Why There is Tremendous Power in Loving Your Child’s Birth Family

Your example of unselfish love will make all the difference.

Melissa Giarrosso January 03, 2016
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As a child, I remember my mother working hard to set an example for me, especially when it came to how people should be treated. She never missed an opportunity to hold a door open for someone, take food over to a sick neighbor, or buy presents for families at Christmas who couldn’t afford their own.

She is still modeling for me through the way she cares for aging loved ones, driving hours out of her way each week to sit with my grandmother, her mother-in-law, patiently feeding her and loving her as Alzheimer’s strips her of her identity and dignity.

I remember my mom being the one who would locate the underdog and befriend her, and now find myself doing the same. I also find myself modeling her behaviors as I find my footing as someone who takes care of her ailing loved ones. The self-worth I’ve found as I’ve made my way through each stage of my life has been gained, in part, because my mother modeled her own self-worth.

But this is what a good mother is, right? Someone who aims to set the very best example possible so her children are able to set standards for not only what they want to achieve in life, but also what they believe they deserve in life?

I can model love as wholehearted, free, without strings, simultaneously cautious and carefree, and always unconditional.

I always imagined parenting would be more complex than I’d imagined, but I never foresaw the intricacies of how each decision I made would impact my children. When we decided to adopt, I explored many deep topics before deciding I could excel. I’d lie awake at night wondering if I could weather teenage insecurities alongside my child—not just the normal variety, but the kind that included abandonment and accelerated self-worth issues. I wondered if I could honestly honor open adoption promises if the birth parents were hard to love.

Something I didn’t wonder about was whether I loved myself enough to teach my children the extent to which they should love themselves. I didn’t dissect my behaviors to determine whether they would help my children learn to be self-aware, be conscious of others’ feelings, or love fully. It wasn’t until my son began expressing himself in complex ways, right around the age of 3, that I realized he was watching my every move and processing every bit of it. My actions were no longer private, and they impacted someone else far more than they did myself. I became hyperaware of the example I was setting.

We show them that there is indescribable beauty hidden within complexities, and taking the easy way out isn’t always the best choice because the struggle makes us stronger.

Every parent has a similar responsibility to their children, but parents who adopted their children have another level of responsibility. We are expected to hold our children’s hands and help them through all of the complexities and confusing emotions of adoption as they come into their own. The goal is to help them realize that adoption is an important part of who they are, but it’s a fraction of the whole. They are creatures borne of both nature and nurture, and they are not carbon copies of their birth or adoptive parents, but their own unique people.

We owe the adoptees we love empathy, recognition of their losses, and the freedom to claim birth and adoptive families alike without allegiance. The only way they are going to learn these lessons is if we assume responsibility as adoptive parents to lead by example.

We show them that everyone has inherited traits, but we must take responsibility for our own actions.

We show them that we have the ability to love an unlimited number of people and that our love doesn’t become watered down as it spreads.

We show them that there is indescribable beauty hidden within complexities, and taking the easy way out isn’t always the best choice because the struggle makes us stronger.

Adoptees will struggle to fully love themselves if they aren’t given the opportunity to accept, and hopefully love, the people who gave them life. It’s our job to show them what this acceptance and love looks like.

I can push myself into paralyzing fear, or I can take a deep breath and accept that there is no easy way out now. There is no laziness, no letting myself off the hook, no giving into my own insecurities.

I love my children’s birth families through the hard times, even when it’s hard to extend love. I show them that ours is a love worth fighting for and there’s no giving up on family. When I do that, I believe I’m showing my children that I love every ounce of who they are, and that I accept their birth families fully as our own, which means I’ll never desert any part of who my children are.

I pick up the phone and call when I get that gut feeling that something’s wrong. We talk through issues before they balloon and explode. We keep each other updated on the good, bad, and in-between. We rely on one another. We include each other and validate one another. We protect one another and cheer, genuinely hoping the other will succeed. We are grateful for each other and the relationship we’ve forged. I’ll never force gratitude on my children for their adoptions, but I will model inclusive and authentic love for their birth families, proactively connecting with them as I do with all the other family I love.

I don’t believe showing love is something all people are born knowing how to do. People need models to show them how to express their love, how to love through the hard times, and how to accept loved ones despite (and because of) their flaws.

This is my job, and when I lie awake now, I still think about whether I’m worthy of parenting these children. I still wonder, at deeper levels every day, how I’m going to make my children proud and help them grow into the people I know they can be.

I can push myself into paralyzing fear, or I can take a deep breath and accept that there is no easy way out now. There is no laziness, no letting myself off the hook, no giving into my own insecurities. Rather, there is hard work, rising to the occasion, and pushing past my own insecurities to become the model my children deserve.

My children deserve a mother who exhibits unconditional love through the recognition that birth family relationships are sometimes sad and messy and sometimes they’re just plain hard, but they aren’t without reward. I can model love as wholehearted, free, without strings, simultaneously cautious and carefree, and always unconditional.

How my children decide to love is ultimately up to them, and I’ll love them through whatever decisions they make or whatever emotions overcome them, undoubtedly still lying awake at night wondering how I can be a better model to them every day.

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Melissa Giarrosso

Melissa Giarrosso is a Staff Storyteller at Adoption.com and a mom to two quirky kids through open adoption, all thanks to infertility and the belief that adoption is never second best. She and her family reside in a suburb of Memphis, TN where they remain faithful members of numerous open adoption communities, gently advocating the opportunities that open adoption affords all members of the adoption triad.


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