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open adoption advice on teen who wants to live with birth mother

Parenting Expert John Rosemond Wants to Give You Open Adoption Advice

Like Dear Abby before him, parenting expert John Rosemond wants to give you advice on open adoption. But there are a few problems with that.

First of all, he has no direct experience with open adoption, or even plain old adoption, as far as my sleuthing skills reveal.

Second of all, his advice is terrible.

Though he apparently has a big following, John Rosemond is new on my radar. I heard of him only because I got a google alert that in his syndicated column, he’d offered advice to a letter writing couple having difficulty with their teen son and his birth mom. This is what we know about their situation:

  • The boy is 14.
  • Birth mom has been out of the picture, but has gotten to a good place and wants to reestablish contact with “her” son (it’s unknown whether the quote marks were inserted by the letter writer, John Rosemond, or an editor).
  • Contact went from phone calls to daytime visits to overnights to a summer vacation.
  • Now, the increasingly moody teen wants to live with his birth mom and eat ice cream all day, figuratively speaking.

Sticky situation, for sure.

open adoption advice on teen who wants to live with birth mother

The Parent Guru

John Rosemond has an eponymous website, and another one I found called ParentGuru. I am wary of people who call themselves “experts” and “gurus.” I prefer that a guru’s followers instead be encouraged to develop their own inner guidance system than to rely on an external “expert” who doesn’t have to live with the consequences of their advice.

So let me admit my bias right up front. I start out with low confidence in John Rosemond’s ability to give sound advice on open adoption. Just as I spoke out against “experts” on The Today Show, and just as I have countered advice from the venerable Dear Abbymore than once — I start with a critical eye when people advise on matters they really don’t have any expertise about.

The “Because I Said So” Approach

Ironically, John Rosemond, who trains coaches in “Leadership Parenting,” thinks things went south for American families when they started looking to experts for parenting advice in the 1960s.

Rosemond insists he is not saying anything that would surprise a grandmother or great-grandmother, because his parenting advice has its roots in how children were raised for generations prior to the 1960s. It was then that American parents began to look to professionals for how to raise their children instead of continuing to use the tried-and-true methods of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

“Parenting before 1960 was a whole lot easier and children were a whole lot happier,” he said, adding that numerous studies back this up. In the 1960s, the demonization of authority leeched over into the family and parents began to question the legitimacy of their own authority…

“Today’s parents are thinking entirely too much, and that complicates things. Children have to be forced through issues, not talked through issues,” he asserted. — via Christian Post

He has books with titles like Because I Said So, and gives parenting advice points like:

1. You are to pay more attention to me than I pay to you.
2. I am in charge here; therefore, I tell you what to do.
3. You do what I tell you to do.
4. You do what I tell you to do simply because I tell you to do it.
— via
So now we know why John Rosemond’s response is more concerned about the adoptive parents than about their son.

An Adoptive Parent Orientation

John Rosemond has been “opposed to open adoptions from the beginning” because the “seemingly ‘fair’ arrangement can turn into a nightmare for adoptive parents.”

There is not much concern in his response for the teen son.

The advice column has a lot of reminiscing about the good old days when teens were respectful and had no mental health issues, but the only actual advice John Rosemond offers  is this: “the best thing for you to do is get yourselves a family attorney.”

Longtime readers will know I’m not down with that. Hiring an attorney makes things adversarial. Adversarial is not likely to be good for the kiddo because adversarial splits the baby. Making this an Us/Them situation cannot be good for the son.

How about instead getting themselves an adoption-competent therapist, someone to help identify barriers to communication,  build connections, and help get the parents all on the same page?

Judging by a headline I found in the Akron Beacon Journal, the expert would probably not like that suggestion. The headline reads John Rosemond: Adoption Specialists Spread Anxiety.

From Authority to Relationship

So is there any better advice to give this family that’s in such a stuck place?

