If you became an adoptive parent through a closed adoption, the day will likely come when your child approaches you with some big news:
I want to meet my birth parents.
It can be a shocking moment, especially if your child has expressed no interest in a post-placement relationship until this point. You may be feeling a mix of emotions at their news and facing one big question: How can you support them during this important chapter in their adoption story?
Every adoption is different, which means every adoption search and reunion will be, too. It’s your job to identify what your child may need as they move forward — and provide them the care they need as they do so.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Don’t Take It Personally
Most adoptees are curious about their birth parents. Their biological history is an important part of who they are, and understanding it helps them develop their personal identity. But many adoptees report worrying about how their adoptive parents will respond to their search and reunion news. It’s a big step for them — and the response isn’t always positive.
So, when your child approaches you about searching for or reuniting with birth parents, remember that it’s not about you. Unfortunately, there are many sad tales out there about adoptive parents who weren’t supportive of their children — interpreting the search as a sign that they were not “good enough” for their child. By questioning your child’s search for birth parents, you invalidate their identity as an adoptee — and you can destroy their trust in you.
If your child asks you about a birth parent reunion, you might be surprised and shocked. That’s totally normal. But it’s important that you overcome your personal feelings (whatever they are) to support your child as they move forward with this journey.
Offer Support — Emotional and Practical
It’s not enough to just say that you support your child’s search for birth parents. You need to put those words into action, too.
Searches can be complicated, especially if your adoption was closed. Opening adoption records and finding birth parents can be a long process, and your child will likely need your help. So, dig up the adoption information you have — your child’s amended birth certificate, agency or attorney paperwork and more. The more information that your child has, the smoother this process will go.
Some of the steps in the process — applying for adoption records or hiring a private investigator — will cost money. If you can, help your child pay for these expenses. Adoption is a part of your whole family’s story, not just your child’s. When you adopted them, you accepted the lifelong responsibility that comes with being an adoptive parent.
Adoption searches can also be emotionally tough. There are a lot of unknowns for an adoptee — is their birth parent still alive? Will they want to have a relationship with their birth child? Will the adoptee get the answers they’re looking for? There will likely be some ups and downs during the search process, so be there for your child. Empathize with what they’re feeling and offer emotional support in any way you can.
Be Prepared for New Relationships
In the best-case scenario, your child will find their birth parents and start a relationship that they both are comfortable with. This will look different for every search; some adoptees simply want answers to questions about their background, while others are looking for long-term relationships with birth parents, siblings and other extended family.
Whatever the future may look like, make sure to support your child’s and their birth parents’ desires. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at the start. But, when you adopted your child, you knew this day might come. And, as an adoptive parent, you need to prepare to support that post-placement relationship in whatever way you can.
Remember, your child’s birth parents will be feeling out their relationship with their birth child, too. Open adoption relationships are different for everyone, and every member will have their own challenges. As an adoptive parent, you will need to contain any jealousy you may feel about a burgeoning relationship between your child and their birth parents. Remember: It’s not about you.
Know It’s Not Always a Happy Ending
As a parent, you just want your child to be happy. But, unfortunately, adoption reunions don’t always lead to the result that adoptees want. A birth parent may not be located or may be deceased, they may not want a relationship with their birth child, or they may not be the kind of person an adoptee was hoping for.
You’ll probably have complicated feelings about this. That’s normal — but you should never show your child anything but love and support. Remember, an adoptee’s relationship with their birth parents has nothing to do with their relationship with their adoptive parents. They are separate entities with no bearing on each other.
As you embark on an adoption search and reunion with your child, consider talking to other adoptive parents about their experiences with negative outcomes. They might have suggestions for supporting your child through this difficult moment. Yes, birth parents play a role in an adoptee’s life that adoptive parents can’t fill, but you can still offer the parental support your child will need at this time.
Have more questions about supporting your child through an adoption search and reunion? Consider reaching out to your adoption professional or an adoption therapist near you for tips and guidance moving forward. Your support will mean the world to your child, and it’s your duty as a parent to provide it — whatever your personal feelings may be.