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More Mucked Up Adoption Advice from Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

I wonder if you might consider outsourcing responses to questions you get about adoption. It’s evident from your previous misguided advice that you are sometimes out of your element adoption-wise. Let me get readers up to speed on this latest request for adoption advice.

Dear Abby adoption questions

Dear Abby: Should We Let Birth Grandparents In?

Uncertain Down South said that she and her husband met their daughter’s birth parents briefly in the hospital at the time of her birth, but the birth parents wanted no further contact. Both birth parents had issues with drug addiction, and the daughter was born with drug issues, as well.

A few years ago upon the birth father’s release from jail, the birth grandparents asked for photos of the daughter to share with him, in an effort to prompt him to make better life decisions. The adoptive parents sent a collection of photos. The birth father has since returned to jail and still seems to not want contact.

However, the birth grandparents would like to build a relationship. And the daughter, now 6, is is asking about her birth father.

Mr. Uncertain wants to keep things closed because (1) that was the original agreement with the birth parents, and (2) he’s worried that if one child has contact with birth parents, then the other children, who have no contact with their birth parents, may be hurt and jealous.

The adoption agency has no advice on whether to proceed, and if so, how.

Uncertain Down South has these concerns:

  • Will the daughter one day be upset that her parents kept her from her birth parents?
  • Won’t it will be messy to deal with a family that has complicated drug and legal issues?

Dear Abby’s Adoption Advice

Abby started by chastising Uncertain Down South: Your daughter’s birth parents made their wishes clear from the outset. You wouldn’t be in this bind if you had respected them.

She then offered a warning: Because your daughter’s birth parents are addicts, it is very important for her to understand that she may have a genetic tendency toward addiction herself.

She closed by advising that the adoptive parents kick the can down the road 12+ years: If she would like to locate her birth family when she is an adult, tell her you will help her then. But prepare her in advance so she will know what she’s in for.

What Dear Abby Needs to Know about Adoption

I said  in a recent workshop that openness is when people deal with What Is. And closedness is when people DON’T deal with what is. Instead maybe they deal with what they wish were true, or perhaps they don’t deal at all.

So first of all, kudos to Uncertain Down South for knowing that she has an issue she can’t ignore. The birth grandparents are there, knocking at the door. The daughter is there, asking questions about them. The issue does need a plan, something more immediate than “wait several years.”

Secondly, Abby’s criticism of Uncertain for not respecting birth parent wishes is unfair. Two points here: Contact isn’t just for the birth parents. Forming a conduit between the child and her biological kin can also serve the child well as she does her life’s work of gathering her pieces and building her identity. Adoption creates a split in a child between her biology and her biography, and openness (not necessarily contact) can be an effective way to heal that split.

In addition, birth parents aren’t the only ones in the biological family affected by adoption, nor are they the only ones that can provide a connection to the child’s puzzle pieces. Birth grandmother Mary Jo Bennett shared her heartfelt story of loss and acceptance when her daughter decided to place Mary Jo’s granddaughter in an open adoption.

(Uncertain does not indicate that birth grandparents are unsafe).

Thirdly, let’s address the father’s concern that providing contact with  birth family to one child would rock the boat for the rest of his children.  I get this. We really do want to treat our children fairly.

But is that always the most appropriate course? Remove the adoption charge and consider an equivalent situation: one child qualifies for an advanced math class  and the others don’t. Or one makes the team and the others don’t . How to approach such an imbalance of natural gifts?

Parents in such a situation might aim to meet each child where they are. They probably wouldn’t aim for absolute fairness — reducing the opportunity available to one in order to make things equal for the others. Keeping the mathy kid out of advanced math class just doesn’t seem right, does it? Declining the chance to be on the team on account of fairness doesn’t seem right, does it?

Parents facing this challenge would probably help each child understand, gently and age appropriately, why things are the way they are, and would abide with them if and when they feel sadness. We can’t protect them from all sadnessnor should we — but we CAN help them develop resilience as they process sadness and disappointment.

Finally, Uncertain asks two questions. Will her daughter one day be upset for keeping birth grandparents away? There is a real risk of this, based on what adult adoptees say about  being kept from their truth and from loving connections, out of misguided efforts to protect.

