Three steps to the Perfect Adoption

  1. Therapy  Yes, for you. I don’t care how wonderful your life has been, how many trophies you dust every weekend. Get yourself some therapy. Go talk about yourself a couple of times a month for a year or so. Not only will your children thank you, you will learn things about your own brain that will astound you. You will be a better parent.
  2. Expect Disappointment A child free of your genetic mistakes will have their own. They are not blank slates awaiting your fine hand. Every child comes with their own genetic history, their own likes and dislikes, their own weaknesses. You will need more than the usual amount of patience to successfully navigate this minefield of the unknown.
  3. Adopt an Infant I’m not kidding when I say, the younger the better. The older the child is, the more trauma they have endured. Trauma leaves its mark on the psyche and can take years to manifest. If you adopt a child older than one year old, you will deal with trauma scars. If you adopt a baby born addicted to drugs, you will deal with trauma scars. Take my word, stack the deck as much in your favor as you can. Adopt the youngest, healthiest child you can find.

Who the hell do I think I am?

I am that child you want to adopt. I’m one of the easy ones. A teenage mother, a father headed off to Vietnam. I’m two days old, a little banged up from a forceps birth but all in working order. That’s what you want, right? A tidy private adoption, your names as my parents on my birth certificate, no strings. No ugly surprises in six months, twelves months, ten years.

kids first four

My parents wanted that too. They engineered that for all eight of their adopted children. We grew up together in two phases, four of us in the seventies, and four of us in the eighties. 2nd four

My adoptive parents are both deceased now. I give you the advice I would have liked to give them. Advice they would have smiled through, nodded thoughtfully, bless your heart, and completely ignored. She was the eldest of thirteen, what more could she possibly learn? He was the youngest of three, children were for her to worry about, he was the breadwinner.

But I hope someone hears me.

Give your children a fighting chance.

Give your children the best version of yourself.

0 thoughts on “Three steps to the Perfect Adoption”

      1. This is quite a powerful and thought provoking post, and as such, deserves a powerful and thought provoking comment. So here goes. Ahem…holy fuck Carly, how do we respond to that?

        On the serious side, I’m gonna be devil’s advocate. It’s a catch 22 situation. Even if you get the newest of all newborns, that won’t account for babies born within domestic abuse, or FASD. Unfortunately, those perfect, issue free babies are also very rare.

        In general, they are going to have experienced trauma, even if it’s within the womb, and those babies are going to need to be taken care of within our societies, or how can we call them civilised?

        But today, you’ve really given me a ‘there but for the grace of God feeling.’ It’s easy to get pulled into the ‘my childhood was so shitty that…’ competition, that you actually forget how hard other kids have/had/has it.

        But; you, me and anyone with an ax to grind about our upbringing, can either let it own us, or, we can gather it all into our bag of crazy and use it to spin our yarns, and those yarns offer a therapy on their own.

        1. I have two adopted siblings. My brother had another who was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He has fetal alcohol syndrome. My parents adopted him when I was a little older than two and he was still only months old. The issues really didn’t fully show until he reached school age. My sister has no health issues that we know of. Both have searched out their birth parents. In my brother’s case, he found friends and relatives but his mother had died of an overdose. My sister just recently found her birth family. Again it is unfortunate but her birth parents are also dead. Still her birth family welcomed her with open arms. I hope she feels fortunate to have two distinct families.

          1. The amazing thing, meeting people who look like you. I know it sounds like such a simple thing. It means so much. I’m sure she’s thankful on both sides!

        2. All too true. There’s not enough care for the discarded, abused, forgotten and ignored children. There is no denying that.
          I see so many children, just at work, that suffer so much for so little love. I learned a long time ago that I have to put on blinders often just to get from day today. I want adults to open their eyes.
          I know, but stop laughing anyway!

  1. It is seldom that anything we as humans do or plan goes exactly as planned. But the beauty of it is that we seldom quit, and we persevere. Thus we sometimes can make lemonade out of rotten lemons.

