What Is Temporary?

Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

~ Unknown

I’m not sure who first said that, but I’ve seen it a lot lately. I hate it. The mean part of me wants to say that anyone who uses it is an idiot. The more even-tempered part of me just says they’re naive.

Adoption happens in many situations, many of which are not temporary. For example:

  • The one child policy in China, in effect from 1979 through 2015.
  • The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, which began in the 1970s.
  • War, pretty much everywhere, which began when the first caveman threw a rock at another caveman and said, “I want what you have.”
  • Poverty, again, pretty much everywhere, including here in the US, possibly beginning as early as the Stone Age.
  • Generational cycles of abuse and/or addiction, which occurs everywhere as well.
  • Biological fathers insisting that their children aren’t theirs and disappearing. US child support laws go back to the 1960s, but courts were dealing with support issues in the 19th century.
  • Death.

There are situations that may be temporary, such as a lack of education, resources, support, or a combination thereof. Of course, no one has a crystal ball. Situations that may seem temporary become permanent. For example, parents who are addicted swear that they will get clean for their kids, but it never happens. Situations that may seem permanent, or at least long-term, turn out to be temporary. For example, a single woman wants her child to be raised by two parents, but doesn’t have a partner in her life, so she places her child. Months later, she meets the person she will marry. However, no one knows with certainty what will happen in the future.

How long, exactly, is the child supposed to wait for these “temporary” problems to be solved?

The phrase is also incorrect because adoption doesn’t solve any of these problems. That is one major, valid criticism of adoption. Adoption doesn’t solve poverty. It doesn’t make African men wear condoms. It doesn’t fix a country that’s experienced decades of war, famine, or natural disasters. It doesn’t make poor people richer. But then, adoption isn’t supposed to solve any of these problems. Adoption is supposed to be about finding families for children who need them. The children need families because their biological families are not able – or sometimes not willing – to take care of them in the here and now.

Sometimes, adoption may be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I know that for my son, it was not. The situation that his birthmother was in at the time of his birth was not temporary. Time will tell if the same is true for my daughter. As of 2015, it’s very clear that no, her birthmother’s situation is decidedly not temporary.

And that’s the rub: Time. A child needs a permanent, stable, loving, secure family from day one. You can’t put the child on pause while you finish your education, grow up, get the courage to leave your abusive partner, go to rehab, and so on. I would argue that foster care is analogous to that “pause button” and most people within that system admit that it doesn’t work. Children languish while adults get their stuff together. Or don’t, as the case may be.

No, adoption is not a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That’s one pithy sound bite I wish we could just do away with.


12 thoughts on “What Is Temporary?

  1. Adoptive parents get divorced at around the same rate as everyone else. When an expectant mother places a child due to the fact that she wants her child to be placed for adoption with a married couple, this child could ultimately also end up still being raised in a single parent home.

    • This is true, but I am not sure how this is relevant to this post, since Robyn didn’t list “not wanting to be a single mother” as a temporary problem that leads to adoption. She is obviously addressing the rather broad brush used to paint adoption when one uses that phrase.

    • Yes, adoptive parents can divorce or even die, just like anyone else. I specifically pointed out that you don’t necessarily know if being single is temporary or permanent. Perhaps I should have pointed out that being married may also be temporary.

  2. At the same time, one should consider obstacles to be overcome rather than exploited by others. If a woman goes to a counsellor and says “I’ve decided to continue my pregnancy and I’d like to parent but things are sort of not so great”, one would hope that the counsellor might say “well, why don’t we look at your situation and see what we can do so that you can be in the best possible place by the time the baby is born”. Adoption might still be the answer but the mother makes the decision when she is in the best place possible.

    Other women face counsellors that will say “So you are not in a great place right now thus you really aren’t in a position to parent and you would be selfish to even consider it. There are loving couples out there that have been ready to parent for ages – it would be in the best interest of your child to be raised by couples who are ready to parent, not one with an unplanned pregnancy”. (this is the basis of the major adooption counselling program – designed to be used on the frontline of unplanned pregnancy counselling).

    The danger with the second method is that the mother’s situation often doesn’t seem to be seriously faced. So the mother is in the same spot at relinquishment as she was when she was first counselled. Many first mothers I know will tell you that one thing that disturbed them later was that when they looked back, they realised that no-one helped them to find resources to overcome their situation.

