Why I hate adoption (and my very mixed feelings on National Adoption Week).

Caution: This is a wild offensive rant that solve no problems, probably offends everyone whilst being simultaneously a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. It is not my intention to offend (well not overly) but sometimes that niggling voice in my head just needs to be heard.

Every year many of us ‘adoption bloggers’ pop out blogs on what we think about National Adoption Week and so here’s this year’s contribution from me.

First of all, I think it’s important to say that I hate adoption. When at my bleakest I know I hate everything about it. Obviously, like most ‘thinking people’, I hate the need for it <cue sad but resigned face>. But it’s more than that. I hate the fact that there’s a voice in my head that says “This model cannot be right”.  I hate the fact that I feel like a willing conspirator in a system that we know tackles the symptom and not the cause, and that by supporting adoption in and of itself I am arguably reducing the pressure that forces social change.

I hate a model that demonises and penalises those whom society has broken. I feel uncomfortable when I see fellow adopters focus on their joy at having children, whilst seeming sometimes to avert their eyes from the cause and the cost of their joy “Of course I would rather it hadn’t happened, but as it did…”.

I feel uncomfortable when I see those who say they are ‘adoption advocates’. Really?? How can you be? It’s horrible. How can you advocate for adoption without campaigning against the causes of adoption? Please do both. And if you do, bravo, because you are a better person than me: just firing at the players from the sidelines and doing neither.

You’ve no idea how many times my mind plays with the idea of burning the whole thing down. It’s the voice in my head that says “Let’s call a national adopters strike and deliberately put off all prospective adopters”. In my mind it’s simple: you want better adoption support? Refuse to adopt until you get it. If you think adoption is the wrong answer to one of the most important questions we face as a society then let the whole system collapse and then let’s see whether there is a better way forward. Yes, I know that it isn’t an option in the sense that those we seek to protect could suffer most, but I cannot believe I am alone in thinking this. I sometimes struggle to understand what other leverage we have to change a broken system.

I hate the fact that every £ invested in the ASF should have been spent ten years ago in helping the mother of my son come to terms with some of the brutal childhood experiences that made her the grossly neglectful Mother she tragically became. Just like her mother before her. And her mother before her.

I’m not a naïve utopian (well, obviously I am) but I’d rather start with what should be and compromise from that starting position than seeking to fine-tune a flawed model. It’s why I read The Guardian and my Father read the Telegraph. He believed his worldview started pragmatically, mine ideally.  I am entirely comfortable with that.

That said, I am both a Guardian reading lefty adoptive Dad and a businessman, and I realised this week that there’s an absolute connection between these two roles and National Adoption Week. In particular, it struck me that National Adoption Week reminded me of one of my favourite business tales. It’s a tale that demonstrates what can happen when you confuse the ends with the means. It’s the story of why so many American railway companies went bust in the mid-20th century.  They went bust because they had wrongly told themselves they were in the business of running railroads. They went bust because they failed to remember their job was not to run railroads but to get people and goods from Point A to Point B. And so, inevitably, because they confused the means (trains) with the end (transport) the newly formed airlines ate their lunch. If they had focused on the end they may well have started airlines themselves.

National Adoption Week risks championing the means over the end – which is not adoption but permanence, preferably within the family of birth, in a safe environment where families have access to all of the resources they need to thrive and the benign family-centred monitoring required to ensure the safety of the child.

The role of National Adoption Week should be to bring about its own elimination. Each National Adoption Week we should do as The Open Nest did this week at their conference The Myths & Monsters of Child Protection and talk about what we can do to prevent its need. We should campaign to help birth families break the cycle of violence, abuse, neglect and poverty, we should campaign to get families the help they need, and against the demonization of the poor and against injustices within the child protection system. We should march against those welfare cuts that impact children, for an effective CAMHs and high-quality non-judgemental support for families who struggle under the weight of what is stacked against them. We should campaign against ourselves and against the myth of “breaking the cycle” – as if adoption was somehow a ‘tough love’ solution that opens the eyes of the underclasses to an alternative possibility. It doesn’t, they aren’t and it isn’t.

Of course I know deep down that for some children adoption may well be the best outcome, and I know that some birth parents cannot or will not be ‘saved’ by liberal do-gooders like me, I know that solutions may be generations in the making, but we should never forget that is a truly terrible question to which adoption is the only good answer,  and we should campaign as steadfastly for its elimination as for its promotion.


The Adoption Promise

I’ve tweeted about this before and got a good response but it’s been such a powerful tool for us I thought I’d expand on it a little…

Our fabulous little man has been processing. In this case he’s been processing what adoption means. He’s been doing this by becoming an endless series of characters for himself that need adopting. “Fluffy kitten/ Robot/ Stick insect/ Pinky Pie needs adopting. He doesn’t have a family, will you adopt him?”.

