Rebecca Carroll and parents 2

Rebecca with her parents, who despite underestimating the need for ongoing racial awareness in transracial adoption, still were and are her parents.


Last week, Yahoo Shine published a story about a Spokane, Washington mother, Stacey Conner, who adopted a 5-year-old boy from Haiti and then gave him back. Her reasons were many and storied, including that she didn’t like him, and that his tantrums felt like “a domestic violence situation.” When I shared the story on my Facebook page, along with my own enraged response as an adoptee, a mother and a human being, one friend then commented: “What if it was her own kid with these issues? She wouldn’t be able to just give him back.”

Well, actually, it is her own kid. That’s the point of adoption.

I don’t fault my friend for making this comment (and she very quickly conceded when I corrected her)—although it does bring to bear how enormously misinformed we are about both the perception and reality of adoption in America.

Adoption is many things—difficult, painful, complex, wonderful, necessary — but here’s what it is not: Taking in a child as your own, a child of whatever age, from whatever country or continent, and with whatever acclimation struggles, scars, issues, outbursts, and then deciding you’re not into it. That there is even a term for this action, “failed adoption,” seems entirely, exactly, a thousand times wrong to me.

As an adoptee with a particularly complicated backstory that involves race and an intense, lengthy and ultimately soured birth reunion, I have been critical of adoption in the past. And the reason I’ve been critical is because it is not something people should enter into lightly. While I tend to veer away from toeing the party line of organized adoption speak, advocacy groups and other formalized agendas regarding adoption, I do have my experience, which has included the perspective of almost every key individual involved in both mine and most adoptions (adoptive parents and siblings; birth parents and siblings, extended family, etc.).

Stacey Conner, like author Joyce Maynard, who adopted two daughters from Ethiopia and then changed her mind, decided to use these children to make their lives more interesting. Indeed, as Connor said in the article, “Having an instant multicultural family was magical … for about two weeks.” In her case, after two weeks, the boy started to act out, and during one tantrum accidentally hit Conner in the nose with the back of his head, which Conner then likened to a domestic abuse situation.

There are so many things wrong with this parallel to begin with, but that Conner compares the behavior of a clearly traumatized child to an adult abuser is incalculably irresponsible, and egregiously self-serving. When you decide to become a parent, by any means (adoption, surrogacy, straight out of the uterus), you are legally obligated to care for your child until they are 18 years old. That’s a real thing.

But many people, and clearly Conner and Maynard, see adoption as being different when it comes to parental obligations. They see adoption and their role in it as negotiated, tentative, idealistic and, often, as an act of rescue. This tends to be the case especially with interracial adoptions, because there is no way to pretend that the child is biological offspring — which for decades and for many families was how adoption was handled (or not handled) when both the parents and the adopted child were white.

Up until the past 50 years or so, for various reasons primarily surrounding shame over not being able to conceive “their own” children, and/or fear and protectiveness of an adopted child’s response, many white adoptive parents behaved as if their adopted white children were actually their biological children. Thousands of adoptees never even knew they were adopted.

Not so easy when the child is black, or of any other racial or ethnic background. Although, these are the kids that are becoming increasingly easier to adopt — both in America and abroad — and there’s now a whole booming industry behind interracial and transracial adoption and its exotic allure (see the Jolie-Pitt family). Not to mention a booming industry of illegal interracial and transracial adoption called The Child Exchange, but that’s another (horrible) story.

While Conner and Maynard approached adoption in ways both baffling and misguided, ultimately they are A-OK in the aftermath. Conner stands healed and triumphant in the article’s accompanying photo (and seven years later, in an oddly reasoned admission, she and her husband have decided to become foster parents). Maynard wrote a heartfelt letter on her blog (made further cringe inducing given the huge magazine spread she did for “More” magazine featuring the girls when she first adopted them), which drew attention from the New York Times and may well result in a book deal. But the kids they adopted and gave back are now doubly traumatized.

There is an inherent luxury and assumed ease within biologically constructed families—hence, “Screw you, mom, you controlling bitch.” Or, “You suck, you snot-nosed little brother.” Read: I can say whatever I want to you because we are family, we are bound by blood and we will always be family. For adoptees, this is a deeply internalized mistruth. Because, evidently, there can be a time when we will not be family. The body, the flesh, the blood that I came from is no longer my family.

So when that happens twice, when a child is made to feel that family is not only provisional, but abruptly so, there is trauma, and an emotional atrophy that could have been prevented, or at the very least soothed, by an adoptive parent merely being a parent. I might be less inclined to pass total judgement on Conner if she had taken any responsibility for her part in the situation. Instead, she blames everyone and everything else — her husband worked too much, she “felt like” the therapist was encouraging her to find another home for her son in order to protect her younger children—for her own ill-preparedness.

There will always be extenuating circumstances, whereupon a parent or a family feels genuinely overwhelmed, paralyzed and unable to rise to the occasion, and one can only hope that the family that Conner found for her son will do better by him. Still, I maintain that when it comes to adoption—don’t do it unless you mean it.

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Rebecca Carroll is the Managing Editor at xoJane. She’s held senior editorial positions at Artinfo, The Huffington Post and PAPER magazine, and authored Sugar in the Raw and Saving the Race. Her work has appeared in a broad array of publications, such as The New York Times, The New York Observer, GOOD,, and The Daily Beast. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their 8-year-old son.

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This post originally appeared on xoJane. Republished with permission

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I couldn’t help but wish that she had outted her adoption agency. All those behaviors she mentioned are pretty standard for kiddos with hard starts-especially for older kiddos with hard starts. Any agency worth a damn would have done a much better job preparing her for what might come.

  2. I do not understand how this could happen. Do people think their adoptive children spent all their years before adoption in a static state, just sitting around waiting to be adopted? Do they not realize that these are not just “poor disadvantaged children who need saving,” but actual human beings with histories and baggage and traumas? Children who are expressing extreme confusion and culture shock in the only way they know how? What shocks me is not so much that people could be so naive and ignorant as to adopt without fully understanding what they are getting into, but that society and the media empathizes with and glorifies their stories, giving them lots of kind exposure and making it seem like abandoning your children is perfectly acceptable. Ridiculous.

    I feel like adoption may be in my future, but I’m not sure yet. One thing I’m sure of – my husband and I have a lot of maturing and growing to do, both as parents and individuals, before we will make such a commitment.

  3. Yes, actually people can “give back” their biological children. They can relinquish them to the state. They can ship them off to relatives. Depending on the situation, they may also be able to place them in residential care. It’s not just adoptive parents who do this; they just make the news when they do.
    Adoption agencies do not divulge all pertinent information to adoptive parents. Pre-adoption education and post-adoption support are woefully inadequate. It’s easy to judge these people when you haven’t been there.

    • Robyn-like I said above, I definitely agree that the agency had a responsibility to better educate her. But with good old Google, some of her unpreparedness has to be on her. I’m sure a search of “adopting from Haiti” would have told her it wasn’t going to be a fast process…and “adopting older kids” would have brought up ALL those issues she mentioned.

  4. How much of this has to do with some white people viewing POCs as exotic others: the black adopted child, the black boyfriend, the black friend? This reminds me of bell hooks’ essay “Eating The Other”. POCs, our cultures and bodies are note here to spice up anyones boring life. I often here white people that date POCs talking about how much they learned about the other person’s culture. This puts POCs in the role of servant/educator. People talk about multiculturalism like culture is something that can be shared. I feel like certain aspects of my culture are deeply personal and should not be shared with non-black people. I’ve seen what should be sacred burial ritual, the Jazz funeral second line, trivialized by tourists.

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