Carole J. Anderson, “Child Abuse & Adoption,” 1991

In fact, what is child abuse? All states have definitions, but these definitions differ considerably. Some include not only physical and sexual abuse but also psychological abuse; others do not. Some include neglect, another term with a multitude of definitions. . . . Should abuse be measured by the damage to a child’s body or by the damage to a child’s psyche? .  . .

Risk factors for abuse
Although we don’t know exactly how much abuse there is, only that most of it is unreported, there are things we know about abuse. We know that one risk factor is diferentness. If mom, dad and two of their children are stocky blonds while one of the children is a slender redhead, the redhead is at greater risk of abuse. This is true of personality differences as well. A child who does not seem to fit in, who seems alien in looks or disposition, is more likely to be abused.

Another risk factor is separation. . . .

Lack of blood ties is another risk factor. . . .

The adoption connection
I used to think none of this had anything to do with adoption. When I first heard from abused adoptees, I responded much the same as social workers have responded to searching, unhappy birthparents: I thought they were the rare exceptions. But over the years, I’ve had a lot of letters from adoptees who report they were abused. I’ve talked to a lot of adoptees who were abused. The sheer number of them made me take a closer look. . . .

Many adoptees seem, even as adults, to express the same kinds of feelings as abused children. This cannot all be coincidence. Granting that there may be substantial numbers of adoptees who are physically or sexually abused, and even larger numbers who are psychologically abused, it seems we see abused child attitudes in a majority of adoptees.

Adoption’s inherent abuse of children and families
Adoption itself inflicts psychological harm on adoptees. Adoption means the near-impossibility of either adoptee or adoptive parent being able to take their relationship for granted. Because the parent-child relationship is established by law and not by nature, the relationship cannot be regarded as a simple fact of life as it is in natural families, by either adoptees or adoptive parents.

We often read of adoptive parents being the “psychological parents” of adoptees. Yet what does being a “psychological parent” mean? It means that the relationship is not natural, not clear cut. It means that in adoptive families, the parent-child relationship may be something that must be continually proved because it cannot be assumed. One way adoptive parents may seek to “prove” that they are “the” parents and are necessary to adoptees is to make themselves essential, which may mean being more controlling than the typical parent. One way adoptees may “prove” they are their adoptive parents’ children is by being more childlike, more immature, more dependent than typical sons and daughters, even when they are chronologically adults. . . .

Some adoptees may be less harmed by the disruption of the natural bond with their birthmothers than others. Some adoptive parents are better at empathizing than are others. Some are able to love and accept the children they adopt for who they really are, while others will never stop trying to mold adoptees into the natural children they could not have. But still adoption itself, I think, harms children. . . . Inside every adoptee lurks an abandoned child, and that child hurts. . . .

Yes, I know that some non-adopted children are damaged by abuse, poverty or other ills. I know many single parents have one or more risk factors in their families. Yet most, maybe all, of the problems that face vulnerable natural parents can be eliminated by societal and familial support, while the problems that occur in adoption, particularly when the parents are infertile and the adoption is closed, are inherent in adoption and cannot be prevented or eliminated.

 

Source: Carole J. Anderson, “Child Abuse & Adoption” (Des Moines, IA: Concerned United Birthparents, 1991), 4-7, 11-13, 16.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3118
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
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© Ellen Herman