Open Mike: Guardianship or Adoption?

Since I'll be gone for the next few days, it's a great time for another Open Mike.

This time I would really like to explore how you all feel about a topic that I frequently see referenced, but seldom discussed. That's not to say that people aren't discussing it, only that I haven't yet found where those discussions are taking place. The result is that I know very little about how guardianship might work as an alternative to or replacement of adoption.

I'd like to know more. So I hope you'll comment (anonymously if that's more comfortable for you) and share your thoughts. Please let everyone know how you're connected to adoption: first parent, adoptee, adoptive parent, ???

So here's the question - I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

Which do you believe is preferable: guardianship or adoption? Why?

Comments said…
I think with older child adoption definetly guardianship, it's hard enough being removed from your family without having your identity taken away as well.

Maybe with babies too, i don't agree with changing a child's name, and I don't agree with changing their identity either.

I think guardianship is a more honest way of adopting, it's not trying to pretend that the child is yours and yours only.

I believe in being more open and honest about adoption. I support guardianship and open adoption over closed adoption.

I don't support the taking away of someone's true identity. True being original. Debate true if you want that's ok with me.
suz said…
call it whatever you wish, guardianship, adoption, parenting, whatever. but it should be in the best interest of the child, no closed records, no name changing, no stigmatizing of the family of origin, no lies and secrecy.

there will always be a need for someone to care for someone elses child (death, natural disaster, etc.). it should never be about ownership or someone feeling they have a "right" to have a child under at any circumstances and at any cost.

i find fault with a system that focuses on meeting the needs of infertile families first and the child second.

find homes for children and not children for homes.

support the family of origin and family preservation and remove barriers that prevent mothers from keeping their children.

i could go on, but you know my position well enough.

: )
Ryan said…
I"m just curious, when you say (you being Kim Kim and Suz)not to change the child's name... do you mean lats name/first name/or what? We adopted from Korea and gave our son an American first name but kept his Korean first name as his middle name. We will share all of his info with him as soon as he can understand (including his Korean last name)... just wondering if your opinion is that we should have called him by his Korean name as opposed to an Amican first name... if so, why? Thanks for you thoughts.
Anonymous said…
I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between guardianship and adoption, but I can tell you what I do believe in. I'm an amom, btw, for those who do not know me.

I don't believe in keeping records closed. I don't believe anything about an adoptees history should be kept from them. I certainly don't believe in denigrating the family of origin as someone brought up. I certainly believe I have the right to name my children, but as they will know their original names, they certainly have the right to return to those names (or any name they want) whenever they wish. Makes not a darn bit of difference to me.

Someone mentioned the "right" to have a child, which I certainly don't think should be the one has the *right* to adopt. I also think it's ludicrous to pretend that the family of origin is not family. I saw a petition recently that would allow adult adoptees to bring family from their country of origin....makes sense to me. Why not?

Someone mentioned adoption taking away an individual's identity. I'm not sure what that really means. Maybe this is referring to situations in which the child's family of origin and history are denied and pretended not to even exist. Of course, I think this is downright cruel to do to another human being.
joy said…
To Ryan:

I am not KimKim or Suz, but an adoptee, and in response to your question, I would vote yes, not to change his name, the why would be because it was his name, he is Korean, it seems really simple to me.

I always felt awful about my name being changed, it always feels like a lie to me, it is funny I never spoke out loud about this and yet when we adopted our dog, my son was 9 and I asked what he wanted to name the dog, the pound people had called him Mel, because he is a Malamute and you can't really call a dog Mal, but my son was outraged, "You don't rename someone just because YOU meet them!" It was so simple to him, so now I have a dog named Mel. Children are amazing.
Gwen said…
I'm an adoptive mom and in our particular case with our daughters their names have always been their names because we were given the option to name them immediately. Our second daughter does have a name in there given by her birthmother.

Our son came to us later and so we obviously kept his first name the same. We did change his middle name because we wanted him to have a piece from us in his name just as his sisters do. We chose very carefully and his middle name is after his father. Of course we will share with him what he was originally named and we honor that by continuing to call him by his first name.

