I Wish My Adoptive Mom Wouldn't Blab About My Adoption Without Asking Me

The Unexpected Variables of Adoptive Parenting

Mothering an adopted child may be the greatest life challenge you’ll ever face, or should I say the greatest dance you’ll ever dance? Your child may be a newborn, a toddler, a teen, or an adult. No matter your child’s age or stage, you’re convinced that homecoming day will be epic. You’ve already determined what your first dance step will be–love. Fierce love, like that of a mama bear protecting her cubs.Now, envision the dynamics of your child’s adoption as a large wooden dance floor, waxed and buffed to perfection. Some adoption dynamics you’ll know prior to homecoming day, and others you’ll learn later when you comprehend that adoption is a lifelong journey, filled with twists and turns.

Retha, my Mom through adoption, knew many dynamics prior to my homecoming. It would be a closed, private adoption, facilitated by her mother-in-law, Leah, who was the matron of the county Children’s Home, (aka) orphanage. It was here that bruised and broken children, teens, and adults found respite during life’s storms. It would be here also, that I would be prepared for my life’s work with those touched by adoption. Every night, Leah served up a hearty dinner around her huge dining room table and how I loved the unspoken camaraderie with the children who’d also lost family.

Leah knew that Retha and son Mike would be outstanding parents. Retha was a beautiful woman, with dark shiny hair and a winsome smile. Every area of her life–whether studying to become the valedictorian of her college’s class or teaching elementary school children- she exuded rare self-confidence. When she and Mike fell in love, they dreamed of having children well into their forties. Unfortunately, infertility won. And, because they lived during the age of romanticism, even Leah didn’t recognize the resulting secret sorrows they’d carry and the profound need to grieve before adopting.

On August 4, 1945, after delivery, my First Mother, Elizabeth, was whisked off without knowledge of my gender or seeing my face. I believe she did this to save her marriage because her husband, away in the War, wasn’t her baby’s father. I was placed in an incubator for ten days, with little human touch, and was named “Baby X.” I cried long and hard for human touch, but no one came. I gave up and went within. As a result, I refused to eat and nurses listed my condition as “failure-to-thrive.” Retha was a trooper, though, especially when she learned of my suffering. Even though I was extremely small and would need ten days in an incubator before homecoming, she pressed on like any good mom does when her kids are hurting. When Leah came to get me from the hospital, she paid the bill in full–$55.97. Then, she drove the tree-lined street to Retha and Mike’s modest bungalow, where they waited with great anticipation. When Leah carried all five pounds of me into my parent’s modest bungalow, they came running, for this was the day that their dreams would come true. When Leah handed me to Mike, his hands shook, like he was holding a delicate piece of fine china and then he said, “She’s so tiny. I can hold her in the palm of one hand.” Mike recounted this memory until his dying day and whenever he told it, a sense of belonging took root in my adoptee heart.

When Mike handed me to Retha, I arched my tiny back and screamed bloody murder. Whenever a baby arches like this, it means she’s in extreme pain. This was my “cry print” to Retha. Just like a fingerprint notarizes a unique identity, cry prints communicate personal needs. My cry print was, “I lost my mama. Where is she? I’m going to die without her.”

Who can even imagine how Retha felt? Perhaps, like a bucket of ice water had been thrown on her? She must have shaken in shock, like we all do when something unfathomable happens. It would be easy for her to read rejection into my screams. “Maybe my baby doesn’t like me, or maybe I’m not suited to be this baby’s Mom. If I were, Sherrie would have snuggled into my welcoming arms immediately.” Perhaps, Retha could have put me back into my grandmother’s arms and spoken comforting words, like, “I know you miss your First Mother. I am sad about that, too. But, I’m here for you now and I’ll never, ever, leave you. I will love you forever.”


How Can Adoptive Moms and Kids Heal?

What Adoptees & Moms Need for Healing

What is it, my friends, that tips the scale, reminding us that we need healing, not only from the losses inherent in adoption, but also from the obsession to control? For me, the tipping of the scale somewhat repeated the complex and painful dynamics of relinquishment, but in current-day life.

