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Most of us Americans still haven't made mental or emotional peace with the idea of "open marriages," those arrangements in which husbands and wives agree that each can play around and sleep with others, as they choose.

Now they're springing on us the idea of "open adoptions," arrangements in which a mother, or couple, turns children over to another couple, but drops around occasionally to remind the children of who their natural mother is.

I know that such an "open" arrangement may help the mother who is abandoning a child, or in some cases children, to feel like something better than "a rat." I am sure that it makes some adopting couples feel gracious, generous, thankful that they got a chance to "have children." But it seems to me that in all but the rarest open adoption, the children are going to come out losers.

There is this thing called "bonding" that is so crucial to family relationships. How does a child truly "bond" to adoptive parents when the natural mother shows up every third Thursday and says, "Remember who your real momma is"?

"Why did you give us up, real momma?" the child is bound to ask by age 3 or earlier.

"I wasn't old enough, or mature enough, to have children when I had my two children," I heard one woman explain on TV a few days ago. Is this an excuse that kids can accept and forget?

The problems of parental disciplining must become horrendous when the children in an open adoption reach the teen years.

Millions of girls, ages 13 or 14, temporarily deranged by puberty and their suddenly nubile bodies, have wanted to go out on a date with a football hero. When their natural mothers said "No way," they have screamed, "You hate me! I've always known that you never loved me! And I hate you!"

I can imagine the rest of this tempestuous scenario if the daughter is adopted and the natural mother has been hanging around for 10 or 12 years. The girl who is forbidden to go to Fort Lauderdale will ns
scream that she wants to live with her natural mother, "who really loves me, and would let me go," even though in her heart and mind she may hate the natural mother for giving her away.

Open adoptions can become a string of nightmares for all involved. Especially when a young mother hands over a child to an affluent family because she can't afford food, shelter, clothing, education -- and then five years later that mother marries a guy who is bringing in good money and she wants her children back.

My old-fashioned view has always been that an open marriage is not really a marriage in any sense of loyalty, commitment, devotion. It is an aberration that only a few "unusual" people can survive.

An open adoption is not really an arrangement in which a child finds protection, nurture, love under the wing of a couple who want and need to bond with a child. It is an "in limbo" relationship in which the heart may rejoice, but the mind keeps waiting for a muddy shoe to drop.

The adoption agencies ought to look very carefully at open adoptions now rather than wait a dozen years to see how much human hurt this new scheme has produced.

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