John Rosemond - Parenting Expert
Treat Adoption as
Long-standing readers of this column know that I believe no hoopla should or needs to be made concerning adoption. I am convinced that many of the standard recommendations dispensed by so-called "adoption experts" are silly, pointless, and even counterproductive. These include repeatedly telling the child in question, before he's even able to talk, that he is adopted, referring to the adoption at every possible opportunity, singing "you're adopted" songs to the child when he's a baby, and the like. My recommendation is to treat adoption as a small deal, which all-but insures that it will never become a big one.
According to one adoption professional who was once infuriated at my heresy, I am recommending an approach that could result in "trauma" to a child who discovers, on his own, that he was adopted. This is not just far-fetched, but also an example of the general tendency among mental health professionals to dumb-down the definition of trauma to include any and all disruption of some baseline emotional state. Trauma is not mere upset; it is prolonged suffering. I propose that a child who becomes truly traumatized at the discovery that he was adopted was already emotionally fragile for other reasons.
I am not, by the way, advocating that adopted children not be informed. I simply believe they should not be told until it is either necessary or they are old enough to truly comprehend the implications, ask intelligent questions, and participate in a rational discussion of what it means.
Once upon a time, people did not think that adoption was a big deal. There were children who, for sundry reasons, had been or had to be separated from their parents, and there were parents willing to take them in and raise them as their own. No one thought that this increased a child's risk of later problems, and there is no evidence that it did. Today, however, adoption-babble includes words and phrases like "attachment disorder," "bonding issues," and, of course, "trauma"-all of which greatly increase the likelihood that adoptive parents will tread on eggshells. It is almost always the case that these eggshells eventually crack and beasts emerge. One such beast is the adopted teenager who suddenly decides, in the throes of the "Poor, poor pitiful adopted me" soap-opera, that all of her problems would be solved if she could find and go live with her "real" parents. Every single time adoptive parents have asked my advice concerning this adolescent drama, they have affirmed that they followed the standard advice and made the adoption a Big Deal from day one.
Some parents recognize the babble for what it is. One such adoptive mom recently told me, in an email, that she and her husband have never sat down with their daughter to have the "Big Talk." The child knows she is adopted. No effort has been made to hide it from her, but the subject is not brought up unless "it is relevant to what is going on or being discussed." That's eminently sensible. The adoption is not taboo, but neither is it The Sole Source of Meaning in the Child's Life.
I have a friend who did not discover that he was adopted until he was nineteen years old, and even then quite by serendipity. When he asked his parents why they never told him, they answered that it made no difference to them. And that was that. The explanation was satisfactory, and my friend went on to become a highly successful professional, but more important, a truly decent human being. Again, never telling the child is not my recommendation, but I offer the story as evidence that when molehills are treated as molehills, they are likely to remain molehills.
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