We can be sailing along and believe all is well, all the while ignoring unhealed pain. For sure, Retha carried unhealed pain, both from infertility and from living in a warzone that I created in the home. For me, the tipping of the scale somewhat repeated those complex and painful dynamics of relinquishment, but in current-day life.

It’s not difficult to figure out why many adoptees are control freaks. After all, from the beginning of our lives here on planet earth everything has seemed out of control. We lost our first moms and dads, were placed into a new home which we didn’t think was too peachy at first, and were labeled as “different” by societal norms.We’ve fought to have our voices heard and our original birth records legally released. And, maybe if we found that long-lost first Mother, we could reverse the “out of control” feeling and erase our adoptedness for good? But, even that didn’t work, at least for me. And, for Moms, like Retha, the need for control came when she couldn’t control her child’s rage or when she was tempted to parent from fear.

How would Retha have known that she needed healing? And, how would I have known? We were both like the frog in the water. The water was pleasant, but we had no idea that it would build to a boil.

If we take this question about our willingness to heal from a physical standpoint, how do we know that something needs healing? Basically, it’s pain. For example, years ago, when my knees began popping out of joint at unexpected and unwelcome times, I couldn’t move. Literally! So, in order to deal with the painful problem, I sought wisdom from experts. The first thing they did was to get an MRI of the knee. So, under the huge xray machine I went, trying not to freak out. Then, they gave steroid shots, but they weren’t effective because my joints were bone-on-bone. The last resort was knee replacement surgery. Just the thought of it terrified me and I hadn’t even seen the YOUtube video showing the surgeon breaking the kneecap with a hammer. Twice, I backed out of surgery. Finally, I went under the knife. What made me willing to have surgery was this–it’s better to suffer from productive pain than destructive pain. I could go on wearing braces on my knee and hobbling around, or I could get a new knee. Today, I am more fit than I’ve ever been, thanks to my new knees.

A Heart MRI Reveals Hidden Pain

So, how do adoptive Moms and kids know that they need healing? Through an MRI of their hearts. Because many adoptive Moms and adopted kids repress deep pain, they’re exhausted and lose their joy. No one tells them that this unrecognized pain is still active, creating emotions and beliefs that sometimes prompt shocking reactions to life events. These reactions are like a geyser boiling beneath, ready to erupt at unforetold times. Because many adoptive Moms and adopted kids repress this pain, they’re exhausted and lose their joy. Empathy drains and parenting becomes a dreaded responsibility. Adoptees may believe that there’s no hope of getting over their rage–it feels like a life sentence.

Pain showed up on my doorstep in a present-day situation I didn’t want. I prayed to get out of it, but the heat only escalated and I said, “God, this isn’t funny.”  Circumstances only closed in and I felt as if I’d been painted into a corner. Trapped and nowhere to go.

The discomfort became so intense that I would have done anything to get out of the pressing circumstances. What was happening was that….oh, no…I was being asked to give up control of things and people in my life that were key players. Key players that were hurting me.

Personally, I thought I was a pretty decent person, but one day at church, I got hurt-really hurt. Someone I’d previously respected, revealed my 20-year-old shame from my crisis pregnancy to his family. It was like he shined a floodlight on something I’d been trying to forget. It hurt to the core. That hurt got lodged in my heart, like a blood sucker. Whenever I was in his presence, that memory would surface. This was a deep hurt that I certainly didn’t deserve. I wanted to put on my boxing gloves and give this person a strong upper cut.

I was in a present-day situation I didn’t want. I prayed to get out of it, but the heat only escalated and I said, “God, this isn’t funny.”  Circumstances only closed in and I felt as if I’d been painted into a corner. Trapped and nowhere to go. The discomfort became so intense that I would have done anything to get out of the pressing circumstances. What was happening was that….oh, no…I was being asked to give up control of things and people in my life that were key players. Key players that were hurting me.

And, the only way I could get out of the painted corner was to forgive the people I hated for the hurts I didn’t deserve. I needed to see “the ugly” inside my adoptee heart, and if there were such a thing as a MRI for the Adopted Heart, mine would show toxic anger, hate, and bitterness. My soul was sick and in need of healing, even though I’d been a Jesus follower for 40 years. 


Flowers Can Bloom Amidst Pricks of Adoptee Rejection

Adoptees Can Grow Amidst Birth Family Rejection

Rejection.  Just the sound of the word sends chills up my spine! 

Rejection is the dark side of the search and reunion process. The agonizing side. The side that is rarely, if ever, gets talked about, the side media never covers. 

It is also part of our adoptee “rite of passage” into a healthier, more fulfilling life. So, don’t despair, my friends, if you are experiencing this right now. You will get through it.

How many of us are rejected? Statistics, like most aspects of adoption, are sadly non-existent, but many claim that only a minority of adoptees are rejected by a birth relative at reunion. During the years I have been researching and talking with other adoptees, however, I have found rejection to be rampant and common. 

Why do birth relatives reject some of us? Does our physical appearance remind our birth mothers of our fathers, whom they have no positive feelings for? Does seeing us trigger issues in them that they have never dealt with? Are they emotionally and mentally unbalanced? Or are they just downright mean? 

What does it mean to be rejected and how does it feel? Webster’s gives us a good start on understanding its basic message. “Refusing to have, take, or act upon. To refuse to accept a person. To rebuff. To throw away or discard as useless or unsatisfactory. To cast out or eject. Something rejected as an imperfect article.”1 

Ron Nydam, Ph.D., gives a vivid illustration from a client’s encounter with his birth mother. She told her son: “If you want answers, see a psychiatrist; if you want a companion, get a dog.”2 

I will never forget when I was reeling from my birth mother’s rejection. While attending my first American Adoption Congress, a man at one of the book tables asked me to tell him my story. I got to the part where I was going to say, “All I wanted was for her to say the words ‘I love you,’” and I lost it. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It really hurts, doesn’t it?” I knew by the tone of his voice that this wasn’t some platitude—it came from his heart. This dear man took me into the lobby of the hotel and told me how he had experienced the same rejection from his birth mother years ago. Still, after all that time, he wept. 

Karen says that her birth mother rejected her “right out of the gate.” She didn’t even give Karen the dignity of getting to know her first before making up her mind. Karen was her dirty secret and she couldn’t stand the thought of others knowing. She told her that her mother (Karen’s grandmother) would also reject her. 

As Karen reflects on the rejection, she says, “She didn’t just reject me—she wanted nothing to do with my son, her own grandson! When I found her, my son wasn’t even one year old, a beautiful baby. How could she reject him? The only time I met her she reviewed pictures I had brought of him with detachment and terse comments.” 

When birth siblings learn that a parent conceived an unknown child, their reaction may be to reject us as well. 

Laurie’s birth half-sister found it difficult to speak with her since she was told that Laurie was her half-sister. Laurie, like Karen, was her birth mother’s secret. Laurie has tried to make contact, but her birth mother wants nothing to do with her. She is hoping that one day she will speak to her, or that at least she will eventually develop a relationship with her half-sister. 

Richard Curtis says, “Even though I have not been overtly rejected by birth relatives, I have the feeling that I’m being ignored or at least overlooked by family members who just don’t know what to do with me. Both of my birth parents were deceased when I finally conducted my search and so my ‘reunions’ have been with siblings and cousins. That being the case, after the initial shock and curiosity of discovering a secret birth relative, most members of both families have relegated me to receiving a card at Christmas or an occasional e-mail. At first I tried to take the initiative and keep in contact, especially with my siblings; but I’ve gotten little response.” 

Okay, that’s enough. We know the realities of rejection. Let’s not stay there unless we are currently experiencing it. Then, fellow adoptee hurt words are validating. But for the rest of us, let’s move on, okay?

If we’ve received hostile responses from birth relatives, how do we usually react? 

WE ISOLATE OURSELVES. 

Isolation and rejection partner to silence us. We are frozen in fear and don’t want another soul to know our experience. We feel we have been branded for life. 

We do need isolation from the rejecting birth relatives, but not from fellow adoptees who have had similar experiences. In their company we can find a good kind of isolation, where we experience protection, comfort, strength, validation, and healing. 

As I personally became aware of this fear of being forgotten and shared it with the adoptees in my support group, eyes welled with tears and you could have heard a pin drop. I thought about it a lot in the days to come. Aren’t we as rejected adoptees a little like prisoners of war? Aren’t we missing in action in many ways? 

While studying the subject of being forgotten, I saw a poster-sized reproduction of a U.S. commemorative stamp. Two words grabbed my attention—NEVER FORGOTTEN. The poster depicted an army dog tag on a chain, inscribed with the words, “MIA and POW—NEVER FORGOTTEN.” 

My sweet husband purchased a gold ID bracelet with a chain like a dog tag. On one side I had the jeweler inscribe “Baby X.” On the other side were the words “Never forgotten.” 

THE MESSAGE BEHIND THEIR WORDS

Again, here is it so helpful for us to take a deep breath and think about the psychological dynamic of projection. All the rejecting person can see is themselves. So, when they are saying rotten things about us, what are they really doing? They’re telling us how they feel about themselves. How freeing this is!

Let’s take some examples:

  • “I can tell you are in therapy.” (I need to be in therapy.)
  • “I knew I couldn’t trust you.” (I can’t trust myself.)
  • “You are a secret in the family.” (I have a secret I’ve kept from my family.)
  • “You remind me of your rapist birth father.” (I can’t get my rapist out of my mind.)
  • “You aren’t important to me.” (I am not important.)
  • “You are disposable.” (I am disposable.)

OUR RITE OF PASSAGE INTO A BALANCED, HEALTHY LIFE

Of all the things I’ve learned lately about our adoptee journey, the concept of the adoptee’s rite of passage is the most exciting. Listen to this story and then we’ll draw parallels to our own experiences. 

I am reminded of a story about a young American Indian man who was about to go through “the rite of passage into manhood.” Prior to this event, he was prepared to defend himself in every way. On the day of the rite, he was blindfolded and led, gun in hand, into a dark forest and left alone overnight. The blindfold remained all night. 

During the night, whenever the wind blew a leaf or an animal scurried through the underbrush, he was sure it was a wild animal seeking to devour him. He was terrified. When morning dawned he removed his blindfold and saw a path leading off to his right. He thought he saw someone at the end of the path. As he contemplated the figure, he realized that it was his father, aimed and ready to shoot anything or anyone that would hurt his son.13 

LIES AND TRUTH ABOUT REJECTION

There is always an end to the dark night of our experience. Many of us might have believed that we’ll always be in the darkness and shame of rejection. Like our anger issues, we may easily believe:

  • “There must be something wrong with me or he/she wouldn’t reject me. This is shame.”

 I bet you anything, my friend, after you’ve done all your searching and reunion “work,” that you’ll find it’s not about you. It’s about the dysfunction of the person who rejected you. 

  • “Something I did or said, ‘made’ him/her/them reject me.’
      We don’t have that kind of power! No one does. We all make choices. The rejecting person’s choice was totally his/hers.
  • “I’ll never get over this hurt.”

There’s our black and white thinking. We will always have memories of the hurt, but the shame, the stinging shame, will fade in time. I promise you. Like the Indian teen, there will come a day when the sun rises and you realize you were never alone…that’s why we need one another. Those fellow-adoptee friendships are vital!

ONE THING NEEDFUL

I believe as a fellow adoptee friend to you that I can speak frankly, more so than anyone else. Okay, here we go!

We Need to Get Over Ourselves

Yes, we need to quit throwing pity parties, focusing on past hurts, licking our wounds and accept a “new template” for our future life.