I’d point out that many kids, not just adopted ones, go through a stage in which they want to go live elsewhere,  to the supposed greener pastures of a neighbor, a friend or relative,  other people’s parents’ house. Rather than go directly to lawyer in all these cases, most of them aim to work things out in a nonadversarial manner first.

I’d tell them to focus on their own relationship and connection with their son, and maybe even with his birth mom, rather than forcing their son to choose them over her (because I said so!).

I’d suggest they read Dawn Davenport’s post on Creating A Family. She wrote this week that “by the time our kids are 15 or so, the only real power we have as parents is our relationship with them.”

And lastly, I’d offer them this post, My Teen Wants to Live With His Birth Mom. Now What??

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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18 Responses

  1. Thank you for writing this. His advice to adoptive parents takes my breath away. It’s hard to even conceive of the damage this man could cause. I don’t know what else to say. My heart hurts.

    1. It’s concerning that there are people who will take his as good advice. Maybe it works on some kids, but kids of trauma are different. How can an “expert” overlook that?

      1. Clearly he’s not an expert. Even children who didn’t have trauma don’t benefit from the “Because I Said So” way of parenting. That causes trauma even if it wasn’t there before IMO. And I’m not an expert, just a Thinker.

  2. I read a few of his “parenting” books years ago and thought then something was fishy. If you read some of his bio, it’s evident he had a a bit of a shaky start to life. Not abuse but a bit of what I’d call,deprivation. Instead of trying to overcome these early deficits he embraced his ill treatment and in my mind,used it to guilt parents into telling their kids to :”suck it up buttercup” . I was so interested in this man’s odd thoughts about parenting I went to see him about 11 years ago, thinking I was too soft on my kids (never realizing my issues were MY un-examined adoption issues). He pontificated and would not answer any audience questions. He simply did not want to have any dialog with the public. He was there to lay down the law and we were to sit there and take it. Needless to say, I never followed his plan, which by the way is a bit confusing. I wish he would get some help or someone to break through his fog of denial. He probably sleeps with a blankie and sucks a pacifier at night or maybe screams, “No wire hangers ever!” Not someone I’d take open adoption advice from ever. Ha!

    1. So his authoritarian model extends to what he expects from his followers? I’m as intrigued by how he came to his methods as I am that so many people thing they are worthwhile. Thanks for sharing your experience with his work.

  3. Right on Lori. There is not a single newspaper (Ask Amy, Dear Abby), TV (Dr. Phil), or radio (Dr. Laura) personality with training in the modern world of adoption. They all provide opinion masquerading as fact. It’s hurtful, not helpful, and more likely than not to lead to alienation within families. Thank you for your language and practice of ‘and’ over ‘or’. As an adoptee, I’ve taken it to heart.

    1. <3 Thanks, Theresa. I think it’s risky to ignore our own instincts in how to connect with our kiddos, and follow advice of experts that doesn’t sit well. How can what he advocates for sit well?

  4. Wow. At best bizarre parenting advice, and at worst incredibly harmful to everyone involved. Not being a parent myself, I am not exactly an expert of any kind, but I still feel like any relationship where one person clearly needs to exert some kind of control and power over the other in order to keep things going is NEVER GOING TO GO WELL. His advice about the parenting of before versus now is so strange — this whole “forced through instead of talked through” had me imagining teens getting forced through a sieve, left in tiny bloody shreds at the end with no desire to talk about anything ever again. I don’t think I would ever take advice from this guy, and it is awful that he feels empowered to offer advice on open adoption, something he clearly opposes because maybe it takes control away from the adoptive parents who should be the only dictators here? So awful. I agree with those above who said that just because you are a self-described parenting “guru” or “advice expert” doesn’t mean you know squat about the complexities of adoption, and offering adversarial advice will only destroy any hopes of relationships across the board. Dislike. Him and his hoo-ha of course, not your piece, which as usual is very thoughtful and deconstructs an idea you disagree with super respectfully and clearly with the best interests of a child in mind.

