There was recently media coverage of an adoption dissolution that was discussed on a YouTube influencers channel. The outrage is that not only did a family disrupt (with intent to dissolve) their adoption, but they had let the adoption process be a part of their YouTube channel, and therefore had made some income from sponsors of their channel because of the adoption. Many of their sponsors have since severed ties with the channel over the backlash since the decision was made public that they had decided to rehome their son.
Myka Stauffer and her husband James documented their international adoption from China on their YouTube channel. The whole process was documented, including their decision to be open to special needs children.
When the Stauffer’s made a public statement regarding the adoption, the child’s special needs seemed to be the biggest reason the adoption failed. The family felt they were not told about all of the child’s special needs. They felt unable to manage his needs and eventually decided it would be best for him to go to a home with a parent who was medically trained.
I watched the video where they discussed making this decision. I admit I hadn’t heard of them before the media attack regarding the adoption dissolution. I haven’t seen any other videos from their YouTube channel. However, as I watched Myka Stauffer cry about how much she loved her son, and how hard it was for them to admit they weren’t the best parents for him, I felt she was being genuine. She acknowledges feelings of parental failure. She talks about how she loves this child. And, like a true mother, she talks about making the decision she feels is right for the child, even if it is difficult, and even if it means facing public outrage.
There is a difference between an adoption disruption and dissolution. To clarify, an adoption disruption happens before the finalization of an adoption. In these cases, the families moving toward the goal of adoption decided before legally adopting that the placement was not going to work. An adoption dissolution happens when a family has legally adopted a child and decides that the adoption is no longer in the family’s best interests, and wishes to have the child placed with another family in the hopes that they can adopt the child. It is similar to the dissolution of a marriage in that, legally, the relationship will no longer exist after the adoption is dissolved. However, depending on the circumstances leading up to the need for adoption disruption and dissolution, families may be able to maintain contact if the next adopting family allows and feels it is in the child’s best interest.
I took a particular interest in this story as the mother of a son who is diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. A therapist we were seeing actually suggested we consider the dissolution of his adoption. At the time, our family was struggling, and we were considering living separately to ensure the safety of our younger child and pets.
After the suggestion by our therapist, I decided to do some research. While this is not a common practice in the adoption community, it does happen. My family decided we would continue as a family unit and face challenges as they came.
I was interested in some of the reasons families chose to pursue an adoption disruption and dissolution. I began reaching out to some families who were willing to share with me, under the promise of remaining anonymous, what the circumstances were that led to this incredibly difficult decision.
In cases of international adoption, it seemed to be that parents were not well-informed of the needs of the children they were adopting. International adoption often doesn’t allow for a lot of in-person bonding before adoption finalization. You are often relying on information from an agency or social worker regarding the behavior and needs of your potential child. It is not uncommon to find that some of the information is incomplete or inaccurate. This can even be the case when dealing with the ages of children. There are times that mistakes are made regarding something as simple and basic as a child’s age.
Sometimes, parents decide that the child is a danger to the family, and feel unable to keep the child and the family safe. There are instances when a child is physically violent, abusive, or sexually abusive toward others in the household. It can be very difficult to decide how to handle a child who is acting out in these severe ways. In some cases, parents who choose to remove the abusive child from the home are charged with neglect and prosecuted. In other cases, when parents do not remove the abusive child from the home, they can be charged with endangering the other children. These parents often feel they have no way to keep themselves and their children safe. This is when the practice of rehoming children sometimes happens, as a last resort to try to avoid charges and allegations while keeping the families safe.
In the case of the Stauffer family, they have been cleared in an investigation and are taking the proper legal steps to allow their son to be adopted legally by another family. However, some families try to bypass these steps for fear of legal charges against them. I cannot imagine living in a household where one of my children is a threat to another and having no good legal option to protect them.
Parents are often referred to treatment centers for these kids. Oftentimes these centers are not covered by insurance and cost thousands of dollars a month. Many families do not have the financial means to pay for these residential treatment facilities.
In the interest of privacy, many families dealing with these hardships don’t share with others. In the days of social media, and with people oversharing with the world on a whim, putting their serious problems out there can be overwhelming. People are faced with critical judgment rather than genuine help and concern.
