mixed emotions of adoption reunion

Update: the Mom Whose Son Left to Live with Birth Mom

A year ago I published a letter from Charlene that explained her son had found his birth mother and they had all attended his college graduation. The reunion had gone so well that the son had decided to move to another state to live with his birth mom and get to know his biological family.

Charlene was happy for her son, yet also had many other emotions and was feeling confused by their coexistence.

That post resulted in a lively and helpful discussion. Charlene wrote in this week with an update, and she doesn’t mind that I share it with you. We both feel there is value in seeing what happens when a person has no choice but to trust the process (well, I suppose you can fight the process, but in adoption that rarely ends well).

adoption reunion live with birth mom

Charlene’s Update

Hi, Lori.

It has been about a year since my son reunited with his biological family and moved thousands of miles away to another state to live with them. We visited him there twice and he was home last Thanksgiving briefly.

There were months when I doubted what my role was to him. On bad days I doubted if he thought I ever was his mom. On my good days I knew better. I never stopped encouraging him on his journey and being happy for him.

After 12 months there and feeling stalled in carving out a career path, he has decided to come back to his home here to figure it all out. He arrived this morning.

Our relationship with his biological family has grown and meshed and we are in a comfortable place, with respect, gratitude, and boundaries, many of them his. I am now fully able to acknowledge that he is my son and he is his birth mother’s son.  He is going through life, like all of us, trying to figure it all out .

I can honestly say I’ve felt more these past 18 months than I have in a lifetime…

All my best,

From Either/Or to Both/And

Thanks, Charlene, for sharing your unique experience. You are further along in this parenting journey than I am and with this letter, you have taught me a little bit about letting go and about what truly binds people together.

From one of the comments on the original post: If he comes back to you, great. If he doesn’t, then you know that in his heart he was never really yours to begin with.

So…great. I suppose then we can infer that he was yours to begin with. While you have always claimed your son, now you know your son claims you, too.

The bigger point, however, is that expanded claiming has been taking place, to the benefit of your son.  After your year of reflection and big emotions, you say he is my son and he is his birth mother’s son. You and your son’s birth family were open to making the shift from an Either/Or mindset to the Both/And heartset, one that enables the adopted person to claim and be claimed by all his people.

I love how his birth mom’s family welcomed you, Charlene, as an extension of their love for him. I love how, now that he’s back with you, he can “keep” his birth family members, as well. You have all worked together to ensure that he doesn’t have to choose.

I’m sure there’s a lot more complexity to your year of emotional upheaval than you mentioned in your letter, but I am thrilled to know that as for the broad strokes, you all were able to keep your beloved son at the center of your intentions.

And that sometimes, trusting the process works out just beautifully.

Read Also


Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.



This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. Whazzat? A post that’s not too long. Head to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

22 thoughts on “Update: the Mom Whose Son Left to Live with Birth Mom”

  1. So nice to read this. How wonderful for her son to have two mothers who are devoted to his best interests, and put their own egos aside. It must have been terribly difficult for her.

    I have to say I didn’t like the comment “if he doesn’t come back, he was never yours to begin with,” because I don’t think children belong to their parents, adoptive or natural.

      1. I was going to say the same. That almost took the joy out of the article as “yours” implies owner. “He is your son” however just speaks to the relationship.

        I’m very glad you had this update

  2. It’s great hearing an update from this “year of big feelings” on all sides. My daughters, now in their 30s, have both said they were glad to have been spared the anxieties and complications of a reunion in adulthood. They have known their extended birthfamily since they were little. I too am glad that I had years to “practice” and get a grip on my insecurities and feelings. Had their original family not been consistently welcoming and and forthright with me, it would have been a lot harder.

    Even so, making the transition from relationships mediated by parents to relationships among adults is complex. I’m still learning about that spiral of understanding, where people process the same adoption information at different levels as they mature.

    One of my daughters told me recently that her birth grandmother had tried to get custody of her as an infant (long before she came to us). It took her aback a bit and made her think about the alternative life she might have led if circumstances were different. The thing is, her grandmother had told me that the day we met 25 years ago, and I had mentioned it to my daughter periodically over the years. I wanted her to know she had been wanted and loved from the get go. It never sank in for her until she heard it as an adult, from the source.

    1. I hadn’t thought about an open adoption as a place to practice dealing with our own insecurities, but it certainly fits. I’d prefer to process things gradually over time than suddenly in one big blast.

      So interesting that the message source had so much to do with the message penetration. Thanks for sharing your family’s experiences with us, Bluepoint!

  3. Lori, thank you for sharing this story that highlights the importance of letting adoptees seek out and bond with their roots. I’m pretty sure I’m the one that made the comment you’re referencing from the original post. I stand by it. As an adoptee, it gives me some peace of mind to know there are adoptive parents who are secure enough to make room for the “both/and.” I didn’t have that luxury. Instead, my adad told me that if I attended a college that my bmom had suggested, then “she could just pay for it too.” Money, power, and control….

