do a search. I'll add what I find onto the post so we can all know who Baby Richard was.


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