Families are the best way society has found to rear its children. Some children, unfortunately, are born into families who – for whatever reasons – are unable to rear them. Adoption provides a means for other families, who are committed and able to meet the ongoing needs of these children, to legally incorporate them into their families. Adoption, however, always introduces its own set of conditions that complicate the lives of those adopted and of the families who adopt them – independent of the particular people involved or the other circumstances of their lives.
By definition, every child coming into an adoptive family comes already permanently connected to another family by birth. Since adoption cannot end that birth connection, it means that former family boundaries must be reconfigured.
Adoption, then, can best be defined as a means of meeting the ongoing needs of some children by legally transferring the parental responsibilities for them from their birth parents to adoptive parents – recognizing that in this process we create a new “extended family kinship network” that forever links together the two families involved through the child they share. As in marriage, forming and recognizing such a kinship network may not always be easy; yet in both marriage and adoption the ongoing support of such a network usually makes a significant difference in the success of the newly formed marital or adoptive family unit.
Because most families who adopt usually want to feel a sense of “family ownership” of their adopted children – just as if the children had been born to them – they often wish to deny the importance (or even the existence) of the adopted child’s birth family. If the circumstances that led to a child’s adoption involve neglect, abusive behavior, or abandonment, the adoptive family’s wish to protect the child, or help the child avoid the pain, may reinforce their denial.
Whatever adopted children’s histories, however, the genetic/biological connection between them and the parents who gave them life can never be severed. To the extent that an adoptive family excludes the family that is permanently attached to the child they adopted, they deny that child full membership in the adoptive family.
Perhaps the most difficult task adoptive parents face is totally accepting their adopted children – which includes the birth parents to whom they come connected.
Source: Kenneth W. Watson, MSW, LCSW, ACSW , 2006, reprinted with permission of the author. Mr. Watson is an internationally known consultant, trainer, and author. Until his retirement in 1994, he was assistant director of the Chicago Child Care Society. His extensive publications include the influential book, Adoption and the Family System.