    The first method is better for society because whether she relinquishes or not, she has improved her situation. The second method can mean the women is no better a shape than she was at her original counselling.

    Note I’m not talking about drug addiction or severe mental illness – it may be that those can’t be ovrecome in time, so adoption may be the best situation there. However, many other reasons I’ve seen first moms give are ones that a good counsellor would have helped the mother with during her pregnancy.

  3. What I am trying to say above is should a woman who is relinquishing her child really be in the same spot as she was when she first “considered” adoption? Isn’t the point of counselling to help her get to a better spot?

    I just have this picture in my mind of a woman floundering in the ocean with her baby and a boat comes along and says “if you hand us you baby, you should be able to tread water a bit better” and then the boat speeds off leaving the woman floundering by herself. Yes, she may be able to “tread water a bit better” but she is still floundering.

    • The issue of counseling is different than the issue of the pithy, untrue statement “Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
      Counseling isn’t a cure all, even the best counseling. So I’m not necessarily sure that a counselor could always help a woman get to a place where relinquishing wasn’t the best choice, if it truly was the best choice in the first place. But really, that’s something to explore in another post. Thanks for the idea.

  4. My son’s mother just got out of jail BUT before her parental rights were terminated she was charged with 20,ooo worth of public assistance fraud and the state STILL paid for peer parenting, bus passes, drug testing, rehab, DV counseling. STILL she couldn’t make it. I don’t know what else anyone could possibly have done for her to make it. I think adoption is a permanent attempt to help a child have a better life.

  5. “The issue of counseling is different than the issue of the pithy, untrue statement “Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
    Counseling isn’t a cure all, even the best counseling. So I’m not necessarily sure that a counselor could always help a woman get to a place where relinquishing wasn’t the best choice, if it truly was the best choice in the first place. But really, that’s something to explore in another post.”

    I didn’t say counselling was a cure-all. You will note from the first of the above posts that I did say that “Relinquishment/adoption may still be the answer” – what I was trying to say was to at least get the woman to a better place than she was rather than still in the same place than she was at first counselling. Her problems may still be so insurmountable that relinquishment is the only problem but at least she will made that decision knowing that all avenues were explored. My issue with the 2nd option counselling I spoke of is that the client may actually end up thinking her problems are more insurmountable than they actually are.

    At the same time, I can see that what you actually dislike about the quote is that it sounds as if it is implying that the problem is always “temporary” and I agree with you there that there are times that the problems can’t be overcome. Do you feel more comfortable with the phrase ” “Adoption is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem”. I have seen people use that phrase and then say something like “so it is important to work out what is a surmountable problem and an insurmountable problem”.

    Just a thought also, when we are talking about adoption, we are talking about relinquishment/adoption. So really, the phrase might be better expressed as “Termination of parental rights is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem”.

    • No, for two reasons. First, the problem is often not temporary. See my list at the beginning of the blog post. Second, adoption isn’t a solution to the problem. See the third paragraph after the list.

  6. Certainly, there are many soundbites about adoption, a lot that don’t make much sense.

    Still, I personally have no problems with the statement “Adoption is a permanent solution to an often temporary problem” because when said to an expectant mother (which is the only time I’ve seen it used), it is a timely reminder that adoption IS permanent and that DURING her pregnancy, she should be getting counselling re what are surmountable and insurmountable problems and access to resources and advice if she wishes. If you think reminding an expectant mother that adoption is permanent for herself and her child and that during her pregnancy, her problems should be addressed is idiotic, then I’m afraid I have to disagree with you.

    This is in the best interest of both child and mother, because though adoption may turn out to be a NET positive for a particular child, there are certain stressors involving even with the happiest adopted child and thus relinquishment and adoption, of course, should never be taken lightly and it certainly should not be “sold” to an expectant mother with such statements as “Adoption equals love, opportunity and the American dream” (as one very popular agency does in their letters to expectants mothers considering adoption (I posed as one in regards to this agency)).

    Could the statement itself be phrased better? Sure. But I don’t believe the sentiment behind it is idiotic or naive in itself when used correctly.

    Btw I have seen the statement used on very pro-adoption sites and I suspect those people don’t quite understand the point behind the statement. So yes, so I agree with you there, those people are a bit idiotic.

  7. I don’t believe that the statement is correct often enough to be used. It is absolutely idiotic and naive. Depending on the context, it can also be incredibly rude.

    I believe that the statement and anything related to counseling are two completely different things.

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