Adoption and the Creation of Families


Mother and Child -- Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child — Pablo Picasso

Beginning in 1985 I chose to become an adoptive mother, eventually of four daughters from Brazil, India, China, and California. At the same time I was a developmental psychologist and a psychotherapist working with young children and mothers. When my first two daughters were quite young, two and three years old, they began to introduce adoptive themes into their conversation with me and into their play. In reviewing the literature, I began to realize that it did not reflect how children come to understand the experience of adoption, and the various phases their understanding passes through. My close friend and psychoanalyst, Susan Fisher, was also experiencing this as she navigated conversations with her adopted children. We decided to interview other adoptive parents and begin to piece together the evolving landscape of talking with young children about adoption. As part of a research team at the Stone Center on marginalized mothers, I worked with Janet Surrey and Betsy Smith on understanding the cultural constructions of adoptive mothers, and clarifying the psychic burdens adoptive mothers labor under and the forms of their resistance to cultural norms of mothering. I traveled with my own children to the countries of their birth, and observed them and other international adoptees negotiate the multiple facets of their identity, and explored this multiplicity not as a liability, as it is often presented in the adoption literature, but as a precious asset.

Watkins, M. (1990). Mother and child: Some teachings of desire. In P. Berry Hillman (Ed.), Mothers and fathers (pp. 120-135). Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.

Watkins, M., Fisher, S. (1993). Table of Contents, Introduction, and Afterword. Talking with young children about adoption. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Watkins, M. (1997). Talking with young children about adoption, Adoptive Families, 30, 4, 8-12.

Watkins, M. (1998). Foreword to Richard Frankel’s The adolescent psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian perspectives (pp. xi-xiii). London: Routledge.

Smith, B., Surrey, J., Watkins, M. (1998). “Real” mothers: Adoptive mothers resisting marginalization and re-creating motherhood. In C. Garcia-Coll, J. Surrey, K.Weingarten (Eds.), Mothering against the odds: Diverse voices of contemporary motherhood (pp. 194-214). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Garcia-Coll, C., Surrey, J., Watkins, M., Weingarten, K. (1998). Introduction, Mothering against the odds: Diverse voices of contemporary motherhood (pp. 1-14). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Watkins, M., Rosenthal, L. (2000). Homecoming and the making of friends: Traveling to one’s birthcountry, Adoptive Families, 22-23.

Watkins, M., Fisher, S. (2000). Talking with young children about adoption, Adoptive Families, 24-28.

Watkins, M. (2002). Lessons from Proteus, Adopted Families.

Watkins, M. (2005). Adoption and identity: Nomadic possibilities for reconceiving the self. In K. Wegar (Ed.), Adoptive families in a diverse society (pp. 259-274). Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Watkins, M. (2011). “Re-Visiting and Re-Visioning Separation and Connection: Leaving and Returning from College in the Adoptive Family.” Invited talk, “International Adoption and the Emerging Adult: Questions, Concerns and Considerations for Supporting Identity and Enriching Education During College Years,” October, 29, 2010, sponsored by Colleges of the Fenway (COF) and COF Counseling Centers, Wheelock College, Boston, MA.