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The Family of Adoption (Revised Edition)

by Joyce Maguire PavaoReviewed by Sue Gainor

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A feisty, curious, red-haired child asks about her adoption. Her mother answers with a sad look and a stony silence. Adoption must be a bad thing, thinks the child, if it causes her mother such pain. The curious child becomes a rebellious teen. The teen grows into an adult who searches for, and finally makes peace with, the secrets of her past in order to embrace her full identity.

Grounding her book in personal experience, both as an adoptee and seasoned adoption therapist, author Joyce Maguire Pavao articulates the need for everyone involved in the adoption process—parents, facilitators, agents, social workers, attorneys, judges—to understand the dynamics within adoptive families. Pavao identifies challenges that tend to occur at developmental stages as adoptees grow and mature, and argues passionately for a child-centered approach that normalizes rather than stigmatizes these predictable crises.

Pavao explains that adopted children, particularly those who have experienced multiple placements, often integrate several families into their identity. She advocates for openness in the adoption process and acceptance that children benefit from continued relationships with birthparents, foster parents, and others who have provided loving, stable care. She writes with compassion and insight into the struggles adoptees face when integrating all the facets—both good and bad—of their history.

Laced with poems, stories, and case studies, The Family of Adoption demonstrates that adoption is not a one-time event, but rather a lifelong process that reverberates through successive generations. Addressing both domestic and international adoption, the book offers a candid assessment of the shortcomings of the current adoption system. Pavao challenges all participants to embrace her mantra—that adoption is not about finding children for families, but about finding families for children. In a new epilogue, she explores how all those involved in adoption can clarify their roles and responsibilities to ensure the best outcome for the child.

Pavao offers a unique look at adoption through the lens of vast experience. This dedicated therapist and advocate hopes that adoption can someday be structured to match a child to the best family for her particular needs. Ultimately, the better educated the participants in the adoption process, the more successful each individual adoption will be.

Sue Gainor is an adoptive parent who serves on the national board of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption. She lives with her family near Washington, D.C.

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