    1. The sieve image is powerful, Jess.

      I wonder by what measure he thinks things were better back in the good old days. I mean, just because we weren’t reporting mental health issues doesn’t mean they weren’t present.

      1. Yes, I was struck by the sieve image too.

        I think it is just the nature of authoritarians to harken to “good old days”

  5. Anyone wants to destroy their family I would recommend they follow his advice. If anyone wants to give their children a need for lifetime therapy, I recommend they follow his advice.

    My sibs and I were raised that way (The “I don’t want to hear how you feel, or what you think, do what I tell you and shut-up/go to your room until you decide to comply” method.) concerning every, any and all matters. Few of us spend more than rare ‘token time’ with the parent (used to be both, till one died) who could have written one of this man’s books or articles. Or learned in the same ‘school’ he did. A couple of other siblings do not have contact at all. Is it any wonder why? It’s sad because children are human beings. They are supposed to be learning and developing into functional, capable, confident (as much as possible in this world) adults.

    This ‘method’ makes for a bitter, angry, resentful child and later the adult they become. Yes, there are times where a child needs to obey immediately, no discussion, i.e. get out of the road, etc. The rest of the time, teach your children to communicate! Teach them to REASON. It’s a **vital** life lesson. It carries through all aspects of life as an adult, work, marriage, friendships, everything. It’s a lesson that is sorely lacking and has been for quite some time. It’s hard to relearn /teach yourself later. Come on parents. Take the time and give it a go. Treat and teach your children as the adults you want them to become. It’s one of the largest parts of parental responsibility.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  6. Ha! I am constantly telling my daughter that I spend MUCH more time with her than my parents ever did with me. Then she says “That’s because you had 3 sisters!” and I say “Nope, parents just didn’t DO stuff with their kids like they do now.” It’s a definite improvement, I think.

    This guy’s advice is terrible, but I’m sure it speaks very much to parents who feel frustrated because things are out of their control. Teenagers are bad enough – teenagers with options are even worse. The parents need someone to tell them that it’s OK for their son to explore his relationship with his birth mother. Living with her is outside the boundaries, but if she’s invited into the family, the desire might go away. And they might get a lot out of the relationship too.

  7. He didn’t even give any advice – he just attacked open adoption.

    One thing I would point out is that in the abovementioned case, there was no contact between the child and his bmom for the first 12 years and now they are getting to know each other. Even though it was an “open adoption”, to the son, it may as well have been closed for the first 12 years.

    Also this isn’t an adoption that was closed but “opened up” at 12 years but rather an “open adoption” where contact was made after 12 years. The adoptee’s thinking during those first 12 years may have been more “why doesn’t my bmom want contact with me even though we have an open adoption” and now that she is back in the picture and presumably been able to explain why, his feelings may be similar to any adoptee that has reunited, i.e. a rollercoaster of feelings. The child’s reaction may in fact be more similar to a “closed adoption” adoptee in reunion than a “fully open” adoption from the beginning” adoptee so JR can’t really blame “open adoption” for the situation because in a fully open adoption with constant contact right from the start, perhaps the adoptee may have had a different reaction.

    Btw I would point out that you say “Now, the increasingly moody teen wants to live with his birth mom and eat ice cream all day figuratively speaking” whereas it is the mum who says that is her theory:

    “He’s told us he doesn’t want to live with us anymore. I think he believes there will be no rules with her and he’ll be able to eat ice cream all day long, figuratively speaking. What should we do?”

    Because of the particular situation, I don’t know that it is totally about life being “easier” with his bmom but more the sudden change from not being in his life to being in his life and possibly going from thinking “she doesn’t care” to “she does care” (because even though we as adults can understand why she might not have made contact in theory, it is different in practice). There may certainly be a “honeymoon” quality about it (similar to adult adoptee reunions) but I don’t think it is all about that. As I said earlier, even if this was an open adoption in theory, to the adoptee, it wasn’t an open adoption until the last few years..

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