The ‘for the best’ concept I was musing on in my last post set me off on a tangent talking about the Madonna adoption story, which I was originally going to put in as a note on the last post but ended up growing until it took on a post of its own. So, some general philosophical ramblings on the whole subject of whether or not the adoption is the right thing for David:
I think that what has underlain (is that a word?) the debate so far is a lack of
recognition of the fact that sometimes it just isn’t as clear-cut as
talking about The Right Thing or The Best Thing. That way of putting
it can sometimes make it sound deceptively simple – as though it was
just a matter of adding up the pros and cons of each option like
different columns of numbers and see which total is bigger at the end.
Voila! The Best.
The difficulty in real life is that an option that’s better in one
way may be worse in another, and the two don’t just cancel each other
out like negative and positive numbers. The pros of one option may outweigh
the cons, but that doesn’t mean that the cons all shuffle quietly away
and stop bothering everyone. And it also doesn’t mean that everyone’s
going to agree on how much priority should be put on one set of pros or
cons rather than another.
Hence the dispute over whether David will be better or worse off as
a result of being adopted. The simple fact is, both are true; he’ll be better in some ways and worse in other ways. He’ll be better
off materially – to a degree rarely encountered outside fairy tales –
but he’ll be worse off in terms of his day-to-day experience in the
immediate future (because he’ll lose the security of the caregivers
he’s used to, which is what actually matters to children his age) and
in terms of connection to his birth family and his culture long-term. So the question is – which of these things are most important?
Some people seem to lose sight of the fact that
they’re all important. I think this is partly because there’s
a tendency to assume that there’s something shallow about caring about
material advantages or about thinking they’re more important than such
values as family, security, and culture. But let’s not forget that in
this case, material advantages don’t just mean the vast fortune that
he’ll now share in (which, true, isn’t as important as other
factors). Material advantages mean such basics as enough decent food
and proper medicine if he gets sick, better education, and way more
options and choices open to him when he grows up and decides what he
wants to do with his life.
I think it’s worth remembering that there actually isn’t a Right or
Wrong answer to the question of which of these many things are most
important, because the fact is that not only are all of them important, but different people will put different priorities on
different things, and it’s an area where there genuinely is room for
different opinions. What actually matters at the end of the day is
which of these things are going to be a priority to David. Which, of
course, we don’t know, because he’s not old enough to make an informed
decision on the subject. And the person whose job it is to decide such things – his father –
decided that the priority should be giving him opportunities for the
Is it fair to assume that David’s father – who knows not only his
son but the life and the future that would have been waiting for him
had he stayed where he was – is making the wrong decision? There’s a
tendency to get a bit patronising there and assume that we know better than he possibly could, this poor uneducated man. And maybe we do – after all,
parenthood, unfortunately, does not give one immunity to making wrong
decisions – but let’s bear in mind that it’s quite possible that we’re
the ones who don’t know what we’re talking about.
And yet… I’m still uneasy about it. Less so than I was – my
initial reaction to this story, I’ve got to admit, was to leap to the
conclusion that she must just be the kind of stereotypical adoptive
parent that drives other adoptive parents nuts; a clueless do-gooder
with a saviour complex. Didn’t she realise it might be a bad
idea to take a child away from everything he knows, to uproot him like
that and assume it’s All For The Best? When I realised that I seemed
to have started channeling Tricia Smith Vaughan, I had to give some good hard thought to why I was reacting so differently to this than to, say, Jo or Karen adopting.
Some of it was my own stereotyping. Because Madonna is rich and
famous, my automatic assumption was that she was merely rushing in to
throw money at a problem without bothering to think through The Issues
(unlike all of us less rich and hence naturally more morally
superior people). And that’s no fairer than any other type of
prejudice. But… from what I’ve been reading of the Oprah interview
and her comments on the matter, I honestly don’t get the impression that she has thought much about the issues involved.
Which may very well be completely and hopelessly unfair, because I
didn’t see the Oprah interview, and all the snippets I’ve read of what
she’s said or done have come via the filter of the media. One of
life’s lessons that I try to keep in mind is never, ever, ever to
underestimate the power of the media to distort a quote or story or
incident almost beyond recognition. Maybe she actually has thought
deeply about all the possible problems and how she will deal with them
as best as she can; maybe she’s talking about all this stuff and the
media just aren’t bothering to make headline news out of it.
I hope so. Because… part of doing the best we can with whatever
reality is out there involves recognising the bits that aren’t best,
the list of cons that stubbornly refuses to disappear no matter how the
pros outweigh them, the problems that don’t fade away into Happily Ever
After the way they do in a fairytale or Disney movie. Recognising and
acknowledging them, in order to figure out how best to deal with them.
That’s why approaching adoption with a
how-great-it-is-that-I’m-saving-a-child attitude just isn’t such a
great idea, because someone who feels that way is probably not
going to be acknowledging the disadvantages. And when you refuse to
acknowledge the existence of something, you probably aren’t putting
yourself in an optimal position to deal with it.
I think that one thing that maybe we can all agree on is that
whatever Madonna had done, there would have been disadvantages for
David. There are disadvantages for him in being adopted; there would
have been disadvantages for him in being left where he was. We can
argue all we like about what that nebulous and elusive Best would be in
this situation, but that’s water under the bridge; the really important issue now is how Madonna can go about giving him the best possible life now
that he is here. To do that, she’ll need to recognise that ‘the best’ will involve more than
just swooping him into a fabulous but alien life and expecting that the
improvement in his material circumstances will make up for everything
And I’m trying to fight my cynicism as to whether she’ll be able to do this. Fact is, I don’t know her, I don’t have a clue what kind of mother she is, and it’s not exactly as though it were my business anyway. So, I hope she’s thought about this more deeply than the media seem to be portraying; but I figure she deserves the benefit of the doubt. Besides, ultimately it’s David, not any of us, who will have the right to make that call.