Whether an adoption is closed, semi-open or fully open, there will usually be a time when the adoptee at the center of the process expresses natural curiosity about their birth family. They may even want to meet them.
As adoptive parents, you’ll probably be excited to help your child learn more about their background and their personal identity, but you may also feel conflicted; you may be concerned that reconnecting with your child’s birth family and birth story may not answer all the questions they have, and for those it does, they may not be the answers they’re looking for. However, it’s important that you continue to support them throughout their journey, even when it becomes difficult.
To help your child through their search and reunion process, here are some things you can do:
If you have an open or semi-open adoption, communicate before meeting in person.
If your child hasn’t had visits with their birth parents before, it can be a shock for them to meet each other with no prior preparation. Instead, give your child the chance to read any letters or look at any photos you have from their birth parents before they meet them and, if their birth parent is comfortable doing so, have them exchange written or phone communication before meeting your child in person. The more your child can ease into communication with their birth parents, the better prepared they’ll be for an eventual in-person meeting.
Give your child as much information as you have, but make sure it’s only the truth.
You may already be able to answer some of the questions that your child has, like why they were placed for adoption and who their birth parents are. If so, make sure they have all the information about their birth parents that you know before meeting with their birth parents. In many cases, it’s better for them to hear the details of their adoption from you ahead of time, rather than during a meeting that they’ve built up in their head for so long.
Make sure your child understands they should have respect for their birth parents’ wishes.
An adoption reunion is not just about what your child wants; it will also be about what their birth parents are comfortable with. Your child may be envisioning a “happily ever after” where their birth parent instantly becomes a regular presence in their life, but they should be prepared for the possibility that their birth parent isn’t ready for that kind of relationship. A reunion is only successful if both parties are comfortable; otherwise, it may end up being a negative experience that neither your child nor their birth parent will enjoy.
Prepare your child for possible disappointment.
While it’s rare that an adoptee regrets their decision to seek out their birth parents, especially in closed adoptions, what your child is hoping for may not come to be. Whether that’s because they don’t instantly feel a connection with their birth parent, don’t share a physical resemblance or another situation, your child should be mature enough to prepare for and handle that disappointment before they begin their search. Whether they can is also a good indication of whether your child is ready to seek out their birth parents.
Help them find adoption reunion support.
Adoption search and reunions can be a long, emotionally draining process. It may be a good idea for you and your child to find support from people who are also going through this process or have already completed it. Although each search and reunion is unique, this is usually a great way to learn more about what to expect and how to prepare for the process ahead. Your adoption professional may also be able to give you advice or connect you with other adoptive families who have gone through the same journey.
When your child first approaches you about reconnecting or meeting their birth parents, it may come as a bit of a shock — but remember that it’s a natural reflection of the interest they have in who they are. Therefore, it’s important to support them through every step of this search and reunion story, especially if the results are unexpected. You will always be their parents, and your love during this important time in their life will mean the world to them.
Similarly, if your adopted child has no interest in finding or meeting their birth parents, don’t push them to do so. Respect them and their preferences, no matter which end of the adoption reunion scale they’re on. Follow their lead and let them proceed with whatever steps they’re comfortable with — and be by their side the entire way.