    1. And that heading, planned, seems to refer to children less and less. And also exactly because it’s so rare that things go as planned, it becomes imperative that we wire our shit together the best we can. Then hopefully on those unbearably hot summer days we find that we can at least identify lemons and read a recipe.

  2. From what I’ve observed among adoptee friends, just the fact of adoption is trauma that keeps on spreading its consequences — even if everything else in the parent-child relationship goes perfectly (which is seldom the case anyway). I’d add to this list, don’t adopt out of age order — the adoptee should always be the youngest. I’m sending you hugs.

    I wish every parent (adoptive or not) could give their children the best version of him/herself … I don’t think it often happens, though.

    1. I didn’t think of age order, but they broke that one too adopting an eight year old a year after the 8 month old. I guess I hope it comes down to what they didn’t know and was something more than an exercise in personal satisfaction,
      Thanks for the hug!

  3. [oh: and — I wonder if a certain amount of naivete or obtuseness isn’t necessary to adopt at all. If people knew what they were really getting into they might think a few more times.]

    1. I often felt it was to fill a gaping hole they perceived in themselves. That or the labor force necessary to run a tree farm. I know one adoptive parent personally who thought long and hard if it was the best thing for the kids. One. Not mine.

  4. I struggle with this every day with my little guy. I don’t know if he’s seeing the best that I can give especially when I catch myself some days thinking that he deserves someone better. I think we all do what we can to the best of our abilities and our circumstances. Anything beyond that would be asking for the moon; and so we do what we can. We still want to give them everything we can give within each 24-hour time frame, with every beat of our hearts and with whatever we have in our bank accounts (or not even that because there’s always credit).

    My youngest brother is adopted and I picked him up from the hospital 24 hours after he was born when I was 18 years old. My mother didn’t want anyone to see her picking up a child that she was going to try and pass up as her own with my stepdad, and so my aunt and I had to do it. He has Asperger’s syndrome and scary behavioral issues, and there’s no way for him to find his birth parents at all since there was no paperwork involved. I wish he had a better childhood after my mother left him with her sisters who told him every chance they got that he was adopted. One day when he was visiting me, he asked me why his birth mother gave him up. It broke my heart but I had to give him my best answer. She did it because she wanted him to have a better chance at life. (She was a laundress who already had 8 children and he was apparently the product of an affair but I didn’t tell him this although he already knew because my aunts told him). Looking back at that moment when I picked him up from that dirty public hospital bed as a newborn and she couldn’t even look at him because she didn’t want any attachment to him, that was the best version of herself that she could give him.

    Sending you hugs!

    1. I think it’s a terrific advantage for me, working in a school my daughter attends. I see her everyday with 400 other kids raised by other people. I admit it gives me no small amount of satisfaction. I like her, just the way she is. I’m encouraged by what I see to give her a little more freedom and creativity and it makes me optimistic and more able to be honest with her about what we see at school. I’m not a perfect parent but I have given my kids the best part of me.
      I used to think I would have 8-10 kids, half of them scooped up out of various orphanges around the world (where in the world would I get the idea that was even possible….oh yeah) One round of labor cut that number in half. Second round of labor and I was done. Number three snuck in and we kept her cause she’s adorable and funny as hell. But honestly, three kids is tough for me. I understand that knee jerk need to help a helpless little thing but my children have taught me about my limits, and about sanity.
      I know your little guy is so lucky to have a mom so tuned in to him and his needs. Don’t underestimate what you give him, even on those days you look at your computer more than you look at him…lol.
      Thanks for the hug!

  5. My sister in law was a social worker for vulnerable children, and I thought I had a pretty good handle on adoption, but you lot make me feel completely out of my league. My son is also autistic, and goes to a specialist school. Although primarily the children are autistic, there is a whole collection of needs they also look after. The school is awesome, they focus on achieving life skills, and building a community so the kids can hopefully rely on each other when they go into the big, bad, often unaccepting real world. I try to prepare him as much as I can, and hope for his future. That is the best I can do.

