How an adoped child benefits its new father and mother
San Antonio Light
February 20, 1916
When Mrs. Helen Gould Shepard recently brought a little foundling into her home and gave it her name and made the child the heir to the Gould millions, she performed a public service of far wider influence and importance than, she realized. Her adoption of this waif of utterly unknown blood, heredity and early environment raised questions which have been discussed In thousands of homes all over the United States.
Many of the questions which have arisen in the minds of childless husbands and wives have been answered In a recent article In the Outlook by Dr. Charles Gilmore Kerley, the foremost American authority and specialist on children's diseases and the care and feeding of Infants. Perhaps no man in the whole world has dealt with so many children and visited so many American homes as Dr. Kerley. Incidental to his enormous practice, Dr. Kerley has been consulting specialist for a number of years for institutions where children are offered for adoption. Dr. Kerley has thus had special experience in the matter ot adoption of children into childless homes.
The following extracts from his recent magazine article presents many new and interesting phases of the subject which are not generally known.
"It is not only the married childless who adopt children," Dr. Kerley writes. "Children are adopted by the unmarried of both, sexes, Girls are adopted into families In which there are only boys, and boys into families in which there are only girls. Middle-aged and even elderly couples whose children have grown and left them have adopted children.
"There Is a family In this country which, adopts a baby as a companion for every baby born to it. My Informant tells me that this family has adopted four children up to the present time. Consider for a moment what an asset this family is to the State and what genuine satisfaction it must get out of life.
"It Is generally assumed that the benefits derived from adoption are all on the side of the child. This is a general belief and always an error.
"What possible role could the adopted child or adopted children (for many adopt more than one) play in a family that would accrue to the benefit of the adult members of the family?
"It is this: They postpone old age. The presence of young children and young people in the home means that adults are kept young. To be mentally youthful means a postponement o[ physical age.
"Has the reader ever been in a childless home, a home that has been childless, we will say, for fifteen or twenty years? If so, you will agree with me that there are signs of age, very definite signs; that the passing years have left their indelible footprints. Everything is painfully precise. Every chair and piece of furniture stands stiff and prim and proper.
The home of these old young people characterize the occupants, and the occupants now demand order, quiet and creature comforts. Even the family pets take on the characteristics of the home; the dog, the cat, and the parrot are grave, dignified, comfort-loving and resent intrusion or disturbance of their dally routine.
"Place a child In a home as described above, and what a change takes place, not only in the home, but In the occupants. I have repeatedly known the advent of an adopted child in a childless home to' cure neurasthenia, despondency, and habitual grouch, particularly in men. I am able to give a very effective prescription against premature old age, and the prescription calls for constant association with youth, which means youthful environment—and environment is the great determining factor in human existence, not excepting heredity.
"The adopted child or children of the old young people will have friends and associations of similar ago. By this association the parents are permitted to see the world through the eyes of youth.
There are the surroundings of activity, happiness, and noise. There are the every-day plans and surprises. The old young couple again become young and are drawn together by means of a vital interest In something outside of their own little narrow sphere with its magnified cares and troubles.
"But it is argued that children cause care, anxiety, and trouble. Surely they do, and a little trouble is good for most people. It takes them out of themselves and removes the self-center. It was David Harum who remarked: 'Fleas are good for a dog, because they keep him from broodin' on being a dog' The home that never has been entered with a whoop, a yell, or a bawl is a sad place.
"There are hundreds of normal, attractive children being brought up in groups in the stereotyped fashion of children's institutions who would, if allowed be the brightest spot in as many dull homes.
"A feature of no small consequence is the vast benefit that would accrue to the state if these children could have the advantage of private home care—and this does not imply in the homes of the wealthy. There are hundreds of good homes for children throughout the country where wealth never enters that would be ideal for homeless children. The saving of life alone would be very large.
"Babies do not thrive well" in infant asylums and protectories of various kinds. Under the best of institutional management there will always be a large mortality, not because the children are neglected or badly treated, but because they are living under conditions that are abnormal for the young human being.
"When a baby enters a public institution, a heavy handicap in the struggle for life is placed upon it.
"There are many who feel the desire for parenthood, with home associations with the young, who are deterred from taking a step in the direction of adoption for fear of that great bugaboo, hereditary influences. John Rowlands, of very humble origin, was abandoned by his mother and placed in the St. Asaph Union Workhouse, where he remained for several years. As Sir Henry M. Stanley he is known to every school-child. Stanley was adopted by an American merchant, Henry Stanley.
"All children, regardless of their social status, are very much alike at birth. All children are born dependent—immature. They do not actually become adults before the seventeenth or eighteenth year of life. There is thus at least sixteen years of growth and development, with all that development entails. In the lower animals the reverse- is the case. Adolescence Is reached much earlier, and the period of dependency of the young upon the parents lasts but a very short time, a few months in some instances, and a year or a little longer in others.
"As a consequence of this, order of things, the matter of heredity in lower animals is a much greater factor than in man...In. the latter, because of immaturity, dependency, and prolonged development, environment is of much greater import than heredity. Because of the immaturity and the long, plastic, impressionable period of sixteen years, we may mold a child largely as we will; and the fashioning and the molding, whether it be done well, indifferently, or badly, depends more upon the molder and the child's associations than upon the material worked upon.
"I have had during my entire professional life of twenty-seven years been resident or attending physician at children's institutions, from which many hundreds of children have been adopted or otherwise sent out into the world. I have cared for these unfortunate children from such origin well cared for in Institutional life, kindly treated, and well started physically, and when adopted or otherwise placed in good homes they have in every way taken and maintained their place with those who had the advantage of everything that is desirable both as regards birth and environment. Had these children grown up in the more or less careless environment of their birth, they would have developed as their surroundings determined.
"Observations such as these tell us that we make in large degree our criminals and the otherwise undesirable of both sexes. By association, children are fashioned well, Indifferently, and badly. If two infants of equal vitality, one torn in the palace and one in the poorest tenement, were exchanged on the day of birth, each would work out his destiny along the lines of his environment.
"I refer now to the great majority of humanity. I realize that there are brilliant exceptions, but they are so exceptional that they stand out more prominently. We forget, in blaming crime, degeneracy, and alcoholism to heredity, that the child lived and grew and got his impressions from that vicious association. Undesirable environment in the clever subject makes our most dangerous criminals.
"Character Indicates the Individual. Heredity has but little Influence the determining of character. Character above all things else, is the product of environment. Every individual seeking to adopt a child be physically sound, without inherited desease.
"By well known laboratory methods and physical examinations, inherited diseases may be definitely established. No one should be permitted to adopt a child so afflicted.
"A considerable number of the children offered for adoption are born out of wedlock. The child under these conditions is supposed to be subjected to prenatal influences which would be an untoward deterring factor in later life. A mistaken idea' is that such children are necessarily the offspring of the depraved. The habitually depraved among women do not bear children.
The child born out of wedlock usually represents misplaced confidences and accidents in those, as normal as their more fortunate friends or neighbors, and the child so born has an equal chance with his fellows as regards inheritance. Criticism by the male sex is here out of order.
"In a large experience with adopted children I have yet to know one where the parents regretted the adoption. In fact, one of the advantages of adoption is that there is so little risk attending it. One may not pick over one's children. As they are torn they must be accepted, and many blanks are drawn. Whether strong or weak, normal or abnormal, they are our own, and from the purely physical and mental standpoint present a greater risk than the child who can be inspected and passed upon by competent authority."