Health & Medicine

Adoption reunions are not meant for TV

My guilty pleasure, other than playing computer games, is watching reality TV shows, including Project Runway, Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen.

They are shows in which contestants compete for start-up money for a clothing line, for a new restaurant or for the job of running one of chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurants.

Each week, someone gets eliminated until one person is left standing.

I can tolerate that.

But there is one recent reality show that I can't get my arms around.

ABC's Find My Family — a show in which biological parents, children or siblings are reunited — didn't appeal to me right from jump street.

Admittedly, I might be too close to the subject to be very objective.

Our middle child is adopted.

The show's two hosts and, according to promotion materials, many of the producers, are adopted.

(One of them was supposed to call to help me understand the need to publicly display such a private situation, but I hadn't heard from them by press time.)

I'm not against families reuniting.

When our son got into trouble a couple of years ago and seemed to be losing his way, I began looking for his biological mother.

I had both of my parents around while I was growing up and really don't know how not having them around would have affected me.

We've never kept my son's adoption a secret. He has always known. I figured that when he was old enough, he would let us know if he wanted to contact his biological mother.

When I found his baby book minus the picture of his birth mother that had been in it, I took that to be his call to begin the search.

I looked for a phone number or address and gave it to him. I think his searches proved more fruitful, however. He later called her and set up a reunion with her and his siblings.

I wasn't there, and neither were TV cameras. That meeting had to be full of anxiety and joy, uncertainty and questions, all of which would leave both parties vulnerable and bare. What outside parties had a right to see that?

It's not like winning a contest or being snarky enough to garner better ratings for a show. These are private moments that should remain private.

To take the desires of two parties to find the missing pieces of their lives and then expose the emotions for ratings is wrong. I felt uncomfortable watching the program, watching the tears and knowing that by watching the program I was helping someone earn money off someone else's pain.

I'm sure the program does invaluable legwork for the people or families looking for missing siblings, children or parents. Were the investigators to hand over the information and let the principals involved go the next step, I would have no problem with that.

But that wouldn't make for good TV.

The more technologically advanced we become, the fewer human relationships we seem to form. That lack of relationship seems to be what fuels our need to peer into the lives of others without really getting down and dirty.

Lives are messy things. Humans are complicated.

You can't extract yourself from a human relationship as easily as hitting a delete button or restarting a malfunctioning computer.

Once we get involved, we pretty much have to get just as messy as the lives we've entered.

This TV program lets us satisfy our voyeurism, and then we can wipe our tears and turn off the TV. That cheapens the intrinsic value of human exchange.

Mind you, I'm far too close to this subject.

My son's newly found sister stopped by over the weekend to take him to a family photo session, a gift requested by his birth mother.

His sister and I talked a bit and discovered that we all have a lot in common. It is comforting to know those missing pieces will fit in our son's life quite well. I think he really needs that.

And I'm glad the reunion was a smooth one, and that the relationship will continue. Our son found people who resemble him.

But I'm also glad that he was able to do that privately, that he was able to sort through his feelings away from the stares of strangers.

I just wish the families on TV who are so desperate to find their missing loved ones could have had the same opportunity.