Rejection does NOT define us, friends.

We are amazing people. We have survived pre-adoption trauma that’s unbelievable. We are survivors…now we need to step into that role with confidence.

Think back to the Cherokee teen. Of course, there are many sounds, movements around him, darkness and all kinds of scary stuff. But, he trusted in his inner strength, already built into him through his training by his dad, that he would come through night…strong!

That’s you, friend.

Stand strong. Stand tall. You are amazing.

OUR CHOICE

We can reject our rejection and not let it define us.

HOW TO BEGIN

  • Journal, journal, journal. Journaling provides a place for you to pour out your innermost thoughts and feelings.
  • Describe your “adoptee rite of passage.” Where are you in the process? Draw a timeline.
  • Check out this online group: all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com. We are there for you and there is no reason for isolation.
  • Get a momento, like my ID bracelet, to remind you of the day you rejected the rejection(s).

The biggest “take away” for this chapter is—don’t do it alone! If you don’t know fellow-adoptee friends, contact me. I know adoptees from all over the world that support one another through this “rite of passage.”

(This is chapter 18 from 20 LIFE-TRANSFORMING CHOICES ADOPTEES MUST MAKE, Copyright)


This picture of a young woman with stunning pearls illustrates how I feel as an adopted person. I didn't have my pearls early in life, but gained them with every passing decade. I hope they now are like a steady hand in the world of adoption.

An Adoptee’s Pearls from The Oyster of Adoption

1. Anyone can make love, but only God can create a life. (credit: Lee Ezell)

2. Even though my birth parents didn’t plan my life, God did. My life is not a mistake.

3. Every day of my life was planned before any one of them ever came to be—no coincidences!

4. I was removed me from the care of my birth parents for their good and mine.

5. Even though hospital workers called me “Baby X” after birth, my mom and dad had already picked out a name for me.

6. I am not a reject or second class–I am a jewel among jewels.

7. I have a unique place in human history that no one else can fill.

8.  Even though my birth mother experienced a painful conception, good came out of evil–me!

9. The desire in my heart for a reunion with my birth family is innate. I need not feel guilty for wanting to meet them.

10. Searching and reunion bring growth, no matter what the outcome, for I have faced my greatest fear.

11. There is a time to search for answers to adoption questions and a time to give up as lost.

12. Some of my adoption questions will never be answered this side of heaven. 

© Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge 2006, 2021. All rights reserved.


I Want My Adoptive Parents to Addreess my Birth Family Curiosities

Many Adopted Kids Want Parents to Address Their Curiosities About Birth Family

Imagine a tortoise–the kind you see in the zoo. With a huge, rough shell for a home and a head that rarely sees the full light of day, he waddles a few steps closer to his desired destination.

With all due respect, many of us adoptees are a lot like the tortoise. Our heads pop out only occasionally to see if it’s okay to assert ourselves, to ask questions and express feelings about our past. Is it okay to ask the hospital where I was born for my medical records? Is it okay to ask for non-identifying information about my birth mother and birth father? Is it okay to say that I’m curious about them and might like to meet them some day? Is it okay to be angry about my birth mother’s decision to relinquish? Is it okay to search for my birth family? Is it okay to seek out other birth relatives if my birth mother rejects me at our reunion?

These are a few of the questions that haunt many adoptees. Remember the story in chapter one about the young adoptee, who after hearing her mother make a casual reference to her birth mother, sheepishly asked, “Is it all right to talk about that?” That’s a good example of a tortoise-like remark! In spite of all the advantages this young adoptee had, her hesitancy and fear remained.

Why is that? you may be wondering. Why is it so difficult for most adoptees to believe that it is permissible to talk about the birth family? Why is it that they hold back, frozen in fear, curious, yet ambivalent at the same time about knowing more?

