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7 Points About the Birth Mom Conversations

Recently my son opened up to me asking questions about his birth mom and I responded as best I could. The first two posts in this series simply recounted the conversations. In this third and last post, I offer commentary about the dialog between my son and me and about the comments the posts generated.

1. Know what it is, and know what it isn’t.

The questions Reed asked and the things he said in his wondering about Michele didn’t hurt me at all (other than the fact that he was hurting). Why?

BECAUSE NONE OF IT WAS ABOUT ME. This knowing is what enables me to be fully present for my children during such times. This point is key for adoptive parents to get — deep down in our bones. This was about my son and his innermost feelings. He will have them whether or not I am comfortable with him having them. The question is, can he trust me to feel them on the outside of himself?

2. Become impervious.

Allow, encourage, enable your kids to feel their feelings about their birth families, and do it imperviously, as you do when discussing other hurts they have that also have nothing to do with you: a broken toy, being spurned by a friend, not making the team.

The feelings about birth parents are likely more intense, but they are no more about you than these other scenarios are. The questions and wondering about the birth family are not about you and therefore take away nothing from you. Take yourself out of the equation and it all becomes so much simpler.

3. The myth of strength.

I am not any stronger than any other parents. It’s just that I get, deep in my bones, #1 above.

4. Don’t dread having these conversations with your child…

…because, hey, see #1. And decide to enjoy rather than endure these moments of adoptive parenting. Yes, I did say enjoy, because the major benefit here is deepening closeness with your child, and that is a supreme reward.

Opening your heart sets you up for success much better than does gritting your teeth.

5. Don’t dread your child having these feelings, either.

If your child doesn’t ever encounter these emotions, great. If they DO, however, why psych yourself (and your child) out ahead of time? Besides, why would you want to deprive your child of all the soul-deepening and self-knowledge that comes from having feelings, which we label as  “good” or “bad”, but can simply be guideposts for how to live?

Do not ever be afraid of your child feeling her feelings; fear only her NOT feeling her feelings or getting stuck in them. Help your child keep the emotions in motion. It’s repression and stagnation that cause problems.

6. Get to know.

How did  I figure out #1? By listening to adult adoptees. AndiAndy, Jeni, Amanda, Lost Daughters, Torrejon, others. Don’t internalize everything you read but do listen for gems that will help you understand what may one day be felt by your child, as well as the underlying reasons.

7. Don’t underestimate the strength of your child.

A wise school teacher tells me that a child will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set. Notice the strength of my son in these two conversations. He has all that within him. I just held the expectation that he would tap it.

If your child’s story has some difficult components to it, then when you do talk about the hard stuff, envelop him in love and be open to deep wisdom. Also, see the strength and resilience of your child. He needs to see you reflect those traits he already has back to him.

And if you have any further notion that I am “special” in a way that you’re not, please read my Hotel Rwanda post. Anyone strong enough to survive infertility and the adoption process and to undertake parenting is able to rise to adoptive parenting moments like these.

Don’t you tell me otherwise.

GW Simulations, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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27 Responses

  1. This is great! I’m an adult adoptee, and I think your #1 point is lost on many adoptive parents – I know it was on mine. There was always a feeling in my house growing up that I was supposed to move on. That I had parents that loved me and therefore I didn’t need to think about my birth parents. And I wasn’t even adopted as an infant – I was four years old when I was adopted! So I had four years of bouncing between my birth mother and foster families before I went to my adoptive family. I’ve talked with my mom about this recently, and she admits that she didn’t know any better, and that based on what she knows now, she would have handled it very differently. She thought that all she needed to do was love me, and show me a good home, and I would be fine. Unfortunately that’s not enough sometimes.

    I admire you for handling these conversations with your son with such wisdom and grace, and especially for sharing them here for the rest of us. Thank you.

  2. Cough… I also think you’re special. But I also think that this post offers fantastic advice so I just stumbled it. I hope it gets out there to a lot of people who need it.

  3. We adopted our son at birth just over 2 years ago and while I KNOW that I need to separate the birthmom’s pain (perceived) from my pain (real) from my child’s pain (perceived), I’ve had an incredibly hard time doing it. I get sucked into birthmom blogs, adoptee blogs etc…where the pain is laid out there for me to absorb like a big fat sponge.