    1. All three of my kids have attended schools that have specialized programs for autistic and other special needs kids. It’s wonderful watching kids learn how to take care of each other. My youngest has a severely autistic boy in her grade and many of the kids have learned how to calm and speak and play with him over the years. It gives me hope.

  6. Ah man, it’s too early in the morning to be thinking such deep thoughts. But I am.

    I don’t think there is a guarantee that any child – your own or adopted – will be perfect. I remember quite clearly the pediatric cardiologist walking into my room 5 hours after Spawn was born and saying – This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause this.

    And my first thought was ‘Oh my God…’

    And by the time he was 10, my miracle child, the one I wasn’t supposed to be able to create, much less carry past 8 weeks, was diagnosed with not only Tetrology of Fallot, but kyphosis and Aspergers…

    But I didn’t see any of that. I saw the makings of a book nerd, like me, who was strange and different, but beloved.

    We all do the best we can. Yeah, there are all these books on the child psychology shelves, all these classes one can take on difficult children, homeless children, you name it. My mom was the only girl out of 9 and my siblings and myself knew we weren’t my grandmother’s favorites. That holy place was reserved for my youngest uncle’s children. Of course, she loved us, but my mom was told every time we visited, we weren’t ‘Jones’ – we were ‘Smiths’… and no discussion, no logic, nothing would change her mind. She would just smile and nod and continue on her way. It hurt then, it hurts now. I try to focus on – well, look at how SHE was raised. Doesn’t matter. We are all a product of our environment.

    Adoption was a major thing on my dad’s side. Of his 4 uncles, 3 adopted children. Fuzzy adopted 1, Kenny adopted 2 and Ray adopted 3. All 6 were loved, my great grandmother made no difference. I recall one of my aunt’s telling her adopted son (who was being a complete butthole that day) – Hey! I got to PICK you! These others didn’t have a choice! You were MY choice! The second I laid eyes on you, I wanted you!

    And yeah, this is a whole bunch of rambling means pretty much… well… of nothing. But as children, none of us comes with instruction booklets, as as adults, none of us really want our kids – or anyone else – to know we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re all doing it by the seat of our pants.


    1. I remember that feeling, taking the first baby home from the hospital. Just walk out of the place, no one’s going to stop you and see if you’re qualified. It’s a shock. It’s pretty amazing what love and common sense can do.
      Just don’t find yourself short of one or the other!
      Thanks for the hug!

  7. I think — and this isn’t to excuse the ill-thought-out adoption in any way — that there was a huge stigma in our parents’ generation attached to not having children. (Did your parents have any biological children of their own? From what I’ve seen, the bio-adoptee mix is also a huge potential minefield.) So I do think people adopted in order to please themselves or to fulfill their picture of the lives they should have been living but / and those pictures were also cooperatively created by the people around them.

    1. Oh, so totally true! My grandmother gave birth to 17(?) children 13 that survived to adulthood. My mother had miscarriages into the double digits. Grandma never missed a chance to point out how many kids she’d had and tell mom to get busy.
      She did it to all of her daughters, I believe.

  8. I’m not surprised, just because the overwhelming social picture is that adoption is the right thing to do and a good deed and to the benefit of the adoptee. And let’s add: in the last twenty years or so it hasn’t changed, as the evangelical church has discovered “orphan care” as a way to be socially relevant. So that when they couldn’t find enough appropriate adoption-available kids in the U.S. they started importing them from elsewhere. I have met an adoptive mother (3 bios, 6 adoptees from Korea and Ethiopia) who just assumed what they were feeding her at church about our obligations to care for the poor and the orphan was true, and it’s the process of the Ethiopia adoptions that has made her rethink, well, just about everything about her parenting choices. Those kids still have living relatives who want to be connected with them, and that is the issue that really provoked her re-thinking. Not the kids from Korea, who seemed like “no strings” obligations, insofar as they were abandoned anonymously. (My personal opinion is that in most cases we shouldn’t be adopting kids from o/s the US unless they have really severe medical needs that can only be met here. Otherwise, it’s a form of theft of resources / cultural imperialism. We should try to help them in situ, first.)