I believe the main reason many adoptees hold back is that they perceive themselves as victims, unable to assert themselves effectively. Consider these comments and behaviors from Talking with Young Children About Adoption by Drs. Susan Fisher and Mary Watkins:

  • A three-year-old pretends that she is a nursing baby piglet. She has her adoptive mother ask pig-mother if piglet can live at her house. Pig-mother says yes. When at adoptive mother’s pretend house, child has adoptive mother “squish” her. Child runs back to pig-mother, who protects her.
  • A six-year-old asks, “What did she (the birth mother) say when she saw me? Did she kiss me? Only you should have kissed me because you’re my parents.”

It’s important for parents to be aware of the adoptee’s unconscious tendency toward this victimy mindset, but also her need for compassion, for the adopted child literally was a victim. 

Nancy Verrier, in The Primal Wound, says, “The feeling of being a victim is not just a fantasy, but a reality. Being abandoned often leaves one with a permanent feeling of being at the mercy of others.”

Understanding a Victim’s Mindset

There are three aspects to a victim’s mindset: innocence, defenselessness, and helplessness. They are evident in the adoptee’s perceptions after birth and onward, before healing has occurred.

Innocence 

It wasn’t the adoptee’s fault that her birth mother got pregnant. It wasn’t her fault that the birth mother, for whatever reason, couldn’t parent. The child didn’t deserve losing a family at birth. She was the innocent party in it all. 

In spite of their innocence, however, many adoptees carry a false burden of guilt, much like children of divorce. They may silently wonder:

  • Did I do something to make my other mommy mad at me and give me away?  
  • I think she (the birth mother) didn’t like me.
  • Was there something bad about my birth daddy?

Defenselessness 

The adoptee was powerless at relinquishment. She had no way of protecting herself from further wounding. She may reenact those feelings of defenselessness through play from a young age. Fishers and Wakins, in Talking with Young Children About Adoption observed:

  • A three-year-old enacts someone trying to take a baby kitten away from its mother and the mother objects.
  • A little girl plays out a scene in which a wicked woman takes a child away from her good mother. She has the girl say to the wicked lady, whom she has her mother play, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would be with my real mother.” The child then confides to her adoptive mother, “Yeah, if it hadn’t been for you, I would still be with her. You came and took me away.”
  • A child asks, “Where is my real dad? Why don’t you know where he is? I don’t want him to find me…he’d take me away…I’d get kidnapped by him.”

Helplessness 

Even though there were probably people there to tend to your child when she was born, even though you may have been in the delivery room to welcome her, the transfer away from the birth mother and into your arms was traumatic for her to some degree.

In order to get some idea of the helplessness your child may experience, imagine yourself boarding a plane for Europe. When  you finally arrive, your excitement level is at an all-time high. How wonderful it is going to be! As the days pass by, it is wonderful…just about every aspect of it.  The food. The hotels. The dusty country backroads.

But in the midst of it all,  there is something wrenching in your gut. You can’t really describe it except to say that the very things that are so wonderful are producing a peculiar sense of helplessness within you. Everything around you is so different. The people. The food. The language. Your body is beginning to feel the effects of the time change. The people speak another language. You struggle to connect…to speak with the foreigners, to read the menus, but you can’t.  What is so wonderful is producing feelings of helplessness.

This subconscious sense of helplessness may continue for many adoptees throughout life.

I am aware of the fact that these are pretty hard words to digest, but if you are to be in tune with the unspoken needs of your child to talk about his birth family, then you must be aware of some of the complex and even scary thoughts and feelings he may keep hidden.

You see, there is a mixture of feelings about the birth mother in your adoptee’s heart. Fantasy. Anger. Victimization. Love. You can be a powerful resource in helping him identify and process these conflicting feelings–or you can be a major obstacle. What determines your role as a facilitator or a hurdle is your willingness and skill in drawing your child into productive conversation about her birth family and her complex feelings about them. Let’s take a look at how you can equip yourself for this crucial task.

Getting Ready to Talk

What comes to mind when you think about initiating a conversation with your child about his birth family? Do you feel defensive, like the birth family is the enemy to be avoided at all  costs? Do you feel sad, and does your lip begin to quiver at the thought of their possible presence in your child’s life? Do you fear your child will love them more than he loves you?

