on blank slate babies and nature vs nurture

Do You See a Baby as a Blank Slate? Lesli Johnson on the Neuroscience of Adoption

Separation from one’s biology — it really changes the way people view themselves in the world. Some common themes and beliefs adoptees have are:

It’s not safe to trust.
I’m not lovable.
People leave.
I’m not worthy.
I’ll be whatever you need me to be.

Lesli Johnson,
Marriage & Family Therapist,
adoptee, adoption thought leader —

Lesli Johnson, MFT, on What Adoptive Parents Need to Know about Adoptees

Therapist and adoptee Lesli Johnson, my latest guest on Adoption: The Long View, was a consultant about adoption and parenting themes for the Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere. Lesli also wrote an article many years ago that goes viral just about every year. In 10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know, Lesli reveals so many of the things we adoptive parents need to know to create the trusting and connected parent-child relationships we long for.

What Happens When We See Baby as a Blank Slate?

For decades, we considered an adopted baby as a blank slate and formed our adoption and parenting practices accordingly.

In this episode, Lesli and I explore old concepts about newborns, babies, and toddlers in light of newer research in neuroscience. We cover what this means for more effective approaches to adoption and parenting today — knowing what we now know. Here’s some of what you’ll hear:

  • Is a newborn baby a blank slate?
  • The nature vs nurture argument.
  • Implicit memory, grief and loss, loyalty and wondering about/searching for birth parents.
  • The easy-to-shift mindset that can keep adoptive parents from evoking divided loyalty in their child (painful!).
  • How adoptees are in reunion whether they’re searching or not.
  • A special story at the 22 minute mark: “I have permission to tell this story. Their son was 8 years old, he was having trouble in school. His parents wanted me to work with him. And he was adopted…
Many see a baby as a blank slate. Therapist Lesli Johnson talks about the latest brain science.

Lesli the Adoptee Informs Lesli the Therapist

Lesli Johnson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Coach specializing in adoption and related issues. Her clients include people from all corners of the adoption and foster care community: adoptees, adoptive parents, waiting parents, birth/first parents, foster parents and families. 

An adoptee herself, Lesli’s personal experience enables her to connect with this community in a unique way. Lesli is a certified EMDR therapist and trained in Brainspotting and the Trauma Resiliency Model.

In addition to her work in private practice, Lesli provides coaching services both in office and virtually to adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents worldwide. She facilitates virtual healing courses and adoption support groups, and conducts adoption awareness and education workshops in schools, universities, and mental health settings. Lesli also consults on film, television and creative projects that have adoption related themes.

Prefer to read Episode 11? Here’s a transcript (but listening is so much better).

Show Notes from Lesli Johnson’s Episode 11

How to Tune In for More of Adoption: The Long View

Expect two episodes a month when you subscribe. My partners at Adopting.com release a new episode on the 1st and the 15th of each month, each less than an hour long.

Not too much, not too little. Just right.

guide to living in open adoption

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

6 thoughts on “Do You See a Baby as a Blank Slate? Lesli Johnson on the Neuroscience of Adoption”

  1. I love your podcast, you provide such a wide range of viewpoints and experiences in your guests, and you are such a skilled host. I haven’t heard this one yet, but it sounds great. Even though I didn’t end up an adoptive parent, the podcast stretches my thinking and is helpful as a teacher and a friend to adoptive parents. And brings me amazing perspectives and empathy. And your voice in my ear! 💜 Sorry for the gushing… But it’s true!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *