adoption the child is mine

Her Son is Only Hers. She Can’t Bear to Think Otherwise.

Question: I’m in a support group for adoptive mothers. We have a new member who adopted her son at about 3 months old. The boy is now 5.

This mother strongly believes her son is hers and there is no need to talk about adoption with him.  Her husband supports this opinion.

She broke down crying when we talked about how her son already knows and feels the truth. I would like to break into her resistance gently so as not to lose her attendance in our support group. What can we say to make her understand?

— Zilla

adoption the child is mine

Mental Gymnastics

If I were in a support group with this woman, I would start by recognizing her pain, her brittleness. I blame the Closed Adoption Era (not her fault), which really did a number on all of us, not least of all adoptive parents.

When we create practices and policies out of secrecy and shame, we are forced into an Either/Or mindset. When we are in an Either/Or mindset, we can accept only one set of “real” parents.

But when there are, in reality, two sets of parents — one of biology and one of biography — we must then do some mental gymnastics in order to continually contradict what actually happened. We must deny and negate one set of parents in order to legitimize the other.

If, deep down, you know you are not The Only, and if, deep down,  you know you have based your reality on only select bits of truth, you are going to be fearful of Truth and fearful about it making itself known in unexpected ways.

No wonder you feel as though you live in a house of cards build on sand. No wonder you want to put your fingers in your ears and sing laaa-laaa-laaa-I-can’t-hear-you.

Of course you know these things and of course you are going to feel the opposite of resilient. This is not a healthy place to parent from, to live from. In fact, it must feel terrifying. This constant fear of Truth makes you brittle.

So I start from a place of compassion for the plight of this mom. And I would let her know this isn’t the only way to view your family ties.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternative to living in fear of Truth.

What Would it Cost to Give the Greatest Gift?

Next I would try to get her out of her own fragile perspective and see from her son’s. This will be this mother’s saving grace, not to mention her child’s as well.

I’d say:

Yes, your son is yours. From your point of view, perhaps it feels like he is ONLY yours.

But listen to what adoptees say: when you take this ONLY stance because of your own needs and insecurities, you are forcing your child to negate his own DNA, forcing him to ignore and deny parts of his very being.

The evidence of Truth is in every cell in your son’s body. Why not simply accept the truth rather than fight it? You can’t possibly win when you battle Truth. It’s so much bigger than we are.

What would it cost you to expand your perception of who your child is connected to, and accept that another couple has a legitimate connection to him? What if doing this is the greatest gift you can give to the child you love, and what if, in clamping down from your need to feel “real,” you are damaging the child you love?

Surely you can make this sacrifice for your child. Surely you can deal with your own issues so your child doesn’t have to. This is what parents do: put their child’s needs ahead of their own fears.

I’d then suggest this mom tune in to the resources below.

Listen, Watch, Read:

About this Open Adoption Advice Column

open adoption advice

  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
  • Readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. Remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.
  • Send in your own open adoption question. I’ll either offer an answer or find someone who can address your issue.

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

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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.

17 thoughts on “Her Son is Only Hers. She Can’t Bear to Think Otherwise.”

  1. It’s interesting that the person joined the group. I would ask her why she joined. What she is hoping to get out of it. If things aren’t working for her or her son, is that an indication that maybe she needs to be open-minded to trying new things?

  2. There is so much here with this woman and her husband. It’s clear that there was some trauma prior to adoption (infertility maybe) that is helping drive this thinking as it’s both a “we’re putting all the bad stuff behind us” mindset combined with “our son only has ONE set of parents” mindset. That’s such an awfully thin fascade that will only create a lot more hardship for all involved.

    So I’m addition to this advice above, I think it’s worth exploring with this woman what brought her and her husband to adoption. If it was a way to resolve infertility, then it would benefit both of them to address that trauma and the loss of their biological children (which is very real). If it wasn’t, it’s still worth exploring the root of what brought them on this road of family expansion. But above all, compassion. Because all involved are really hurting.

  3. Does this mean she doesn’t plan to tell her son that he is adopted? Or does she feel she can’t handle having conversations about his adoption and original family?

    If it’s the first, I don’t know how gently one can point out that it is highly unlikely she and her husband can keep that secret. Too many people already know that a three-month-old appeared in their house, not to mention future DNA screens or contacts made by his birth family. Every month that passes increases the likelihood that they will lose his trust once he knows he was lied to about something so central.