    The thing I do know is that I actually do not know how my son’s bmom is handling her pain (and really it’s her’s to handle not MINE). Same goes for my son who is by all accounts exceptionally happy and healthy. Now of course, he does not actually know what adoption means yet so those tough questions will come later. What I DO hope is that the adults in this relationship have processed their own pain before he gets to a point of questioning so we can, as you said, allow him to express himself fully without worrying about OUR feelings.

    Anyway, great post as always.

  4. Again you rise the bar! Wow, what insightful, important things and tools. Laying it all out for anyone that adopted, gave up for adoption, was given up for adoption. Plus it’s told with such real life world advice, things that make iit ok to broach the subject, and not fear the things we have control over anyway.

    I’ve said it before but your children are so lucky to have you and the adoption is lucky to have such an amazing advocate! Xo

  5. I don’t have much personal experience with adoption but all your advise above is equally applicable for any parent in a challenging emotional moment with their child. I was particularly impressed with your advise to “keep the emotions in motion”. That concept is universally beneficial in weathering emotional storms. Thanks.

  6. I am so touched by your candidness, Lori. You tell your story with such an open heart. Many lessons would be worthwhile reading for any parents. I remember you before the kids, and I always knew you’d be a great mom. Thank you so much for sharing your life with all of us.

  7. I’m so glad I have your blog to turn to for advice! Even though we don’t have our child yet, your blog is a fount of information and, trust me, I’m soaking it all in. I know it’s going to prove invaluable in the years to come. Thanks Lori!

  8. You are right about being more scared for kids not showing any feelings. It is hard to think what is going on in their minds and how it is affecting them. I am very grateful for the advices. I haven’t yet gathered the strength on how to tell my son about his birth parents. Please pray that I do.

  9. Thank you for this… I need to remember this when my son asks about his dad. It is not personal to me. His feelings about that situaiton are not a reflection on me or on how he feels about his step-dad (who is raising him now). Thank you….

  10. How did I not comment on this yet! What a fabulous post. Thank you for sharing this with us. I know it will help a lot of people who struggle coming to terms with the feelings of their adopted children. Your wisdom and insight on this is so impressive – I am honored to read about your experience and the experience of your wonderful children.

  11. I wonder how different things would have been for me if I had grown up with a mother who viewed adoption the way you do… You know how much you mean to me and how happy I am that your children have you.

  12. I love you. And i love love love this post. Should be required annual reading for adoptive parents.

    You and Reed are lucky to have each other. You may not think you are special but you absolutely are. You are an inspiration. Xoxo

  13. Joining the chorus of people who say that you are indeed special, in spite of what you say about yourself in this post. xoxo

    That said, it is a truly incredible post that I can’t wait to tweet, Facebook and share with those in my life who are parenting children they have adopted. I am so impressed and inspired by how you have been able to be so reflective about your own experiences and learned so much from other’s journeys as well to pull together the wisdom that you shared here. Thank you! 🙂

  14. I second what Han said – the principles of “it’s not about me” and keeping emotions in motion are helpful for parenting through any strong or potentially overwhelming emotions as well. Thanks for this.

  15. The post is brilliant.

    And #1 applies to many situations. If I can only remember that ‘in time’, I wouldn’t short fuse myself so often.

  16. Hi Lori … just popping over from the creme de la creme. What a wonderful trio of posts! Yours were the first that I’ve read from the list.

    So many gems here … and it all applies to general parenting as well as open adoption. I especially love this: A wise school teacher tells me that a child will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set. So true. So important to have faith in them so they can believe in themselves.

    Happy New Year.

    PS Dona Nobis Pacem!

  17. Also being a birth mother myself. We found it a little easier for us all to sit down and talk to my son. It helps him understand that he’s not losing a family but only gaining a huge family that deeply loves him and will always be there for him at any given time.. It’s important to try to involve the the Birth mother. It may help your child not feel these empty feelings. That is if the the birth mother is involved. Hope that can help with any adoption parents out there that have these questions and feel these feelings.

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