If you are thinking about beginning an adoption journey, it is safe to say you have done your research. Much like any new parent, especially those who have their noses buried in “What to expect” titles, you want to be prepared for the new addition. Whether you have decided to adopt through the foster care system, have found a suitable adoption agency, have decided upon international adoption, or have been handpicked by an expectant mother, there is much with which to familiarize yourself. You want to be as prepared as you can for not only the physical child but also the emotions, the questions, the developing trauma, and the future challenges that may come your way. There is plenty to consider and it may seem a bit daunting. You possibly haven’t thought of all that the process entails. Truthfully, it’s not always the easiest journey to navigate and, unfortunately, there isn’t a simple step-by-step road map. There are, of course, many places you can find adoption advice to further educate yourself and help you get more prepared. Adoption.com, Adopting.org, and Adoption.org are wonderful resources where you can find the answers to almost any questions you may have as well as adoption advice. Today though, for this article, in particular, I’d like to shift your focus to a topic I never once factored in when I was on my journey to becoming an adoptive parent. Today I’m going to be talking with you about having an open heart about your adoptee’s extended biological family.
When I was first placed with my son, I truthfully had never even thought about the extended family. I was so overwhelmed with joy, bliss, and love, not to mention an intense need to make the transition as easy as possible for him, that my thought process never turned to anything beyond my son. My journey with adoption was through my state’s foster care system, and there were rules and guidelines to be considered. I knew the court had made its ruling regarding the birth parents. I also knew that there might be a point in the future when my son would want the pieces to his puzzle. He might have questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer. I had accumulated as much information as I could on his biological parents and made sure to save everything for his future, but would that be enough? Was there more that I could do for him? We all know how important it is for us to know who we are. Was there a biological family that could help bridge that gap?
When I was notified that there was an extended biological family, I wasn’t particularly excited. I welcomed this news for my son, but I had many misgivings about meeting the extended family. How would this affect my small family and could we find a way to blend our two worlds? Would this bring about even more confusion? What if they overstepped or were too different from us? Would they want to share in our everyday lives? I know some of these questions may seem extreme, but suddenly the idea of holding this baby in my arms went from thrill and excitement to an excess amount of dread. I was torn between doing what was right for my child and validating my insecurities.
Of course, like any true mother, my son’s well-being and future were far more important than mine, and that realization made the answer abundantly clear. My perspective also played a factor in my decision. I had to put myself in the shoes of the biological family. This dear family had nothing but love for this young boy. They probably had dreamt about cuddling him and fantasized about the boy and man he would become. They probably had invested time in preparing for his arrival as well, and their hearts were probably filled with love even before he was born. Who was I to break that bond? What made me and my family any more relevant than the family that shared his blood? The answer came easily for me. There was no competition for my son’s love. There was no need to feel threatened or invest in any negative thinking. People say it takes a village to raise a child. Why not willingly accept even more into our village?
Even though I had resolved my fears and decided to open my arms to this other family, there was still plenty of reservation and worry. It’s hard to know where others’ hearts are and where their true intentions lie. I still wasn’t sure if I was getting in over my head. While talking with other adoptive families, I noted how many different ways people included the biological family in their lives. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. I don’t think what one family chooses is better or worse than anyone else. I don’t want you to read this and think that I believe you are making a mistake because you chose a different path or plan to choose a different path. I can only share with you my experience and, for me and my household, this was the second-best decision I have ever made in my life; the first was deciding on adoption.
The day I met my son’s extended biological family was quite nerve-wracking. I didn’t realize until I drove over that as much as I feared meeting them, I also feared them meeting me. Would they think I was too young? Would they judge me for how I had decided to raise this baby? Would they have a hard time realizing that I wasn’t just the woman who had adopted their grandson, nephew, and cousin, but that I was now his mother? Could they let go of the life they had envisioned for him and embrace the life that I was giving him? I will say that this was hands down the most nervous I had ever been upon meeting, essentially, strangers. People always talk about meeting their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Meeting these people was much more nerve-wracking than that. I was nervously shaking my hands and chewing my lip as I carried the infant carrier down the halls to the place I was about to meet my son’s family. I wish I could say that all my fears melted the moment I laid eyes on them, but that would be untrue and quite unrealistic. I did breathe a sigh of relief noting they were just people. Was I expecting something different? They had warm smiles, which I welcomed. They shone with love for my son; after all, they were part of him. He was too little to understand or share in the magnitude of the situation, but it was another event that changed his life. It was the start of our families joining together.