If so, this section is especially for you.Kids are experts at reading body language. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. If you are upset about something and trying to hide it, they will sense it.

In order to converse with your child productively about the issues closest to his heart, you must first develop a healthy attitude about the impact of adoption on the family system. Sociologist and author H. David Kirk, in Shared Fate,  suggests five common attitudes adoptive parents tend to hold about how adoption impacts the family:

1) Insistence: All problems are due to adoption. There is a great deal of emphasis between biological and adopted children: the “bad seed.”

2) Assumption: Parents have a romanticized view of adoption and expect the adoptee to have only positive feelings about adoption.

3) Acknowledgment: Adoption is seen as one of the factors in family problems. Family members have special sensitivities about adoption.

4) Rejection: Parents admit, “Yes, there’s a difference, but…” (want to forget it). They forget that the child feels the difference and needs permission to voice his feelings.

5) Denial: Parents have not told children about adoption. There is a big secret in the family.

Of course, acknowledgment is the most healthy attitude. We can’t blame all family problems on adoption, but it is important to help the adoptee see what part adoption plays in the fabric of his life.  

There are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for drawing your child into a productive conversation about his birth family.

Face Your Greatest Fear

The first thing you as an adoptive parent must do is face your greatest fear, which is being rejected by your child. You may envision your child reuniting with his birth parents someday and then wanting nothing more to do with you. If so, you would return to that lonely place of barrenness once again. 

The truth is, what is likely to happen at reunion is just the opposite of what you fear. (We will discuss this in detail in the last chapter of the book.) Nevertheless, you may feel flooded with a torrent of emotions you never knew existed. Jealously and envy.  Anger…even rage.  A sense of betrayal by the one you held closest to your heart over the years. 

The empathetic ear of a friend, professional counselor, or an adoption support group can help you through these tough times. That person should be someone who has already faced and worked through her own pain and is not afraid of yours. When you have come through to the other side, you will be able to be truly in tune emotionally with your child.

Give Permission for Open Dialogue

Parents must remember that adoptees need permission repeatedly to talk about the birth family. It is like their “permission button” is broken; your words can go in one ear and out the other.

Adoptive mom Kathy Giles believes that this continual permission-giving is a signal to the adoptee that her myriad questions and feelings are okay. She says, “I find adoptees sense the ‘okay-ness’ of wanting to know about their birth parents from their adoptive parents. The parents must signal that they understand, empathize, and will, in fact, help make it possible for their children to connect with their first set of parents. To adoptive parents, I say, don’t kid yourself, saying ‘I wouldn’t want to know.’ Ask instead, ‘What would/will my child want and need?'”

Foster a Non-Competitive Spirit

The third pre-requisite is that there be a non-competitive spirit between the adoptive and birth parents. This may be the most difficult task for adoptive parents, for they must accept without reservation that they are not the child’s only parents. 

I know these are painful words. Many adoptive parents would like a clean slate…a new beginning. However, your child does have two sets of parents–biological and adoptive. This is her reality, whether you choose to accept or acknowledge it. There is a special place within the adoptee’s heart reserved just for the birth mother and birth father. If adoptive parents try to fill both roles, the adoptee may erect a tall barrier of resentment to keep her fantasies and thoughts of them alive.

Let your child know that you think about his or her birth parents also. This brings her out of her secret fantasy world into reality: She does have birth parents, and you acknowledge that fact. Allow the birth family, if they desire, to send gifts to the child, and keep them updated on the child’s progress. 

Be Confident in Your Role

One of the most important things you as adoptive parents can do for your child is to be comfortable and non-defensive when he talks about his birth family. Your child needs a settled confidence emanating from you when the topic of the birth family is brought up. 

Step into your role with confidence, knowing that you have a unique and vital position and influence in this child’s life. No, you didn’t give him birth. You don’t share the same blood. But you are giving him something that no one else can. You are a gift to your child, just as he is a gift to you.