    I don’t know how you could generalize about whether it’s better for the adoptee or not, which is part of the problem. If you’re the adoptive parent in that situation, you want to adopt in part because you want to build a family, and you only get so many chances. If you’re offered an opportunity, do you turn it down on the basis that you don’t think it would be the best option for *the specific child in question*, and knowing that someone else will adopt that child because the lines to do so are so long? (Not saying this applied when your parents were making a decision, just describing what people talk about now). I know when my aunt and uncle adopted, what was better for my cousin was not one of the things they talked about — he had been surrendered shortly after birth, so someone else had already made that determination. In the atmosphere where people think your marriage and lives are failed because you don’t have children, it seemed like the best thing for everyone. I think there are some kids in the US for whom adoption, if it works, is a better option than the alternatives, but many fewer than we typically think. It’s probably almost never the better decision for children with living relatives unless they are wildly incapable of caring for them.

    1. The twins from Korea in my family were turn cradle abandons. The filipino, a child pulled of the street and tossed into the more dangerous climate of an orphanage, and the mexican, another abandoned baby.
      I’d agree that any chance of connection with bio family helps a child achieve balance at some point whether they’re a good or bad example. At least they have all the pieces to their puzzle. I’m sure you can imagine the LDS reaction, similar to their missionary effort. lol.
      So many people don’t think about anything further than the moment they are in. ARghh!

      1. I think if there aren’t known living relatives around, it’s easier to ignore the trauma you’re causing or participating in (with however much good intention). I can imagine LDS probably increased the incentives both to adopt and not to think about the downsides.

        I know what you mean about people not thinking ahead and I find it unreasonably aggravating! — but some people might way I am extremely oriented in the other direction, lol.

        1. I missed this one! You’re right, the LDS view of adoption is especially holy. Yes, you do like the details, lol. It’s one of my favorite things about you!

  9. This was hard to read. Your thoughts on adopting an infant to avoid dealing with trauma are heartbreaking. Everyone deserves a home, regardless of age. If you aren’t willing to deal with trauma, then don’t adopt. It’s not about you, it’s about the child and making sure they are loved. You don’t shop for a human being- you don’t pick out the one who is the healthiest and the youngest. That’s unfair to the thousands of other precious human lives waiting for a family.

    1. Although everything you say is absolutely true, in my almost fifty years on this planet I have yet to see anyone truly get what they deserve. In fact, every time I look at the news I see more and more children who are getting stuff they can’t even imagine and would never ask for, let alone deserve. My post came from a place inside myself, as an adopted child, that wishes parents walked in eyes open, looking to help and heal the child not further adorn their own hubris.
      Thank you for your honest, thoughtful comment Brooke, and welcome!

        1. You’re missing the point here. Carly is an adoptee speaking, saying that her adoptive parents were not equipped to deal with adoptive children who had experienced traumas (as she notes, they weren’t even really equipped to deal with her, and she was relatively “trauma free”). She’s not saying that one child is more worthy than other, but rather than her parents were not ready to understand the children they decided to parent. She’s pointing out that most adoptive parents are under-prepared, and for the parent who wants to have the “perfect adoption” (a term that she’s using with a high degree of irony), a child as free from trauma as possible is a better choice. It’s not a statement about the relative worth of any child who’s available to be adopted — it’s a statement about the parents.

          1. Agreed. But your statement of picking the “youngest and healthiest” child kind of contradicts your last comment.

          2. Again, you’re walking in open doors here, arguing with something Carly didn’t actually say, doesn’t mean, and didn’t think.

