There is something wrong with this picture

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?


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6 thoughts on “There is something wrong with this picture

  1. 1

    Picture, hell. What’s wrong with these people? Apparently they wanted a prop, not a new family member. I hope the social workers are keeping any eye on their biological kids, because I’m worried about how these so-called parents will react when one of their perfect little angels behaves like a normal kid.

    I’m sorry but this just makes me rage. I hope the poor kid found a real family, and quickly.

  2. 2

    I agree Anne.
    I’m not a parent, but I can’t conceive of sending my child back because they did something I didn’t like. Children are going to do that. You aren’t always going to like everything your child does. There may be times when your child acts horribly (I know I did a few times as a child). But part of a parent is, I think, dealing with that. Not tossing a child aside as if they aren’t important.

  3. rq

    I’m a little torn on this one. The article never goes into depth about her attempts to involve him with other children, or providing options (such as, in lieu of throwing the ball at the ceiling, providing a space where he COULD throw a ball), but it does seem that they tried pretty hard to fit him into their idea of a family. And it sounds like he was pleased with the solution, of finding a new family.
    We can’t know the extent of the violence that this child supposedly inflicted on his siblings, either. But constant violence towards siblings – while mostly normal, if uncontrolled, can be a terror and traumatizing to the younger children.
    Calling it ‘domestic violence’, though, is way too harsh. Children just… well, it’s rare for them to misbehave so badly.
    All that being said, I’m glad the parents themselves realized their inability to properly parent this child. I don’t know what kind of information or education they sought for themselves, considering this may be a child with, perhaps, mental health issues that they didn’t yet know about. But still. As she mentions, she had surges of emotion that she had difficulty controlling – and she realized that she probably couldn’t control them. To remove the child from a situation where his emotions and health could be in danger is probably the wisest move they could have made. Not all children are the same, and hopefully they WILL be observed, at least for a while, but it just may be that this child’s character was not a fit for these parents – as sad as that is, better to put that child where he has a chance at being happy, than forcing him to stay in a situation where he would be unequally loved (if at all) and possibly physically abused.

  4. rq

    So apparently I can’t comment long comments on your blog, Tony (or else I went to moderation).
    Anyway, long story short, I’m glad the child was removed from a situation potentially extremely harmful to him. I’m glad the parents realized their inability to deal with him, before any further harm was done. I hope he has a chance at a more loving family.

    (If my previous comment goes through, please delete this one.)

  5. rq

    This is the one I tried commenting on from work. I jsut wanted to say that I’m glad the parents realized they couldn’t adequately care for this child. I’m glad he has a chance with a new family. Apparently, they feel like they did a lot to try to make it work, and it didn’t, and I’m glad they have the chance not to destroy each other’s lives. They managed to avoid prolonged abuse (physical or emotional), and good for them for doing so.
    Not all children are the same, and some are difficult to deal with – and not every parent, no matter all their good intentions, is capable (some might say willing enough, but let’s stick with capability) of dealing with difficult children, especially if there is a potential for special needs. This is why there are things like child protection services, when things go wrong.
    I would take issue with them being able to adopt again, especially with more children of their own, but hopefully they’ve been under observation and/or reviewed.
    Also, for what it’s worth, they kept the second child that they adopted together with J. And apparently things worked out. Because

    They treated J like an outsider.

    ? They did try counselling, but a family’s resources are only so deep, really. You can’t expect them to keep the child in case things will improve, especially if they’re having major issues now. They might, and they might not: I think it’s better for everyone the way they resolved things.

  6. 6

    I see what you’re saying, and while I still disagree, I’ll refrain from further comment largely bc I’m *not* a parent, and I don’t have the perspective on being a parent that may be necessary to understand where they were coming from.

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