On December 6, Courtney, blogger and mom, posted a video of her children finding their newly adopted baby brother under their tree. Many news outlets of all types picked it up. The video went viral. According to the Cosmopolitan article, Courtney wrote, “The girls knew nothing about [the baby] until this. We met them at the door and told them that we had been out Christmas shopping and got them a gift to share . . . and it was under the tree.”
The video and its many associated articles caused a lot of discussion in the adoption community. There were two camps: (1) “Children are not objects to be given as gifts. Adoptees are already commodified and this situation just serves to reinforce that perception.” (2) “Oh, this is the cutest thing ever! Anyone who says different clearly hates adoption.”
By December 7, Courtney had removed the video, most likely due to comments like these, which appeared on her Twitter feed:
Pls take this down. What a breach of child’s privacy. And to be given as a gift? A human as a gift? No.
Please don’t. Adoptees are not gifts.Treating them as things to be given is dehumanizing.
Do you understand why adoptees and other adoptive parents are so upset with you?
You don’t give people “for Christmas.” As an adoptee I’m revolted. Not cute! As an adoptive parent, you need better insight.
Not a good way to introduce yourself as an adoptive mom to the adoption community. Children are not acquisitions.
The video and its many associated articles caused a lot of discussion in the adoption community. There were two camps:
Children are not objects to be given as gifts. Adoptees are already commodified and this situation just serves to reinforce that perception.
Oh, this is the cutest thing ever! Anyone who says different clearly hates adoption.
The video sparked a lot of conversation about very important points for all people touched by adoption to consider:
- Where is the line drawn between public and private? What is OK to share and what is not?
- Why must adoptive parents consider the experience of adult adoptees, specifically in certain situations?
- How might parenting choices be different for adopted children as opposed to biological children?
- What does it mean to be dismissive of other people’s feelings?
For many people, myself included, this video reinforced the perception that adoptive parents buy babies. Tao, an adoptee (and a friend of mine), summed it up very well:
“What’s wrong with telling your kids you went shopping and bought them a baby for their Christmas present and it’s under the tree? Adoptees don’t deserve to be treated like little human beings—do they?”
One of my good friends was a Christmas Baby newspaper story and it never goes away. At times she felt good about it, other times not so much, but there is no escaping it, ever. People fail to stop and think of the long-term feelings of the one in the center because they are too busy thinking of themselves.
What’s wrong with telling your kids you went shopping and bought them a baby for their Christmas present and it’s under the tree? Adoptees don’t deserve to be treated like little human beings—do they?
Tao and many others noted that perhaps the concept of putting the baby under the tree for the girls wasn’t the worst parenting mistake ever, but putting it on the internet was probably in the top 10. For the rest of his life, this child would be his “sisters’ Christmas present.” Courtney blogs under her own first and last name, and used the names of her kids in the video and the text associated with it. People noted that anyone could use this information for any reason.
People on the “cute” side argued that biological children are often referred to as gifts. They asked, “If this were done with a biological baby, would everyone think it was so bad?” The fact is, parenting a biological child and an adopted child is different. You might—I would even say, in some cases, you must—make different choices based on your child’s story.
Adoptive parents are often asked “how much did she cost?” and we work ourselves into a tizzy over it. But putting your child under a tree, referring to him as a gift—you’re commodifying the child. You’re inviting the question, “how much did he cost?”. As one adoptive mom noted, there was a time when parents routinely gave their children people as gifts: in the U.S., the practice ended with the Civil War. Yes, I’m talking about slavery. I’m not usually one for the adoption/slavery analogies, but giving a child as a gift to other children really does conjure that image.
Adoptive parents are often asked “how much did she cost?” and we work ourselves into a tizzy over it. But putting your child under a tree, referring to him as a gift—you’re commodifying the child.
Adoptive parents would do well to listen to the opinions of adult adoptees. Not everything every adoptee says will apply to every situation, of course. Not all adoptees feel the same way about everything, either. But by listening with open minds, we can try to avoid some land mines with our children. We can learn what might be problematic and why. We can find the tools to talk to our kids about adoption and how it affects them. Lisa N., adoptive mom, has a great philosophy:
“For me, I think it’s just so easy to avoid terminology and ways of explaining things that many adoptees and birth parents have said have been hurtful to them. There is nearly always another way. It may not affect my son at all, but why would I choose to say something that could be hurtful to my child, when there are alternatives?”
Speaking of feelings, yes, everyone is entitled to his or her own feelings about, well, everything. While there were many comments from adoptees who felt that this video was cringeworthy, there were some comments from adoptees who like that the family was sharing their joy. Many people in the second category were dismissive of the feelings of those in the first category. What do I mean by dismissive? Well, I like the Urban Dictionary definition:
When someone doesn’t agree with your opinion anymore and just shuts you down and, basically, tells you to go [bleep] yourself for being an individual.
Regardless of what side of an issue you are on, telling someone that he is simply overly sensitive is dismissive and somewhat insulting.
Essentially, the “cute” side told the “inappropriate” side that they should focus on the positive. If they thought there was something wrong with the video, they were being overly sensitive. Regardless of what side of an issue you are on, telling someone that he is simply overly sensitive is dismissive and somewhat insulting. There’s a lesson here for group interaction around any controversial topic. Read with the intent to listen. Respond with sensitivity.
1. Regardless of whether you personally believe that children are or are not gifts, you must recognize that calling an adopted child a “gift” has more connotations than those who are not adopted can imagine. Tread carefully here.
2. It’s all well and good to say that the only opinions that matter are the family directly involved in the situation. Unfortunately, as soon as that family posts it on the internet, they invite everyone to comment on their lives, for better or worse. In adoption-related media, the child will grow up and see his life all over the Internet, again, for better or worse.
3. Listen to the adoptees! Please!
4. Everyone knows that not all people feel the same way about anything. Do not lob insults or use microagressions. Read to listen and learn. Never tell people how they should feel, and never make them feel guilty for their feelings.