Rehoming and Parenting in Public

Cancel culture has hit Myka and James Stauffer, parents of a young family who rehomed a child they adopted internationally. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, time that cancel culture attacks a mother after having cast her as a villain.

I know next to nothing about Myka and James Stauffer, and that’s fine. This is a fill in the blank with [insert parenting influencers here]. Myka and James are a youngish couple with a lot of blonde babies, she wears baylage and beach waves, and he sports a barbered beard. They are exactly who you expect to see on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Their business model is not in my wheelhouse.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been a fan of Mom Bloggers (Influencers) making a living off their children’s images and reputations. It’s unfair for a million little reasons, each of which is significant enough for me to state repeatedly and without equivocation that family blogging is exploitative and that the children of influencers deserve something akin to the Jackie Coogan Law (which still leaves parents with 85% of the income to steal).

That Myka and James Stauffer have exploited their children is my only criticism of their parenting.

Please don’t mistake that as a small criticism. I’m sure that if I knew more there would be more to dislike, but I’m trying to stay focused on what I am intimate with, which is the business of exploiting children as a career. I find channels like theirs (now private) to be egregious. I understand making a video or ten when a family of five goes to China to adopt their fourth child. Everything about that makes perfect sense to me. What will never make sense to me is putting it on a youtube channel with more than 300,000 subscribers. These are the deeply personal moments that families capture to revisit when kids are older and want to know the story about how they became a family.

There’s no scenario where a thoughtful adult would call this business model wise.

Let’s talk about rehoming.

I’m not qualified to comment on rehoming. It’s also unlikely you are qualified. Rehoming is a term we use for animal adoption, not for humans.

Those are the only things I can authoritatively state about rehoming. I don’t have a work history in foster care or adoption. I have neither fostered nor adopted a child. I have been close to many families who have adopted privately and watched the process from beginning to end. Fun fact: many smart and savvy women discover they are pregnant at five or more months.

I know a little bit about being a mom, and I know a lot about being a mom who feels like she’s at the end of her rope.

I know that parents of kids with Level 3 Autism need support. They need money, they need benefits, and they need a break. Science demonstrates that respite for parents of kids with ASD improves marriages and lowers stress. It has become a benefit available to caregivers of special needs children and older adults alike. Respite may mean bringing a babysitter into the home or removing a child from home for a long weekend. Respite is more typically one of a myriad of personalized, helpful scenarios in between. Respite recharges caregivers and respite saves high needs kids from neglect and abuse, whether intentional or not. Respite allows siblings of high needs kids to be the center of attention, maybe for an hour, perhaps for a day. We must also note that the same study finds that stress levels increase when there are more children in the home.

A study of 148 families indicates the provision of respite care is associated with lower
rates of foster care placement and maltreatment of children with developmental disabilities,
including autism (Cowan & Reed, 2002).

The Stauffers might have been set up for failure.

I don’t know what their adoption process looked like but I do know that there are scholarly articles comparing international adoptions to child trafficking. The department of Health and Human Services has a trend report about adoption disruption (when an adoption doesn’t complete) and dissolution (when a child is returned to foster care). Social workers are good about predicting which adoptions are destined for failure, which is why this moment in time is newsworthy, it doesn’t happen often.

When adoptions fail, either by disruption or dissolution, one needn’t be a social worker to know that parents, adopted kids, and birth kids are having one of the worst experiences the world can hand them. Abandonment. The Stauffers have four birth children now. Three watched a sibling leave their home, and no matter how the parents explain it, those kids understand that it was behavior related. The parents must be reeling from the loss of the child they wanted to make theirs, the loss of normalcy, and I can only imagine feeling immense guilt combined with relief.

How do you put that in a nicely packaged YouTube vlog?

The problem with shaming families like the Stuaffers is that it puts other families at risk.

If we set aside the very complex and oftentimes criminal practice of rehoming (unregulated child custody transfers) and focus solely on dissolution and disruption, it must be noted that this saves lives. It’s only in the past few years that filicide has been measured in the US, and it appears that the most at-risk kids are disabled, and of those, nearly half are on the Autism Spectrum. There is a heartbreaking memorial site for disabled kids who have been murdered by their parents.

What if their parents could have given the kids away? What if the parents just walked away? Everyone would feel terrible, but would those kids be alive?

When birth mothers give their babies up for adoption, we praise them for this selfless act. California has a Safe Surrender law, meaning you can leave a baby at a fire station, hospital, or other site marked Safe Surrender during the first 72 hours following birth. No questions asked. We do this primarily for the safety of the child. That that offers new mothers a shred of dignity is almost incidental. We do this because infants need homes where they will be lovingly caretaken.

It seems to me, a nonexpert and nonadoptive parent, that admitting to oneself, and then to the world that I could not raise a child, that love wasn’t enough, that money wasn’t enough, that there weren’t enough resources, hours in the day, sacred moments or blue skies, that heart-rending pain should be sufficient. Nothing society could throw a person’s way could ever hurt as much as giving up a child who had called me Mommy.

Today there is an adoptive parent who can’t rise to the occasion. I don’t know who he or she is; it doesn’t matter. There’s someone new every day. Someone is thinking about giving their child up either to foster care, adoption, or an institution. When the alternative is neglect or abuse, as social sciences prove it often is, why would we take this last desperate step away? Are we that spiteful, that vengeful? Are we angry enough at these parents that we’d leave a child in a home that’s neglectful at best and deadly at worst?

Mothering online is a fool’s game.

We are all bored to tears with watching evangelicals of every stripe go abroad and bring Jesus or Brigham Young or the Spaghetti Monster into the hearts and souls of people who are different races. Don’t get me started on the volunteer abroad trips that every kid took in high school to satisfy community service requirements. If you want to help a black or brown community, ask a school teacher in Compton or Pacoima what their classrooms need, and fundraise the hell out of it. One could even donate the cost of their airfare and change a classroom nearly overnight.

Prayerful influencers teaching parenting open themselves up to much-deserved criticism. When the optics are tricky, keep it offline. When facts about a child could be protected by HIPPA or FREPA, that level of privacy protection should be extended to online communities.

People are really mad at Myka and James.

Maybe if I knew these people, I’d be mad, but I’m don’t know much of anything about them. They can’t disappoint me because I have no connection or expectation. I’m sad for all of them. I’m sorry for them that they’re so desperately unhappy, and so very desperate for… well, they’ll have to figure out what it is they are thirsting for. I’m sad for their four children who remain with them and who have watched a sibling first enter and then leave their lives. I’m sad for twice abandoned Huxley, who has experienced food insecurity, has brain trauma on top of Autism, and who served as a moneymaker for his guardians who exploited him and his medical conditions. All of these people will have to deal with this incredible trauma in the public eye while their funds and fiscal futures dry up.

I can’t muster anger for any of these people. They’re victims of their own greed, and the kids… here’s hoping they recover, at least a little.

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