The August, 2015 issue of the New Yorker is out, with an article about a couple who decided to adopt 20 children, (and have two biological kids of their own.) We have a fancy name for a house like that: orphanage.
There are a lot of names in the article, so I’m going to write this in quick-guide form.
Sue Hoag: Mom. Middle class background (last name Scottish,) came from a family of four. Once read a book about a family that adopted a lot of kids and decided it sounded like a great idea. (I suppose I should be glad that my childhood fantasies were clearly impossible, like “fly like a bird.”)
Hector Badeau: Dad. Lower-class French-Canadian background; one of 16 children.
They married in 1979, (about the same time as my parents) and decided that Jesus–for they are Christian conservatives–wanted them to devote their lives to supporting the oppressed and seeking social justice. They now have great-grandchildren (by contrast, my parents only have grandkids, and they’re still little.)
Children, in order:
Chelsea: Biological child, born 1980. “They had planned to wait a few years to have kids, taking time to pay off their loans for college and the bookstore, but Sue got pregnant a few months after the wedding.” (Translation: they know abstractly that people should behave responsibly, but don’t actually have any impulse control.) Chelsea got pregnant after college but before marriage, but eventually became a productive member of society with a job at a media company in Philadelphia. (Note to those with the paper copy: the electronic version of the story has a correction about the timing of Chelsea’s pregnancy.)
Jose: Adopted from El Salvador, where his parents had died in the war. Stayed out of trouble and is now a programmer for a bank in Zurich. Possibly the most successful of the bunch.
Isaac: biological child. He stayed out of trouble, eventually married and joined the military.
Raj: Adopted from India, premature, cerebral palsy.
These first four children were born/adopted in close succession. The parents then took in several foster kids, and Sue discovered that she sucks at parenting, so Hector became the stay-at-home parent while Sue worked, which seems to have gradually improved the family’s otherwise disastrous finances. Two years spent running a group home for teenage boys: 23 boys.
Joelle: adopted from Florida; fetal alcohol syndrome. She got pregnant while still in school.
Sue decides to have her tubes tied so they can maximize the number of adopted children without any more biological children getting in the way.
“It was their calling to adopt, and if they filled up their family with more biological children their mission would be compromised.”
Abel: 10; SueAnn: 8; George: 7; Flory; 5. A sibling group adopted together from New Mexico.
SueAnn got pregnant at 15, gave the baby up for adoption, then got pregnant again and dropped out of college.
At 28, Abel got sent to prison for 7 years for statutory rape of a developmentally disabled 16 yr old adoptive sibling.
Flory got pregnant twice while still in school.
Here the narrative pauses to describe the emotional high Sue got off adopting children:
“There was something about the difficulty of new children that Sue loved. …
“Sue: It was almost like a high, that new time, getting to know them and the challenge of finding the right school and the right this and the right that. It’s something that, after everyone’s settled, you sort of miss, and you say, Oh it’s time to do that again.”
Obviously Sue suffered from some form of addiction, like a cat-hoarder unable to see the effects of adding yet more cats to her household on her ability to care for the cats she already has.
George: local adoption from a mom who’d read about Sue and Hector and thought they’d be good parents for her unwanted kid.
David: 13; Tricia: 15; Renee: 16; Lilly: 17; Fisher: 18; JD: 19; and were another sibling group, from Texas. David was deaf; Renee was sexually abused by her father when she was five (and then beaten by her mother for it.) Then their dad got shot and their mom abandoned them. Technically, only the youngest three were adopted; the oldest three were too old for adoption, but were unofficially taken into the family.
“All the teen-ages were nervous about being black in Vermont, but Fishe and Lilly were wildly popular in high school. Lilly was a track star, and Fisher was cool and good-looking.
“Fisher: I was popular. It went to my head, I won’t lie to you. All the little white girls saw I was the best dancer in the school, and I was the only black guy.”
Fisher dropped out of college, got three girls pregnant and went to prison for beating one of them. Lovely guy, I’m sure.
JD got his girlfriend pregnant.
Lilly got pregnant during college and dropped out.
Tricia got raped while in high school and had a baby (raised by Hector.)
Renee got pregnant while still in school.
At some point, Sue and Hector start running an adoption agency; Sue has a succession of adoption-related jobs.
Alysia: Severe cerebral palsy, adopted from Texas. The family taught her to walk and dance. Hector was convinced god told him to adopt her. She got pregnant twice before the age of 16, and then had sex with her 28 yr old adoptive brother, Abel, who was sent to prison for statutory rape. Has the intellectual abilities of a third grader.
