I was very recently reminded of the prevailing “saviour mentality” in adoption. Many times this is most pervasive in international adoption from third world countries. The adoptive parent is seen to provide the child with a “better life” ultimately saving them from a future of despair.
People who have adopted overseas have told me that when walking through the country with their adopted child many locals come up to them and say what a good thing they are doing for this child, and how this child has won the lottery. Some locals even ask them if they will take their children too. But the people willing to hand over their children so quickly to first world foreigners don’t have a complete picture of adoption. They can only see what is right in front of them – the reality of their poverty. And they are right in that these children will be given different opportunities in life. But does that automatically make their life a better one? Many don’t look beyond the young child and possibilities to think about that child as an adult dealing with all the difficulties of a transracial adoption. Those of us who are not adopted don’t have a clear understanding of what it looks and feels like to be adopted. I have an inkling of an idea but really don’t have a clue. So how can we make any sort of statement related to their lives? For too long adoptive parents and agencies have been speaking for adoptees. Talking about their lives as if we know for one minute what it is to walk in their shoes.
What does a better life really mean? My understanding of relinquishment is that it is usually related to some sort of circumstance in life. And generally speaking the adoptive parents can provide whatever stability the first family (including extended family) can’t at that particular moment in time. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the child isn’t loved by the first family and would have been loved greatly had he/she not been placed. So does a better life then refer to financial stability? The stuff we give our children? Or educational opportunities? Or is life really about love and family…and both of these things the first family would have been able to provide (I am not referring to abusive situations).
Who is to say that an adopted child will have a “better life”? I don’t think I can make that call. I clearly can’t predict the future and have no idea what sort of people or circumstances would have entered this child’s life had they stayed with their first family. As adoptive parents I think it’s extremely important to have a clear understanding of this and avoid the trap of the saviour mentality. Because then this will breed the concept of “gratefulness” in the adoptive child. How many adoptees have heard someone say, “You’re so lucky to have been adopted” or "You must feel so grateful to have been adopted" ? It is the adoptive parents who are the lucky ones, not the child. There was no luck involved in the child's separation from his/her first family.
Don’t get me wrong, to grow up in extreme poverty is not a good thing for any child. But neither is the guilt or shame to often felt by adoptees that comes with adoptive parents who buy in to the saviour mentality.