[Editor’s Note: Katy Faust is Founder and Director of “Them Before Us,” a children’s rights group. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College and then received a Fulbright scholarship to Taiwan. Her fluency in Mandarin assisted her when she worked with the largest Chinese adoption agency in the world. She publishes widely on the rights of children and is a regular contributor at The Federalist. Katy is the Washington State leader for the grass- roots marriage movement CanaVox, and currently appears in their video series “Dear Katy.” She is married to a pastor and the mother of four children, the youngest of whom is adopted from China. She spoke to Charles Camosy.]
Camosy: The first thing that may pop into the heads of many Crux readers when they hear about the concept of “children’s rights” may give them a mistaken impression about what your book is actually about. Can you say more about why you wrote a book focused on the rights of children?
Faust: I get it. The term “children’s rights” has been misused and misapplied to refer to things which are not only not genuine “rights” but which are genuinely harmful to children. I discuss that at length in this What Would You Say video. But here’s the SparkNotes answer:
Children have a natural right to their mother and father. Defending this child right will decimate nearly every social ill that we are battling today from youth homelessness/human trafficking, overcrowded prisons, teen suicide, child poverty, teen pregnancy, childhood obesity, high school dropout rates and more. That’s because children in these demographics have something in common- they are disproportionately fatherless. Binding a child’s mother and father together in marriage is our best shot protecting these child rights and by extension, a healthy society.
Why are these natural rights so powerful? For three reasons:
- It supplies children with the two people who are (statistically) the safest, most protective of, most invested in, and most connected to children- their biological mother and father. We spend an entire chapter in our book detailing the decades of social science research on the importance of biology in the parent/child relationship. While there are exceptions of neglectful, abusive biological parents, no other household arrangement replicates the benefits of being raised by one’s married biological parents. If you really believe that children deserve to be “safe and loved” then you must advocate for children’s right to both mother and father.
- It gifts children with something no other adult can give them… biological identity. In the book we chronicle the stories of children created via third-party reproduction, highlighting the intense confusion and pain they experience at being raised apart from their biological mother or father. Some speak about their identity struggles, genealogical bewilderment and the weak attachment or mistrust they have with their parents. Many spend years or even decades scouring the internet to find their genetic parent, an adult who they are often told is “just a donor.” If their search is successful some report that they are “finally complete,” even if they were raised by loving, heterosexual parents.
- It grants children the perfect gender balance in their home, 100% of the time. Contrary to pop culture, gender is not a social construct. Men and women offer distinct and complementary benefits to children. Further, children long for both maternal and paternal love. The stories in the book of children raised by single or same-sex parents highlighs what we refer to as “mother-hunger” or “father-hunger.” Even if a child is well-loved by two women, they often crave the love of a man. Mothers and fathers maximize child development, and satisfy a child’s heart.
Christians and conservatives should not run from the term “children’s rights,” we should redeem it. We already ground effective anti-abortion arguments in a child’s right to life. We should ground marriage and family arguments in a child’s right to their mother and father. In personal matters and policy matters, we need to put Them (children) before Us (adults).
The first thing that struck me about your book, frankly, is how brave it is. Obviously you knew that defending children’s rights in this way was bound to make you dedicated and fierce enemies. Did you think about that going into this project?
Um, yeah! Of course. You may be surprised to learn that on the truth-teller/grace-giver spectrum, I lean hard on grace. I would much rather have kept the peace and kept my friends than waded into this fraught culture war. Generally, while I may disagree with their decisions, I think that adults should be free to form whatever consensual relationships they choose. But once an adult decides that kids need to sacrifice their rights and well-being so the adult can live as they please, that’s where I feel I need to speak up. And when an entire nation of adults decides that a generation of kids need to sacrifice their rights and well-being, especially in the name of “progress,” that’s when it’s time to start a movement. Yes, there are trolls (comment on one of my tweets and you’ll know what I mean) and haters who have even targeted people I love in an attempt to silence me. But defending children is worth it. If not Us, then who??
Also, read the 120+ stories of kids of “Modern Families” we profile in our book and you’ll likely be filled with the same urge to fight as me.
My wife and I are adoptive parents of three wonderful children, and we love each of them more than we love our own lives, but in some ways adoptive parents get a front row seat to how deep and profound the wound of missing one’s biological parents can be. Do you have advice for adoptive parents in light of the insights you gained from writing this book?
I have about 5 seconds between uttering the words “biology matters” and when I hear the objection, “You must be against adoption!” I can assure you, I’m not. Our youngest son is adopted, and I am the former Assistant Director of the largest Chinese adoption agency in the world. We devote chapter nine of our book to adoption, specifically contrasting it with third-party reproduction. The summary: a just society cares for orphans, it doesn’t create them.
