(I told you it was going to be bookish around here for a while. But there’s a giveaway at the end of the post, so read on.)
We live in a time when the definition of “family” is not changing, but broadening. It is and always has been about love and commitment—and for those of us who have children, about helping them to learn and grow on the way to adulthood. The structure of families, however, and the way we create them, has been in flux over the last few decades—and not just because of LGBT families. There has been an overlapping revolution to the one created by LGBT parents—that of adoptive parents and their children, who have also been fighting for greater acceptance, openness, and a wider definition of what it means to be a family.
Ten years ago, Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and an adoptive father himself, chronicled this revolution in his book Adoption Nation—and in doing so, helped create its manifesto. Now, he has just released a revised edition, updated to reflect recent events and legal changes. It is a must-read book for adoptive parents or potential parents, adults who were adopted as children, policymakers, and anyone interested in the changing shape of families today.
Adoption used to be veiled in secrecy, Pertman relates. Children were swept away from women who had been hidden in homes for unwed mothers until they gave birth. The children were placed with new families, who often did not reveal that they had been adopted. But attitudes and laws have been changing to allow each part of the adoption triad—adopted children, adoptive parents, and birth parents—to become more honest and open about their relationships to each other. People are now realizing that adoption is not a single event that happens early in a person’s life and is best forgotten in the interest of having a “normal” family. Contact among triad members can help strengthen identities and relationships, not harm them.
Pertman dispels many of the myths surrounding adoption: that birth mothers who want contact with their children always want to take them back, that children looking for their birth parents want them to replace their adoptive parents, and that birth fathers always either abandon their children and the mother or want to interfere with an adoption. He offers both anecdotes and data, and discusses the legal challenges and changes that have facilitated greater openness among all parties.
He describes the history of adoption, both domestic and international, in modern America, the particular issues for multi-racial families and children with special needs, and the impact of the Internet in facilitating both adoptions and connections among triad members. He also looks at the flow of money in the adoption system, legal and illegal, and the attempts to regulate adoption through legislative means.
The book is inclusive of lesbian and gay parents, and definitely recommended if you are adoptive parents or considering adoption. Even those of us who are not adoptive parents, though, will find many parallels between us and the families in the book. We and our children often want to cast a wider net over those we consider family, whether they be sperm donors, surrogates, or birth parents, but we have also struggled to define those roles and navigate the legal and social boundaries. We, too, face everyday issues of acceptance and inclusion.
We also have our own legislative and legal challenges, some of which are related to adoption. Pertman notes that lesbian and gay parents banned from adoption in one jurisdiction can fairly easily go to another to adopt, “So the people hurt by these prejudicial restrictions aren’t the adults at whom they’re aimed, but the children in the affected states who will continue to deteriorate in supposedly temporary situations because not enough of the ‘right’ sorts of parents are available.”
But we are not alone in reshaping what it means to be a family. Pertman writes, “Realities like single parenting, divorce, and poverty have hammered away at the ideal [of straight, married couples as best for raising children] with more force than same-sex couples could ever hope to muster.”
At a minimum, adoption provides a starting point for addressing historic, mind-boggling changes that will further reshape our understanding of what constitutes a “normal” family. . . . But adoption’s chronicles are more than just cautionary tales; they also offer positive messages, instructive guidance, and hope. They affirm that family is about far more than bloodlines, while explaining that ignoring biology helps no one. They show that children are eminently capable of enlarging the circle of those they love without losing affection for the people already there. In probably their most optimistic lesson, they also demonstrate that it’s possible to topple even deeply entrenched regimes.
Adoption Nation is a balanced, readable, and sympathetic blend of reporting, history, personal anecdote, and social commentary. Adoptive families and potential families will find it invaluable. Non-adoptive families, too, especially those of us who formed our family in non-traditional ways, will find much food for thought—and may discover new ways to build bridges and find allies.
Leave a comment on this post with some observation, question, resource, or personal anecdote about adoption, and I’ll enter you in a drawing to receive a free copy of the book, courtesy of the publisher. Comments must be left before 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (That’s 2:59 a.m. Eastern Time, April 7.) I’ll be doing two more giveaways, on Thursday and Friday this week, so do stop back!
Rules and restrictions: U.S. and Canada residents only, please. One entry per person. Don’t worry if your comment is moderated; once I approve it, it will appear based on the time you submitted it. Spam comments, including off-topic or commercial comments, will not count. If you win any one of the three drawings for this book, you cannot play again. If you are or have been a paying advertiser (or an employee of a paying advertiser) on Mombian, you can’t play.
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