The Reunion Series – Part 1
When Your Adopted Child Wants to Meet His/Her Birth Parents
You’ve done it. You wanted parenthood more than anything else in the world, you got it, and you’ve thanked your lucky stars every day since. It wasn’t easy for the right child to enter your lives, but then she did. Nirvana! You changed those diapers and endured those sleepless nights easily, because this was your dream. Every day of her childhood was the actualization of the love you held in your heart all that time, waiting. Even the tough teenage years were worth every moment, because your family means everything to you.
And now she wants to meet her birth mother. Or he wants to know where he comes from. Now he or she “just needs to know.”
When that moment comes, it’s easy to feel betrayed. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this child and the result is, this child is yours. This child, or children, are your family. Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t you just be a family, like other people? Why aren’t you enough?
Remember, It’s Not About You
The answer to those questions is simple. It’s not about you. It’s about your child. It has nothing to do with anything you did or didn’t do. And it’s not a reflection on you as a mom or dad. It is not a statement about the relationship you have with your child. In fact, often, it’s a statement that you did your job so well, that your child feels confident about your support of their search.
I interviewed many adopted adults for the Adoptee section of my book, Adopting Hope. They all described this Need To Know. Something deep inside, unbidden, just there. Whether they wanted medical information, the story behind their birth, or just wanted to see someone who looked like them, it was almost a biological urge behind their decision to search. Of course, although most feel this urge, not everyone feels it in the same way. Some don’t feel it at all. My birth daughter Kate’s adoptive father was himself adopted. He never searched, never felt that urge. But Kate had a strong feeling of Need To Know.
It’s natural to fear the unknown. No one can fault a parent for fearing the entry of another “parental” person into his or her family. You don’t know much, if anything, about this person. What of their baggage, or what they might want from you, or your child? What if she is unstable? What if he’s looking for a handout? Worse, what if they want to take your place?
Most of the time, these fears are unfounded. Sure, there are occasions where the birth parent turns out to bring a negative influence, but there are many more times when the experience turns out to be positive. When you are feeling that fear, that’s when you must remember — this is about your child, not about you.
How to Support Your Child in Their Search
So now, the moment has come. Your child wants to search . . . to meet his birth parents. What should you do? What’s the playbook for this reunion? First, support him, love him, understand him. Be there for him, because you never know who or what situation he may find. Do not think it’s better to “spare” him from possible heartache. Be his mother or father, in his corner, unconditionally loving him enough to know this is important for him to do.
I was lucky. My birth daughter’s adoptive parents were (and still are) amazing. When Kate wanted to meet me and my family at age 16, her parents were not only supportive of the reunion, they helped make it happen. Her adoptive mom, Anne, has a saying — the more love, the better. She could see no reason to hinder an opportunity for her daughter to be loved by five more people: my husband and I, and our three daughters.
Anne was always confident about her place in our daughter’s life (Anne always called her “our daughter.”) I wasn’t the competition and she knew it. She always saw things from both my perspective and Kate’s. She has always been welcoming, and as time went on, and our families blended together, she has continued to see our relationships as a bonus, an enhancement; not an annoyance or interruption to their family. Anne has always followed Kate’s lead on this, and understands that her daughter’s happiness means her happiness.
Now that Kate is a mom herself, Anne is generous in sharing grandparenting with both my husband and me. We all have great love for each other, and while we all did our part, it was Anne’s calm, confident attitude and openhearted acceptance that paved our way to a happy ending.
Honestly, if I’m to give advice to adoptive parents on how to support your child’s search and reunion, it’s to say be like Anne. When the fear arises about how this will affect your relationship and family, think “the more love, the better.” Remember this is not about your parent-child connection, but rather a deep-rooted biological need that takes nothing from how your child feels about you. Act out of love, trying to understand the other two perspectives in your adoption triad. And remember that just like bio children, your job raising adoptive children is to prepare them to spread their wings and fly. If you make them feel safe and loved as they search out their roots and possibly establish new family ties, your nest will always be home to them.
Lorri Antosz Benson is a two-time Emmy-Award-winning television producer, writer, author and former internationally syndicated columnist. Notably, she was the Senior Producer for DONAHUE, the acclaimed show hosted by the legendary Phil Donahue.
Benson has written three books, two on adoption. Her latest book, Adopting Hope, is a tremendous resource for any parent, but especially for those in the adoption world. It is a collection of stories, lessons learned, and words of wisdom from birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees from all over the country. This book follows To Have And Not To Hold, her memoir as a birth mother, the first in a series of three books for those involved in adoption.
Benson is Founder and CEO of Family Matters, her family advocacy organization. She also maintains a blog for empty nesters, Feathering My Empty Nest at www.FeatheringMyEmptyNest.tumblr.com. She and her husband Steve reside in Santa Monica, Calif. and have four children and five grandchildren.