In all of us, there is a drive to know. Many of us as adults are still pondering questions such as who am I? where do I belong? am I important? Children and teens go through phases of self-discovery and seek to understand what makes them uniquely them. For children of adoption, there is an added element.
Every adoptive family will choose how to deal with the history of their child differently. Some do not talk about it at all, and others have very open communication about it. It is very common for adoptive parents to be concerned or even fearful when their adopted children want to go past the question-and-answer phase and into the searching phase.
While we went the route of total, age appropriate disclosure and have included and welcomed birth families in to our lives and homes, this is rare. Being a foster parent first, I was quite used to birth family visits, meetings, and the like. However, families of private adoptions and international adoptions, or even adoptions through foster care may not have ever had the information or ability to start thinking about meeting face-to-face. This idea can terrify and even immobilize some adoptive parents. So what do you do when a child wants to search for a birth parent? First of all, remember this:
It is not your choice.
That’s right. That might be hard to read. You might not like it. But, your child is a unique human being with a mind, heart, and soul of her own. I have seen it happen where an adoptive family has forbidden their child from searching for birth relatives, and guess what? It doesn’t work. In this day and age, with technology at our fingertips and in our pockets, kids can hop right on to social media and start searching or posting about trying to find a birth parent. For this reason alone, my husband and I always recommend that adoptive parents deal privately with their fears around this idea, and that may include a counselor or mentor so that they can be fully present and available for their children. If you don’t help them, who will? Because in the era of technology, they can quite literally reach the other side of the world with just a few keystrokes.
In the book, Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child, Betsy Keefer Smalley and Jayne Schooler say: “Many adoptees experienced the ‘disquieting loneliness’ Alex Haley, author of Roots, described. Devastating feelings of abandonment, rejection, shame, and guilt grew out of a lack of knowledge about their heritage and why they were placed in an adoptive family. Adopted youngsters were plagued by questions about who their birth parents were, why they couldn’t care for their children, and whether they would ever meet. Concerns about their genetic past or their medical history left them wondering if something devastating would surface later in life. The need for such knowledge frequently nudged adoptees into a consuming and never-ending search for the truth, sometimes impairing their ability to lead productive lives…some have trouble forming an identity when they reach adolescence because they have been told little to nothing about their past. Others may develop fantasies—both positive and negative—about their birth family. Some adoptees spend a lifetime never finding answers to their questions. For others, this black hole which exists where their past should be becomes too much of an emotional burden for them to bear, leaving deep psychological scars.” It is my firm belief that as adoptive parents, we need to be champions for our children. We need to leave our fears at the door and be the soothing balm required to face these challenges.
After all, there are some things to fear. What if the birth parents don’t respond? aren’t interested? are inappropriate or rude to their child? use our children or suck them in to a lifestyle we would never have wanted for the kids we have spent years raising? Many of us have heard such horror stories. And yet, sometimes we protect and shelter our kids from everything we can, and bad things still occur. We are probably the safest, most reliable bet for our kids facing reunification with a birth parent. We have raised them to this point and proven we are trustworthy, loving adults to them. We have undergone countless moments of pain and sorrow with them already. Who better to be by their side for this most difficult journey that only those who are adopted will ever know or understand? It will not be easy. Maybe a birth parent interaction will be volatile, ugly, unexpected. That is okay; let it go. Stop expecting the fairytale, happy-ending story and start looking for your own journey. It might be raw and unscripted, disjointed, stalling. Or on the other hand, it could be smooth and turn out to be more than hoped for. What if we sat down with the child and explained all of this? Let him know that whatever happens, he doesn’t need to worry about you because you will be fine. And you will, because you will find a counselor, support group, or pastor to help you with any issues you have with this. Let your children know you are here to walk with THEM, no matter what?
Your child might want to search when she is younger than you think appropriate. Your child may want to search when you know there is nothing there. Children who are abandoned and left at orphanages might have precious little to go on. Dig. Deep. Go all in and find any little scrap and hold on to it tight. The name of the orphanage, social worker, flight number they came home on, the date, what they wore home. No matter how little or big, use it all. Make a book, a collage, send letters, Skype, meet in person, and really, really live it. This is your child’s story, and if you choose to, you can help write the part about when he or she discovered the past. Do it often, do it well! After all, as Keefer and Schooler say, “All persons have a right to know their personal history.” Choose to be part of finding their roots.
Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.