I expressed my gratitude for my adoptive parents in a letter I imagined God writing to them. 

Dear Retha and Mike,

One of my children needs a home–a mother and father who will love her and provide for her.

I know how much you wanted to have children. I know the tears and anguish you have experienced. But the only way I could make a place for this child in your home was through the open door of your infertility. 

I am loaning her to you for while to take care of. Do the best you know how to do, for she is precious to me.

Someday, when you are gone, I will be her mother and father. She will  learn to trust me and depend on me as she did on you.

Thank you for being willing to love my daughter and give her a home on earth.

Love,

God

Fisher and Watkins describe how a four-year-old child verbalized his feelings about both sets of parents: He said to a friend, “The way I see adoption is like this. Somebody has the baby but can’t keep the baby and goes ‘Wah, wah, wah, good-bye, baby,’ and somebody who can’t get a baby in her tummy says, ‘Goody goody…hello, baby.”

I would challenge you to help your child find a way to express her feelings for both her birth and adoptive parents. Perhaps she could draw a picture or compose a poem. Or she could write a play about adoption and then perform it for you. If she has access to a photograph of her birth parents, consider buying her a photo frame with two openings–one for the adoptive family and one for the birth family. Encourage your child to take on one of these projects and set aside special time when she can share it with you.

In open adoptions, the birth parents are graciously invited by the adoptive parents to share in this nurturing role, thus, the support and love base for the child is doubled. This is ideal. Adoptive mother Kathy Giles, experiencing an open adoption, said, “As their mother, why would I ever want to keep ‘good things’ from their lives? Why would I want to ‘protect’ them from people who had selflessly planned a life for them in another family and relinquished the right to parent them? I wouldn’t! Who among us says, ‘Sorry, I don’t need any additional people in my life who love me.” Or, ‘No more love needed here.’ 

“Furthermore, the golden rule applies. If I were the one adopted, how would I feel? Would I want to know my first mother and father? Would I want to know who I look like? Would I want to know where my talents, gifts, and inclinations came from? Would I want to know why they relinquished me? Would I want to understand that relinquishment of ‘parental rights’ was not the relinquishment of love, concern and interest. YES! All of that would be important to me if I were the adopted child.”

What Parents Can Do

When you understand the fears and ambivalence your child may have when it comes to discussing his birth family, you will be much more effective in drawing out his hidden thoughts at strategic times.I believe that conversations about the birth family should be initiated at times of pleasure and celebration and at times of stress or vulnerability. 

Positive times for initiating might include the following.

  • The child’s birthday. “I wonder if your birth mom/dad are thinking about you.”
  • Mothers’ Day/Fathers’ Day. “I wonder what your birth mom/dad is doing today.”
  • Nighttime prayers. “Let’s remember your birth family in our prayers.”
  • Child’s accomplishments. “Your birth parents would be proud of you just like we are.”
  • Physical features. “I wonder if your birth mom has curly hair like you.”
  • Spontaneously. Whenever your heart wells with gratitude to the birth family. “I’m so glad they gave you to us!”

Conversations about the birth family might also be initiated during vulnerable times like these.

  • Physical exam. “It must be a bummer not knowing your full birth history.”
  • Beginning college. “I’ll bet your adoption issues make saying good-bye extra difficult.”
  • After an acting-out episode. “Have you been thinking about your birth family lately?”
  • Family tree assignments in school. (The adoptee’s family tree is very complex and will not conform to the usual configuration.) You might say to the child, “With your permission and approval, I will talk to your teacher and ask if you (or we) can make a special family tree that will include both sides of your family.”
  • After the child has been teased by a peer because he’s adopted. “I know it’s hard to be singled out because of your adoption, but remember we love you and so does your birth family.”

Part of the reason that your child wants you to take the initiative in opening conversations about the birth family is that he has a need to know the truth about his conception, birth and family history, no matter how painful the details may be. The next chapter will prepare you for the challenge of sharing the whole truth in a healing way.