Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wendy's and Dave Thomas' Images of Waiting Children

We love the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. They do a lot of great work encouraging people to adopt kids from foster care--among the most notable achievements are the federal tax breaks Dave successfully advocated for in the 90s and of course Wendy's fast food restaurant which dedicates a percentage of its profits to adoption.  
I remember growing up knowing that Wendy's was special because Wendy was adopted and it was a positive thing. (I didn't realize that Dave was the adopted one and the daughter he named the restaurant after was his biological child--probably because I wanted so badly to know another adopted daughter and therefore chose to believe she was a fellow adoptee. She also had crazy hair.) 
These days I don't spend time gazing out the window of my parents' car looking for Wendy's restaurants. But I do get e-mails from the Dave Thomas Foundation. I appreciate all the work they do, but I have to say that sometimes I feel uneasy about the images of waiting children they use in promotions. 
Maybe because the images could play into that old "rescue the child" attitude. The pictured kids are often alone, gazing upward, as if waiting to be picked up. 

You want to reach into the poster and hold the kid.

Which is the point.

But yet there's more to it. Yes, you are helping a child when you foster or adopt, but if you start with a "missionary" mindset and expect the child to be ever grateful and good because you saved them from certain squalor, the child is probably going to experience feelings of anger and resentment at some point. It's demoralizing to be thought of as a charity case.

Images, in advertising especially, tend not to invite complexity. They activate viewers' emotions much faster than words do. This probably has something to do with the right brain/left brain thing that a linguist or psychologist would know more about than me. What bothers me is that the emotion these images evoke is a troubling one: pity.

Don't simply pity the poor orphan. Too easy. From what I've seen, that attitude reduces the situation and can lead to unrealistic expectations. Respect the child as a full person who probably won't think of you as a savior and be okay with that. Do step into adoption or foster care, but do it with recognition of the child's hurts and struggles and have an openness to learn from the child. Adoption isn't a rescue mission--it's a paradox of torn flowers.

1 comment:

Sunday Koffron said...

Adoption is one if not the only chance of permanency currently available for our foster kids, so I support their efforts. But adoption as a "mission" or as a way to bring more souls into the fold makes me very, very, queasy.