A South Carolina couple was declared the winner in a long court battle this week and the prize was a human being.
So the human being in this case, her name is Veronica and she’s three, will have to pack her bag, give her dad a big smooch on the cheek and leave Oklahoma and the rest of her relatives in the Cherokee Nation and get comfortable being the adopted child of the Capobianco couple again. She may or may not remember already having been their child; she may or may not be pretty upset about leaving the family she currently knows. We don’t know. No one is saying much about the child.
The tug of war that has characterized this case has had everything to do about adults’ happiness and less to do with what is in the best interests of the child. To automatically assume that because a child spent her first months on earth in your home that she must live out her entire life as part of your family, share your name, your relatives, your habits, your interests, your culture, and fulfill whatever dreams you have for her because, of course, she is too little to have dreams of her own is a great big, whopping leap.
It is a common mistake of adoptive parents to believe that their willingness to adopt a child, often one that no one else wants, should trump any other claims or interpretation of a child’s best interests. Within a few months of parenting an adopted child, adoptive parents rightly feel complete and total ownership, if you will, of that child. That is, after all, what we want. We want adoptive parents to make adopted children their own, to treat them as blood, and to make them fully and permanently part of the family.
But there are other factors to address. Our attention has been focused on the rights of Veronica’s father who did not agree to his daughter’s adoption. Should his rights prevail, especially since the Indian Child Welfare Act provides special protections for Indian children to reduce permanent placement with non-Indian families? That is a question that the U.S. Supreme Court and now the South Carolina Supreme Court have resolved on legal grounds. The adoptive parents’ legal standing, i.e. the status of their adoption process, trumps the father’s more recent attempts to establish permanent custody, the Indian Child Welfare Act notwithstanding. Now that issue is neatly resolved, there remains the issue of the child’s best interests.
Because I am an adoptive parent of three children, I understand more than most people how quickly adoptive parents bond with their adopted babies. It is instantaneous. Mixed with the joy that most children bring is the extraordinary gratitude that adoptive parents feel; they feel blessed, special. They believe God himself has made the match. It is no casual thing, my friends, this adoption business. It is a powerful and almost unbelievable connection. And while I understand that, I also know that it’s the parents’ connection, the parents’ gratitude and their joy at play. The child is impervious.
I can’t say what I would have done had I been Veronica’s adoptive mom. I would hope to have a longer view than my heartache at the moment. I’d try to imagine Veronica at 10, at 20, at 35. I can love her and raise her but nothing I will do, ever, will repair the hole that she will have in her heart and there will be one. Only the blindest adoptive parent would deny that.
So now, she needs her parents. I think she needs all of them. She needs all of her relatives. She needs her South Carolina family, her father, and her Cherokee kin. If we want Veronica to be a whole person, to be right with the world and glad to be in it, she gets to own her own life.
It is important to note that the Capobiancos are the child’s pre-adoptive parents until the adoption is finalized.