Monday, November 29, 2010

Openness in Adoption and Adoptees' Attitudes Toward Birth Mothers

You're aware of the big Minnesota/Texas adoption study, right? It's a longitudinal research study that focuses on the consequences of variations in openness in adoption arrangements for all members of the adoptive kinship network: birthmothers, adoptive parents, and adopted children, and for the relationships within these family systems.  It involves a large sample, and has been following participants for over twenty years.  You can read a report of the results of a wave 2 study (wave 1 was when adoptees were in early/middle childhood, wave 2 involved adoptees at average age of 15.7) here: Many Faces of Openness in Adoption: Perspectives of Adopted Adolescents and Their Parents.  The study describes the different openness arrangements the adoptive families and birth mothers have, and also examines the attitudes and feelings about openness and adoption depending on the degree of openness.  I was particularly interested in attitudes toward birth families.  According to the study,
All adolescents were asked a general question, “How do you feel about your birth mother?”, regardless of whether they had contact. Responses about feelings toward birth mothers were coded separately for positive and negative affect, since positive and negative feelings can vary independently of each other. A 5-point scale was used, with 1 indicating no positive (or negative) affect or no feelings about her, 3 indicating moderate positive (or negative) affect, and 5 indicating strong positive (or negative) affect. Value 2 fell between 1 and 3, and value 4 fell between 3 and 5. Examples of positive affect included descriptions of adolescents’ feelings about their birth mother that used words such as love, happiness, excitement, interest, pride; examples of negative affect included words such as sadness, nervousness, anxiety, shame, anger.
According to the researchers, "Adopted adolescents’ positive feelings about their birth mothers varied significantly as a function of openness arrangements. . . . [T]he mean level of positive affect was significantly higher in the contact with meetings group than in the no contact or stopped contact groups. . . . Negative feelings about birth mothers did not vary as a function of openness arrangement."  Furthermore,
Adolescents having contact with meetings were asked how they felt after the meetings. Each adolescent’s interview response was coded for the predominant three descriptors. . . . Half of the responses were accounted for by two categories: “pleasure/happiness/contentment” and “anxious/apprehensive/concerned/nervous/tense/weird.” None of the adolescents reported feelings of fear, hatred, surprise, anger, or confusion about who their parents were. Twenty-seven adolescents (51.9 percent) reported a mixture of descriptors that seemed to include both positive and negative feelings after meetings. A typical combination was “nervous” and “very happy.” A total of 21 adolescents (40.4 percent) reported only positive feelings, 2 (3.8 percent) reported only negative feelings, and 2 (3.8 percent) said they did not remember how they felt. The latter two adolescents said they had only met their birth mother once.
The researchers conclude:
These data revealed that many adolescents’ meetings with birth relatives are an occasion for a mixture of feelings, especially pleasure intermingled with nervousness. However, it is especially noteworthy that no adolescents mentioned that meetings made them feel afraid, surprised, angry, or confused about who their parents were. This should be reassuring to prospective adoptive parents who mention concern about confusion as a reason for not having birth parent contact. Once again, we have found no evidence that contact is inherently harmful to children’s or adolescents’ well-being.
Reassuring, indeed. 


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Anonymous said...

"Once again, we have found no evidence that contact is inherently harmful to children’s or adolescents’ well-being."

This statement is biased as it takes a side and excludes the finding that the converse is also true: no contact is also not inherantly harmful to children or adolesents.

At the end of the day, what is right for each child and family varies on the unique circumstances of that child and that family.

Pushing findings and agenda that are pro-contact and pro-open adoption is popular, but not demonstrated to have any merit or lack of merit over the reverse. I know that is not popular with the strong advocates for openess in adoptions, but it is what it is.

Personally, I object to parents either forcing openess, OR preventing it, against the will of the child. The child is the one that has the controlling vote and interest in my view. And yes, that means that the child needs to be of an age to be informed and make the choice for them. Which requires a degree of maturity and objectivity in the adopting parents that is for the most part lacking on either extreme of the discussion for/against.

SustainableFamilies said...

Anonymous, what then do you think if the child says they would like to live with the biological family and not see the adoptive family at all? It happens in the teen years, and occasionally sooner.

Should the adoptees wishes be listened to, or does this only apply when it's the first parents being obliterated?

malinda said...