Part of this has been driven by the (now to me) hateful Lego Batman Movie (shakes fist in air “Curse you Lego”) and it’s fucked-up adoption narrative, but part of this is just the general curiosity you’d expect. If Lego provoked it then I guess I’ll settle for calling it a silver lining.

This had been going on for quite a few weeks, and we’d been responding in broadly therapeutic terms with a standard script but we saw the opportunity to use this vehicle to formalise his understanding of what adoption meant, and the importance and irreversibility of it, by creating an adoption ‘contract for him.

We called it The Adoption Promise because a promise is something children more intuitively understand and I wrote it up, printed multiple blanks, and each time a new foundling comes along – whether human (rare), animal or mechanical (there are a lot of orphan robots out there) we have read it out to each other (Dad, do we promise…) or to him (Robot, I promise to you) and then signed it and handed it over to him for his ‘signature’.

Why am I sharing this? Not to boast, but because it has become a surprisingly powerful tool – at least for someone of his age and with his understanding of his situation.

  • It has completely neutralised adoption as being an awkward topic for us – it has become something warm and affirming (for now of course)
  • It has become something that in the family we now know off by heart. I read it to him and he will mumble along to my words – he knows what the adoption promise means
  • I get to read our promise to him whilst looking in his eyes. It is surprisingly intimate and he can see our seriousness. He loves it.
  • We have framed it in relation to the (early) concept of ‘the law’ and how once it’s signed it is unbreakable “No matter what”. 

What has been most interesting is the way that these arms-length identities and his own self are starting to converge (“It’s XXXX the Kitten” or “It’s robot XXXX in disguise”) and we take that as being a very positive sign. He now feels safe enough for us to make the adoption promise to him directly (or nearly him).

We are framing the adoption promise and putting it on his bedroom wall with all three signatures and whilst I am sure it’ll get thrown across the room in his teens for now we’ll embrace this success in making lemonade from lemons  – and hope that our experience could be useful for others.


They fuck you up…

My mother had a terrible childhood. Abandoned at a few weeks old to the nuns of a London convent, then reunited months later only to be placed on a train two years later to her Father now living 300 miles away, this following the (even now) memorable death of her sister in the bed beside her and, presumably, the final loss of any normal functioning her Mother had once been capable of.

Armed only with a Paddington-style label around her neck she was met at Kings Cross by a feckless Father who had received only two hours-notice of her arrival, only soon to be packed-off at the outbreak of the war, and dispatched to rural foster-care. Eight years later, following a cruel no-notice removal desired by neither party, she spent the rest of her brief childhood in a series of children’s homes and foster homes, punctuated only by the death of her beloved Foster Mother.

The final days of her childhood were spent back in sporadic touch with her Mother, by then remarried, but with the heart-breaking instructions that she was not to disclose her real relationship with her Mother “You must tell him you are a daughter of a dead friend”. And, just in case she had not been sufficiently rejected, her Father emigrated to New Zealand.

It’s no surprise therefore that my Mother has issues. At 82 many of these have blurred into the general eccentricities that constitutes ‘a character’, but it seems unlikely that the root of these do not lie in her childhood. For reasons of her longevity it is sometimes difficult to see these as the classical patterns of attachment that are so raw and exposed in youth – but over time they have formed the grooves of behaviour that her personality now travels in.

Two of these are those two core beliefs of the attachment disordered that there is not enough love to go around, that, and low self-esteem masking as it’s belligerent opposite. She can be overly-sensitive, insecure and jealous. Her relationship with my Father had a traditional husband wife dynamic, but also the subtle neediness of someone for whom abandonment and rejection were real, and primal, possibilities.

Another marker, less of attachment, but of the trauma of her childhood is my Mother’s fear of her own relationship with her daughter. My sister has been the unwitting casualty of years of being parented by a woman who was so terrified of repeating the sins of her mother, and so absent of a maternal role model to relax into this always difficult dynamic, that in retrospect it seemed doomed from the start. Add to that the cruelty of my Father’s clumsy and damaging affair just when my sister was passing through her vulnerable teenage years, and the inevitable impact of his behaviour on an attachment-damaged wife, and the die was cast. On the rare occasions nowadays that they are together they each resemble not so much their real characters but their respective anti-selves of Jung.

I, on the other hand, have arguably benefited from my mother’s trauma – a boy, always the favourite, always an unthreatening dynamic and always a port in the storm that is my sister and her. For me, our relationship, has largely resembled a normal one – except that it has also cost me my relationship with my sister. We all pay.