This may not be popular with some but I'm not for guardianship over adoption in most cases. Obviously each case should be handled based on the uniqueness of that situation. My issue with guardianship is that the first parents maintain the right to take back over parenting. In some cases that is fine but in others it just cannot be the case. The child has to have some stability and having lived through something similar growing up I just cannot stand it when children are tossed back and forth with no sense of belonging. I just think if the first parents are unable to parent then adoption is the best route because it protects the child from being bounced back and forth.
Anonymous said…
Gwen, just to follow up on what you were saying. I worked as a child adovacate for the foster system. I had several cases over the time I had this position (I'm an aparent now, but wasn't even thinking about adoption at the time.). *All* of the children, regardless of age, wanted to be adopted. They wanted a stable, loving home, and most of all, sense a permanent sense of belonging as a family member. (BTW-it didn't mean they never wanted to talk to their biological parents ever again, but they didn't want to or couldn't live with them.) Some of the children I was close to started to call me mama and writing my last name on their papers (which wasn't allowed... painful discussion). I'm not saying this is true for *all* children in DCFS, but this was my experience listening to several foster children over the years.

ryan said…
I just wanted to add one more thing in the "name" discussion. (Kind of off topic, I know). I have talked with/ read about many international adoptees now, and I think opinions on keeping the birth name or changing it are mixed. In the case of our son, his Koran name can be hard to pronounce, so we gave him an "American" first name, and kept his Korean first name as his middle name. I think that he will appreciate the fact that his class mates, teachers, doctors, etc, don't have to struggle over pronouncing his Korean name. While I understand your point Joy, I think in the case of international adoption, things can be different. Our son is already very *different* from the rest of our family, and while we want to celebrate those differences, we don't want him to struggle with those differences in every day life. Because we felt his Korean name IS special, we choosed to keep at as his middle name. Should he choose to go by that in the future, that would be fine with us. He will be fully aware of his birth name, and every other aspect of his adoption. No secrets here. But I can't say I agree with keeping his Korean name. I don't think it would be fare to him on an every day scale. Thank you for your input though!
Deb said…
As an a-mom, the voices I most want to hear in the guardianship vs adoption discussion are the voices of the adoptees. In my opinion, adoption isn't about erasing a child's family of origin/birth family/first family from their history, lives or hearts, but about giving him or her a family with which to move forward if for whatever reason it can't be that original family. It's about having a family that BELONGS to them now and for the future. I would be afraid that having a guardianship arrangement would make an individual feel he or she was always a guest in the home, and not a permanent part of it. I think adoptees struggle with those issues as it is, even in the best of circumstances, and I suspect having a "guardian" versus having a "parent", even one through adoption, would exaggerate that feeling. But, I am not an adoptee, nor was I ever a ward. I can see that having a guardianship arrangement would clarify the child's relationship to the first family and the importance of that relationship, and that is a very critical goal. But I don't think that accomplishing that goal needs to come at the expense of eroding the relationship to the adoptive family, which is what I worry a blanket replacement of adoption with guardianship would do.

Names are so fundamental. I think there are powerful arguments to keep a child's original name, but also good arguments to give them a name that fits into the culture they will be raised in. Our son is from Asia, and our solution was to keep his name as his first name, but give him an American middle name that was meaningful in our family. As he gets older, he can decide what he wants to use, and I expect it will change with different phases of his life. (Personally, I've used 5 different variations of my name over time!) It helps that his name was something that, while not common, wasn't unusual as an American male name, either. I'm not sure what we would have decided had it been something that would be an obvious target for harrassment later on.
joy said…
Well as an adoptee, I have no idea. I mean for me I think it changes, I think children are really different in how they work than adults, so even my ideas as an adult might affect an 8 year old me really differently. I can't really access the 8 year old part of me anymore without the adult filter. For the name thing for example, I can imagine me being 8 and wanting an American name if I didn't have one, because we all want to fit in at that age, but then I can imagine being 18 and wanting a name that fit with my face.( I am white btw this is just thinking) I mean my banker for example, who is so wonderful, is Vietnamese, but his name is very English, so I know he is adopted. I wouldn't want to have to share something, I consider very private with the whole world, all the time like that. It would make me feel vulnerable.

As an adult I can see the benefits of guardianship, you get to keep your identity, which would be lovely, and take wind out of the adoption machine's sails, and therefore there would be less adoption, which I am all for less adoption.

On the other hand, when I was 8 and signing up for soccer would I really want to always have to be different in that way, I mean my adoptive family "passed" we looked enough alike, I felt safety in that, would I feel less committed too if their was just guardianship? I don't know, but I do think children who experience abandonment, whatever the reason need tons of assurance that a strong committment to help them heal, I think people should also acknowledge that part of it, and remember that children are not mini adults, their brains work very differently, so ideas that make sense to us aged ones, could be harmful to little ones.