And, Uncertain asks, won’t this be messy? Almost certainly it will. Parenting in general isn’t for the faint of heart, and adoptive parenting requires that parents be willing and prepared to deal with even more issues and more complexities.

That’s dealing with What Is, Abby. That’s openness. And openness (which is not the same as contact) can power the GPS that guides adoptive parents through the mess, whether or not there is contact with birth parents.

More Assvice

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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28 Responses

  1. When I first saw this post with Abby’s response, I literally wanted to reach through the computer screen to throttle her. It was terrible advice filled with so many misconceptions and closed-mindedness. The comments were even worse. And the sad part is they all believe that what they are promoting is actually a good thing.

    I agree with you that Abby needs to start consulting the adoption community for letters like this. Because right now her column is preaching a hateful and fearful message. She can do better. And I’m certain her late mother would agree.

    1. Actually her late mother was if anything worse on open adoption issues. I was worked up enough that I wrote to her myself maybe 25 years ago, when she went off on an adult adoptee who wanted to search for birthfamily.

      So her acknowledgement that the daughter has a right to search as an adult, however insultingly phrased, is actually a step forward.

      The idea that birthparents are frozen in time–forever in the state that made relinquishment necessary at one point in their lives–seems like the equally ugly flip side of the way we tend to treat adoptees as eternal children who don’t know their own minds about family.

      1. Your last paragraph especially, Bluepoint — yes. There is a tendency to hold first parents and adoptees static, when really we know better, that things are dynamic. We shouldn’t lock either in to a moment in time.

      2. Ah, so it’s learned behavior. Makes me shake my head even harder.

        Thank you for writing 25 yrs ago. This bad advice needs to be called out

  2. Oh, no. What terrible advice that plays into fear and misconception rather than helping this 6 year old girl (and her parents) navigate her family. I agree — you can’t protect children from sadness, and “fair” doesn’t really apply in this circumstance. Birth grandparents don’t always get to be a part of the adoption arrangement, and it seems like such an opportunity to gather more pieces. The safety issues don’t seem to apply to the grandparents. And shame, shame, shame on Abby for saying “so she knows what she’s in for.” What a negative way to present communication about birth parents that needs to be had whether they are present physically or not. Maybe she needs to start directing questions about adoption to people who have more experience with the complexity and sensitivity inherent. Argh.

  3. Thanks for this post Lori. Dear Abby lacks insight and needs to educate herself on this and many other issues. Sharing her antiquated, biased, and fear-based ideas only perpetuates adoption myths and stereotypes.

  4. Thank you for this, Lori. I had the same reaction to Abby’s advice, for the same reasons. She just really doesn’t know what she’s talking about when it comes to adoption. I wish she would consult someone who *does* know, because she’s consistently giving out terrible advice on adoption-related questions.

  5. And this is why I stopped reading Dear Abby a while ago. I realized what terrible advice she gave when it came to IF and adoption, and it made me wonder if she gave equally bad advice on other topics but I just didn’t know enough to know that. You need a newspaper advice column 🙂

  6. Our son’s birth mother wanted his adoption to be closed, but his birth grandparents wanted contact. Over the past four years we have developed an amazing relationship with them. We see them frequently and our son knows them just as well as my husband’s mother and my father. That relationship even opened the door for eventual positive contact with our son’s birth mother (upon her request) and with his siblings. Our son has a very important connection to his biological family. He doesn’t have to wonder where he came from. When he’s old enough to ask tough questions that I can’t answer, they can help. And right now, he has more people in his life who love him. Who wouldn’t want more love in their lives?

    This little girl’s parents can certainly decide what is the appropriate amount of contact, the when and the where, taking her safety and well-being into account, without hiding her from the truth and preventing her from forming what could be a very positive, healing relationship in her life.

    Don’t let fear rule your choices. Give love a chance!