          3. I get it, I do. But I’m trying to say that what she is saying is something so many people believe and it’s so very heartbreaking.

          4. The reason they believe it is because it’s true. Have you ever tried to parent a child with attachment disorder? A child who was sexually abused as a child in foster care or an institutional setting and perpetrates on siblings? Love and stability doesn’t really “fix” these things — they can only be endured, never really cured. Kids in those situations need expert “parenting,” and adoptive parents who walk into them naively are doomed from the beginning — not only not to be able to help the child in question, but to messing up the rest of their family. So she’s saying these things because they are true, and any social worker you will talk to will tell you that not all adoptive parents are suited to every adoptive child. People who want to adopt should go into it eyes open, and be aware that maybe there are some things they just can’t deal with. Carly’s talking about the most intensely naive parents here: the ones who think they can just adopt because they already know all about it.

          5. Totally understand that not all parents come into it with the right expectations, but I can also tell you that there is never a “doomed” situation. What children, myself included, experienced before, during and after the adoption process does not mark us as forever screwed up. There’s always hope. It’s just if you’re willing to learn and grow and embrace that.

          6. You’re making a statement about the kids, though (although I disagree strongly that there are no doomed situations. There are simply life events that some people can’t recover from. Saying otherwise is just putting nice words on a shitty situation. Those people may survive, but they will objectively never be what they might have been, were they not traumatized at a young age.) But I can’t say this enough — you need to read more carefully. CARLY ISN’T TALKING ABOUT THE KIDS. She wasn’t addressing you. She was addressing prospective (naive) adoptive parents who pick kids up because they think it’s the thing to do. If you weren’t planning on doing that, you are not addressed in this post.

          7. No, I embrace the struggle to see life as it is. When a child who’s perpetrated on in an institution is adopted, then perpetrates sexual abuse on adoptive siblings, then leaves home and continues to perpetrate, and then is charged, convicted and sentenced to prison for perpetrating on the children of neighbors, and then when released can’t find work and has difficult even finding housing and has to live from charity: that’s not me seeing life negatively. That is an objectively shitty situation. Or do you think that counts as successfully surviving trauma?

          8. I think there is always hope. Sure there are struggles, we all have them, some more than others but I absolutely refuse to let situations dictate the rest of my life

          9. Oh, I’m not worried. Like Carly, I’m approaching my sixth decade, and one of the most important things I learned in my mid-twenties is that in fact, there isn’t always hope. It’s prevented me from pointless tilting at windmills and kept me productive in that I pursue achievable goals. Maybe you’ll learn that someday, too.

          10. I went through a lot in my mid twenties as well, and one thing that I know for certain is that I will never give up, regardless of how hard I struggle, life is hard and kinda shitty sometimes, but there is always hope. There’s always a chance to get back up on your feet. And there’s always the ability to move forward.

          11. Even if that’s true (it’s objectively not, and I could give you examples from students I’ve advised), the point here is that has nothing to do with what Carly wrote in this post.

          12. Yes, we seem to be having our own convo and discussion set apart from Carly’s post. I wish you the best. And I will continue to prove the “objective” truth wrong in how I live my life. Peace.

          13. Try breathing sometime without oxygen, see how that works out for you. Prove it wrong. I’m waiting to hear about the result.

          14. Having lived a lot of years in your mindset, I think you will find it a heavy load that has to be put down at some point. When you start to realize that hope really is a four letter word.

          15. Again. Age doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with experience. I will never give up on hope. I’ve been through quite a lot and have maintained hope throughout. Without it, I wouldn’t be alive. Life without hope is pointless to me.

          16. “Age doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with experience” — no, indeed not, if one refuses to learn from it!

    2. While I agree that just about everyone can benefit from therapy and that parents of any kind need to be prepared for a multitude of challenges before having children, I have two main critiques of this post: First, I take grievance with the title of this article. The circumstances leading to adoption are, in every case, devastating. Whether coercion, kidnapping, addiction, governmental policies, poverty, limited access to healthcare, or other unfortunate situations cause the adoption to take place, I don’t believe there is a possible “perfect adoption.” Because adoption is trauma.