So that was a long winded way of saying, as an adoptee, I can say I have no idea what is better.
Deb said…
Joy, I think you make a very important point-- what's best for an infant, toddler, child, adolescent, teen, young adult, mature adult-- they may be very different things.

I wonder, too, how the perception of what name goes with what face will change over the next decades. I see so many parents in my community giving their children names not traditionally of their ethnicities-- parents of a variety of ethnicities.
Irshlas said…
I so appreciate the previous posts. They've given me a different perspective. I have to admit when I first read the topic I didn't see the point - adoption vs. guardianship. It appeared to be a matter of verbal semantics. I am starting to see the difference... or at least the nuances involved. I’m currently in the process of completing an international adoption. We chose not to keep our son’s given name. I would offer another perspective that some international adoptees weren’t given names by their original families. An attorney, a social worker, a nurse, an orphanage worker, etc. named them. Their first families, for whatever reason, chose not to name them or didn’t leave any identification for the child. I’m not saying this is an all-the-time occurrence, but it does happen. In such a case, what connection is there to a particular name? Just because it “sounds” ethnically correct. For the record, I have an Irish Gaelic first name. I can’t tell you how many times I meet people who are shocked I’m not African-American when they meet me after having read/heard my name. (I’m white but have yet to meet a white girl with my name. Interesting sidenote as to folks naming their child names from different cultures, huh?)

Also, on the names topic, I grew up in a community with a large Vietnamese population. I knew MANY kids who chose American names. While I would guess most were using them as nicknames (not legally their name), I did know others who actually had their names legally changed – by their own choosing or by their parents’ choosing. Why? It’s not exactly easy to be 13 with a name like Phuc Nguyen (which is pronounced like the word “when.”) Many of these kids were first-generation Americans anyway and couldn’t care less about Vietnam. I’m not judging their decisions. Only offering up that being from a country doesn’t necessarily guarantee pride or association with said country. It’s all a daily decision on the part of the individual.

As far as the original topic, I’m still not 100% sure that there’s a difference to me. Once our adoption decree is final, I will be his legal guardian. From a legal standpoint I don’t think there’s much difference. (Lay person’s thinking here.) I admit that I’m not sure of the need to reissue a birth certificate with my name on it as his mother. I have his original birth certificate from his home country with his first mother’s information. It’s his property and I’ll give it to him at such time that he wants it. But that’s just MY story. I’m definitely interested in everyone else’s take on the issue. It’s food for thought in my world!
zoe said…
joy -

"You don't rename someone just because YOU meet them!"

That's awesome. Too bad we adults can't see the issues with such clarity and common-sense instead of being paralyzed by our own desires and fears. I'm as guilty as the next...

As far as adoption vs guardianship - I agree that the opinions of adoptees should be heard above all else. If not guardianship, I think there are so many things that could change with adoption itself. For example, it felt so incredibly wrong to see my son's state birth certificate come back with my husband's and my name on it. WHY?! The more I learn about the ethics and legal practices and laws regarding adoption, the more distraught I become about having become a participant in this. Guardianship, though - I don't know. In some respects I think it may solve one set of problems and creat another just as troubling (at least for some children/would-be adoptees). I have no idea how it would all play out legally, but right now I feel like some major restrictions on and restructuring of legal adoption as we know it, could accomplish just as much.
Ryan said…
"For example, it felt so incredibly wrong to see my son's state birth certificate come back with my husband's and my name on it. "

We have yet to be finalized in court, but I too feel strange about that. I don't understand why it couldn't state both families names and differentiate between the two.
zoe said…
Ryan -

In our case (and yours) having name of his Korean mother and father on our state birth certificate is not possible due to the closed nature of our adoptions. We received (and you will receive your state's version of) a 'Certificate of Live Birth - Delayed Foreign Birth'. It lists his correct birthplace (SK) and even time of birth. Then it goes on to list my name and birthplace and my husband's name and birthplace as his 'mother' and 'father' (no indication that we are not his parents by birth). If they had just noted us as his adoptive parents, the document wouldn't be the fraud that I feel it is. I have no emotional (or other) need to have my name listed on his birth certificate. We have a special relationship and I love him beyond scope or bounds, but it needn't be a legal secret that I didn't give birth to him.
Anonymous said…
After reading my above comment, it seems I sound exactly like I AM demonizing my son's natural mom. I'm sorry about that. I rarely have a chance to explain why I've made the decisions I have--in the "real" world, if people hear "drug use", they just say, "Oh, of course you don't want him around THAT. ISN'T HE LUCKY." And that's not how I feel.