    Anyway, I’m very happy for the Amom that wrote in and especially happy for the adult adoptee. He has been released from obligation and has the freedom to chart his own course.

    1. I cannot imagine the difficulty in growing up in an Either/Or situation like you describe.

      I really love your last sentence. I think too often we adoptive parents get stuck in Control Mode, forgetting that at some point our sons and daughters will be in control of things, including their relationship with their birth parents — and with us.

      It’s a good reminder you’ve given us 🙂

  4. I really do love the note, and it’s applicable to everyone. Parents don’t own their children; they raise their children. And raising them means releasing them a little bit at a time until the day they go out in the world and take care of themselves. Most of us will always need our parents — for advice, financial support, a space where we are loved unconditionally — but every kid needs to get the message that it is okay to follow their heart and do what they need to do to be happy.

  5. Thanks to you and Charlene for completing the story for us. It reinforces my current practice of reassuring my daughter that she has two mothers, always.

  6. I’m struggling with some of the vocabulary in some statements.
    First the word “claimed” it makes me feel like an object or belonging, not a human being. The thought my parents claimed me fits right in with the entire unnatural part of adoption. I wouldn’t prefer to say I claim my adoptive parents or biological parents either.
    The young man may have come home simply because it was home and his parents are loved. I don’t think his actions one way or the other is making an official claim about who his true parents are or who is loved more. I can’t seem to know his true feeling but maybe he simply wanted to be back in his most comfortable place. It’s possible he wasn’t looking for “better”or “different”, just simply wanting to know. Of course at that age kids sometimes have other agendas. Maturity usually brings the “Aha my parents aren’t so bad” moments.
    What a beautiful gift to give your adoptive child. Giving them the freedom to search who they are without guilting them, without placing your insecurities upon them. A child will always come back to unconditional love.
    In regards to if he doesn’t come back he was never yours to begin with” he wasn’t the adoptive parents to begin with. He was his bio parents. They made a decision to place him up for adoption, therefore allowing him to have a second set of parents. He then became a child of both couples. Whether he went back or not has nothing to do with ownership. So I feel like the comment is irrevalent. Initially no, he wasn’t their son, but reality is he very soon became the son of both of them. Again these statements and words describe ownership. If we use them in regards to love and the heart maybe I’d have a different feeling. Perhaps you mean he is claiming them in his heart as his parents. Perhaps the statement is also another way of saying ” if he doesn’t come back he never truelly loved you as his parents”. If I left my parents and didn’t return it would have had nothing to do with where I belonged in the beginning. It would have everything to do with where I belonged today.
    This is my interpretation, my opinion only.

  7. So great to see you here, Andrea!

    Please tell me a term that would make you feel belonging but not being owned. I’d heard that “claiming” made some adoptees feel connected but not owned, and I’d like to know if there are other terms that are appropriate.

    As for the son’s motivations, I was thinking how interesting it would be to know how this all seems to him. I’m fascinated by different views of the same situation (e.g. http://lavenderluz.com/2009/09/festival-marnis-version-2.html)

    I like what you’re saying with ” If I left my parents and didn’t return it would have had nothing to do with where I belonged in the beginning. It would have everything to do with where I belonged today.”

    When can I actually see you??

    1. I’d really love to get to Colorado soon. My grandaughter is stealing all my time 😊 Hopefully soon because I really feel like spending time with you. I had planned on Spring but it’s hard to leave because I provide day care for her.

      I can only speak for myself so I’d have to think about it more. These thoughts and emotions are so rare nowadays. I suppose the word claim could be a word that makes adoptees comfortable in the reference to claiming your patents as your own. Maybe I think to literally. If my upbringing or adoption experience was different I might be fine with it also. I think it’s not comfortable hearing the word claiming when used by adoptive parents. Gosh you guys can’t win can you. I went back and reread your sentence and I can now see you are speaking from the heart. Meaning I’ve always accepted him as my son?? Sometimes words and meaning can be tricky especially with a population that is sensitive to it.
      Hard sometimes to interpret without hearing the emotion or expressions in person.
      I adore that you can read my response and not take offense. I worried you may misunderstand me and think I was giving you a lecture on verbiage. Lol

  8. How wonderful to have an update, to see how things developed. I think this really illustrates your Both/And mindset. And it’s true, no one “owns” their children, they are their own entities and I think managing the relationship of the adult child is difficult for everyone, but especially tricky when there’s this sense of letting go, worrying about your own feelings while supporting your child’s desires to fully know all the parts of themselves, even as you fear the loss that could possibly happen. I believe that the past 18 months were more full of feelings than any other time period, this is such a complex situation, but one full of emotional growth and strength on everyone’s parts. Beautiful post.

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