Dylan: 4 yr old with shaken baby syndrome. Blind, severe brain damage. Adopting him was Hector’s idea. Died at 24.
Wayne: 3 yrs old, Sanfilippo syndrome. Guaranteed death; made it to 25 years old. Sue and Hector were convinced god told them to adopt him.
At this point, even the kids start telling the parents not to adopt anymore kids.
“Isaac: You can only stretch yourself so thin. We’d ask them, Are you sue this is something you want to do, and they said it was something they needed to do, that if they didn’t help this boy then nobody was going to. … ”
“Chelsea, [on the subject of adoption]: I’ve never wanted a large family. I’ve witnessed firsthand everything that’s gone into adopting, and I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with that.”
“Sue and Hecor told the children they would consider their opinions and pray on it. Not long afterward, Sue flew down to Florida to bring Adam home. … Most people would think first about how an adoption would affect the children they had; but to sue and Hector, the need of the child who was still a stranger weighed equally in the balance.”
So Sue and Hector didn’t give a shit about their children’s opinions or what was best for them.
Adam: 6 yrs old, Sanfilippo and FAS. He died at 11.
Aaron: 4, Adam’s brother. Adopted after another family sent him back to the adoption agency because he had severe anger issues. Sue and Hector thought he would be good for his brother (they might have been right.)
Geeta: 14, originally adopted by another family from India, but other family decided they couldn’t handle her anymore. She got pregnant twice while still in school.
At one point, 8 refugees from Kosovo were also living in their house; later, 4 from Sudan.
They move into a bigger house that they can’t afford to heat. Family has to huddle together for warmth, along with 4 teenage squatters and various other comers and goers, like runaway friends of their kids. Sue gets a new job, and their marriage begins degenerating.
Sue and Hector are totally mystified at why their kids keep getting pregnant, and swear that they have explained how pregnancy works and even gotten the kids Depo-Provera and the like, but obviously that’s a lie.
Ladies and gents, be responsible: spay or neuter your teenager.
By now, the stress of dealing with all of these kids and their problems has plunged the parents into a black hole of depression, alcoholism, and despair. They can’t get the kids who are the product of people who had no impulse control to control their impulse to fuck. It takes only an iota of understanding biology and heritability to understand why that might be, but the parents don’t seem to have grasped this and instead blame themselves.
“It wasn’t just the awful stuff that hadn’t worked out the way they’d hoped: Only a few of the kids still went to church. None of the kids had adopted kids of their own.”
No shit, Sherlock. If you’d adopted kids from families with a strong impulse to take care of their and other people’s children, they might grow into people with a strong impulse to adopt. If you’d adopted children from conservative Christian families, they might grow into conservative Christians like Sue and Hector. Instead they’d literally castrated themselves and adopted many of their kids from families with no impulse control and severe violence and sexual dysfunction, and they got kids with similar traits. The most functional adoptee, Jose, came from a war zone, and so very well might have had competent, loving parents who died nobly defending their community rather than fuckups.
Not all adopted kids turn out fucked up; most adopting couples are genuinely motivated by the desire to provide a loving home to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Both a strong desire to parent children and a generous, trusting nature toward others are features of NW Euro society, and such people can help make society a nice place to be.
But morality is not castrating yourself and giving away all of your resources to other people. If everyone did that, all of the moral people would die out and be replaced by the children of immoral people. Altruism can persist if returns benefits to your own genetic line (altruism directed at your cousins, for example, can increase the overall number of your genes in the population even if you yourself are less likely to reproduce as a result.)
Morality is a system of mutual obligations between people. You are obligated to your family and friends, as they are to you. You are obligated, to a lesser degree, to your community and nation, as they are to you. You are not particularly obligated to, say, the citizens of another country, just as they are not obligated to you. As such, the Hector and Sue’s first obligations were to the children they already had (and each other.) It is not moral to take in so many children that you can no longer take proper care of them (and when your developmentally disabled kid gets pregnant twice before the age of 16, you are actually doing something wrong.) You are not morally obligated to destroy your own life to help strangers.
Also, for those of you who are considering adoption, remember that no matter how kind and loving and good-hearted you are, you can’t erase who your kids are. That’s not always big stuff, like criminality or pregnancy. It might be little things, like whether they go to church or like to study, how much they talk. Genetics has a huge effect on personality, so any adopted kids are likely to have a very different personality than you do. Chances are good that adoption will not be all peaches and roses; most kids don’t get put up for adoption unless something is seriously defective about their families or themselves in the first place, so be prepared for some pretty severe issues.