Adoption: Teary-Eyed Blessing or Horrific Abuse Factory

by Marisha and Luanne

You know those happy adoption stories that the media loves to feature? Adopted woman meets birth father just before he dies and all is well. Yay! Five siblings have been in foster care for three years with no hope of reunification. They are adopted by a middle-aged librarian and all is well. Yay!

The media loves those stories and so, too, do we. By “we” I mean our culture. We eat up this stuff. It makes us feel as if all is well with the world.

We don’t look behind the stories to see that this woman had to wait until she was 55 to meet half her DNA.  She lived through being a baby, a child, a teen, a young woman, a pilot, a mother, and now a first-time grandmother without this knowledge. Without knowing how he felt about her or if he even knew about her.  Without ever meeting him.  We don’t like to think about what those kids have gone through in order to have this happy “ending” (which it is not–an ending or unendingly happy either) with the librarian. Or what baggage they all (librarian included) bring to the table.

On the other hand, the media loves horrible stories about adoption. The child who is locked in a cupboard, fed only scraps, and eventually discovered weighing thirty pounds at age eleven. The child of a celebrity who either dies of a drug overdose or accuses her adoptive parent of abuse who is always identified as “adopted son” or “adopted daughter” by the press, as if that is a title or name.

By the way, all of our examples except the celebrity ones are made up, but representative of what we’ve read.

Why does the media do this? Apparently it is what we demand. We want these superficial and dangerous images of adoption. We want to tear up with joy and we want to fill with outrage.

What we don’t seem to want to do is think rationally and with common sense about adoption.

What would happen if we did? What would change about how our culture sees adoption? And how we treat adoptee rights and issues?

What do you think?


  1. Current media coverage is all about instant gratification with very little in-depth coverage of any story whether it is politics, the environment or adoption. On-line media is all about “click-baiting” which leads to more of the same kind of shallow happy/sad stories. If we thought about the care of children and families rationally I hope there would be a redistribution of resources to attend to the needs of the vulnerable. If only.

    • Resources to attend to the needs of the vulnerable would be great. What do you think about how it would affect things like people thinking adoptees who have had bad experiences in their adoptive families should suck it up because we all have had problems (or many families are dysfunctional)?

  2. Menomama3 is right, and said what I was going to say, though much more eloquently.
    On the rare occasion that adoption and its complexities are reported on, you can tell by the comments that nobody’s really paying attention to the whole article. Everyone has his or her own agenda, stories, opinions… I really don’t think society as a whole even thinks about adoption.

    • What if people thought rationally about adoption? How would our culture perceive adoption?
      Robyn, you say you don’t think society thinks about adoption, but it’s all over the place–in the news, in the movies, in stupid jokes people make. Doesn’t that mean that adoption is right there in the atmosphere all the time in society–and yet people don’t truly think about it–in the real meaning of the word think haha?

      • But your first line, right there, is flawed. Most people don’t think rationally about it. If there were more rational people in the world, there would be free cures for diseases, no war, no famine, and everyone would get along and settle their differences over a cup of tea and a good game of chess.

        If people thought rationally about adoption no child would ever be left behind or alone. No child would ever have to suffer the atrocities that we come to glaze over on in the media.

        I think there is some celebrities trying to do the right thing with adoption, even if they over glam it a bit.

        • Hi Charles, thanks for stopping by! Yes, that is the problem–that people don’t think rationally about adoption or other issues either. People tend to react out of ingrained patterns of thought and behavior and out of instinct and emotion. I like a more logical, rational approach to issues that affect others. As for the celebrities, it’s hard to say what their motives are. Sometimes people want to be the saviors of others, and sometimes they simply want to make the world a better place. Two different motives. And there are probably a lot more.

  3. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Thank you for writing this, Luanne. In my opinion, both menomama3 and Robyn are spot on in what they say, both about the superficiality of the news media (usually) and about our (readers’) lack of attention span today. We want quick hit/soundbites that sum things up in twitter-sized portions, which leads to “either/or” reporting: Adoption is either a heartwarming story of children “saved” from being without a family and love and parents “saved” from a life of childlessness. People want to believe adoption is either “happily ever after” or a nightmare because it is easier that way than it is to look at the incredibly complex series of circumstances (and yes, losses) that went into matching a child and family together. (Think of the popular tv show, The Bachelor. Attractive man meets 30 women and within a month or so, has found his soul mate. Right.)

    • Unfortunately, so true! Lisa, what about this: as a culture we’ve really changed how being gay is viewed and in our opinions on gay issues. How did that happen? I think it happened with the help of the media. How can people who care about adoptees get the media to change in their depiction of adoption?

  4. An interesting post that has made me think about various aspects of adoption. Every adopted child has their own story to tell but many never tell it – could be they’re shy, could be they don’t think anyone will be interested, could be they’d rather keep it private… and for multifarious other reasons. I think the media picks up and runs with any extreme example of a story, like the two you’ve selected above. I couldn’t agree more that we need to ‘think rationally and with common sense about adoption.’ This is why your blog is important, it’s just what you seem to me to be about.

    • Thanks, Polly. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s difficult sometimes, when you want to jump in with emotions, but it doesn’t do anybody any good if we don’t think it all through and see that adoption is a very complicated . . . even the fact that it’s hard for me to decide on one word to describe adoption shows its complexity. It’s a process, a legality, a way of forming a family, a loss of a family, an identity, a loss of identity, and so on.

  5. As for celebrities: Barbara Walters always refers to her daughter as her “adopted daughter.” Her daughter must be in her 30s or 40s by now. Shouldn’t she just be called her “daughter” by now? Also, my granddaughter was 14 before I finally found my roots. Thanks for post.

    • That is nails on a chalkboard to me to hear a parent calling her child an adopted child. Her relationship with her daughter (and what I read about it years ago) is a huge reason why I don’t like BW. What a shame that you had to wait so long to find your roots, JK. Thanks for stopping by!

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