- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

Certain child-rearing subjects hit huge nerves, one such subject being adoption. I opined in a recent column that it is unwise for parents to make a child’s adoption a centerpiece of his or her life and to refer to it regularly, as most adoption professionals recommend.

(I also generally am opposed to “open” adoption, in which the adoptee is allowed to develop a one-on-one relationship with his or her birth family. I think that more accurately should be termed tentative non-kinship custody, but that’s another column and yet another controversy.)

Needless to say, I received a good amount of mail from both adoptive and so-called biological parents and also adults who were adopted as children. Surprisingly, most people agreed with me. Those who did not tended to disagree with a vengeance, great drama or both.

One e-mail was especially interesting. It came from a mother who has adopted two children and agrees with me that adoption should be no “big deal.” It is, she said, simply one way of building a family.

She also politely mentioned that it is incorrect of me to say that a certain child “is adopted.” Indeed, my trusty American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says that to adopt is a verb, not a noun or adjective, and thus the correct usage is that the child “was adopted,” accurately indicating that an action has taken place.

In subsequent correspondence, this very eloquent mom (who obviously possesses a good sense of humor) identified other incorrect adoption terminology, most of which I was guilty of using. For example, children are not “given up for adoption.” They are not objects to be given. Women (and, less often, men) make adoption plans or choose adoption. Likewise, my new pen pal maintains that women do not “keep” their babies — they accept responsibility for them.

I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the terms “real parents,” “natural parents,” and “biological parents,” but I never took the time to figure out the correct alternative. My correspondent points out that she is a very real, as opposed to imaginary, biological life form. As for “natural,” she writes, “I am very natural, if not sometimes supernatural, for putting up with” the societal prejudice attached to adoptive parents.

She maintains that an adopted child has one and only one set of parents. I agree and would add that tentative non-kinship custody arrangements confuse this fact for all concerned. They are open in the sense that they leave open the question, “Who are this child’s parents?” (Keep those letters and e-mails coming, folks.)

As for the unwittingly unseemly question of whether the child is “your own,” I take it the adoptive parent should answer “most definitely, although I do not own him/her, but if you are asking whether or not my [sperm, ovum] contributed to [this child’s] genotype, then the answer is no; my spouse and I became [the child’s] very real and responsible parents through adoption.” That ought to shake ‘em up a bit.

In our e-mail exchange, I expressed my view on so-called open adoption, and said adoptive mom agreed. The person or persons who contributed directly to the child’s genotype “need to move on,” she wrote, adding that it is often the so-called biological grandparents who create the most problems.

Even absent that influence, open adoptions put the adoption at center stage and often interfere with the formation of family in the truest sense of the term.

My professional experience compels me to agree with all of that. I have witnessed a good number of open adoption situations in which a child reaches his or her early adolescence, with all its oft-attendant drama, and decides that the adoptive parents are the cause of his or her angst and that all would be well if he or she could only live with the “real” parent(s).

The ensuing chaos and heartache is in no one’s best interest. If, having reached adulthood, an adopted child wants to investigate biological origins, fine, but that should be done with utmost respect for the right to privacy of the biological parents, which is where objective third parties come into the picture.

All in all, a most interesting subject that only promises, in the age of Oprah, to become even more so.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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