' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Joyce Brothers touted the advantages of being adopted

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joyce Brothers touted the advantages of being adopted

photo by Marty Liederhandler of AP
Pop psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers who died yesterday was a pillar of the old adoption mindset that we are still combating today. She was the Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil of an earlier era, and the first to dispense advice to the masses with the patina of a psychology degree behind it. She was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, and her charming, reassuring demeanor appealed to television audiences. Reading a few of her old columns gives us a window on the world in the Seventies and Eighties.

In 1976, she "strongly" advised a woman who got pregnant by "mistake," and who wants to go to law school, to consider adoption. "Several studies indicate that illegitimate children who are adopted fare better than those who remain with the natural parent," Brothers wrote. "The adopted are generally more confident and better adapted socially. "

That tells you what the social censure was in the Seventies for both having a child "out of wedlock" (the phrase common then) and being a "bastard." Things were changing by then--people were living together without a marriage certificate--but it was still only the brave few who were raising children as single mothers.
Lorraine in the Nineties

Two years later, in 1978, Dr. Brothers counseled a woman who gave up a child when she was 17 not to tell her husband. The woman wrote about not being able to get pregnant with her husband of six years; she had relinquished a child a decade earlier but never confided in him. The writer wondered if her anxiety over this deep, dark secret might be the problem. "You alone know how your husband might react to such a confession, but in most cases it's best for the past to remain past." Dr. Brothers responded. She added that she "doubts that guilt is holding" the woman from becoming pregnant. "Very often couples who have tried for years to have a child turn to adoption only find out that shortly thereafter the wife becomes pregnant." [Emphasis added.]

Then Dr. Brothers advised the woman "relax" and she would probably conceive. 

In 1986, we learn that "adopted children" actually have an advantage, after an adoptive mother wrote to Dr. Brothers expressing concerns because she read had read that they suffer from low self-esteem,"felt isolated and had a poor image." This wasn't true for her children, the woman wrote, but she loved them very much and wanted to give them everything life offered.

Not to worry, replied Dr. Brothers. She came roaring back to calm the adoptive mother's fears, referring to a study that made being adopted sound like the enviable way to grow up. She pointed to Dr. Richard Detweiller who did a study comparing a "group of adopted and non-adopted people between the ages of 13 and 21." He found that "adopted children said their parents were more nurturing, expressed a higher level of comforting, and provided more 'helpful interference' in coping with problems than did parents of non-adopted children."  I don't know about you, but did 'helpful interference' sound like therapy, boarding schools and strict rules?

Dr. Brothers went on to say that adopted children had a "more positive world view, saw others in a more positive way, and had a higher level of self-confidence than the non-adopted," and that certainly "didn't confirm" the results of the study the woman read about, but did reflect today's more "positive views about adoption." 

Well, who wouldn't want to be adopted after reading that? Shouldn't social scientists be urging that we move our children from one house to another, so that every one can have that extra special nurturing that adoption provides? Well, actually no.

Noticing the dates in the Seventies and Eighties, I thought of the pieces I was writing for magazines in that era, just having completed a bibliography of them for a history project. Perhaps Dr. Brothers' troubled adoptive mother came across one of them, as I wrote for the general public, not journal articles read by academics and Dr. Brothers. But she and I were clearly reading different articles in the course of our research, for I was unquestionably pointing out the less than salubrious effects of being adopted. 

In Parent's magazine in 1975, a year before the worried adoptive mother sought advice from Dr. Brothers, I wrote: 
"What the adoptee is seeking, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 'is to achieve a unity and persistence of personality in spite of the break in the continuity of his life.' A statement approved by the Academy's Council of Child Health notes that establishing one's identity is difficult enough for someone brought up by his natural parents; it is that much harder for the person whose ancestry remains a mystery." * There's more, but you get the drift. (The piece is not available on the Internet.)
The year after the above appeared, I came out of the closet in a magazine piece for Town & Country in a special section on children. I wrote of my unrelenting grief after surrendering my daughter and not knowing where she was, and how desperately I wanted to find her, and what the research was now indicating about the impact of being adopted. My shocking personal revelation landed me on the Today show, and Jane Pauley did a non-critical, straight-forward interview, unlike many that would follow.

Back to Dr. Brothers: I could not help but react to the phrase, such a confession. It was a confession to admit that you gave up a child, for no one, in their wildest dreams, would have seen it as a reason to be "proud," as some agencies and churches would have young, unsuspecting women believe today. We have come a certain way since the time of Dr. Brothers' brand of advice, but in many respects, not so very far at all. 

