The upside of modern adoption practices

After reading the Modern Adoptive Families Study (Brodzinsky & Goldberg, 2015), I was reminded how much adoption practices have changed since I was an infant needing a family in the early 1960’s.  As an adopted person, I could not be more delighted to see the positive changes that time and social evolution have brought to modern adoptive families.  While adoption remains a complex and potentially challenging way to create a family, the awareness and openness that characterizes most current adoption practices in North America is very encouraging, particularly from where I stand. The openness reported in many modern adoptions feels like sunshine to someone who was raised in the shadow of adoption secrecy, when having a child out of wedlock was a deeply shameful and socially unacceptable act. A long shadow of shame extended to the children that resulted and was heightened by the utter lack of access to detailed facts about one’s origins. Adopted children and their adoptive parents suffered a kind of second class status – being viewed as a less legitimate family type compared with ‘natural’ or ‘real’ families.  With changed social contracts – high rates of divorce and blended families in such abundance, adoption is no longer an outlier in the constellation of family structures. No doubt some of the problems from the past remain but it is uplifting to know that they are relics, and that more enlightened and supportive ways of handling the challenges that bring families together by adoption are becoming the norm.

Reading the study I was surprised to learn that the largest group of adopters in the US are non-heterosexual couples, a trend that is almost certainly echoed here in Canada. Lesbian and gay male couple are more than four times as likely to be raising an adopted child than heterosexual parents. There are many things to celebrate about this development.  Firstly, to me it reflects the fact that we, collectively, are continuing to make choices that create a more tolerant and just society than existed in the past. The other noteworthy point in my opinion is that there are some great benefits for adoptive families as a result, particularly for the children involved.

The biases that once kept non-normative couples from becoming adoptive parents are diminishing, opening up more possibilities for permanent, stable, loving homes for the most vulnerable infants and children in our society. Non-heterosexual couples are more likely to adopt those children who are most difficult to place – those with developmental delays, disabilities or mental health issues, and from the foster care system more often than from private agencies. Gay male and lesbian couples tend to be more racially diverse and adopt racially diverse children. They have no motivation to pretend to be anything other than what they are, which saves their adopted children from the high cost of secrecy.  Having struggled with being marginalized themselves, they are more transparent about their non-normative life experience which in turn facilitates positive modelling for their adopted children about how to cope with feeling and being different than other people. The report notes that gay and lesbian parents are more likely to embrace openness, and are more likely than heterosexual parents to develop and maintain relationships with birth family, integrating them more readily as extended kin.  A variety of factors contribute to this finding, for example, ambiguous gender roles can  ease role conflicts between birth and non-heterosexual adoptive parents.

As both an adopted person and an adoptive mother, my perspective allows to me to appreciate both the benefits and the costs of open adoption. Despite my divided experience, I will always side with any benefits that accrue for the adopted child because they are without doubt the most vulnerable in the situation, the party with the least power and ultimately, the most profoundly influenced by experiencing adoption.

I cannot help but welcome openness in adoption because it is just better for the child. I appreciate that it may create problems and complexities, but the reality is that an adopted child has two sets of parents and denying reality never works in the long run. From the point of view of my adopted self, I think that taking on all the burdens (and joys!) of childrearing, with children who almost certainly come with extra baggage, is courageous and compassionate and underscores the generous nature of people who choose to be adoptive parents.  I speak for all the adopted/fostered people out there in saying “THANK YOU!”.