While I touched on this subject in How Did You Get A Boy, this is an issue I’ve really been pondering lately, and while it is something that adoptive parents prefer not to discuss, I decided that I really would like to write about it. So I’m going to put on my flame-proof suit and wade into controversial territory, and to my friends in the adoption community with your beautiful daughters, please know that I am discussing the overall trend and not anyone’s individual decision.
If you are a European parent, you aren’t allowed to choose the gender of the child you adopt. If you adopt an infant domestically, you don’t get to choose the gender, and in fact, that is one of the most common reasons why American parents choose to adopt internationally. A few countries have tried to counter the girl preference problem by setting criteria on who can request a girl. But for the most part, if you are an American couple who wants to adopt, you can choose to say that you will only adopt a girl, and most will do so.
Why is it that adoptive families prefer girls? I agree with the reasons that Dawn Davenport listed when she addressed the topic. I have been active on adoption groups and reading blogs for quite a while now, and the one theme that really keeps popping up is that women really want to have a daughter. Maybe the fear that a boy will be violent keeps people away from boys, while the thought that girls would be more compliant (a loud ha ha from those of us who have girls) makes a girl sound safer. Since women are usually the one in the couple who suggests adding to the family, they will often drive the desire to adopt. Don’t men want sons? Well maybe, but perhaps they feel some inward reluctance to have a son pass on the family name who isn’t genetically related to the family. Or it is also possible that men feel if they adopt a girl then they get to take a pass on most of the responsibilities. Drea at Home Is Where the Heart Is writes that her husband felt he wouldn’t have to worry about getting a call that his teenage son was in jail until a neighbor pointed out that a daughter might tell him that she’s pregnant!
I’m not at all surprised when women who have two or three boys decide to pursue adoption to have a daughter. What surprises me is how persistently people will choose a girl regardless of their family composition. While everyone has their own reason for deciding to adopt, the same comments are made over and over. Here is my attempt at a chart so you can see the trends:
It really makes me scratch my head. Why are bedrooms and hand-me-downs an issue if you have girls at home but not boys? Why is it so important for a girl to have a sister but not a boy to have a brother? Why do families with several girls say that they wouldn’t know what to do with a boy while families with several boys don’t seem to worry about the learning curve for a girl? It’s easier for me to think that the reason no one dreams of adopting a little boy or adopts because they want a son is because the general perception is that there are far more girls available for adoption than boys. When you see all the adoptive families with girls, you assume that’s what is available, and maybe more families with only daughters would adopt a boy if they knew that boys need families too.
I think many people are aware that female are viewed as being undesirable in some countries and they feel that they are adopting one of those “unwanted” girl babies. They feel that she would face discrimination and a life of hardship if she was not adopted. This may be true to an extent, but I am uncomfortable with how much adoptive parents discriminate against boys in their desire to make up for the discrimination against girls. In countries where there is a preference for boys, it is unlikely that a boy raised in an orphanage will have any advantages in life. For many of these boys, because of their lack of education and family connections, they will always struggle and may not be able to have their own family because they cannot hope to be well off or well connected enough to attract a wife. Any orphan is at a disadvantage and all of them need homes.
To make things yet more uncomfortable, let’s look at another reason no one would dream of listing as motivation–race. Let’s assume that a woman dreams of a daughter. Little dresses and giant bows, tea parties and dolls. But what about when she grows up? Well, there’s always the big white wedding dress. The one thing you can count on, is that children will grow up. What do you think of when your internationally adopted child grows to adulthood?
How can so many negative views of men compete with the attractiveness (pun intended) of the women? And even leaving aside the topic of race, boys are perceived as more violent, more impulsive, not as good in school, more likely to have autism. I heard one adoptive parent say that they were afraid a boy would be more likely to sexually abuse someone even though they wanted to adopt a child under the age of two! Girls can also be sexual abusers, and violent, and not as good in school and really any of those negative stereotypes. I think adoption can be scary because of the unknowns, but choosing a girl over a boy will not rule out any of the possible negative outcomes. In fact, this article mentions some studies which found that minority boys fit in better than minority girls in suburban schools. The idea that girls are somehow easier than boys is just wrong. There’s no easy way out in parenting!
Okay, so the gender preference begins to become understandable. But then I became confused yet again when you start to bring in the religious angle. While the media has recently discovered the Christian adoption movement and several controversial articles have been written on it, it is impossible to deny that many people cite religious reasons for adopting. Many people say that they felt called to adoption in light of James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” I’ve heard people say “God called us to adopt a little girl” more times than I can count.
Now, I should say upfront that in my religious tradition, we talk a lot about discernment but it is less common than in the evangelical churches to discern a clear specific message from God. My husband and I felt that God was calling us to adopt, but we did not get a lightening bolt message as regards race, age, or gender. I do believe that God calls people to specific tasks, but when I look at the sheer number of people called to adopt a little girl, I have to wonder why God isn’t calling more people to adopt boys, or older children, or children with big special needs? The cynical side of me thinks that some of these people are reading their own desires into God’s message, because it is hard for me to understand why God would call families with 3, 4, or 5 girls to wait in line for months to adopt a girl when there are so many boys waiting for families. When Jesus said to welcome the children in His name, I’m sure that included boys, who are “the least of these” in the world of adoption.
But in charity, I remind myself that it is always easy to obey God’s call when it aligns with your desires. Maybe the families that are being called to adopt boys, older children, and children with big special needs are trying to ignore that call. I know that when we first considered adoption, a girl is exactly what sprang to mind for us. And with three boys and a single daughter, who could blame us? But when we learned how long the boys waited, it tugged at our hearts because we love our boys so much. Yes, I wanted a daughter, but I have one. Was having another really so important? After a lot of prayer, discussion (between ourselves and our children), and yet more discernment, we decided that we couldn’t choose when we had biological children, so why should it matter when you adopt? Adoption, for us, was about welcoming a child into our family, and not about trying to create our personal idea of the perfect family.
I don’t expect all families to make the same decision as us, or to come to the same conclusions. I’m not trying to berate those who adopted or hope to adopt a girl, nor am I trying to make you feel bad. I can certainly understand how sticking with the familiar would be easier if you already have a girl or girls. But I hope that families, and especially women who are usually the driving force behind the adoption decision, will take a good look at their motivations. Maybe a few more people will realize that they have a place in their home and hearts for a boy after all. If you take a chance, you might realize all of the fun that a boy can bring to your life!