Roundtable: An Adoptee’s Relationship with First Parents

I’m taking a seat at the Open Adoption Roundtable, where the assignment this session involves these italicized thoughts:

[Some say that] adopted persons should be free to initiate relationships with their first families–or not–on their own timetable. The parents (first and adoptive) in an adoption shouldn’t make such an important and personal decision for them.

First, let me address the idea that adopted children (like children in general) should get to take the lead with their relationships. Yes! I support this — in firstfamily, as well as in other relationships. But with no other extended family relationships do we say, “well wait to let little Bobby decide for himself how much and what kind of contact he wants.”

Have you ever heard–or perhaps even made–statements like these?

#1: “The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”

Because I see our children’s firstparents as extended family, I am going to replace one key word to see how logical the new statement sounds:

“The decision to have a relationship with her grandparents should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”

Ridiculous, no? Have a child wait until she’s “ready” to meet her grandparents? When will she be ready, and how would you know?

#2: “Children deserve to have just one family during childhood and not to deal with anything adoption-related until they are more mature. A fully open adoption robs a child of a normal childhood.”

The snag here (well, the one I’ll address) is the word “normal.” What is a “normal” childhood? This argument makes it sound like adoption cannot be part of “normal” childhood, that adoption is “abnormal” (some adoptees may agree with this, but it’s certainly not an idea that parents should perpetuate).

The notion that being adopted is “abnormal” can do more damage to a child than “dealing with anything adoption related.”

“We have medical histories and can share the information we have about their birth parents with our children now. If they feel a need to initiate contact with their birth families when they are adults, we will fully support them.”

We do better to normalize our children’s adoption from as early as possible. Our children come to us living in a gap between their biology and their biography. The sooner this schism is addressed and the less spread open the cleft is, the more likely it is to heal well and completely. Integration of the two parts of an adopted child’s identity should, in my mind, be the responsibility of the decision-makers (parents) from Day 1 with their new child.

It seems to me that search and reunion after a lifetime of separation would be very difficult to navigate — not just the relationship, but the feelings that go with establishing it. If I can prevent my children from having to go through search and reunion, I will. The way to do this is to foster contact with firstparents from as early on as possible.

Obviously, a parent needs to stay tuned in to his/her child to see signs of overwhelm or of distress. But the presence of these is not necessarily caused by openness. It’s just that these feelings are out in the open, not buried. Dealing with any adoption issue in the light, in a supported way, without shame or secrecy — THAT is what adoptive parents should initiate and provide.

As much as possible, I advocate that adoptive parents be introspective about the reasons behind their decisions regarding openness (or closed-ness). In a child-centered adoption, a parent’s own fears and insecurities are examined and resolved, much the way we hope our children’s will be. In a way, we are modeling the process toward wholeness for them.

One caveat: my remarks apply to situations where a family’s safety is not threatened. I am talking about adoptions where the firstparents freely and lovingly placed a child, and are already child-centered– not the drug-addicted wh0re stereotype, and not people who have boundary issues that could result in danger to anyone involved.

For more powerful thoughts on this topic, see this from Heather’s archives.

Click over to Production, Not Reproduction to see what others have to say. And feel free to contribute your own thoughts.

7 thoughts on “Roundtable: An Adoptee’s Relationship with First Parents”

  1. My mother in law would have changed so many things or reactions to issues that came up with her daughter if she knew then what she knows now. They went to a counselor who supposedly dealt with adopted children, he was a quack and in hindsight did more harm than good.
    Great points!

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