It wasn’t always the easiest of relationships to maneuver. When dealing with so many emotions, opinions, personalities, and feelings, it can be very difficult to continue sailing smoothly. To make these relationships work for all who were involved, most importantly for my son, I had to find a way to release the pressure from myself. I couldn’t avoid these people or try to continuously impress them by being anyone other than myself. I was often worried in the beginning. I almost felt as if I had something I needed to prove. It’s possible that I was seeking their seal of approval. I was afraid, at times, that I would make decisions they would frown upon or that one day they would question my parenting style. I walked around, at first, on eggshells. As I continued to get to know them, I came to find we had some common ground. We all wanted the best for my son; we all put his happiness front and center. Focusing on what my son had to gain from having his extended family took the pressure and focus off of me. It was never about me. It was about the child I had adopted into my heart and promised to love fully. It was about the boy that I agreed to raise as my own and put first in my life always. If they questioned or raised an eyebrow, I could overcome that. If we didn’t agree upon something, it could and would be resolved. If they didn’t approve of me, it would be disappointing but we would set our differences aside and put my son’s needs first. All of those worries and assumptions could take a back seat to what was of more relevance: my son and the significance that these relationships had on his life. Having these people on his side would mean so much more for his future. Over time, they would mean a great deal for my future as well. I just didn’t know it yet.
It didn’t happen overnight, but soon my son’s extended family became an extension of my family. The bond my son developed with these people radiated that of true beauty. It was so pure, natural, and authentic. Our foundation was set around my son, and soon, it built up to be that much stronger. I had a huge appreciation for the love, time, and care that they invested in my child, which continued to grow over the years. They expressed continuous gratitude for me and my willingness to make them feel welcome as part of the family. What started as something I felt I should do or had to do transition into something I wanted and needed to do. I watched how, even at a young age, my son thrived fully and seemed much more complete among his extended biological family. I had an open mind about having relationships with these individuals and those relationships had now formed roots in my heart. My heart was invested in keeping these relationships relevant for not only them and my son but also for myself. It was nice to have more pieces to my son’s puzzle, to learn what his birth parents were like as children, and to fill in all the holes in the storyline after that. I felt like I learned more about my child by hearing these stories, and it made my bond with him that much stronger. I felt that no questions were off-limits, and even before he was old enough to ask, I was doing the asking for him. We were gaining all the missing links and answers to questions he may have developed over the years. They were answers I wouldn’t have been able to provide and which he may have continued to seek if we hadn’t developed these relationships. I was able to collect photographs taken inside the hospital on the day of his birth. They were the only pictures I didn’t have of my son since they were taken before he came to be in my arms. I even had video footage of his first small, fragile, and completely perfect breaths. Now he would have them to look back on whenever he wished. Now he would have people he could sit with and exchange stories regarding his birth parents. He could be granted answers to complex and simple questions. He could gain access to a world that I wouldn’t have been able to shed light on if we hadn’t come together and formed this union. Even though by chance we look very similar to one another, he also shares characteristics with his extended biological family. He won’t have to wonder where the dimples, the eye color, or any birthmark come from; he will see all those similarities in his extended biological family as well. His family has truly completed him—completed us. They are no longer part of another bloodline; they were once just his family, but now they are our forever family.
There are so many things to consider when entering the world of adoption. You will get adoption advice, tips, tricks, and opinions from just about every direction and most of the time it will be unsolicited. Most of us understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to giving adoption advice. We all traveled different roads to end up on this path, and not everything that works for one adoptive family works for another. The takeaway that I’m hoping you get from reading my story and my experience is that having an open mind about your child’s extended biological family can reap great rewards. You can give your child the inside scoop on who they are and where they come from. You can quiet the voices of wonder and provide them with the answers. You can strengthen your relationship and connection with your adoptee by getting an even closer look at where his or her little life first began. Opening your mind to the possibilities of an extended biological family can benefit your child greatly. Opening your heart to the process can bring endless blessings to your child, his or her family, and you as well. May you find all the glorious parts of your child’s heart.Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.