Today single mothers can keep their children without society's scorn. But the pressure to have women give up their babies comes from other sources, particularly the big and lucrative business it is today. Agencies need babies to stay in business. They've got the customers, they need stock, and young women and poor women are urged to supply it with the clever marketing of "open" adoptions. If adoptions are "open," why worry? You can always stay in touch--if you are caught in an untimely pregnancy, whether because you are in college or you can't afford to raise another child, the pitch goes. You can always "make an adoption plan" for yourself and your baby. It sounds as appealing as selecting from a Chinese menu--Column A or Column B? Keep Your Child (think of the difficulties) or Give Her Up (that's a good girl, that's the "smart" choice)?

I know I am being flip, but the marketing ploys that agencies advertise on their websites and the way "adoption opportunities" are marketed today make me nuts. Babies should never be listed on the internet as "adoption opportunities," a wording we have seen in the past, and is not unlike how real estate "opportunities" are listed.

First mothers and their sons and daughters may have reunited numerous times on television in the past, undoubtedly causing many cringe-worthy moments for Dr. Brothers' fans and many an adoptive parent, but we have Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil to carry on the tradition today of espousing adoption whenever possible.
Bethany adoption services turned Catelynn and Tyler of the TV show Sixteen and Pregnant into shills for adoption, and they go to colleges to talk about the satisfaction (to them) of the adoption option--and for you too in the audience, should any of you get pregnant. We even have a liberal think-tank that came out with a white paper called The Adoption Option, enumerating the many advantages to women of giving up their children.  

Nina Easton in The Washington Post last Sunday wrote: 
"The third choice, adoption, carries such a social stigma that domestic placement of infants has plummeted — even as the number of parents desperate for a baby grows. Birth mothers choose life, and a family, for their child. But this choice is rarely celebrated." [Emphasis added.] 
The piece goes on to quote the director the National Council for Adoption (a lobby group for adoption agencies) and the founder of A (sic) Act of Love," a Utah-based agency, both decrying that adoption option is not more popular with pregnant women today. (Why do I hate Utah, let me count the adoptioneers.) Oh! Ms. Easton is an adoptive mother, something she rarely divulges and certainly not in this piece shilling once again the glories of adoption! The crying need to fill the arms of "parents desperate for a baby." And the blogs? Countless pro-adoption blogs are written by happy adoptive mothers of young children.

Dr. Brothers was 85. 

An essay I read in Newsweek a few years ago spoke of how rare it is that people identified with either side of a contentious issue change their minds: “No wonder the historian Thomas Kuhn concluded almost 50 years ago that a scientific paradigm topples only when the last of its powerful adherents dies.”  It seems that it will be the same with adoption. We will always have a need for some children to be adopted, but that does not mean we should encourage it when a parent, or family member, is able to prevent a child from growing up with genetic strangers and no one who looks or thinks like them. If adoption was so damn great, everybody would want to be adopted.

Dr. Brothers may have died but many have replaced her. We are still fighting an uphill battle, and we need the patience of Sisyphus.--lorraine
If anybody wonders why A (sic) Act of Love would use a name that is so grammatically incorrect...it's because A A will come up sooner in an alphabetical listing..than An Act...and thus it is listed first in the list of member of NCFA...and from NCFA's2012 annual report:
In June, LDS Family Services (LDSFS) provided NCFA with two fellows, Vicki and Wayne Allgaier, who are in the NCFA office 3-4 days per week. Vicki brings with her 13 years of experience working in the Maryland agency of LDSFS. In care you wondered how closely tied NCFA and LDS are. Very.

*The Adopted Child Has a Right to Know Everything, L. Dusky, Parent's, Oct. 19,1975.
 Unwed mom should make up her mind
Quit Trying So Hard and You'll Have a Child
Adoption children have a loving plus 
Sharon Begley, On Science: On Second Thought…, Newsweek, Jan. 12, 2009, p. 17.  
A Mother’s Day plea to stop equating adoption with abandonment

From FMF 
(Pro) Adoption Special: Dr. Drew encourages teen moms to give up their babies 
Response to The Adoption Option 
The Lost Post regarding the issues of Tyler and Catelynn, reconstructed 
Catelynn and Tyler--still grieving over the loss of their daughter
Dear Abby: Birth mothers think of their children lost to adoption
When your adopted child wants to visit her birth mother