  7. If you are like me, you see this in your life every day. People either look shocked that you have an open adoption, or they comment only on how nice it is of you to let her see him (our son). No one ever gets (without some discussion) that we do it first and foremost for our son. Connections are important, history is important, and questions-even the tough ones- deserve answers. I hope Dear Abby sees this and starts to “get it.” I must say, though, that writing to Dear Abby about something this important seems a little strange to me…

  8. Thank you Lori, I hope that Abby reads our responses.
    I am appalled at dear Abby’s response. I am in a similar situation, both of my daughters birth parents are addicts. We sought out both of them to get health records (infant adoption through foster care) We contacted birth dad through his parents infromation and now we have contact with them. They have become a third set of grandparents to all 4 of my children. I can’t imagine our life without them. They only met our other children 9 months ago and are already a part of our family. I see no problem with have more people to love and be loved by. When has that ever been a bad thing?
    My daughter will know her story, the good and the not so good at age appropriate times. I never what any of it to be a secret from her. Secrets can be so dangerous, forever secrets that is.
    And I cherish the communication we have with birth mom through emails. Though she’s not ready for more at this time I respect that. And guess what? She is currently 23 months sober, people can change. And if they have support from loved ones it makes it that much easier.
    If I had to choose one word to describe Abby’s advice I would use heartless.

  9. I didn’t read Dear Abby but as much as you all hate it. If the parents wanted it closed that means for entire family. Sure the grandparents want to see them but its their children that made the choice and they have to answer for it. I for one would like open adoption for a child I get to adopt. But there is no sin in waiting to help the child when they are older to search for their birthparents. Or Grandparents for that matter. I understand this may anger you all but you have to understand the laws go for the parents wish not the grandparents.

    1. Teresa, I hear you. The law does not give rights to birth grandparents.

      However, there is a difference between the law and the spirit of the law. In adoption, the former tends to focus on the grownups, and the latter focuses more on adopted person at the center. As TAO hints at, where do the rights of the child (who doesn’t remain a child) come into play?

      I’m glad your open to open adoption for a child you may get to adopt. More than contact, you may find that openness is what will build a foundation of trust and intimacy between you and your child.

  10. “Mr. Uncertain wants to keep things closed because (1) that was the original agreement with the birth parents”


    “Abby started by chastising Uncertain Down South: Your daughter’s birth parents made their wishes clear from the outset. You wouldn’t be in this bind if you had respected them.”

    I see this same type of sentiment expressed in adoption and it always makes me angry.

    First – how dare an AP make agreement that puts someone else’s wishes above what may be their child’s best interest. You can’t make a promise like that as a parent – to put someone who gave away their parental rights over what’s best for your child.

    How far is a parent who makes a promise like that willing to compromise their child’s best interests, or needs, because the parents by birth didn’t want contact a) only for stuff that makes life easier for you, i.e. doesn’t change the status quo, or b) if you child’s health was on the line. If you answered b) then you failed in my opinion.

    Abby gave crappy advice, Lori gave good advice. I vote for Lori to answer all adoption questions for Abby.

  11. Geez, what a response for the dark ages. I’m getting used to seeing media screw up adoption stuff all the time but it this badly. I hope you sent your response to Dear Abby.

  12. Open adoption is usually “outside” any law. Parental rights are transferred to the adoptive parents, so their decisions regarding visits with relatives and friends are up to them, although it is certainly right and good to be paying close attention to what is good for the child and what is kind to the other relatives. If the birth grandparents wish for contact with the child, who does this hurt?? It is likely to be beneficial for the child and should be encouraged.If the birth parents do not want to participate, they do not have to.

  13. Wow! I’m sad this family felt they had to go to Dear Abby and truly hope they have a supportive adoption community now. Hopefully they were offended with her response and it didn’t sit right with them and they sought (and found) solid wisdom elsewhere.

    It WOULD be amazing for you contribute to responding to these types of questions for adoptive parents, Lori. I know it’s all very sensitive because there are many adoptee voices that are powerful and would be great at answering many of these types of questions. While that is true, your wisdom is real and your approach is humble. I guess it would be amazing to see a team of adult adoptees, you, and maybe a few other adoptive parents with different perspectives having panel discussions with these types of questions.