    If it’s the latter, maybe ask her what is the worst thing she can imagine happening once they start talking? For me, once I can name my fear, I can narrow it down and be more realistic and pragmatic about my choices.

    Her son’s other family members aren’t rivals, they are completion. The expressions and features and funny little quirks she loves so much and couldn’t bear to lose, those come from them. Embracing the other family in her heart and her conversation can help her see and love her child more fully.

  4. “What’s my worst fear?” — such a helpful thing to confront and resolve one’s fears.

    And this, Bluepoint, is spot on: “Her son’s family members aren’t rivals, they are completion.” Wow, so well said.

  5. Love your process through this. I used an egg donor to have my daughter, so while an adoption isn’t the same thing, I’ve heard this going around as egg donor moms too: that they don’t plan on telling their children. And in that way, so many of the same emotions come up for both parties that can be detrimental if not handled properly.

  6. You are all much nicer than I am. I think the nicest I could be would be to send the woman a copy of Lori’s book and testimonies from LDAs. I don’t understand how people pass home studies without knowing that they MUST tell their kids they’re adopted from the day of placement onward.

  7. She is doing a lot of damage to her adopted son with this attitude. He already had a mother when she adopted him. She has never been and never will be the “only mom.” If I was in charge of screening HAPs, I would automatically eliminate anybody who had this mindset. She’s dismissing not only his original parents, but his DNA and everything he has that came from them. This type of attitude can punish a child for not fitting the mold or measuring up to the ideal that his adopters have for him. He will eventually find out he’s adopted, and it’s going to hurt a lot of people – him most of all, but many others.
    If she can’t share her adopted child with the mother he first belonged to, how can she share him with other important people in his life? What will happen if he forms a close bond with an adult mentor such as a teacher or youth leader? Or a girlfriend, a wife, in-laws? She’s going to have serious issues with letting him go. Parental enmeshment is dangerous for the child’s autonomy, and he may well resent it later. She needs to be told that the mother of her son will always be part of his life whether he is in active relationship or reunion with her, or not. Even without adoption, no human being is the exclusive property of another.

  8. As the mother of kids from gamete donation (we are honest and open and in contact with the donor), let me just say that for some people not having our own genetic children really sucks. It hurts. A life dream will never happen. I hate that I did not have my genetic child. I hate that some woman out there (well, in my case ‘Belinda’) is the genetic mother of my children. I hate, hate, hate it.
    Yet, for my kids sake, we have invited her in – and kept her in – our lives. We aren’t exactly friends. I compare it to having been intimate with a stranger (after all, we made children together) and now it feels kind of awkward. But she is fine with my awkwardness and she lets me lead on how we frame it and what we share. Right now – we share everything / anything and I frame it as “Belinda is your maternal genetic contributor”.
    My point is, I get that someone would like to pretend that we had our mutually genetic children. I get that the mom might feel she NEEDS to pretend. But I can say it gets easier with practice and I am convinced (and scientific studies support this) that it is better to be honest and find your way the best that you can.
    Also, despite my uncomfortable feelings about our donor, I want to say on the record that she is an amazing woman and I am thrilled that she is part of our lives.

  9. The adoptive mom has two things working for her: the support group and member who wrote to you, and you and your advice. I love that you started with compassion. Because it is fear that is driving her, and only compassion will help her feel safe enough to admit the fear, and then begin to work through it.

    It’s always enlightening reading your blog.

  10. I work with adopted children, and three of my nine children are adopted.
    I believe that adopted children, many of whom have suffered early childhood trauma (and being separated from the woman who carried you for nine months is a trauma) already know that they are somehow “different”. Explaining adoption to a child who feels different can be a huge relief. It’s as if the pieces of a puzzle start coming together. Once this is out in the open, the child is free to grieve and start on their healing journey with the help of a professional or a therapeutic parent.

  11. The opinions on what people feel this mom should do is well covered in these responses. So lovely, all of you. I am a mother to a son we were so blessed to adopt and I cringe to the deepest levels of my soul to think of a “reveal” day when one learns their parents adopted them. Really no matter where the information comes from. The very first photo in the very first baby book we have is a photo of my husband, me, our son, and our son’s birth mother. I made it a point for the first years of his life until I was clear that he understood, to point out that photo as we looked through the book and every time we open the book, to this day (with our almost year old son), it is the first thing we talk about. For the sake of her son, I hope so so so much that she tells her son immediately his life story so that they do not end up with a terrible, un-repairable rift of distrust.

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