One Big Caveat

(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at

Note, however, the operative phrase: babies who would otherwise be adopted by two parent families. With the tremendous “shortage” of healthy, infant, adoptable babies in this country, waiting lists of loving, two-parent families are literally years long. It’s safe to say that there is a family waiting for every child placed for adoption.

Interestingly enough, the day after I wrote that column, I boarded a plane to God-knows-where to give a talk. Through a somewhat bizarre game of “airborne musical chairs” (involving a traveling group of high school girls, all of course determined to sit together or die trying), I wound up sitting next to a very nice American lady traveling with a simply gorgeous 18 month old Chinese girl. We got to talking, and the woman told me that she had adopted the baby directly from China. She said “I” and not “we,” so I was naturally very interested in getting the whole story.

This woman told me that China, unlike the United States, has an absolute “glut” of orphans — mostly girls. Actually, many are probably not orphans in the strict sense of the word, but rather are babies unwanted by their parents in a one-child-per-family culture which values male children more highly that females. I suppose these are the lucky ones in a sense, since so many of their peers are aborted before they ever see the light of day.

But that’s a far as their luck goes. Through whatever circumstances, these children wind up in Chinese orphanages. And, according to this woman (who is in a position to know) less that two percent of these children are ever adopted.

I don’t know a lot about orphans and adoptions in other countries, but I’ve heard that the situation is similar. I know that, when I was in Africa, I saw literally hundreds of AIDS orphans with my own eyes, just in the two weeks I was there. I’ve heard that many other countries (Romania and Russia come immediately to mind) have overflowing orphanages as well.

Okay, this is a pretty big caveat, and I couldn’t let it pass without note. When I said single women (or men, for that matter) shouldn’t adopt children, I was talking about a situation where that child would otherwise be placed in a two-parent family. With overseas adoption, the circumstances are entirely different. A child in one of these orphanages is not just passing a few months until being placed with a loving family. A vast majority of these kids are there to stay. No neighborhood to play in. No bedroom to call their own. No pets. No family vacations. No parents to love and nurture them — to teach them to pray, to kiss their boo-boos, to tuck them in at night.

These children should be adopted. They should be adopted by anyone who has the means to provide them a better life than they would otherwise lead. And, believe me, when compared to a Communist Chinese orphanages, most of us could provide pretty well for them. Married couples who are unable to conceive should look into overseas adoption. Families with children and room in their hearts for more should look into it, as well. And single men and women with the means to support and nurture a child should check it out, too.

Not that I think anyone should adopt these children and then do a half-hearted job of raising them, reasoning that “anything” is better than what they came from. I don’t like the idea of adopting them and then parking them in day care twelve hours a day, exchanging one institutional setting for another. Adoptive parents, single or married, need to make an effort to spend time with these kids they’ve responsibility for.

And these adoptive “single parents” would need to do something else. They would need to make an all-out effort to find an opposite sex role model for these children. Single women would have to find a man — a brother, father or friend — to play a constant, active role in the child’s life. And vice versa for a single man. That would be especially true when adoptive opposite-sex children. In fact, I think that for the most part, single women would be better off adopting girls in this situation, given the incredible importance of male role models in the development of young boys. And probably vice versa again for single men.

No, single parent families aren’t the ideal. Far from it. But for a kid facing the prospect of growing up in a cold, institutional, government-run orphanage, they’re really not such a bad alternative.

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