How to Tell Your Adoptive Parents That You Are Searching for Your Birth Parents

When I began the search for my biological roots, I was unsure about how to tell my parents.

Tom Andriola September 16, 2015
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Growing up, I was always curious about my roots. I also had parents who loved me and doted on me. I was adopted at three months and was the pride of the family. I was the first grandchild on my father’s side, and the second on my mother’s. But growing up, I knew innately that something was missing. And when my parents adopted two older boys who threw the house into chaos, that feeling was magnified.

Still, while I was aware of it, there was nothing that pushed me to do anything about searching for my biological roots until I was in my mid-twenties. Besides, I had no idea how to go about it, and the fact that I thought I would be doing a disservice to my parents by proceeding with a search held me back, at least a little bit.

But the urge got stronger, and I began to think more seriously about it. I knew my mom had kept in touch with the woman who provided foster care for newborns, including me, and wondered about how I might obtain some of the key information that would lead me on a successful search. At the same time, I really didn’t know how to approach my parents to let them know how I was feeling. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, and I was deathly afraid of abandonment, as many adoptees are.

Tell the truth about why you want to search and what it means to you, but do so with empathy.

I was aware of very limited information growing up. My parents had shared with me that my given name was Stefan and that my biological mother’s name was Margaret. I was born in the Bronx at Misericordia Hospital, and that’s about the extent of what I knew. I decided to throw out a few trial balloons with my mom to see if there was anything else. “I wonder what my last name would have been?” I would say, or, “It would be great if I knew a little bit more about my medical history.”

Eventually, she would say things like, “Are you curious?” or “Would you ever want to search for your birth mother?” I would answer nonchalantly, “Maybe,” or something to that effect. I always felt like I needed to be very cautious for some reason. One day, my parents called me on the phone and said that they had received some additional information from my foster home—it was a piece of paper that had my given last name on it, a major breakthrough in the event that I wanted to search.

After processing this newfound information, I was ready. But I felt like I was ready for myself, and not ready to tell my parents about it. I decided to do some preliminary research on my own, first using the internet. When I hit on a name and address that I thought was promising for the location of my biological mother, I knew it was time to speak up. I called my parents, and I was nervous. I was afraid of what they might think when I told them I had found some information and wanted to reach out. I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to replace them, or that I was unappreciative for all they had done for me growing up.  I wasn’t.

They answered, and I told them. They weren’t surprised, but it wasn’t a jovial, free-flowing conversation, either. I felt hesitant, but I knew I needed to move forward. I kept them updated on my progress, told them when I received a letter back from my birth mother, and that we planned to meet. They were happy for me, but I felt like the process evoked some strong feelings from their end, just as it had on mine.

After some time, I think they realized that my search didn’t change my love for them, or the fact that I had always considered them to be my parents and always would, and that I was not trying to replace them. Years later, I would decide to search for my biological father. The conversation with my parents seemed to go easier because we had gone through the process once before. That time, they seemed more open to conversation, and I felt that the entire process actually brought us closer together.

Today, I talk about my search with them from time to time, but I still find myself being cautious. I don’t want to hurt their feelings in any way, and that may be why I still find it difficult to ask them about other details surrounding my adoption. In any case, my advice to adoptees who are searching for their biological parents is to be assertive. Tell the truth about why you want to search and what it means to you, but do so with empathy. You should not feel guilty about it.  It’s natural to want to know your roots and, as an adult, you have every right to be assertive in your quest while being mindful, respectful, and understanding of the impact it may have on your parents.

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Tom Andriola

Tom Andriola advocates for adoptee rights and shares his personal experiences about being adopted and his successful, independent search for both biological parents. To see more of his writing, visit Tom's Facebook page.


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