But being pro-adoption doesn’t mean ignoring the pain, loss and struggle adoptees face. It means honestly acknowledging it. In the book we highlight the fact that adoptees tend to fare better than their peers created via #BigFertility even though both have experienced the trauma of parental loss. Why is that? Because adoption seeks to mend a wound, donor-conception creates a wound. In both households, children will experience confusion, grief and loss. If created via #BigFertility, children will have to process that loss with the adults responsible for it… which often means they will bear it alone. In adoption, children can more easily process that loss with adults who can empathize… because their parents didn’t choose it or cause it. The only study which contrasts outcomes for adoptees and donor-children found that adoptees fare better, very likely because they can openly process their questions with their parents.
So what can adoptive parents do? Validate. I don’t think you can or should constantly remind them that they came to your family by adoption. But you do need to honestly and age-appropriately share their adoption story. And when your child voices curiosity, “Who is my biological father?” or confusion, “Why don’t I look like you?” or sadness such as my son’s on his seventh birthday “Why did my China mom leave me in a box?” then you need to validate them. Resist the urge to be defensive “but I’m your real mom,” minimize “a lot of kids didn’t make it out of the orphanage” or dismiss “biology doesn’t matter, only love matters.” Shoulder their emotional load and shepherd them through it.
I especially appreciated your chapter on divorce. I encourage readers to dive into this whole chapter and sit with it, but can you give us the short version? Why is divorce a threat to children’s rights?
Marriage has been the most child-friendly institution the world has ever known because it unites the two people to whom children have a natural right, their mother and father, for life. The acceptance of no-fault divorce, where spouses could divorce for any reason- or no reason at all- communicated that marriage wasn’t about kids, it was about adult happiness. So when adults ceased to be happy, then it ceased to be a marriage. For kids who don’t need just 4 months of their mom and dad, or 4 years of their mom and dad, or even 14 years of their mom and dad, that’s a big problem. Kids need 100 percent of their mom and dad… for life.
The three staples of a child’s social/emotional diet is mother’s love, father’s love, and stability. Post-divorce, all three emotional macro-nutrients take a hit. In the best case scenario, divorce cuts a child’s access to both mom and dad by 50 percent. Often, post-divorce the child will lose access to the non-custodial parent altogether. In addition, with the coming and going of new partners and spouses with their accompanying children, instability is a feature of a child’s post-divorce life. As a result, these kids experience diminished physical, emotional, psychological, academic, and relational health. One of the most shocking data points I discovered while writing the divorce chapter was that about half of children who grow up in two homes develop two different personalities- they have to become a whole different person during the ride between mom’s house and dad’s house.
We Christians made a lot of noise about gay marriage, noting it “redefined” marriage. But the legalization of no-fault divorce is the original redefinition of marriage. That’s when marriage ceased to truly be child-centric and was transformed into just another vehicle of adult fulfillment. As a result, we have decades of divorce-damaged children to show for it.
Beyond trying to muster your kind of courage, do you have advice for those of us who want to get on the side of children? What are the most effective ways that demonstrate that we are really after protecting kids in ways that won’t fall victim to the critique that this is really about spreading fear and hate about certain populations of adults?
First, it doesn’t matter how robust your evidence, how gentle your presentation, or how much you love those on the opposite side of these issues. You will be accused of “spreading fear and hate” regardless. At some point you’ll just have to choose children over social acceptance.
Second, you need to become an expert. Our book is designed to help you do exactly that. People have real questions – hard questions – that are not satisfied by citing Genesis 1:27. You need be be able to provide child-centric answers like the following:
Isn’t opposition to gay marriage just like opposition to interracial marrage?
No. Children of mixed-race parents don’t lose a mother or father, children of same-sex parents always do.
Marriage isn’t about kids- if it were, then we wouldn’t let infertile couples get married!
False. Not every marriage produces children, but every child has a mother and father. Marriage is society’s best tool to give them both.
Do you think LGBT people have a right to adopt?
No, because no adult has a right to adopt. Children who have lost their parents have a right to be adopted. And for that “gotcha” question of “So you’d rather a child languish in an orphanage than be adopted by a same-sex couple?” see this video.
Is surrogacy a good option if you can’t get pregnant?
False. Surrogacy utilizes lab-created babies, only 7 percent of which will be born alive. For those who live, surrogacy splices one woman- their mother- into three optional women: genetic mother, birth mother, and social mother. If a child is denied any one of these mothers, they suffer. Surrogacy always results in the intentional loss of their birth mother, often the loss of their genetic mother, and sometimes denies children a mother in their home.
You must insist that all adults do hard things. If you want to become an effective child advocate, then no adult (especially you and me!) gets a pass. You must insist that all adults- single, married, gay and straight- conform to the rights of children. That non-hypocritical approach has been critical to building our diverse coalition.
As we discuss in Chapter ten, “Them Before Us is an all-inclusive club composed of gay people, straight people, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and atheists willing to foot the bill for the defense of children’s rights. We are not in the business of waging battle against certain adults; we are in the fight for every child.”