Where am I going with this? My Mother had no chance: untreated and ignorant of the damage inflicted on her, she approached her own relationships through the prism of her damaged childhood without the correction of self-awareness. How could she not? These were different times. Indeed, the science of epigenetics looks likely to lead to the conclusion that the transfer of an echo of her trauma was unavoidable, and my sister had no chance of avoiding the collateral damage of that story. That is a possibility for my son, because of his own Mother’s tragic childhood, that sends shivers down my spine.

Trauma is the cruellest of masters, and attachment disorder is the anchor of too many damaged lives. This is why we do what we do, not a personal crusade to avenge my Mother, but seeing in my own family that cruel or neglectful parenting does not just impact on the parented, if unaddressed or acknowledged, it ripples out from them over their own lifetime capsizing the lives of so many others in its wake.

As Larkin says:

Man hands on misery to man/ It deepens like a coastal shelfGet out as early as you can/ And don’t have any kids yourself.

It’s good advice, and deep down we know the truth of it, but we took the opposite view. Our child was already had, so if our legacy is that our son is just a liitle less fucked-up than his Mum and Dad, and my own Mother, then perhaps we will have made the world just that little bit better.


Two voices – a letter to Little One

You are a boisterous, brave, loud and fabulous little boy – trapped inside the shell of a much smaller frightened one. We see you both, and we love you both. We care for you equally.

We know that one of you wants to jump out at the world, shout “Boo!” and laugh with the glee of small boys and small things, and one of you wants to avoid the world completely. We see that push-me pull-you and we truly hate the battle you fight behind those eyes.

Watching one of you peep from behind the curtains of your fear is a daily heartbreak. But when the other one steps out from behind those curtains those same hearts swell with the pride that only a parent of a previously broken child can ever know. We call these moments small miracles.

We take pleasure in these small miracles. But we shouldn’t. Because we see what many other parents don’t – that your early months and years have robbed you of a surety about your place in the world that is your right. These aren’t small miracles; they are evidence of a crime.

Because you know things children should not know. And you can never un-know them. You know you were unwanted, unloved and unprotected. You know that the world is cruel and unloving. You know that nothing is forever, no matter how many times we tell you that it is. You know your place in the world is not a safe one.

And we cannot take that dark truth from you. But we can teach you to listen to another voice speaking another truth. A quiet and timid voice now, but with our help, we hope that one day you will hear a voice that is louder, braver, warmer and truly yours. A voice that tells you “I am safe. I am loved. I am worthy”.

Until then we must speak those words for you. Whisper them as you sleep, press them into your ear as the frightened boy inside you strikes out at us, write them down in each meal we serve you, in every bath we pour and every story we tell. Every moment of our journey together is our sometimes desperate attempt to encourage that other voice to start speaking and to be heard.

The hard truth though is that no matter how far you travel the other voice will be there, telling you that you are not loved, safe or secure, but we trust that you will learn to honour that voice as one that once kept you safe from harm. It protected you when nothing else seemed to and you owe it much. Just not the attribution of truth. For above all, we hope that you recognise that voice for what it is – just the echo of a past life, a former truth and another little boy.

School Report Card


This is a letter we wrote to the school today as school closed and our first full year of school. We’ve had our differences but the ultimate judge of it has been our son – who has loved it and grown and developed in ways we never dared to hope.

XXXXXXX Report Card

Ah. Well every end of term deserves a report and so here’s ours on you lot – all those people who have looked after, or have had responsibility for XXXXXXXXX.

We entered our little boy into Reception with nervous hearts and sweaty hands. He’s a delicate little thing and has not had an easy or pleasant start in life, and so handing him over to anyone else’s care was a ‘very big thing’. Given a choice we would have kept him at home and wrapped him in cotton wool – but Social Services are funny about that.

It wasn’t easy to start with, for anyone, including him, and we have all had to find our way, and learn new things, but in doing so we think we have built a team together with you all. You have listened with respect and open-minds and we, in turn, have tried our best to be challenging but respectful. We have also learned that (just occasionally ;-)) school can get more from our little boy than we can.

You have treated our son with respect and care and as a result he has shone in ways we never imagined at the beginning of the year. The highlight of course, for us at least, was XXX on stage with the other children leading the dance and neither if us can think of that without tears in our eyes (in a manly way of course).

He is very special to us. You know that, because every parent thinks that. But we also believe the world owes him something more than normal. We think it owes him a sense of safety and care that deep down he doesn’t feel he is entitled to. We all have to work a lot harder to help him feel he is loved, and safe and special – and you have more than played your part in that this year.

We are grateful to all of the team for this first year in ways you can never imagine. Really. We know that the challenges of formal education lay ahead of him, and that it may not be easy for him, but thanks to you we are building the foundations upon which all things are possible.

Of course we also know that next year will no doubt start with fresh (and old) challenges, but because you spent the year creating the space for his funny and likeable character to emerge that we feel confident he will do so surrounded by people who genuinely care for his happiness and his future. What more could any parent ask for.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.