      This leads into my second critique – adoption is trauma if someone is adopted at age one day, one year, or five years. Perhaps you didn’t mean for the third piece of advice to come off the way it did, but I very much agree with Brooke’s sentiments that adoptive parents shouldn’t go into the process with the expectation of “custom ordering” a baby. The comment, “Take my word, stack the deck as much in your favor as you can. Adopt the youngest, healthiest child you can find,” stung for me personally as someone who was adopted as a child, not an infant. How grateful am I that my parents didn’t heed this advice and that they adopted me, embracing the past years of my life that didn’t include them. On a larger, academic level this comment also shakes me because it encourages prospective adoptive parents to seek infants, when the majority of children in the US foster system are children — not babies, and globally 95% of the world’s true orphans are over the age of five years old. These children continue to be institutionalized as people favor babies – driving corruption and kidnapping in many countries of healthy infants to fill the demand since the image people often have of adoption is of adopting a healthy infant. But the reality is that they are rarely truly orphans. I feel that perhaps your advice would be more accurate to the current adoption scene if your third point had been about parents needing to understand trauma and empathize with the mixed emotions adoption creates rather than to neglect older children in need of homes.

      1. This post has brought a lot of new readers to my blog, for better or worse. There have been a couple of vile, thoughtless comments that I haven’t published because this is my garden and I’m not going to allow people to use it as their toilet. That said, I found this comment/critique incredibly thoughtful and right on point!

        Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with everything you’ve said here. That might surprise you. I’ll admit that quite often my posts are spurred by emotions I can’t quite contain or explain anymore.
        This particular post was written in a moment of helpless rage, frustration, grief, desperation, a time of being so overwhelmed you can’t quite tell the top from the bottom of your world. It also came from a place of deep personal knowledge when it comes to the consequences of not thinking through an adoption. Of biting off more than you can chew. Of being unforgivably oblivious to your own ability and the needs of your children.
        Thank you for taking the time to make a wonderful comment and critique, without trying to read my mind, but also underscoring the trauma that accompanies even the best adoptions.

        1. I understand that many blog posts (my own included) are prompted by strong feelings, but I think when giving advice to the public, it should be as clear as possible. You and I both recognize there is a huge difference between urging prospective parents to prepare themselves adequately and proceed with caution and telling folks to outright not adopt older children.

          1. I guess people don’t learn to read anymore, either. Nowhere is this post labeled “advice to the public.”

          2. I guess one thing to be learned from writing on the internet is that no matter how hard you try, and how forcefully you indicate it, there are some readers who are only ever able to understand a text literally. Your post really clearly indicates both anger and irony. There are multiple verbal signals of this.

            I blame this on Protestantism, LOL.

          3. I would go with a country where there aren’t many Protestants. Poland, maybe. Italy …

          4. This post was not meant as advice to the public, but rather an attempt to sort my own feelings about my, and my siblings adoption experience. I believe it’s quite obvious to any reader that I have quite a bit of unresolved anger to work on.
            Advice? No.
            A warning.

  10. I guess some people won’t give up until you say “I’m doing it wrong,” Carly. Except it’s YOUR life and they don’t have a clue. I loved your original post; it came from an honest place, and I had no problem understanding what you meant.

  11. Wow. Your post certainly sparked a lot of discussion and thinking. Regardless of the turns those discussions took, a thought-provoking post is a good thing. I read your post when you published it and totally understood what you meant. I know that you are not telling people in general not to choose older children, who may benefit from what particular people are equipped to give them. You were reacting to your own emotions and experiences and speaking your own truth.

    1. Exactly so, Sue. Thanks for the support. I’m an emotional blogger, I don’t think I’ve ever given the impression I do lots of research. Just a seat of the pants writer!

Leave a Reply