Walking the Tightrope of Adoption Cheerleading

Dawn Davenport


Walking the Tightrope of Adoption Cheerleading

Adoption can be a wonderful way to create a family, but it takes careful preparation to create strong, healthy, and lifelong adoptive families.

Over time I’m become weary (and I might add “wary” if I was going for an alliterative theme) of some of the rah-rah “adoption is wonderful” hype. Indeed, I do believe to the bottom of my heart that adoption is wonderful and life altering and life affirming for both child and parent, and my deepest prayer is that all children everywhere regardless of age, ability, race, or gender will find a home, but I also fervently believe that only through careful preparation can we create strong, healthy, and lifelong adoptive families. From where I sit as the director of an adoption education and support nonprofit, I’ve seen and heard more than my share of the heart ache that blind jumping into adoption can cause to well meaning, well loving families and the children they wanted so badly to “save”. To paraphrase Jedd Medefind, Executive Director of Christian Alliance for Orphans, in a conversation we had at an adoption conference a couple of years ago, “We [the Orphans Ministry Movement] have to move past being cheerleaders for adoption and into becoming educators for adoption.” If I had known him better, I would have hugged him at that moment.

However, truth be told, I’m a sucker for a heartwarming happy ending story. (You should see the chick-lit pile on my bedside table.) This might be my guilty reading pleasure, but I also really believe these types of stories have a place in adoption. Come on, admit it, who doesn’t crave some good old fashioned inspiration along the way to give us the courage to take the leap or to keep us going when we hit a rough patch.

Someone in our online community recently told me about a veritable fount of inspiration—The Archibald Project, a nonprofit started by two very gifted photographers/videographers with the mission of using  media and documentary storytelling to educate and inspire people to adopt. In many ways this project exemplifies the tightrope of adoption cheerleading—navigating that fine line between realism and optimism. The Archibald Project gave me much to love and a little to fear.

The Love Part

The Ivey’s had a son by birth and then, inspired by their friends who had already adopted, they adopted three children both domestically and abroad. This video is like seeing friends adopt, making it less alien and more doable. As Jamie, the mom, says, “If you are thinking about adoption, learn about it …go to informational sessions… be proactive…do something.” She’s my kind of lady.


The Fear Part

The Jones family’s story is more troubling, or to be more accurate, the way their story is portrayed in this video is troubling to me. Bill and Kelli first heard about Eliana, a 13 year old girl who would soon age out of adoption according to Chinese law, on Dec. 6, 2011, decided to adopt her two days later, and brought her home in eight short weeks. I understand the need for speed in this case with a child who would soon be too old to qualify for adoption, but I worry that it leaves the impression that you don’t need to take time and learn all you can about how best to parent a child that has spent almost 14 years in an institution. A comment by Bill acknowledging that Eliana’s happy-go-lucky behavior likely was covering up the real emotions of a scared confused young girl belies at least some preparation, but the video had an uncomfortable Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney “Hey, let’s put on a show” quality to it . I wouldn’t want this to be the example of how to adopt an older child


The “Darn, I Wish I Could Do That” Part

When the Vias faced the not untypical international adoption delays and feet dragging, they decided to up and move to Uganda. If they couldn’t bring Chloe home, they would take home to Chloe. They are living the fantasy of many adoptive parents when faced with bureaucratic delays, and I so enjoyed seeing them take such a bold step for their child.


On balance, I thoroughly enjoyed The Archibald Project videos. They are a pleasure to watch, and the fact that we clearly share the same taste in music added greatly to my enjoyment. They have other videos, so check them out when in need of a little rah-rah, which for me is often.  What do you think? Is there a place for adoption cheerleading?


Image credit: The Archibald Project

19/02/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 13 Comments

13 Responses to Walking the Tightrope of Adoption Cheerleading

  1. Mani Sheriar Mani Sheriar says:

    Last post was from January and they hadn’t moved yet. Guess ill have to get over it! 😉

  2. Mani Sheriar Mani Sheriar says:

    OMG I watched the video The Vias and was so upset that it was so short! I was so ready to follow the story and watch their life in Uganda! I feel cheated, lol.

  3. Sue Taylor Sue Taylor says:

    Dawn, on my cell phone the video images are covering the text in this post, thought you might want to know.

  4. Well darn. How did that happen. I think this is going to be one of those “I hate technology” days. Thanks so much for telling me.

  5. Avatar Janice says:

    Thank you for posting this new site, the Archibald Project. Man, they are talented! I also appreciated the pictures of the little boy from Haiti. I have to say, I have adopted from foster care and thought that people who adopted oversees should consider adopting right here in the US. After seeing these pictures though my heart changed! This precious boy! And how sad that the family had to let go after spending time bonding with him. His tears were so hard to see, but so important to see. I truly cried for him and his new family. I will be praying that they are soon reunited!

  6. Avatar Mama of Many says:

    My issue is that not all things are as they are portrayed… ethics in a case who has been denied by 3 USCIS entities is very very questionable… at the least. While I feel for any family who is in a compromised adoption I wouldn’t always assume that their adoption is as lovely as it seems.

  7. Avatar Whitney says:

    Hey Dawn! Thanks so much for sharing your blog with us! We agree with you on so many levels. As storytellers and outsiders we have often struggled with how to share these stories. Our heart is purely to educate and inspire, to get the wheels turning, however, we realize that photography and videography can often lead to romanticism, which is the last thing we want to do. We want to show the true sides of adoption, not just the glamorized parts, but sometimes the family’s struggles aren’t ours to share, ya know? All of the families we’ve featured have blogs and journal their adoption struggles and we try and point our audience to their personal blogs 🙂 Thanks again for sharing and I’m happy we have the same taste in music 😉

  8. humm. in the about us section it says that they are already there. Rats!

  9. Mani, I felt exactly the same way! You can follow them on this journey at their blog/website (http://www.thevias.com).

  10. Kim Dillen Kim Dillen says:

    As the mom to a daughter who first experienced the dissolution of her Russian adoption by another family, I have seen firsthand the challenges my child has had to overcome due to her trust being broken- again. And I agree completely with you, that education pre and post adopt is imperative in the success of adoptive families. Being on the BOD for my local adoptive parent support group, I sometimes feel that same tug between wanting to promote adoption as a beautiful way to build a family AND wanting prospective families to go into this process with their eyes wide open and with realistic expectations. Thanks Dawn- for another wonderfully insightful blog post!! <3

  11. Avatar 7rin says:

    The problem with adoption cheerleading is that it’s already done by the Adoption Industry.

    What we actually need is far less cheerleading, and far more rational truths.

    The following blogs might be helpful for highlighting said rational truths:


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