Single Parenting That Works: Six Keys to Raising Happy, Healthy Children in a Single-Parent Home
"Before reading this book I felt like I needed to find someone to fill the role of "dad" for my kids. I am so glad I read this book before making that mistake! Now I feel encouraged that I can be a good mom, with thriving kids. I felt this book was jam-packed with practical advice and also had great wisdom. I am now confident that I can do the job! This is a must read for anyone who finds him/herself as a single parent." --left by irish girl at Amazon

And one of the best books on the experience of the less than joyful aspects of being adopted is Betty Jean Lifton's  Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience "Important and powerful . . . [the author] is concerned not just with adoptees but with the experience of adoptive parents and birth parents."
---Psychology Today

The late B.J. Lifton was a friend of FMF and an adoptee who told the truth about the experience of being adopted.


  1. Thanks for the post. It helped me see the societal pressures that were still present in 1980. The BSE ended before I relinquished. I had less of a gun to my head than mothers just five years earlier. I could go back to school with a baby while unmarried, unlike mothers in the early seventies. But still the pressure was immense. It was very similar to today in the ways coercion was used. I was a college student and I thought I was being mature to do the right thing for my daughter. I was so damn gullible it makes me sick to my stomach - on a daily basis - 33 years later. I loved that child like I never had loved before and I gave her to strangers to raise. Hide the guns from me.

  2. In 1966, Joyce Brothers, Ann Landers, and the like had me absolutely convinced that adoptees had it better than those of us unfortunate enough to be raised by our natural parents. Their parents loved them more and had more money; they generally were only children, a blessing I thought.

    Before I surrendered my daughter, Rebecca, a social worker said something to the effect that adopted children do about as well as children raised in their families. I was startled. "I thought they did better," I exclaimed. "Some do," she responded.

    If only she had told me straight on about the issues adoptees face, I would have kept my baby.

  3. From CNN:

    NEW: Joyce Brothers once told a reporter that she didn't give advice, just facts.

    What facts would she have given me and Jane? We both relinquished in 1966.

    Incidentally, she got started by being the winning contestant on The $64,000 Question," by presenting herself as a "pugilist specialist," thinking she might get on because it would be so unusual for a woman to know much about boxing. She then memorized a boxing encyclopedia, and won, turning herself into a media personality, much like the contestants on The Bachelor go on to other careers in TV. The main host of The Doctors on CBS got his start as The Bachelor. It was clear he was not interested in finding a woman to marry from the get-go. Yikes, I am admitting (but I have already done that) that I watch the show. Well, I do.

  4. Good post - it always amuses me when people who have no clue what it is like to live the experience the speak of - believe themselves to be experts on the topic.

  5. "Several studies indicate that illegitimate children who are adopted fare better than those who remain with the natural parent," Brothers wrote. "The adopted are generally more confident and better adapted socially. "

    From an adopted person. ROTFLMAO. (or actually crying). This is total crap, NOT my life. Don't you just love how people who were never adopted seem to know as much about how we feel as a man does about how menstrual cramps feel. Ah, the experts. I hope Brothers and Landers come back as abandoned babies who never can find their families and learn all the karmic lessons they need to next time around.

  6. Wonderful post, Lorraine. Hit home for me so many times and gives me a bit of insight into my parents, who, after all, saw Dr. Brothers on Mike Douglas and countless other TV shows in my youth. I bet they accepted her every word.

  7. Many of the "facts" that Dr. Joyce Brothers gave out originated with other people... Author Fredelle Bruser Maynard (who had a doctorate from Radcliffe, specializing in Milton) served as Brothers' ghostwriter for her columns in Good Housekeeping, for example. More than once, the documentation that Brothers handed over to her friendly ghost came from such august sources as Coronet magazine.

  8. I read this in Dr. Brothers' obituary.
    "Brothers had just given up her teaching positions at Hunter College and Columbia University to be home with her newborn, firmly believing a child's development depend ed on it."

    Immediately after I read that, my first thought was "right, the same way it was firmly believed that all children need a two-parent home, regardless of whether or not the child is biologically related to said parents."

    Anon's comment (7:22am) made me laugh, but that quote is actually dangerous. It can be used by adoptive parents as ammunition against a child who didn't find it smooth sailing to be adopted. After all, if the experts say that adoption is just wonderful, and the adoptee himself doesn't find it so, then there must be something wrong with him.

