So Much More Than Just A Shirt

Recently, a Facebook post about a tee shirt to be used as a fundraiser provoked a batch of comments. The original poster, having up front requested no negative comments, essentially ignored the pushback. Ultimately, she deleted the post entirely.

The tee shirt called into question had a heart drawn on it, the word “Adopt” followed by the name of a country that places children for adoption internationally, and this quote: “Love Makes a Family–Changes A Life.” Seems like a nice quote, doesn’t it? It’s a great example of something that actually has a far greater impact than it might seem at first blush.

One excellent perspective about the shirt is on the blog Ethioamericandaughter. The writer, Aselefech Evans, is my daughter. As an adult Ethiopian adoptee, her insights are valuable.

Several adoptive parents responded to the original tee shirt post on Facebook. They thought the quote was dismissive of first/birth families and their pain. Others thought it reeked of white privilege, of white savior complex.

When is a tee shirt not just a tee shirt? Does it become more than just a shirt when the message is seen by others as an example of white privilege? Or when it’s called hurtful, disrespectful, offensive by some of the person’s peers, in this case adoptive parents?

Are the tee shirt and message okay when it’s a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting, or for good works in an impoverished country? Does the end simply justify the means, and are the critics just being too damn sensitive? The sentiment of one comment was “If you don’t like it, don’t purchase it.”

Is everything justified if the original poster’s adopted children are okay with it? Does it matter if the children are all minors?

There are good reasons why children can’t give informed consent. And do children truly understand the far-reaching implications of the Internet?

So many questions.

There was a similar brouhaha during National Adoption Month over a tee shirt also used as a fundraiser, part of online sales for I wrote about it on my blog ” ‘Crowd Funded’ Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day.”  Many people, including adult adoptees, also wrote about it, and the offending tee shirt disappeared from the sales site, which has, I think, closed down.


Part of the dilemma about all this is the linkage of the message with the money: the fundraising that is rampant in the world of adoption, the implicit notion that children are paid for, the exorbitant costs involved in international adoption, and the available multi-billion adoption tax credit, which many parents receive after all the fundraising. We are at best naive if we overlook these connections, and at worst complicit in a system that involves enormous amounts of money and an astonishing imbalance: US (and western European, Canadian, and Australian) adoption agencies and adoptive parents with huge economic power over indigent, impoverished countries and first/birth families.

Another reality is the linkage of child adoption with pet adoption. Many people who are deep within the adoption constellation (first/birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted persons) cringe at this, but outside that sphere, it’s a common thought. Some 30 years ago, when we were beginning the adoption process, I was telling an acquaintance about all the options and possibilities. He responded, “Wow, kind of like going to the pound and choosing the puppy that’s right for you.”

Wow. No.

That is, however, not an uncommon view. Take a look at this display of tee shirts for example, that places “Rescue Cats Rule!” next to “Seoul Sister” and “Peace Love Rescue Pet Adoption” next to “Love Knows No Borders–Africa” shirts.


Am I over-sensitive to my children being compared to pets? No, I am not.

And hey: my adopted children–who are now thoughtful, independent, insightful adults, not cute little kids–aren’t okay with it either.

Words matter. Children matter. Lives matter. If we are ever going to have ethical, transparent adoption policies, we have to pay attention even to the little things. Like tee shirts.






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