While open adoptions are highly encouraged today, semi-open and closed adoptions are still an option. Even if you have an open adoption, different circumstances lead to a change in relationship or contact later on down the road. Whatever the case, there are many adoptees who are not in contact with their birth families, and as they age, they may want to connect with them through reunion.
Helping an adoptee search for and reunite with his or her birth parents is often a complicated process involving many complicated emotions. In an ideal world, expectations for reunion and post-reunion relationships are shared by all members of the adoption triad. However, this is rarely the case. Preparing your child for a reunion is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help him or her during the search and reunion process.
Explore Motivations for Reunion
First and foremost, it’s important for adoptees to understand why they want to reunite with biological family members. Many adoptees want to reunite with their birth family in order to help them form a more complete sense of identity. One’s history and biological family can play an important role in identity formation. It can be tremendously helpful for adoptees to connect with their birth family to learn where some of their personality traits and physical characteristics come from. Reuniting with birth parents can also open the door to filling in gaps of medical histories.
Many adoptees also want answers to questions such as why they were placed for adoption and whether they have siblings. Some adoptees want to connect with their birth family to learn about where life took them after adoption. Others might want to connect to let their birth parents know the kind of life they had with their adoptive family.
Encourage your child to be open to seeing a counselor by sharing some of the benefits with him or her. A good counselor is a nonjudgmental, impartial person your child can talk to about his or her feelings. Having a way to process feelings is vital during the reunion process. You may have a very open relationship with your child: one where you both communicate your thoughts and feelings regularly. However, your child may feel he or she needs to censor certain thoughts and feelings about the reunion process when speaking to you to spare your feelings. A counselor can act not only as a sounding board but can help your child find ways to cope with the intense emotions that surface during the reunion process.
You and your child may be surprised at the intense emotions that surface during the reunion process. Intense feelings of grief, sadness, and anger are common for adoptees during this time, even if your child has had a chance to process these feelings in the past. Confusion, relief, and excitement are also common emotions adoptees feel during the reunion process.
Understand Expectations and Reality
It would be wonderful if your child and his or her birth parents have the same goals for connecting, but that is not always the case. One party may want a relationship following the reunion while the other may not. An adoptee may assume his or her birth parents feel guilty about placing him or her for adoption, when in reality, the birth parents may have deeper, more complicated feelings toward their won adoption journey.
A therapist can help an adoptee explore how he or she might feel in different scenarios and prepare for them. Preparing for different scenarios will be helpful if a reunion doesn’t go as your child had hoped.
Encourage your child to join a local or online support group for adoptees trying to reunite with their birth families. Hearing others’ experiences can be tremendously helpful. The support these types of groups can offer an adoptee during this process is invaluable. The “Search and Reunion” guide here on Adoption.com may be a good place to start.
Be Open and Honest
Some recommend that adoptees should wait until they are old enough to truly understand what the reunion means and are able to deal with the intense emotions that will come up during the process before pursuing their searches. Some Adoptees wait until they are 18 before they begin pursuing reunion with birth families.
If your child wants to reunite with his or her birth family, be honest about your thoughts and feelings. You can help alleviate your child’s fears of how their reunion will affect your relationship by reassuring them that you will always be there for them. Let your child know that his or her desire to connect with his or her birth family doesn’t hurt your feelings or offend you. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can offer to go to the reunion meeting or be available to talk afterward.
Reading others’ stories of their reunions may also help prepare your child for the various possible outcomes of a reunion with his or her birth parents. There are countless reunion stories you and your child can read online or watch on YouTube. Anthologies also offer reunion stories. Some good books on the subject of reunions you and your adoptive child might want to check out include, “Adoption Reunions: A Book for Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents,” by Michelle McColm; “Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Anthology,” by Laura Dennis; and “The Adoption Reunion Handbook” by Elizabeth Trinder, Julia Feast, and David Howe.
Preparation is an essential part of the reunion process. Adoptees who identify their motivation for wanting to reunite with their birth families, talk to a therapist, prepare for various reunion outcomes, and have support can be more prepared to handle the complicated emotions that come with reuniting with their biological families. You can help your child prepare for a reunion by being loving, supportive, and encouraging him or her to talk to a therapist and other adoptees who have gone through or are going through the reunion process.