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Adoption is complicated—and the Myka Stauffer controversy proves it

It was a feel good story. Until it turned into a cautionary tale.

Adoption is complicated—and the Myka Stauffer controversy proves it

Moms turn to the internet for connection and a little bit of inspiration, but this week the internet is turning on a mom who built a brand on an adoption story. Adoption always carries trauma, but this case highlights how poor placements can multiply it for children who have already been through so much.

YouTube and Instagram star Myka Stauffer went viral in May after she and her husband James posted a video explaining that the son they adopted from China in 2017, 4-year-old Huxley, no longer lives with them. They were not his "forever family" they say, explaining that Huxley is now living with a new mom who can better care for his special needs, which include Autism. Stauffer's four biological children remain in her home. The backlash that was swift and severe, with many internet commenters pointing out how the family profited from monetized YouTube videos featuring Huxley.

This week Stauffer posted a statement on the controversy, which reads (in part): "I'm sorry for the confusion, and pain I have caused, and I am sorry for not being able to tell more of my story from the beginning. I could have never anticipated the incidents which occurred on a private level to ever have happened, and I was trying my best to navigate the hardest thing I have ever been through."


The statement comes after so much outrage about this case. but we have to look beyond the outrage. We have to look beyond a couple who took donations to fund a doomed international adoption that has become international news. As fellow moms it's not enough to replay old videos, examining Stauffer's relationship with Huxley—we have to examine our own relationships with stories like these.

Because this failed adoption is Huxley's life story—but it wouldn't have happened without the stories we tell ourselves about motherhood, America and whiteness.

What happened to Huxley?

What happened to Huxley? That was the question the Stauffers' social media followers were asking in the weeks and days leading up to the tearful video announcement in which Myka and James told the world that they were no longer able to care for the preschooler who had been the focal point of so many of Myka's vlogs, articles and Instagram posts.

What happened to Huxley isn't a mystery—it was documented extensively in nearly real time—and it isn't uncommon either. While the Stauffers have not yet responded to Motherly's interview requests, three transnational adoption experts did.

The experts and the research tell us that plenty of kids who come to the United States via transnational adoptions end up not staying in the homes of their first adoptive parents. Second adoptions are surprisingly common, says JaeRan Kim, an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma in the Social Work program, but that doesn't mean they're not incredibly hard on children who have to lose everything they know—for the second, or third time in their short lives.

"I did a study of 20 inter-country adoptees who experienced some kinds of adoption displacement. Several of them had been adopted more than once by U.S. families. And it's quite devastating," Kim tells Motherly. "It is a lifelong trauma that they are constantly trying to negotiate in their lives and what it means for them, to be multiply abandoned."

Kim—who identifies as a transracial adoptee as she was adopted from South Korea—explains that the Stauffers are hardly the first adopters to overestimate their ability to parent a traumatized child because they underestimate the trauma that precedes being made available to adopt.

"A lot of parents have good intentions, but they don't understand the full scope of what it means to adopt a child," Kim explains, adding that many mistakenly believe children will easily adjust once placed in a family.

Too often, the child is expected to seamlessly assimilate into families that don't speak their language, or where complex relationships between siblings already exist. Add to that the myth of a color-blind America and these children can have a very tough time navigating family dynamics and developing healthy identities.

"But even if they do adjust, there may be lifelong lingering questions and concerns that they have that might make it difficult for them, just posing challenges," she says.

Kim cautions against seeing international adoptions as "feel good projects", but for people who donated to the Stauffers adoption fund and watched Huxley grow, this was a feel good story. Until it turned into a cautionary tale.

Why did this happen to Huxley, and to other children?

Elizabeth Raleigh is an associate professor of sociology at Carleton College and the author of Selling Transracial Adoption Families, Markets, and the Color Line.

Raleigh says that while many parents who adopt a child from another country or culture have good intentions, "good intentions don't make something right."

Some people adopt because they can't or don't have biological children. Others may feel called to adopt due to their faith or a longing to do good in the world and provide a child with the opportunity to live the American Dream. Prospective parents often start down the road with a desire to help a child, but end up in a system that is more focused on the needs of the adults involved.

"I view the Stauffer family case as part of a larger narrative of private adoption that frames the parent as the consumer and the child an object to be selected and then potentially discarded," Raleigh tells Motherly.

"While social media certainly exacerbates the trend of centering the adoption storyline around the wants and desires of (usually white) adoptive parents, it is important to remember that this type of objectification has been going on for decades," she explains, pointing out how, in 1998, a Vanity Fair writer joked that Chinese baby girls were "the season's hot accessory in the Hamptons."

Twenty-two years later, many outraged internet commenters are accusing the Stauffers of using Huxley as an accessory and also exploiting his special needs, as the family's social media engagement was positively impacted by Huxley's adoption. Myka Stauffer described Huxley as having autism spectrum disorder in an article she authored for The Bump, and in her YouTube videos. The Stauffers now say Huxley's needs were beyond their capabilities.

"With international adoption, sometimes there's unknowns and things that are not transparent on files and things like that," James Stauffer said in the latest video on Myka's account. "Once Huxley came home, there was a lot more special needs that we weren't aware of and that we were not told."

Raleigh says she doesn't "pretend to know the Stauffer family's motivations to adopt a child with so-called special needs," but can say that in researching her book she found " prospective parents got funneled into these types of placements, even if they were not adequately prepared for the challenges they entail" as adoption agencies are under pressure to place kids with complex needs.

"The narrative that positions adoptive parents as the heroes of the story while simultaneously treating children like accessories to be paraded around for status or likes is bad enough. This got compounded by the financial incentive among agencies to place children with parents who were not prepared," Raleigh tells Motherly, adding that this mix created a recipe that made children vulnerable to trafficking and so-called rehoming, a term Raleigh objects to seeing used when referring to human children like Huxley.

How can we prevent this from happening to other children?

Zeina Ismail-Allouche has spent two decades in the field of child protection, with a focus on family separation and is currently finalizing her PhD at Concordia University.

She is frustrated by organizations placing children with under prepared adoptive parents rather than supporting the children to stay in their own community, and wants to see the story of adoption recentered on the needs of children and communities, not prospective parents.

Like many others in the movement, Ismail-Allouche says this case is an opportunity for well meaning people to shift fundraising efforts from crowdfunding international adoptions to supporting community-based efforts to "prevent separation by supporting mothers and families and communities at risk."

Many children are not truly orphans, she explains, but simply born into poverty or nations in conflict, or are victims of racist government policies.

In order to break the cycle of family separation we need to stop prioritizing adoption and start prioritizing poverty reduction. But this means confronting the fact that white moms aren't saviors more deserving of a baby than other mothers.

Changing the story of adoption

Huxley is beginning a new chapter in his life, with people his former parents say are better prepared to meet his needs. As his story spreads across seemingly every news site on the internet many people are also sharing stories of successful adoptions as a counter narrative to this tragedy. Certainly adoption has a place in the world and can result in loving families and lasting bonds—but even when an adoption is child-centered and follows best practices it is important to recognize that a new family is being born out of trauma. When we ignore that we do everyone a disservice.

As mother Maria Confer previously wrote for Motherly, adoption is a trauma even a 4 day old baby can experience. Older children may have more tangible memories of losing everything they've ever known, and it is unfair of adults to expect a newborn baby or an older child to overcome that alone, without the help of adoption informed psychologists and social workers.

As the research and lived experience of adoptees shows, there are multiple truths in the stories of adoption. They can be stories of hope and stories of trauma. They can be beautiful stories, but they are never easy stories.

[This post was originally published May 28, 2020. It has been updated.]

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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