This terribly sad story has been all over the media the past few days. Torry Ann Hanson, who lives in Tennessee, adopted a seven-year-old Russian boy. (She called him “Justin” while his Russian name was “Artyom.”)
Apparently it was not a successful relationship. Asserting that she had been lied to and misled, Hanson decided to return the boy to Russia. Her mother, Nancy Hanson, travelled with the boy as far as Washington. She then put him on a direct flight to Moscow with a note that said:
After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.
It seems to me behavior like this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of adoption and perhaps also suggests some systemic flaws. When an adoption is completed (and I’m going to assume one was) you become a child’s legal parent.
Being a legal parent is essentially a permanent position. It doesn’t expire and you don’t just get to quit. While you might farm-out various tasks (education, babysitting and so on) you remain, forever, the child’s parent.
Of course not all parents are up to the job. Remember last year, when for a short period of time, Nebraska allowed parents to drop kids off a ERs? (There’s a bunch of posts back there about this if you do not remember it.) Nebraska changed its law pretty quickly, because it didn’t square with one of our fundamental understandings about parenthood.
Now I worry particularly about a case like this one, which is bound to get tons of press, because of the damage it will do to all the really terrific adoptive parent who totally get it. Instances like this become fodder for those who will assert that the biological bond is somehow better or stronger or more genuine than the bond between adoptive parent and child.
Yet just as the stories of genetically related parents who abandon their children in dumpsters do not prove the inferiority of genetic relationships, so stories like this do not offer us lessons about the commitment of adoptive parents generally.
At the same time, it is clear to me that something went terribly wrong here. Somehow Hanson went through the adoption process without comprehending the essential permanence of adoption. Surely that is unacceptable.
I’m reluctant to rush to judgment because I have so few facts, but I’m inclined to think that someone who would do what was done here is probably not well-suited to parenthood. I do understand children can be exceptionally difficult and circumstances can conspire to compound the difficulty. Parents can need (and when the do need, should demand) assistance coping with the challenges they face. But parents cannot just quit. Until a person understands that, I’m not sure they should be allowed to become a parent.
It appears to me, too, that this was a single-parent adoption. (I’m not sure about that, but no second parent is mentioned.) If this is the case, then I should echo the concern I just expressed–because this single-mother performed poorly, it does not mean that single mothers cannot be terrific parents. It’s critical not to over-generalize, even as we look for lessons to be learned.