Here is the third in a series about vegan family planning. The first was Doing Less Harm or Doing More Good which focused on the choice to be child-free. The second was For Vegans Who Want Children and it explored some of the reasons vegans may choose to build a family as well as some practical resources for raising children vegan. This last essay will venture into the adoption option.
I am a vegan adoptive mom. We are far and few between. With less than 2% of the US population being adoptive families and less than 1% of the US population being vegan, the overlap of the two is vanishingly small. I do not personally know any other vegan adoptive parents. Online, I know of a few. In person I know none. I wish there were more of us.
Because vegans demonstrate a concern for ethics with each bite of food, vegans are likely to be concerned with the ethics involved in family planning. As I explained in the first essay, these essays will not delve into all of ethical issues surrounding each family planning choice. In the case of adoption however, I will highlight a few resources that explore adoption-related ethical issues. Readers may follow these links to read more themselves as their curiousity warrants. Although I worry that the ethical complexity of adoption will deter some people from this path, I believe it is more important to share knowledge. So here are those resources:
- http://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/ - This website explores the history of adoption, putting modern ideas into a historical context. The website also contains detailed information about a wide variety of adoption topics.
- https://www.childwelfare.gov/ - US government website contains all kinds of information related to the wellbeing of children. https://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adopt_ethics/ is the section on ethics in adoption.
- http://www.ethicanet.org/ - A now defunct organization, Ethica’s website is still up with good information with anyone interested in the ethics of adoption.
- http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/ - The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conducts research and formulates policies related to adoption. Plenty of studies and guides to browse through to learn more.
- http://adoption.state.gov/ - This website details the Hague Convention and international adoption. Born from a need to improve the ethics of international adoption, the Hague Convention created laws that demand transparency, education, and more.
Now, some practical issues about being vegan and becoming an adoptive parent. Because our numbers are so small, vegans are likely to encounter some ignorance and prejudice during the adoption process. There are a few horror stories out there of vegan families who tried to adopt but failed. My story is one of success. We experienced some difficulties, as many adoptive families experience, but I feel the majority of our difficulties were not related to our veganism. As in the case of adoption by gay couples, the ease in which vegans will be able to adopt varies greatly depending on the area and adoption workers’ willingness to help. If you are vegan, considering adoption, and experience difficulty, please do not give up. Find another agency, another worker, or enlist support to help you.
Before you begin the adoption process, consider:
How much do you want to share? You needn’t disclose your dietary preferences, although not doing so could cause problems later on if your agency or workers holds prejudices against vegans. One option is to use the term “vegetarian” instead of vegan or before discussing veganism. The term “vegetarian” is often better-received and strictly speaking is accurate since all vegans are vegetarians (whereas not all vegetarians are vegans). Or, you could describe your lifestyle without using an identity label. For example, “I respect sentient life and therefore I do not eat or wear animals” or “I live a lifestyle that avoids as much animal cruelty as possible.” If your veganism is tied to a religion or spirituality you may want to begin the discussion by talking about that and then weave in the veganism. Or you may simply want to be very clear and upfront about it and announce that you’re vegan. That last option was the one we chose.
How “flexible” will you be? In my experience, child welfare workers tend to believe that the most essential characteristic in being a good parent is being “flexible.” They each have their own definitions of the word, but most nonvegans believe that “being flexible” means giving kids permission to eat animals. Clearly, many vegans would find this to be akin to allowing children to abuse the family pet. Yet when one is pursuing adoption, meeting the expectations of the adoption workers is paramount to one’s success, so we can’t very well react the way we may want to react: with physical and moral disgust. Instead, come up with a plan before discussing the issue with an adoption worker. There are plenty of solutions. For example, you could choose to adopt children who are young enough not to have developed a taste or social expectation to eat animals. Or you could adopt children who are already vegetarian, vegan, or nearly so (they exist). Or you could have a plan for how you will handle the transition, for example “I will pay for him to eat whatever he wants to eat at restaurants but in my home the food that will be available will be vegan” or “I will provide lunch money without expectation as to how she will use it.” Educated workers just want to know that you do not plan on isolating the child from mainstream society and that in the case of an older-child adoption you understand changing habits can take time. They want to know you will not abuse or neglect a child who eats animals. So make that clear to them because it is true, isn’t it? Example, “If she comes home with a ham sandwich then we will have a talk about what it means to respect animals. I will not punish her for it but I will make my reasons for veganism clear.”
How solid is your nutritional knowledge? I highly suggest that you read up on vegan nutrition for children. This is true for all parents – adoptive and non. However, because adoptive parents are often more highly scrutinized (before and after the adoption) they should strive to be experts on the subject of vegan nutrition for children. I linked to some resources in the last article, but here are a few more:
- http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/kids.htm - Vegetarian Resource Group’s article on veg nutrition for children
- http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/nutrition/infants-and-children.aspx - Vegan nutrition for kids from the Vegan Society
- http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=263 - from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine
Do you have a support system? Any adoption can be challenging. It’s a process that is simply more complicated than the average pregnancy. The ups and downs require some support. Enlist the help of family and friends. Do not keep your desire to adopt a secret! Share the news, albeit carefully (I can tell you, it’s not a good idea to overshare). When it comes to being a vegan adoptive parent you may want additional support. Since this part may be hard to find, look online. Most vegetarian and vegan web forums have a parenting section. This is an area where, even if not filled with other vegan adoptive parents, can be supportive. I’d say that generally speaking other parents are far more supportive than nonparents. They understand and have experienced the desire to create a family.
I think that’s about it when it comes to adopting as a vegan. For other questions related to adoption in general (by vegans and nonvegans alike) check out these resources:
- http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/ - An exellent magazine for (prospective) adoptive families. Tons of resources online.
- http://www.adoptuskids.org/ - Dedicated to adoption from fostercare in the US.