In a story from earlier this year, 41 year old Stacey Conner and her husband gave back their adopted Haitian son because, among other things, she found she just didn’t like him. Yes, you read that right: the child was adopted, then given back. As if he were an unwanted pet.
Stacey Conner, a 41-year-old mom and former attorney from Spokane, Wash., dreamed of having a large family with biological and adopted kids. “The world is a big place with a lot of children in it; we wanted to bring some of those into our family, to give our love to kids without it,” she says. After she volunteered in an orphanage in poverty-torn Haiti in 2005, Conner and her husband, Matt, a pharmacist, decided to adopt two children. But the process was so slow that by October 2006, when they brought home their (unrelated) 5-year-old Haitian son and 1-year-old Haitian daughter, Conner had given birth to a son, who was 1. “Having an instant multicultural family was magical,” Conner says, “for about two weeks.”
If you’re anything like me, you probably cringed at that last sentence. I don’t know Conner, so I can’t speak to her or her husband’s motivations in adopting children. That said, I really don’t think so we can have a multicultural family is a reasonable motivation for adoption. Why? This is a child’s life we’re talking about. Not a new pet. This child has an existence that is far more valuable than a desire for a “multicultural family”, but that “reason” ignores the needs of the child. In fact, it ignores the child altogether, in favor of appearance. From the outside, it looks like the Conner’s wanted a Haitian child to make their family look better, rather than because they wanted to help make the life of a child better. When things got tough though, the Conner’s decided to give back their newly adopted child:
Her older son, whom she calls J here, “engaged every person he met — he literally crawled into the laps of strangers,” says Conner. “But if I said ‘It’s time to go’ or anything that asserted I was in control, he’d rage, bang and scream for hours.” Very quickly, Conner had a sinking feeling she tried to push away. “I was committing the worst maternal sin: I felt like I loved one child less than the others.”
She broke down in front of her husband, who worked all day and hadn’t witnessed the worst of J’s behavior. Matt tried to reassure her that it was just a rough transition and started spending more one-on-one time with J after work. But things didn’t get any better, and by early spring, J had escalated from pinching his siblings to hitting them. Aside from her social worker, Conner met with a therapist specializing in attachment disorder, a broad term used to describe an inability to build meaningful bonds. One form of the disorder can develop when a small child feels repeatedly abandoned or powerless — things it’s not hard to imagine a kid in an orphanage might experience. When Conner got pregnant again, the therapist explained that it was too much to expect a boy who had already been through so much to be a responsible older brother, and that ideally J needed to be either the only child or the youngest in a family. “I felt like the expert was telling me that since I had babies, it would be best to find J another home,” says Conner. But as difficult as the situation was, she shrank from that possibility, saying, “Forget it. He’s my son!”
Instead, she tried an earlier suggestion from the social worker, doing “24-hour eyes-on parenting” — basically, not letting J out of her sight. This went on for two months, until one afternoon when J began throwing a ball at the ceiling. “I said no,” Conner recalls, “but he wouldn’t stop. So I took it away.” J went into a wild, screaming tantrum, unintentionally hitting Conner’s nose with the back of his head: “I was bleeding heavily, sitting on the rug, crying. My two little ones were hiding behind a chair, crying. And it hit me: This is a domestic violence situation; if their dad had done this, I would take our children somewhere safe.“
At that instant, Conner faced a hard truth: “Forget love. Right then, I didn’t evenlike J,” she says. “In his short little life, he’d had a ton of loss. But it was clear to me that I was pushing him away to keep the smaller children safe. I couldn’t handle the idea of them being hurt. I could see that always putting the other kids’ safety above meeting J’s needs was creating a barrier between us. It was a painful situation.”
That night, she told Matt she thought they should find a new home for J: “We cried and cried. But he trusted my judgment.”
Conner began working with an adoption agency that did “secondary placements” — relocating kids when adoptions went awry — searching for a home where J would be the only or youngest child. “He had to be the sole focus, to be attended to and soothed,” she says.
I find it offensive that she labelled the actions of a child as domestic violence. As far as I’m aware, domestic violence is a pattern of abuse committed by adults. Domestic violence is a serious problem, and should not be trivialized. Treating the lashing out of a 5 year old child who doesn’t understand what they’re doing, nor cause and effect, as an example of domestic violence does just that. This also brings up another question: what are the Conner’s going to do if any of their biological children lash out? It isn’t uncommon for a child to hit-on accident or on purpose-a parent. If one of their biological children hits one of them, will they also claim that was domestic violence? Will they put that child up for adoption? Or will they work with the child and continue loving them? Will they continue to nurture that child and support them? I’m inclined to think they will. They might spank the child (though I hope not, as violence doesn’t solve a damned thing, and yes, spanking IS violence). They might put the child in time out. They might try reasoning with the child. They might do all three, or none of them. They might try something else. In the end though, they’re likely to try to get their child to not act in ways that bring harm to other family members. They didn’t treat J like that though. They treated J like an outsider. They did not treat him as one of the family. So why did they adopt him again?