Reunion Raises Adoptive Parents’ Awareness

Below you will find a quote from The Experience of Adoptive Parents in Adoption Reunion Relationships: A Qualitative Study . The authors are Gabrielle A. Petta, MPsych, and Lyndall G. Steed, MPsych, PhD from Curtin University of Technology. The full cite is at the end.

It discusses how one result of adoption reunion is raised adoptive parent awareness of adoption practices.

It is interesting to note that at least one adoptive parent quoted in the study assumes that when those involved in adoption criticize the process, it is in fact the adoptive parents that are being painted as the villians. I don’t believe that this is accurate. To argue from the particular to the general, I don’t know anyone who feels that way. Particularly if we are talking about adoptions that took place 20 years or more ago. In those circumstances the adoptive parents were misled by the system as much as anybody else. There may be issues about how the child was raised if it was not a happy experience, but that is not the same thing. That is not the process, other than one might argue it speaks to selection and assessment.

People have issues with agencies who manipulate to get women to surrender their children these days when the impact of surrendering is better understood. People take issue with the fact that the first solution that is looked for does not involve the mother keeping her child because some prospective adoptive parents seem to have a sense of entitlement.

They were not as aware as back then (the far back then and the not-so-far back then) as we are today of what was going on with the mothers of their children.

Here is the quote:

Raising Awareness of Adoption Practices

Many participants found themselves revisiting their “naive understanding of what adoption was and what being an adoptive family was going to be like” when they first adopted, as one adoptive father put it. As this participant suggested, many adoptive parents did not understand adoption as being anything other than a form of creating a family. Hence, at reunion, when faced with their fear of losing their child, their struggle with entitlement, and the reawakening of earlier losses, many adoptive parents experienced a sense of despair and confusion but also an emerging awareness that they were, in fact, part of something much bigger than they initially believed. That is, although reprocessing of certain adoption issues continued at a personal level, approximately two thirds of our sample also found themselves becoming more cognizant of the contextual factors surrounding adoption practice at the time of adoption and currently.

Some participants suggested that they were ill prepared, if at all, for the issues they faced as adoptive parents—namely, the issues that emerged as their children negotiated identity in late adolescence and participated in reunion. Robinson (2000), in her discussion of adoption and loss, stated that in more recent times, both birth and adoptive parents consider that they were “duped by a legislative system which guaranteed adoption would provide the answer to their problems but did not address the core psychological issues that adoption could not resolve and which it is now seen to have created” (p. 162).

Certainly, this subgroup of participants would concur with this position.

In addition, participants found themselves questioning the messages about adoptive parents and the nature of adoption. As one mother expressed,

“Suddenly I become a stealer of babies. I did not steal anyone’s baby. I do not want to be and I do not deserve to be put in a position where I have to justify my relationship with my daughter. I did nothing wrong but to be cursed with infertility. I am not a bad person, and yet I am made to feel that wanting a child and loving her makes me a criminal.”

In writing on adoption ethics, Jordan (1997) argued that social discourse on adoptive parenting and the sanctioning of one parent as true or real (i.e., the birth parent as the real, natural parent) creates a win or lose contest with significant emotional consequences for adoptees, their adoptive parents, and birth parents. As suggested by the mother in the previous quote, no one actually wins this contest. Rather, setting up either party as good or bad only maintains the pain.
Generally, however, the majority of participants found themselves becoming more aware of issues to do with relinquishment, the sociopolitical context in which it occurred, and the personal issues faced by birth parents. However, the effect of this burgeoning awareness and empathy was not always greater resolution or clarity. In fact, many participants reported greater confusion and dissonance in trying to make sense of their own responses to the reunion process. (Emphasis added)

One participant described feeling “split.” She explained that she had experienced a surge of fear and anxiety and strongly questioned her role, contribution, and worth as a mother. She had been forced to face issues she thought she had “finished with.” Simultaneously, she found herself feeling compassion and empathy for birth families and facing their needs with the same interest with which she faced her own.


The Experience of Adoptive Parents in Adoption Reunion Relationships: A Qualitative Study
Gabrielle A. Petta, MPsych, and Lyndall G. Steed, MPsych, PhD Curtin University of Technology
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry Copyright 2005 by the Educational Publishing Foundation
2005, Vol. 75, No. 2, 230 –241


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