At the beginning of the week, I wrote about the Unbelievably Good Adoptive Mother, an archetype or DSM-IV diagnosis if I ever saw one. I wanted to use that post as a springboard for writing about family size: How large is too large for an adoptive family?
Before I go into how large is too large for an adoptive family, I’ll comment about biological families. Since reality television has now embraced the family life of large biologically-related families like the Duggars, a family of 19 members with their own television show, the fascination large families hold is obvious. Also obvious are the differences between biologically-related families and those built through adoption. The adopted child enters a family due to a trauma that separates the infant or child from her original parents. This is a trauma for the child, and about this there is no doubt and no lack of consensus, unless one wants to consider the starry-eyed prospective adoptive parents who imagine that love is enough, that all real connections are spiritual, and that biology and genetics have no influence on family life.
I don’t have an opinion yet on biological family size. I have opinions about American liberties and think that telling people how large their family size ought to be has constitutional implications that I’m not prepared to delve into. So what I have to say about adoptive family size, I’m limiting to adoptive families. Dear reader, please don’t construe anything I write about family size as applying to biologically-related families, too. That’s my disclaimer.
Now, on to what’s on my mind.
The Unbelievably Good Adoptive Mother (for it is usually the mother driving the adoptive family engine) is able to build a huge family and to convince professionals to look the other way or even to enable her to build it, in spite of many research findings on optimum group size numbers. Computer scientist and entrepreneur Christopher Allen notes that the optimum large group size is around 150, while the optimum small group size is 5-8 people (I was taught eight people in undergrad small group communications class). At approximately 12+ people, the small group begins to break down and require specialization.
If we apply these findings to adoptive families, we could suggest that the optimum size for an adoptive family would be between 10-12 people of varying ages and temperaments; numbers might reasonably be decreased with the entrance of more disturbed or handicapped children. A child with severe emotional disturbance may need the parenting energy of two to four children, limiting the size of his adoptive family by that many members; the child with severe physical limitations who requires a great deal of care might account for even more time, and the number allowed into the family would be less.
However we don’t do this reasonable adoption-related accounting of human beings in the United States. The adoptive family, built on legal fictions and, once finalized, considered legally to be the exact equal of the biological family, is not to be tampered with or legislated to.
Nevertheless, we limit classroom sizes by law, we limit foster family size by law and by administrative rule. We do not limit adoptive family size because adoptive families are real families, just like step families and biological families, and as such the adoptive family is sacrosanct. Adoptive and step families have reproductive rights, too.
I disagree with this stance. I think that the court and professional involvement required for the establishment of adoptive families ought to look out for the best interests of the children in the family already, and those whose entrance and permanence is proposed. Social workers and psychologists specializing in adoptive families ought to be engaged and consulted, and their approval required before a family boasting 32 or 22 or 12 children is approved, much less lauded.
Some may disagree, pointing out that adoptive parents who are prone to collecting children addictively will just turn to another activity as a substance, and this is probably true. Even so, American adoption is driven by the “best interest of the child” standard, and I think that adoptive family size ought to be considered among the factors that either contributes to a child’s best interests, or not.
The burden of proof ought to be on the parents who want to convince us that having scads of children already will serve the new child’s interests–and vice-versa.