How I feel IS: You can't treat a child like a doll on a shelf. You can't take him down and play "Mommy" when it's convenient and then not call for months. You can't just not show up because you'd rather party.

My son is a person in his own right. He's not just a walking ego-boost for his natural parents. He has feelings of his own, and they're NOT always the Disneyland kind. His natural parents' addiction isn't the biggest problem for me. I could work around that, if they could stay clean for supervised visits and show up. It's the attitude of ENTITLEMENT.

I've been able to explain the drug use so far, but what about the attitude of entitlement that is there, regardless? How can I tell my kid that they're not demons, but they ARE selfish and self-absorbed? How can I explain that he doesn't have to believe their self-serving crap about how the world was against them?

I can't. So I take on the role of hard-ass mommy until he's old enough and secure enough to recognize a fairy tale when he hears it. When he hears their story of how the Evil Empire stole him, he'll be able to take it with a grain of salt and survive it.

So guardianship is great, if the parents are real, caring parents. I talk to my kid about stuff as it comes up, and if one of his parents gets it together I'll ask if he wants to see them. But not before.
Anonymous said…
I have heard this argument before and I think aparents use it to rationalize not keeping the child's orginal name. It doesn't matter who named them, it is *his or her* name, sometimes for many months or longer. It is the only thing they bring from their birthcountry (besides their DNA).

I swear it seems that some aparents (not you) spend more time deciding on the color of sqeaky shoes than really thinking through what it means to take away a child's name and replace it with Jennifer Sarah Smith. And yes, the name is a reminder of the child's beginnings which I suspect some aparents want to erase (again, not you.)

I don't understand why aparents can't integrate the child's original name somewhere into their name-- have 6 middle names if need be. This way the child's origins remain in tact, not to mention it gives him or her the option to use it as their first name as they get older.

It just seems so selfish to completely erase his or her original name. And really, haven't we (aparents) benefitted enough?

Ryan said…
Most of the adoptive parents I know, that have adopted from other countries HAVE kept their children's original names as their middle names. Again, my son's Korean name... (in Korea they have a hypenated two part first name, and then a last name)... is his middle name now. I think most of us try to integrate their Korean name as best as we can, while still giving them an American first name. I stated my reasons for the American first name in a previous comment on this post.

Also, you said:
"It is the only thing they bring from their birthcountry (besides their DNA)." I understand your point, but we traveled to Korea to bring LOTS of culture, information, art, music, etc from Korea. We went to Korea to absorb every detail, and we went there to immerse ourselves in the Korea lifestyle so that we could teach him the ways of his homeland. I get what you're saying, but the Korean culture is a BIG part of our lives... and asside from just our son, we brought home the customs and traditions of Korea with us. My son's name isn't the only thing about him thats Korean... HE is Korean through and through, and HE brought with him an amazing culture that he will grow to be proud of. However, he is also American (well, he wil be once finalized)... and as a Korean-American we want him to be equally proud of the country he will be raised in. Having an American first name (in our opinion) will help him integrate better and avoid embarrasment at the struggle that would most likely ensue over his difficult-to-pronounce Korean name. Also, he has two siblings that are not adopted, and I don't want himto constantly feel "different" from the rest of his family. For example, had I left his name in whole (including his Korean last name) I think that would be a slap-in-the-face to him. Can you imagine being a member of a family but not even sharing their family name??? I think that would be horrible. Should he choose to go by his Korean name when older, then we would be thrilled for him. But for now, we are mixing the two names. When he is a little older, I will get him enrolled in Korean language classes... I'd like him to be fluent as an adult so that he could go back to Korea and feel KOREAN... not like a foreignor. We want him to KNOW Korea and FEEL how wonderful his country is. Granted, I'm not Korean, but I will do all that I can to keep him from feeling caught between two cultures. My point is, that not all a-parents choose to *forget* their childrens roots... or choose to ignore their culture. I know MANY who are working their best to keep their children's roots grounded in the soil of their homeland... including me.
thevoyage said…

Let me echo the beginning of Ryan's post. We adopted our daughter from China and got to know dozens of other families who did the same. We know maybe one family who did not keep their daughter's name at least as a middle name. We know a couple of families who kind of screwed up their daughter's name by only keeping one part of the child's two part given name (which really makes no sense in Chinese, but the good intention was there).

