I know I’ve talked about it before, but I continue to see both adoption agencies and adoptive parents speak on what adoption was like back in the 50’s and 60’s. They blithely state misinformation, as if, it was fact.
People think of closed adoption as it was in the fifties and sixties, when adoptive parents were counseled to basically pretend that the family was biological… but that is not the way you are going to approach this situation. You will be open with your child about how you became a family, and you will always speak respectfully of his/her bio-family, even as you wish that things were different. (source)
No, they weren’t counselled to pretend that the family was biological any more than adopting parents are counselled that today. Just like today, there are people who adopt and don’t tell their child they’re adopted, some didn’t in the 50’s and 60’s either. There have been families in every decade who have mistakenly decided not to tell their child they are adopted.
What some adoption professionals and adoption agencies did try to do in the 50’s and 60’s was to place infants in homes where they matched the adoptive parents in looks and intellect so they appeared to be a biological family, this had been the trend most of the century. The concept of confidentiality and anonymity was also a big part of the landscape that aimed to protect the adoptive family in the 50’s and 60’s. Both of those practices are a far cry from being counselled to pretend they were biological families.
By midcentury, anxiety about telling was a big enough problem that many agencies required adopters to pledge, in writing, that they would tell. How-to-tell conversations became routine parts of the adoption process. Telling became a central ritual of adoptive family life.
Why were adoptees supposed to be told? The reason had less to do with honesty than it did with emotional inoculation against stigma. Parents would be wise to tell children about their adoptions with kindness and love before they learned the truth from unfeeling relatives, nosy neighbors, or cruel classmates. Behind telling was the hope that convincing children early on of their selected status would protect them from the painful realization that many people considered adoption second-rate. (source)
The 50’s and 60’s was also part of the era that first amended birth certificates and sealed the original from public scrutiny. A practice most adoptive parents today still want, so would you say adoptive parents today are pretending they are biological families with the amended birth certificate, or would you say, they do that to protect the child and the family from unwanted stigmatization?
While the 50’s and 60’s were predominantly closed adoptions, open adoptions started in the early 1970’s and continued to gain traction. Associations were formed; the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) was formed by Florence Fisher in 1971, Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) was formed in 1976 by Lee H. Campbell that by 1981 was nationwide, the American Adoption Congress was formed in 1978.
Did adoptive parents in the 50’s and 60’s know what parents today know about the seven core issues adoptees may face? No, because that level of information wasn’t available. Did they have an idea there could be issues or a need to search? Those with common sense did, others, perhaps not. The same can be said today, why adoption forums discussions have those who accept being adopted comes with common feelings to process, and those who don’t believe that. Those who believe an adoptee searching has nothing to do with their relationship with their parents, and those who still believe only maladjusted adoptees search. The difference? Parents from the 50’s and 60’s who may not have realized all the different ways being adopted can be hard, or the need to search has nothing to do with their family, get a pass because the studies weren’t available. Today’s parents won’t be given that grace when the information is readily available to all, and yet, is still disregarded by some.
The Development of Adoption Law by Alice Bussiere, JD
Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption By E. Wayne Carp