    Your last post and your comment here make me sad. I read between the lines that you are still hoping, four decades plus later, to have a different outcome, that you had kept your oldest daughter. My n-mother does that, too. Wondering if maybe she had asked someone else for help, if she had approached my father in a different way. But by reading these words from the 'experts' which were considered the gospel of adoption in their day, and acknowledging the lack of any real societal supports to keep your baby, I can see that you were all outnumbered.

  9. It amazes me that just a decade later when I became "pregnant out of wedlock" a lot of those same sentiments were alive and well...at least in the small world I lived in as a naive 17 yr old. No I wasn't send away but I was sent to a school program for pregnant teens and was still made to feel I wasn't good enough because I had sex before marriage...and therefore wasn't worthy to keep my baby.


  10. Somewhere out there, an expectant mother is looking for a home for her baby, a family that will treasure and nurture this child for years to come. At the same time, there is a caring person who dreams of building a family... and they may have been waiting a long time to find that special someone to love. --from a website and "Adoption Week" magazine.

    On one level, like Loraine says, things haven't changed all that much, it's just more desperate now for adopters clamoring for the fruit of your womb!


    I just had a health scare that came up very suddenly. Without knowing my medical history, I probably would have delayed treatment and may very will have ended up with an early death caused by the same illness that took my father.

    There is no more time for talk. CLOSED, SEALED ADOPTIONS CAN KILL !

    It was knowing my natural father's cause and age of death that made me hightail it to the doctor before things took a potentially tragic turn.

    And if anyone reading this cares, the medicine does seem to be working and I believe I will recover.

  12. Wow! Robin,

    A powerful statement for openness.

  13. Hi Robin-I care and I am glad you caught it and you are feeling better. Incidentally what you said concerning my comment before is EXACTLY what the adoption industry wants for themselves and their paying customers. To be able to blame the dirty and potentially insane (because our mothers are because they had sex before marriage, according to their stupidity) dirty little bastards. Oh no, closed adoption records don't cause problems, only WE have the problem if we don't swallow that abuse whole without gagging, and call it what it is-abuse-to begin with. Never blame the adoptive parents either who suck up all the lies from the adoption agencies and social workers that closed adoption is not harmful either. Those bogus attitudes also create such a nasty flora for adoptive parents to abuse adoptees and use dangerous psychiatry as one way to do it. Adoption agencies and social workers who had NO IDEA how closed adoption would affect adoptees set up quite a smokescreen for themselves that they still use against us didn't they? I found that quote you posted from Brothers so typical too. It's great that you found that. What a hypocrite she was. All these pop psychologists are such con artists and creeps. (and now that she is gone, we have, blech, Dr. Phil.) It makes me really mad that the public still gives one iota of credit and listens to these boneheads after how much evidence is out there that they do so much more harm than good.

  14. In New York at least, the impetus to sealing the Original Birth Certificates upon adoption was the brainchild of the Guv, Herbert H. Lehman. Three adopted kids. Of course.

    The head of the New York Foundling Home, one Sister Dominica Maria, wrote to Lehman begging that the records not be permanently sealed. Her reasons:
    “(1) It legalizes the falsification of permanent public records.
    “(2) It nullifies the inalienable right of a person to know the actual facts of his birth.
    “(3)” Any special provision for illegitimate children which will single them out from the group of legitimate children is bound to be a cause of embarrassment to them in later years…. Sister Dominica Maria, Superintendent, New York Foundling Hospital. April 25th, 1935”
    Whoever she was, Sister Dominica got it right. It nullifies the inalienable right of a person to know the true facts of his birth.

    But her words had no impact.

    1. It's not exactly accurate to say Sister Dominica's words had no impact. The document you quoted was from the Governor’s Veto Jacket, 1935 Int 2458 - Gov. Lehman had in fact vetoed the bill she was urging him to veto. The bill did not pertain to adoptees but to non-marital children and did not involve sealing OBCs and creating ABCs but rather to creating false OBCs with the expressed intention of protecting them from the stigma of illegitimacy. The sealing of adoptees' OBCs didn't happen until L. 1936, ch. 854, and there's no indication the intent of that law was to prevent adoptees from learning their birthnames or from learning the name(s) of their birthparent(s). Indeed, during Lehman's time as Governor, some other records with identifying information remained unsealed.

  15. "But her words had no impact"
    When it comes to money, power and the self-centeredness of some infertile couples, goodness never does.

  16. Toff--Thanks for the clarification. I don't know where my copy of that letter is in my files, but assuming your facts are straight, Sister Dominica still makes a strong argument for openness for the adopted. When I got a copy of the letter, I did not know it had been in the packet as you describe. Again, thanks for the information.



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