In my personal case, my son is often called charming and polite by family and friends. He doesn’t demonstrate his aggressive or explosive behaviors in front of others. When I explain to people that he sometimes spits in my face, or that he will go to the bathroom on the floor rather than the toilet, they think I am exaggerating. I am not. When I express fear that he has tried to hurt his brother or threaten him, others find it hard to believe. They have never seen this side of him and find it hard to believe it exists. People can be judgmental and hurtful when they try to minimize what you as a parent are going through. I mean, these are “just kids” after all; how can it be that hard to correct behaviors? If only they knew…
Since I have been dealing with a difficult adoption myself, I wondered why parents felt that dissolution and finding a second family to adopt would work? I understand that knowing some of the behaviors firsthand can help you select a family that may be more equipped to handle challenges. For instance, if the child has more medical needs than you were told about, finding a family that is medically trained would be beneficial. If a child is a danger to younger siblings, it would be better to have them placed in a home as an only child, or at least as the youngest child. If the child is a sexual predator, it may be necessary to place them in a situation where they are not in contact with the sex they prey upon at all. This may even mean a one-parent household with no other children.
In my situation, with a child diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, I could not understand how a different family would help with this disorder. If my child targets us as his family, based on childhood trauma where he learned a family is not to be trusted, how would adoption dissolution improve his life?
In researching for this article, I have been able to speak with many parents who had many different insights into these problems.
What I learned is that sometimes children who are adopted will see their new parents as the enemy, no matter what. They feel that you have stolen them from their biological family, even if the home was unsafe for them to be in. Kids often are loyal to their biological family regardless of the abuse or neglect they may have suffered. Therefore, their adoptive parents and family are seen as an enemy. In cases where this is true when the family dissolves the adoption and the child is placed in another home they sometimes see this new home as a fresh start. This new family isn’t the one that tried to take them from their biological family…but they are taking them from the home that the child has rejected due to loyalty to their biological family. They feel that they can be happy in this new placement without betraying their biological family.
While we as parents may not understand, trauma manifests itself in curious ways.
In my personal situation, we decided to push through the hard times. However, I refuse to cast negative judgment on a parent who chooses not to and proceeds with disruption or dissolution. Until you are living the everyday life of someone struggling with these difficult decisions, you cannot begin to understand.
I still wonder if I made the right decision for my family. I will never really know.
I am sure that the Stauffer family did not come to their decision lightly. When Myka expressed that she felt like a failure as a mom, I could relate. I cannot imagine any family going through the rigorous scrutiny, paperwork, and wait time to adopt to make the decision lightly, and then decide it was not a good fit and that the child would benefit and thrive in another home. Having to admit that you are not what a child needs must be an overwhelming sense of failure as a parent. Yet, isn’t this why we praise birth mothers who choose to place their children for adoption? We are inspired by their ability to recognize that they are not in a good place to provide a home for their child. So, why is adoption dissolution met with such criticism and anger? Why are parents faced with potential neglect and abuse charges when they determine that the child they chose to bring into their family is not a good fit. Especially in situations when the children are making the home unsafe, there seem to be no good solutions for the parents.
I would like to believe that all parents who pursue adoption are doing so with the very best of intentions. The process is not an easy one, no matter how you choose to adopt (through foster care, privately, domestically, or internationally). I cannot imagine a family going through this process, and the oftentimes extreme financial burden that adoption can be, to then be faced with poor placement and the realization that you cannot meet the needs of the child you have sworn to love. Nor can I imagine how difficult it is to love a child, knowing you are not the best fit and risk all that you have to publicly admit you cannot provide that child with the best situation and have found them a better situation. To have to admit this publicly and then be criticized, lose sponsors, and face messages of hate seems cruel.
In today’s society, it seems people quickly judge others and feel like they are entitled to comment on other people’s lives publicly, even when they are only hearing what little information is publicly shared.
What happened to the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated? Would you want to receive messages of harsh criticism for one of your hardest life decisions from strangers? Would you like the media to attack you for ratings?
I don’t know if I would have made the same choice as the Stauffer family. I do know that I choose not to use this article to harshly judge them. Instead, I wish to lend my sympathy for what must have been a heartbreaking decision and wish them healing.
The key to being a good parent is to do what you feel is in the best interest of your child(ren). In some difficult cases, that may mean admitting you aren’t the best place for them after all. This is why adoption exists, and why second adoptions may need to exist as well.
Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.