By Fran Cronin
This month we celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month in honor of the hundreds of thousands of adoptions that occur each year throughout our nation. In 2010 alone, over 135,000 infants, young children, and adolescents were adopted into American families. We also celebrate how adoption has expanded our definition of family. Today, adoptive families are open, blended, transracial, traditional, multi-generational, and same gender. L
While this celebration is a rightful reminder of our nation’s adoption explosion, what’s remarkable is that this month-long recognition was proclaimed just a short 16 years ago by President Clinton in 1995.
Historically, adoption has always been vital to family formation, albeit, progeny that was not always talked about. Fueled by the need to find homes for babies born to unwed white mothers, adoption served to rectify an unseemly wrong. Like the stigma that once cast a shadow over divorce, adoption was not something spoken about in public.
But thanks to the dogged advocacy for open adoptions during the 1970’s by people like Betty Jean Lifton, adoption has made a steady transformation from secrecy into a family formation that has found acceptance, awareness, and is now a choice woven into our social fabric. Most of us need go no further than our own immediate circle of family and friends to know someone who was adopted.
Lifton, who died last November at age 84, was herself an adoptee. Yearning to know her personal truth, Lifton rebelled against the closed adoption world in which she was raised. Instead, she wrote seminal books, advocated tirelessly, and coined the phrase “adoption triangle,” to telegraph the trauma and loss shared by adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth mothers.
This month coincidentally began with the death of Steven P. Jobs, CEO and founder of Apple. While the media correctly stated that Jobs was adopted, they ultimately got the story wrong. Like the era in which Jobs grew up, the media has maintained an uneasy relationship with adoption despite its prevalence. Instead of a biography that read like an Apple catalog, the story the media should have eulogized Jobs with was: “What Made Steve Jobs Run.”
The answer without scratching too deep is adoption. Raised during a time of social stigma, Jobs did not publicly talk about his adoption until he knew he was dying. But his urgent need to declare his worth spoke volumes throughout his life: He was driven to succeed and leave an indelible mark upon the world. He needed to say here I am and I matter.
Jobs was fortunate to be born to a healthy young mother. However, many adopted children are not. Too often, internationally adopted children have languished in unspeakable deprivation; others, domestically fostered, may have experienced trauma and abuse. Whatever the prior experience, we know these children enter their new lives burdened by their pasts.
Like all children, these most vulnerable adoptees are desperate for love, stability, and safety. But when formative nurturing is grounded in trauma, trusting others can be a hard bet to place. Sadly, many adoptive parents have learned that love sometimes is not enough to help their children overcome their fears. The distrust these children feel often erupts in behaviors that baffle their parents, families, and teachers.
As a nation, we have come a long way on adoptions. But public acceptance and public dialogue are just the beginning. Let’s also remember the help and support that would benefit many adoptive families. As the tragic story of the Russian boy sent back to Russia by his adoptive mother this past year demonstrates, it is our collective job to not only place children into loving homes, but to help them and their families forge bonds that last.
It is not enough to congratulate ourselves for placing children into good care, we also have to ensure these new families succeed.
Fran Cronin is a founder of Parents Advocating for their Adopted Kids.