I honestly don't know anyone who didn't put a great deal of thought into their child's name. Most people I know asked other people their opinions. So much went into choosing my daughter's name...from asking Chinese people, to asking adoptees, to asking other aparents who had adopted from China, to looking at online resources for naming a Chinese child, to considering whom we wanted to name her after. For many families, this is no simple matter.
Deb said…
I think you know more enlightened a-parents than I do :-). Most of the international adoptees in my area have Americanized names, first, last, and middle, and parents who feel that eating at the Chinese buffet a few times a year and displaying a few Chinese trinkets picked up on Shaimen Island constitutes exposure to Chinese culture.

I think that the history a-parents are given to keep for their child can be so very variable. I have moments of great envy for those of you with Korean children. I know that there are concerns about how much of the history you have is fabricated, but at least it is something. In my son's case, I know very, very little. I know when and where he was found, approximately how old he was at that time, and I have a few undated pictures of his early years, and that is IT.

I considered the argument that my son's orphanage name wasn't really his name. I don't know who chose it for him, but I know it was one of the orphanage staff. He has the same last and generational names as most of his age-grouped peers from his orphanage. Thus, it isn't a name that connects him to his first family. It is, however, a name that connects him to his past, in a way that nothing else in his present will. So to us, keeping that name was very important.

I wish I'd known the name his first family gave him, too.

I know we've gotten pretty far afield from the question of adoption versus guardianship. But ultimately I think it all relates to different aspects of the same issue: defining the identity of the adoptee, or perhaps more accurately what pieces do we give them to use in defining themselves?

I think names are sure a lot easier to discuss! I can think for hours about the pros and cons of this or that way of doing it-- but the idea that I shouldn't have my son call me "Mommy" is so painful I can't think about it for very long at a time. And I know that is a pain that his first mother lives with every moment of every day.
abebech said…
I've been thinking a lot about this. At one (recent) point, I though guardianship superior to adoption (as an amom), because it keeps the original family intact. _But_ having adopted a toddler, I am most aware of her need for permanence and assurance of permanence. What I realized then is that there has to be some other way of conceiving of adoption, not as dividing a child from a first family to install her in a forever family (tpr), but guardianship, maintaining the first family as the _sole_ forever family, doesn't do it either. She is entitled to the rights of full membership in our families, forever.
Anonymous said…
Our daughter's first name is American as well, so I get where you're coming from. As far as bringing back Korean culture, well, first, that is what you, as an aparent, brought back-- he did not bring culture back with him. Yes, I suspect he will benefit from your efforts, but... secondly, that depends on how you define culture... that is another entire topic completely.

To the other commenter,
I'm glad you have experienced aparents putting thought into their child's name, but I have witnessed a grab bag of what *I* perceive as not well thought out names. for example, Meigan-- the entire idea of "making up" Chinese sounding names. Two people in my travel groups commented on the *way home* that they felt they should have kept some part of their daughter's Chinese name and that they didn't give it much thought... (but it is never too late to change a name as many KADS will confirm.)

BTW--My original point was that aparents should keep the child's original name *somewhere* in their full name.

Margie said…
Incredible discussion, and although it has gone beyond the original question, it all ties back, I think, to the fundamental issue of identity.

I have to be honest that I've had a hard time trying to figure out where I stand on this.

Here's what I know: That secrecy, loss of identity, demonization and dismissal of families of origin, adoptive family appropriation of the child's identity are wrong.

Here's what I don't know: How guardianship would play out legally, how disputes would be addressed, and what protections could be put in place to ensure that children wouldn't be pulled between families.

I definitely believe that for older children, guardianship arrangements can be established that provide the same stability as an adoptive family without loss of the young person's identity. It becomes grayer for me when the children are younger.

I'm curious if anyone knows of agencies or attorneys that arrange guardianships as opposed to adoptions. It would be interesting to understand how a guardianship is established, how the rights of the adoptee and first family are protected, what the responsibilities of the guardians are as opposed to a-parents.
Mak Preist said…

Popular Posts