How much should parents share about their children on social media? Is it right to make money from such posts? Is it right to adopt a child from another country, keep him for two years, and then give him up to another family? These are the troubling questions being raised and feverishly debated after Myka Stauffer, a popular influencer on YouTube and Instagram, revealed that she has placed adopted son Huxley in a new home.
The tragic story goes like this: Stauffer and her husband, James, had two biological daughters when they began vlogging in 2014. They had another son in 2016. When they decided to adopt a boy from China in 2017, she documented the process in her videos.
More from SheKnows
“Since Chinese adoption laws only allow U.S. couples to adopt children who have special needs (besides other stipulations), at first, we couldn’t wrap our heads around special needs adoption,” Stauffer wrote in Parade last year. “We would just say, ‘No we can’t handle all of that, we just want a simple adoption.’ But as we let the idea soak in, God softened our hearts. Before we knew it, we were open to almost every special needs in the book.”
It took almost a year to adopt Huxley. Though originally the agency said he had a brain tumor, it was eventually revealed that he had suffered a stroke in utero and had autism and sensory processing disorder. But by that point, the family was already in love, and they all went to China to meet the 2-year-old boy.
Through all of this, Stauffer was making emotional videos, earning hundreds of thousands of followers, and starting to get big-name sponsorship for her posts. She also asked for donations to help cover the cost of his adoption. With that kind of incentive, it’s easy to see why the Stauffers didn’t keep the details of theirs or their children’s lives private. Stauffer often said that she didn’t show all the hard parts about raising Huxley, though she did occasionally film his tantrums. In 2019, she had a fourth biological son, and Huxley was featured less and less in her Instagram feed. Sure, that’s the plight of the middle child, but it may also have been because his behavior was worsening.
“The last couple days have been hard; I don’t want to sugar coat anything,” Stauffer wrote in an Instagram post in February. “We have had a lot of melt downs, and lots of behaviors that have had us on our knees begging god for guidance! On social medial and YouTube we rarely show the behaviors or the hard stuff, because we try our best to respect our son’s privacy and dignity. We have hard days, lots of them. I wish autism and adoption trauma had a manual to direct you through it all.”
That was the last time she showed Huxley on any social media. Followers began asking, then demanding, what was up. Finally, on Tuesday, the couple posted a tearful video explaining that they had decided to “rehome” Huxley.
“After multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit and that his medical needs — he needed more,” she said, explaining that they hadn’t said anything about this until now because they didn’t want to “mess up” the process legally. Both Myka and James talked about wanting to protect Huxley’s privacy.
“Do I feel like a failure as a mom? Like, 500 percent,” she said.
Since then, Twitter has exploded with outrage over their decision.
“Myka Stauffer proved herself the ultimate Karen when she crowdfunded an adoption of 2yo with Autism from China, exploited him and his meltdowns for praise on YT, and then rehomed him like an unwanted pet once she had another bio kid,” @thatbonnielass7 wrote on Twitter.
“IDK who needs to hear this (jk I do, it’s @MykaStauffer), children of color are not put on earth to fuel your white savior complex,” Alyssa tweeted. “They’re not pets you should just ‘rehome’ when it gets too hard to raise them.”
An Instagram account called @_mykastaufferfan, run by someone who is definitely no longer a fan, has been posting old videos and quotes that apparently show more of the story.
For our part, we are going to withhold judgment about the fact that they placed Huxley in a new home, because we don’t know what was actually going on with him and their family dynamic. What we can say is that the Stauffers aren’t the first to do this.
A 2012 paper from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that between 1 and 5 percent of adoptions finalized in the U.S. are dissolved every year; other sources place this number even higher. There are agencies and adoption attorneys that specialize in “second-chance adoptions.” You can read stories in The Atlantic and Good Housekeeping about other adoptive parents who went through heartbreaking struggles with children they adopted before finally coming to the conclusion that they were the wrong parents for the child’s needs. In 2012, author Joyce Maynard came under fire for writing about the dissolution of her adoption of two girls from Ethiopia.
“I will not speak here of all that transpired between that happy, hopeful day I first brought the girls home to where I sit now, writing this,” Maynard wrote on her blog. “I will simply say here that though there was no shortage of love or care — and despite some very happy and good times — the adoption failed. I have never in my life tried harder to make something work than I did, to make a good home for the girls. I was not able to give them what they needed.”
If a new family is providing a better home for Huxley than the Stauffers could, then we can see this as a good thing for him in the end — even though we can only imagine how upsetting it must be for him to leave the only family he can remember.
That still leaves the murky question of the social media money behind his story. As a writer who is also making a living from my experiences as a parent, I’m in no position to judge the practice as a whole. We can’t ever know whether internet fame motivated Stauffer to go through with that adoption, but it’s clear that there’s no way to maintain the privacy of a boy like Huxley if your sponsorship money comes from posting about him.
And what should we make of the fact that the family has continued to make content, even while all of this was going on behind the scenes? Was that also for the sake of money, or just the way the Stauffers cope with things, creating a perfect illusion just to make it through each day?
That illusion has been shattered this week. The only clear thing we do know is that they’re going to have to show a very different side of their family life going forward, or perhaps take a break from social media entirely.
Want your kids to understand about all kinds of families? Start with these inclusive children’s books.
Launch Gallery: Inclusive Children's Books for Any Family
Best of SheKnows