    Just in case you’re thinking of doing it, I’ll start making my list of questions 🙂

  14. This article hits close to home for me. Our daughter and granddaughter lived with my wife and me for 2-1/2 years and everything seemed perfect. My wife and I took a vacation by ourselves for the first time in 20 years. When we returned home, our daughter told us that she had given our granddaughter up for adoption. I told my daughter that her mother and I would raise her but she wouldn’t budge And three days later, we watch as she was driven away.
    This was an open adoption and the adoption parents agreed to allow us to be a part of her life. We had a FaceTime call a couple of months after she left and thought it went well, but then no communication for almost 5 months, until we contacted the adoption agency. They set up a visit that only lasted a couple hours, but it seemed to go well, but then again no communication until Christmas. They sent us aPO Box number to send presents, so all the next year we sent cards, presents for birthday and holidays, again with no response. Then on December 24, 2015 we recieved all the cards and presents back from the post office. Apparently no one ever came to pick them up. It’s now end of July 2016 and still no communication.
    I wish grandparents had rights when it come to their grand children, but all the attorneys tell us that when the parents sign their rights away, they also sign the grandparents rights away.

    1. Oh, Phillip, that sounds devastating to lose your granddaughter — and then have promises broken. As sad as I am for you, I am even more sad for your granddaughter, who has also lost ties to her clan of biology.

      I wish your daughter’s adoptive parents would somehow read my book. It was written to help dissuade people from constructing situations like this. Many agencies around the country are suggesting their clients read it — for exactly the reasons you are finding out by living with the consequences of an Either/Or mindset.

      I am so sorry for your loss.

  15. Thank you Lori.
    I have recently found out where my granddaughter and her adoptive parents live. I am planning on sending them a copy of your book along with the photograph of all of us from our only visit from September 2014.
    I hope this is a good idea. I don’t want to risk alienating them or cause them to fear that we know where they live.

  16. I just commented this on her page but probably no one will see it now it’s a few months old.
    What terrible advice Dear Abby and what nasty comments towards the grandparents from the commenters.
    If you think telling the child – no, you’re not allowed to have any contact or any information about your birth family but I can tell you that you’ll probably be an addict because of them – is great advice then you should hang up your hat. Or stick to trivial social etiquette issues. You have no experience in such a serious subject so I believe you shouldn’t give your opinion about this at all.
    I’m adopted and I would have hated my adopted parents so much if they had that attitude. Don’t be surprised that once she’s a teenager she will probably start causing trouble because of this, NOT because of her DNA!!!
    Even though I was told, by my mother, at a young age that I was adopted, my father wouldn’t even discuss the issue. If it ever came up he would say “Are you ashamed of us?” No, he was the one that was ashamed (that he couldn’t get my adopted Mum pregnant). I just wanted answers. That made me think there actually was something wrong with me and that I should be ashamed. My adopted parents never knew anything about my birth parents so couldn’t answer anything. It was very frustrating.
    What no one is saying is how desperately adopted children want to know who they are and where they came from. Whether it’s good or bad. I only met my birth mother last year (at 49 years of age) and found out the the truth about my adoption. I was a product of rape by a stranger. Now that isn’t something you would tell a 6 year old but at some stage I could have been told, but it obviously wasn’t told to my adopted parents in 1966. I’m glad I know now even though it’s awful. According to your advice, Dear Abby, maybe I might be a rapist too? (rolls eyes)
    No one knows what the grandparents are like but so many are assuming they’re evil child abusers who turned their kid into an addict. I didn’t know you were all psychic!
    It’s easy to find out if the grandparents are ‘bad’ for the child and that is give them a chance. As soon as there is any sign of any toxic behaviour then stop all contact. They’re not going to damage her with one meeting. You just have to explain to her in a way that she understands that they’re not well, just like her Mummy and Daddy are not well. I don’t know, don’t you think that’s better than assuming they are bad people? At the time the child was relinquished, the grandparents, for any number of reasons (illness, poverty, working full time, etc.), couldn’t care for the child, they probably still can’t, but that does not mean they don’t want to see the grandchild now and then.
    The general attitude of this thread is If you are an adopted parent it means that you ‘own’ the child and know all the answers to what is best in this situation. Ummm, no, you are just a normal person who has either limited or no experience as to what is best long term for adopted children. The comments are showing that everyone is putting the adopted parents first. Why? They are the ones who have the least emotional damage in this situation. The birth parents are too damaged to know what is going on but if they get their lives together (yes, it does happen) they will have much pain; the child involved will always wonder why she was given away and why she can’t meet her other family; and the grandparents have lost a grandchild they would have cherished only through the mistake that their child made.
    if you adopt a child thinking it’s going to be an easy ride than you’re going to be very disappointed. Having your own birth children is hard enough without adding the issues that come along with adoption as well.

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