I readily admit, I’m experiencing some freak-out moments every single day of this damn quarantine. Between working-from-home, helping my four children distance-learn, keeping up with meals and chores, and trying to practice a little self-care, I’ve been on edge for weeks. Social isolation life has its extreme ups and downs, and I have done the hide-in-the-bathroom move quite a few times just to collect my thoughts and experience a few minutes of not hearing the kids yell “Mom!”
But no matter how annoyed I get when my kids are bickering for the fifteenth time (and it’s only noon), I never, ever think or say that they’d be better off elsewhere, that I should just give them up or away. This is a challenging time for us all, but our family is in this together, possibly for the long haul. So when I saw a horrifying adoption meme on social media for the first time, I about lost it. Yes, it was meant to be a joke, but I found nothing funny about it. As a mom of children who were adopted, the meme is downright offensive.
If I had only seen it once, I could have let it go, but that wasn’t the case. For days upon days afterward, the meme kept popping up in my feed. It quickly became a hot topic among the adoption social media groups. Adoption triad members–that’s adoptive parents, adoptees (people who were adopted), and birth parents—were absolutely offended and triggered. How could someone create and share something so flippant and cruel?
It’s not just this poorly-constructed meme that has me reeling. I’ve seen non-adoptive parents post on social media that they are so over the shelter-in-place mandate, because their kids are being absolutely awful. The kids are emotional, they are arguing, they are refusing to e-learn, they aren’t doing any chores, and they are constantly whining for more screen time. Maybe the parents should just—ha ha—give their kids away.
First, a birth parent (also known as a biological, first, or natural parent) doesn’t give their kids away like a present at Christmas. A birth parent places their child for adoption, or in the case of foster care, might have their parental rights terminated by a judge. In either case, there is profound loss and grief for those involved, especially the adoptee who didn’t have a choice in the matter. Adoption isn’t a joke: Not now, not ever.
Brett Carleton, co-creator of the social media platform Yes, I’m Adopted. Don’t Make It Weird, checked out the meme and told Scary Mommy, “As an adoptee, we have this constant fear of being rejected by those we truly care about and love. Saying this to anyone is horrendous, but to an adoptee, it’s a nightmare come true.”
Second, turning something as life-altering as adoption into a casual and insensitive statement is disrespectful to the adoption triad, because it comes from a place of privilege. Many birth families felt they couldn’t parent their children at the time in which they placed them for adoption, often due to circumstances such as a lack of financial security, unjust social systems, and family support. Joking about giving up a kid for adoption, as if it’s an easy and simple decision, dismisses the struggles and emotions of birth parents, while relishing in personal privilege.
Ashley Mitchell is a birth mother who placed her son for adoption fourteen years ago. She’s also the owner of the Big Tough Girl platform, where she works tirelessly to educate others on adoption, grief, and loss. She told Scary Mommy, “As a woman who made the gut-wrenching, life-changing decision to place my son for adoption, I find this disgusting and disrespectful.” She added that she and her son “are permanently separated because of the choices I made. We deeply grieve our separation daily.”
Michelle Madrid-Branch, an international adoptee, mom-by-adoption and birth, and adoption writer and speaker, shared her feelings about the meme. She said it’s “unacceptable and hurtful.” She went on to explain, “It’s crucial to understand the negative impact of insensitive messages that demean children who have been adopted into families.” The message in this particular meme “insinuates that children of adoption are throw-away items.”
Let’s not forget that in the United States alone, there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted. Many of these children have disabilities, are older, are part of a sibling group, and are children of color. They are part of the 400,000 children who are currently in the domestic foster care system. Yes, these numbers are staggering and behind the numbers are human beings, many of whom have endured traumatic childhood experiences that include abuse and neglect. Maybe we should be promoting informational graphics about children-in-waiting, those waiting for their forever families, rather than turning adoption into a shareable graphic meant to evoke laughter?
Jessenia Parmer, adoptee and owner of the platform I Am Adopted, told Scary Mommy, “At the core of memes and jokes about being adopted or placing a child for adoption are shame and embarrassment,” and adds that there’s “little regard for the grief and loss adoptees experience.” For children who aren’t adopted but whose parents joke about giving them away, “For a child, it is scary and hurtful to imagine being put up for adoption.” Basically, the meme is only hurting kids—whether they are adopted or not.
Adoption, like race, ability, and a myriad of other topics, can only be made comical—usually, sarcastically–to those who own the identity or experience for themselves. If an adoptee wants to crack an adoption joke, that is their right, because it is their experience. I make fun of my own disease, type 1 diabetes, all of the time. However, you’ll get a swift clapback if you try to be cute about my disease, making some sort of off-handed comment about eating too much sugar or impersonating Wilford Brimley. I will slap the key lime pie right off your plate.
My children, and yours, are human beings. They aren’t disposable based on their behaviors, emotions, or the state of the world. They are allowed to struggle. Parents should be their children’s safety net. Does this mean we can’t have challenging days? Of course not. However, let’s not take our frustrations so far as to joke that we should give them away.
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