The Adopted Child: Peers and Society

What about the adopted child's treatment by their friends, relatives, and society in general? In the past, society did not look kindly on an adopted child. Since most babies placed for adoption were the children of unwed mothers, adoption was associated with being an illegitimate child. Even the adopted family itself was seen as less than normal. Since the birthmother was called the "natural mother" that left the adopting mother as the unnatural parent. Even the practitioners of adoption seemed to share these views since they insisted on such secrecy in the adoption process.

But the social context for an adopted child has changed dramatically in recent years. The terms "bastard", "legitimate", and "illegitimate" have simply passed out of common usage. A child living with his or her biological parents has become commonplace because of the high divorce and remarriage rate in recent years. In fact, most children today live with single or divorced mothers or fathers or stepfathers and stepmothers. In this more fluid society, the situation of an adopted child no longer seems that unusual.

The very openness of open adoption also affirms the normality of a child being in their family by adoption. In the past, the secrecy imposed on the adoption process reinforced society's negative attitude toward the adopted child. Adopted children often were afraid of being "found out." Open adoption obviously creates a different environment. As we have seen, the adopted child understands that they are adopted and knows full well the details surrounding their adoption. As they grow up, the people around them—their parents, grandparents, relatives and friends— discuss their adoption openly and approvingly. The fear of being suddenly exposed or labeled is virtually nonexistent.

Our daughter, Morgan, is an eleven-year-old girl adopted through an open adoption. One day, her teacher gave her and the other students in her class an exercise to do about interviewing. They were all to go home and interview their mothers about their labor and delivery and then report the answers to the class. With a closed adoption, such an assignment could have been a disaster for Morgan. All her classmates would have wonderful stories to tell but she would have to say, "I'm adopted and I don't know anything about my birth." But that is not what happened because Morgan's was an open adoption. When she told me about the assignment, I suggested she call her birthmother on the phone and interview her. Morgan called her. They had not seen each other for about a year but the connection was still strong. She interviewed her birthmother about her labor and delivery. In the end, Morgan had a great story to tell to her class. All the kids loved it.

In the last few decades, we have witnessed how quickly our society's values and mores can change. This has happened with everything from sex roles, the length of hair and the definition of marriage, to work styles and career paths. For instance, years ago, having a mother who worked full time often implied that a child's family was unusually poor. Today, in most families, both husband and wife work and no one thinks much about it. The same is likely to happen with adoption. By the time most children of open adoption enter the school system, the fact that they are adopted will seem commonplace.

What about the adopted child's acceptance by the friends and relatives of the adopting parents? Again, the openness of the adoption has major advantages. Nothing about the adoption is hidden away or kept secret. In fact, most prospective adopting couples involve their family and network of friends in the adoption process right from beginning. They talk to everyone they can about the details of open adoption and their decision to adopt and ask their assistance in spreading the word about their efforts to find a birthparent. Some people are skeptical because they know little about open adoption. But most adopting parents and birthparents can explain open adoption to friends and relatives in ways that help to alleviate their fears.

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