of guidelines aimed to demystify what social workers were thinking
and expecting as they conducted home
studies. Boiling the process down to a set of simple instructions
about the attitudes and behaviors most likely to succeed—from
how to recall one’s childhood to what to say about one’s
sex life—undermined therapeutic approaches to adoption because
they made home studies appear to be performances that depended on
the skill of the actors rather than investigations devoted to children’s
well-being. In this excerpt, the author implicitly criticized the
power that social workers
wielded in agency adoption. Two years earlier, in The Atalantic
Monthly, Isaac explicitly condemned the “amateur psychiatry”
practiced by social workers, along with their efforts to eliminate
independent adoptions and gain a family-making monopoly. “The
public may well hesitate before bestowing upon the erring individuals
of an agency the final godlike power to decree who shall be parents
and who shall not.”
Following are a list of suggestions which should serve as a practical
guide to a couple seeking to convince an agency that they have the
capacity for adoptive parenthood. . . .
1. Use the pronoun “we,” not “I.” This
is a deceptively simple point, but for social workers in adoption
these pronouns are important diagnostic tools. The assumption is
that the use of “we” by husband and wife is a favorable
indicator of the quality of the marriage, since husband and wife
do not speak as separate selfish selves but as a family unit.
2. A couple are fortunate if they can say that they get on well
with their parents and relatives. Certainly the agency interview
is not the time for a frank airing of hostilities on mother, father,
even Aunt Emma. On the other hand it is foolish to pretend an unfelt
enthusiasm for any of these people, for the social worker will probably
detect it as unfelt. . . . The social worker expects
that problems will exist; she is on the lookout to find if the couple
have “handled” them maturely. . . .
Although it is important to the agency that the couple be on good
terms with their parents or at least have come to a full understanding
and acceptance of why they are not on good terms with them, they
should not appear so close to their parents that the social worker
senses they are dependent upon them. The agency is looking for a
mature couple, and one of the ways in which it defines maturity
is that the couple stand on their own feet, not those of their parents. . . .
3. The couple must convince the agency that they are happily married.
This sounds too obvious to be worth mentioning, but the relationship
between husband and wife is the area in which the social worker
will probably probe most deeply. A mistaken position in the face
of this probing is to claim that husband and wife are in perfect
agreement and never quarrel. The social worker will probably suspect
any couple who claim to get along that well are concealing some
hideous disagreements. A couple who literally never quarrel (is
such there be) might at least speak of some of their divergences
of taste. The agency is looking for masculine men and feminine women
to provide models for the child in their respective roles. If the
social worker feels that either husband or wife has been sucked
up in the personality of the other—which may be her explanation
for complete absence of disagreement—she will be afraid that
one parent will not offer a suitable model.
4. Adoptive parents are fortunate if they can recall a happy childhood.
The reason for this is the social worker goes on the assumption
that those who experienced a happy home life are themselves more
likely to offer one to a child. While there is no need to paint
an idyllic picture, especially if such a picture is inaccurate,
a couple should avoid dwelling on any experiences in early childhood
that might be interpreted as traumatic. . . .
5. The couple should show that they are reconciled to their infertility.
Social workers find that in the typical interview the wife weeps,
confesses she is jealous of women who are pregnant, finds it hard
to tolerate parties where the women sit talking of their children,
feels she is inadequate, and has felt she was alone among women
in her reactions. The man may confess that his pride is hurt because
of his inability to have children. The social worker will expect
a couple to be frank about the way they felt and to express it—if
they do not she will feel they are suppressing it. But the couple
should then go on to say how they adjusted to the situation through
talking the matter out with each other, and coming to the realization
that adoption was the answer. They can say that “time helped,”
that baby carriages no longer trigger tears, and that they are hoping
soon to be wheeling one themselves for an adopted baby. Basically
they are balancing on a tightrope. . . .
6. A couple must convince the social worker that their motives
for adoption—conscious and unconscious—are healthy. . . .
8. Husband and wife, if the wife works, should both be happy in
their jobs, but the wife should not be too happy. While it is important
that the husband indicate fulfillment in his work, a social worker
may feel that the wife who sounds too fulfilled may be reluctant
to sacrifice her work for the routine of child care, and the vast
majority of agencies insist, at least in adoption by white couples,
that the mother give up her work. . . .
10. The couple should not reveal any desperate need of a child.
Agencies are looking for couples who would live comfortably together
without children, and do not look upon adoption as a means assuaging
their own pain. . . .
11. Although a couple should skirt the revelation of any deep feelings
about adoption, they should try to show warm feelings for children
and for each other. . . .
12. A couple should not indicate too much preference for a boy
or a girl nor should they come with a list of demands regarding
a child. . . .
13. The couple must be prepared to take in good part intimate questions
regarding their background, fertility problem, and sex life. If
the husband and wife are embarrassed in answering questions about
their sex life, the social worker may decide that they will be embarrassed
in dealing with their child’s questions about how he came
to be adopted. . . . The social worker often conducts
a miniature psychoanalysis: Like the Freudian analyst, the social
worker moves in a world of oral and anal personalities, sexually
adjusted and maladjusted individuals. . . . Most
social workers will want to know if a couple have an adequate sex
life, since this is considered an index to a good marriage. Intercourse
twice a week is apt to strike the social worker as an index of a
good marriage—good without overdoing it. . . .
16. The couple should reveal no hesitation in regard to telling
the child about his adoption. . . .
19. The couple’s feelings toward illegitimacy should not
be punitive. . . .
21. A couple should indicate that they would only consider adopting
through an agency and disapprove of private adoption. . . .
29. Adoptive applicants should be relaxed, honest, self-searching,
and unguarded. If this sounds contradictory after twenty-eight suggestions
implying that a couple must be thoroughly on their guard, it nonetheless
remains good advice. . . .