Do You Have Hidden Bias about Adoption?

I’ve been reading Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology) very slowly. It’s hard to read it and not feel as if slammed in the stomach by the reality that our culture and, yes, people see adult adoptees as children. I also feel the need to spend time processing what each page has to tell me, an adoptive parent, so I am resisting my usual speed reading.

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, in her essay “Discovering My Imposed Age & the Effects of the Institutionalization of Perpetual Childhood,” describes her doctor saying, “‘I do physicals on prospective adoptive parents all the time when they adopt children. I guess I never imagined those children all grown-up.'”

This statement reflects the way we approach children, in general–that they are kids. What if we, instead, saw them as adults-in-the-making? If more child abusers saw them as the latter, they might think first before abusing someone who will grow up and look back at them with an adult mind. Even regular decent parents might put a little more thought into each interaction if they truly saw their children as adults-in-the making.

So why do adult adoptees get seen as kids and not adults-who-were-once-children?

According to Transue-Woolston, our laws surrounding adoption have institutionalized perpetual childhood. By not giving adult adoptees the choice to find their own original identities, the government is forcing them to live as forever children–people not qualified to know what the rest of humanity takes for granted about themselves.

She asks us to examine our subconscious biases.

So let me ask you a question. Most state governments “think” that the privacy of birth or original mothers is more important than that adult adoptees learn the truth of their origins. Do you agree with the government? And if you do, what is your hidden bias that makes you automatically assume that mindset is correct?


  1. I do not agree with gov’t laws which ban adoptees and birth parents from reconnecting…at least once the child is 18. I know my birth mother wanted to locate me but didn’t have the legal power to do so because of the laws at the time. In my case, the need for birth parent privacy was not an issue. She as OK with it. My birth father would have been OK as well. The laws favor the concerns of the adoptive parents more than the adoptee and birth-families. Many birth-parents, especially from my era had no knowledge and never knew they had any rights. They never knew to question or check back. They were kept ignorant and intimidated by “The System”. (church or government)

    • How long did you have to wait for reunion, Paige? I think that’s true that they were meant to help adoptive parents, but that was also misguided as is evidenced by how many adoptive parents favor open adoption now they are given the option. Or that times have changed and people’s views are changing. There are also plenty of birth parents who haven’t wanted to be found. There are adoptees who have been profoundly disappointed to find that out.

      • I don’t think the majority of adoptive parents do favour open adoption, I think adoption agencies favour it as a way to coerce women out of their babies and adoptive parents are stuck with at least pretending to agree until have the baby. Then they can and usually do, arbitrarily refuse first mothers contact or information. A majority of “open” adoptions are closed by adopters, often in the first year.

        As an adoptee, I believe parents have no right to hide from their own children. People’s right to know who they are is far more important than any imagined right to privacy. Privacy which the majority of first parents were never promised and don’t want anyway.

        • Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing here. I am wondering if there are statistics (if they can be trusted) on how many open adoptions are closed and what the reasons are. I mean, I can understand if the birth parent(s) proves to be a problem for the child, such as re-traumatizing a traumatized child, which I’ve seen happen in some foster adoptions. But maybe the statistics would show that many close the adoptions because they decide they can’t handle it or don’t want to “share” bringing up the child or some other reason that is for the sake of the adoptive parent instead of the child.

  2. “If more child abusers saw them as the latter, they might think first before abusing someone who will grow up and look back at them with an adult mind. ”
    I highly doubt it. Most people who abuse children do so because they need to have power over said child. They don’t see the child as a human being, forget about seeing the child as an adult in the making. Some child abusers may simply have a horrible temper and not be able to control themselves. In which case, they’re not thinking at all.

    That said… I think it’s ridiculous that a parent could have the right to privacy from her own child. (I hope I said that right.) Once I learned about the practice – the fact that it occurs, that is – sealing birth records never made sense to me. It still doesn’t make sense to me that people would argue that adults don’t have the right to their own birth certificates. It is a civil rights issue, not one of privacy.

    • Robyn, well, the key word is IF because if they did see them that way it might change things, but that would be difficult to bring about. I am thinking of something similar to this: I’ve heard of cases where a person is kidnaped by a rapist or murderer and the victim is somehow able to persuade the attacker that she is a person, not an object. I know that’s an extreme example, but that kind of thinking. . . .
      Yes! I agree that it’s ridiculous that adoptees don’t have the rights to their OWN records. It seems crazy to me, and yet I was brought up on this kind of thinking as my brother’s adoption was now 50 years ago!

  3. Perpetual Child highlights once aspect of the attitudes that society, the wider community imposes upon adult adoptees. It’s a way of controlling us, of silencing us. It is in effect institutionalised prejudice and bias but connected to institutionalised bias – just as there is institutionalised racism there is also structural racism and bias. This holds true for the adoptees as there is a disconnect, a refusal within the educational system to talk about the contribution that adult adoptees have made. Until both the institutionalised bias and structural bias towards adoptees are addressed progress for adoptees will continue to be difficult and in some cases and aspects glacially slow.

    • Hi Lucy, yes, I agree with what you are saying. I was trying to explain the other day that in the United States, Asians are now demanding a change in perspectives (this came up because activists were asking for a production of the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie not be produced at a high school). What they are asking for the majority now expects for African Americans and for gay people. But Asians haven’t been very vocal until more recently about this stuff. As I was talking about this, I was thinking that it is true for adoptees, too. It’s when groups demand (over and over again as it takes people a long time to change the way their think) they will eventually receive. In this case, I think things are going to change dramatically in adoption and on behalf of adoptees, but it’s going to take a lot of demanding for that to happen! As an adoptive parent, I feel I can be supportive and help try to educate others, but I am only ancillary. It’s good that adoptees demand their rights for themselves.

      • In the UK (as ever it seems) we lag behind the States, probably because we are a smaller country. But we haven’t even gotten to the stage of “open” adoption. Although adoptions now have to be conducted via government sanctioned (could be a double edged sword) agencies or via the National Health Service’s Childcare institutions. I find myself in a very peculiar position in that as an actor of colour – an East Asian I’m having to fight for my right to portray my own ethnicity still battling against Yellowface. As a human being I battle now for the right to say what I think about transracial adoption and my experience and how those experiences have mad me the actor, writer and filmmaker that I am now. As a person both professionally and in “privately” I am discriminated against. I find barriers whether that be because of the colour of my skin and the way that I physically look and what strangers expect me to be and on the other hand for daring to speak of my personal experience on transracial adoption. Change is slow I suspect that equality in the arts will be “achieved” faster than adoption reform in the UK. And at the moment we are a long way from artistic equality for all

        • Lucy, I didn’t realize that about the UK. I thought the demographics had changed enough that perspectives must have change, but I guess not! My Korean daughter who is my partner in this blog is an actor (she hasn’t been posting for quite a while because of her travel schedule), and things are starting to get better, but it’s been a struggle for Asian actors. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the issues facing Asian actors, even when they have them explained for them with clearcut examples.
          I agree about equality in the arts being achieved faster than adoption reform for the U.S., too.

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