The Family of Adoption
by Joyce Maguire Pavao
Beacon Press, 1998

Reviewed by Barbara Free

     Joyce Maguire Pavao writes as a professional therapist and adult adoptee with profound respect for all members of the adoption triad and extended family. She addresses some of the issues of other family members (such as the subsequent spouse and later offspring of birth mothers, or the grandchild of a relinquished person), which is rarely done in books on adoption issues. She has many years of experience in helping families sort out the different pieces of long-term adoption issues. She is the founder, twenty-four years ago, of the Post Adoption Resource Center, and several other programs, all now under one non-profit umbrella called the Center for Family Connections, in Cambridge, MA, and in New York City. It is not part of an adoption or placement agency, and therefore does not have a vested interest in any particular outcome or decision, but offers training, consulting, and guidance to professionals, foster parents, and all family members connected to adoption and related matters.
     Ms. Pavao distinguishes between the terms “mother” and “father” as different from parents in regard to birth mothers and birth fathers. A birth mother, for instance, is a mother but not the parent of the person she relinquished, in terms of her role in that person’s life. This seems to be a realistic and respectful way of talking about the people involved in an adopted person’s life, rather than discussions of who are the “real” parents or whether a birth mother is deserving of being called a “mother” at all. This also helps clarify concepts for those concerned that a truly open adoption, where the birth mother and/or birth father has continued contact with the adoptee, is some sort of co-parenting situation in which the birth mother, for instance, might try to have an equal voice in parenting decisions.
     Unlike several recent books, although well written, which have contributed a lot to our understanding of the adoptee’s core issues of loss, confusion, and esteem, but which have at the same time placed a lot of blame on birth parents for causing these issues by their relinquishment, Ms. Pavao acknowledged the possible problems and issues without resorting to a victim-victimizer mind-set. She uses numerous examples and brief stories to illustrate various situations and some of the creative ways families and individuals have come to terms with their problems. She sees herself as someone who helps people find the solutions that work for them, not a “fixer” who manipulates them toward a certain preconceived model. This is a fine skill, which must come from experience and from the heart, rather than just training or personal bias. Many marriage and family therapists, trained in a particular model, do not open themselves to helping families in innovative ways. Many professionals who are members of the adoption triad have difficulty looking at adoption issues from a viewpoint other than that of their own triad role.
     Family members and individuals with adoption connections, as well as professionals, should find this book helpful and enjoyable in their own journeys. This is not primarily the author’s own story. It is written from a cognitive, rather than emotional, point of view, but it will evoke personal emotions in many readers. It is not in any way a dull, clinical textbook.
     Ms. Pavao includes chapters on past and current international adoption and some of the special issues related to that, and offers helpful ideas, as well as consideration of emerging adoption issues as we try to move children out of the foster system more quickly.
     This would be a good book for a person to read before, during, or after their own search, as they journey through reunion, and for anyone engaged in being a social worker, therapist, or adoption worker of any sort, this should be a basic text.

Excerpted from the January 2000 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2000 Operation Identity