"This statement is biased as it takes a side and excludes the finding that the converse is also true: no contact is also not inherantly harmful to children or adolesents."

Well, actually, whether this is true depends on your definition of harm.

Assume for a moment that it is true -- as a first principle, "Do no harm," isn't a bad one.

But don't we, as parents, aspire to more than simply not harming our children? Studies do show that some adoptees in closed adoptions experience difficulty with identity formation, feelings of isolation and exclusion from adoptive parents, feelings of abandonment in relation to birth parents.

The vast majority of adoptees in this open adoption study feel differently on many of these points, and express much more satisfaction with their adoption and more positive attitudes toward birth family than do adoptees with no contact or stopped contact.

Isn't that something to strive for? Happiness? Satisfaction? Positive attitudes about their biological roots?

Or is it enough to say, "At least I didn't irretreivably harm my child?"

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, why don't we also apply your logic to family members in the adoptive family? Why don't we also say that adoptees should decide when they should meet their adoptive grandparents, adoptive aunts, adoptive cousins, etc, etc?

Oh yeah, that's a ridiculous idea.

The idea that adoptees have to be old enough to "choose" a relationship with their birth family is the concept that shows inherent bias. Children are raised with various relationships and connections that they don't choose. Of course, as adults they get to choose who they want relationships with, whether it's in their birth family, adoptive family, step family, foster family, or other.

The difference is that with openess, fear and a feeling of the birth family being "alien" or "other" is no longer one of the reasons they will not choose to have or continue contact.

And the idea that their are adoptees who would be just fine with having some sort of relationship with their birth families, well, that's something that some find very threatening, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

As I commented earlier "at the end of the day, what is right for each child and family varies based on the unique circumstances of that child and that family."

People insisting on pushing their view of the "right answer" on behalf of all adoptees is arrogant and subjective.

It's interesting to watch you all decide for adoptees what is best for them, but you are not the ones to decide now are you?

A republication of a 1988 Playboy magazine interview with Steve Jobs, who is an adoptee, gives an interesting insight as to how one adoptee feels about what influenced their life. Pay particular attention to what he has to say about how it shaped (or did not shape) his life:

"PLAYBOY: You had been adopted, hadn't you? How much of a factor in your life was that?

JOBS: You don't ever really know, do you?

PLAYBOY: Did you try to find your biological parents?

JOBS: I think it's quite a natural curiosity for adopted people to want to understand where certain traits come from. But I'm mostly an environmentalist. I think the way you are raised and your values and most of your world view come from the experiences you had as you grew up. But some things aren't accounted for that way. I think it's quite natural to have a curiosity about it. And I did.

PLAYBOY: Were you successful in trying to find your natural parents?

JOBS: That's one area I really don't want to talk about."

Of course what is right for Steve Jobs may or may not be right for another adoptee. My point is that internet mandates by folks such as are an audience for this blog are not relevant to the topic for any given adoptee because each is unique and their views and voice on the topic are unique. No study and no amount of commentary by strangers changes any of this.

Anonymous said...

"And the idea that their are adoptees who would be just fine with having some sort of relationship with their birth families, well, that's something that some find very threatening, isn't it?"

You are simply not listening. Probably because you are trying hard to push your particular bias.

Why is it that we do not simply let each adoptee decide for themselveswhat is the right path and the right choices for their particular life? Why is that?

What I advocate for is to not force an adoptee to one extreme or the other, but rather let the characteristics and needs of each adoptee AND their family quide them to what they choose to do, or not do.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you didn't answer any of my points, you simply responded to one of my statements by accusing me of bias. This could go on forever with no real progress in understanding both our thoughtframes on this. Are you interested in a real discussion? If so, I invite you to think through this with me:

Family relationships are "forced" on everyone as a child. For instance, we don't ask a three year old if they want to have a relationship with their grandmother (and for that matter, we certainly don't even tell an older child "hey, it's up to you if you ever want to see your grandmother again.") And unless that grandmother is abusive we think it's horrible for a parent to deny their child the chance to know his/her grandmother. We would think it's completely laughable to have a child make a "choice" about whether they want that relationship with their grandmother, unless, again, she was an abusive person in some way.


Because it is ONLY IN HAVING THAT RELATIONSHIP, only by the very living of it that they can even understand what that choice entails.

Let's leave the name calling and accusations aside. Can you respond to the point I'm making here?