Parenting Is A Privilege, Not A Right

Michele Merritt
18 min readMay 8, 2021

And family preservation is a moral obligation

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Strap in for the Mother’s Day essay you didn’t see coming. Be prepared to get angry with me. It’s fine. I’m used to it. Just maybe sit with this for a while and read the sources, ok?

When I started seriously interrogating my identity as an adopted person, it led me to question adoption more generally. I began researching the ways adoptees are at greater risk for mental health issues, eating disorders, suicide, and even dermatological problems. I found a community of adoptees online who were shouting just to be heard: being adopted is not all society makes it out to be. Organizations like Bastard Nation have been fighting for decades for what they see as basic human rights to be bestowed upon adoptees — namely for us to be able to access our original birth certificates. I decided to join the chorus of those working to flip the script and expose the dark underbelly of an institution that is uncritically assumed to be an unqualified good. As an academic, I have done this primarily through writing and sharing my own story more publicly.

Ever since my adoptee activism and advocacy began, I have been asked the same question, consistently. Though formulated in various ways, the query is roughly: but what about all the kids who don’t have any family and need a home? I patiently explain that true orphans are a rarity, that biological family is more than a mother or a father and that extended family or kinship adoptions are far better for the child if possible, because the child can grow up among genetic familiars. I point out that most mothers who relinquish are not happy with their decision in the long run and that this causes them great sorrow and even PTSD, and that when interviewed, nearly all of them claim if they had just had more financial security and social support they would have parented their children. Most of all, I note that adoption is traumatic to so many adoptees — maybe not all of us, but it is for enough of us to be significant and worthy of consideration.

I expend all this emotional energy and provide this free labor and yet, nine times out of ten, the response I get is something along the lines of “well, I still plan to adopt but at least now I can do it with the awareness of all these issues.”

To me, that is like saying “I…

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Michele Merritt

Philosophy professor. Adoptee. Advocate. Activist. Marathon swimmer. Cheese consumer. I write about dogs a lot. michelemerritt.com