The Adoptee Do’s and Don’ts Edition
I have seen too many conversations both in real life and online between both adoptees and birthmothers wonder what they did wrong in an reunion. It often feels like some kind of sick cosmic joke; adoptees longing for relationships with mothers who rejected them and birthmothers longing for relationships with adoptees that have done the same. It’s like everyone is miss matched and it would be so simple to just “adopt” the rejected half to our wholes, but then, we’d still be missing the ones that we all really want: the people were are blood related to.
This post was inspired by writing “Numbers in Adoption Reunions; How Many People Get Told NO?” as I created a list of overall dos and don’ts. The list got too big so I made them reunion dos and dont’s specific for birthmothers. Hence, it’s only fair to make another one specific for adoptees. I touched on What is a Successful Adoption Reunion? in another post. And I got more.
So this is the what not to do version for adoptees!
How an Adoptee Might Hurt Their Birthmothers
Again, this is NOT going to be everything possible and due to the highly personalized nature of adoption stories and then basic personalities, not all things will fit each and every person. Also, I am not an expert at all on any reunion, not even my own! But I have listened to many adoptees and birthmothers over the last dozen years, so I’m pulling open my memory banks and going to share the best I can. Please feel free to add you own as I am sure I missed a whole bunch! I’ll edit them in the list and hopefully it can grow to help others.
Anyway, as I always say, try it on. If it fits or helps, great. If not, just move along.
1. DON’T Use your Birthmother as only a Medical Necessity Clearing House of Information
I know this one is kind of hard as “I want my medical information” is often a first step towards deciding to search and a strong motivating factor. The need for updated medical information is often the cause that “gives permission” for an adoptee to feel they can search or respond to contact. There is nothing wrong with asking for medical information because you should have it, but remember there is a real human being attached to that information. Using her for only medical history feels an awful lot like being used just for our babies.
DO be open to a relationship even if you really think you “just” want medical history. While not all mothers can navigate a reunion to long term success, many can and really want to. Many have been patiently wondering and waiting for your entire life for you to be “ready”. If you are searching with the intent to “just” get medical history, think about what that would feel like to be on the other side. Maybe you won’t be best friends, maybe you will, but at least try to look past the needed information.
2. DON’T Create the Adoption Closet and Make your Mother Live There:
Part and parcel of losing a child to adoption is a feeling of shame. Even if your mother says she “made the best decision” and “doesn’t regret anything” and is “thrilled you had a better life”, chances are there is shame and guilt somewhere. When you refuse to let anyone know about your reunion, it reinforces that YOU are ashamed of her. That feels yucky.
Granted, many adoptees feel that they cannot share this news with their adoptive family for fear of hurting them. A good number of mothers will be able to understand that, but there can also be some resentment that builds up over time. I know that when I relinquished I put everyone else’s needs above my own, but when I contacted my son, for the first time I was able to put my needs at least equal to the desires of his adoptive parents. I don’t want to feel second best anymore. I don’t expect to be THE mother, but I am one of the two. I also didn’t want HIM to be in a place where he had to keep secrets and lie to his parents. That made feel worried about how he would feel lying and how they would feel knowing they were lied to. I felt guilty for putting him in that place. So making things as truthful as possible is a good rule of thumb.
DO take your time and explore what feels comfortable to you. No one is asking you to take out a billboard and announce it on the five o clock news, though many of us feel like doing just that! Many mothers don’t really want to nor expect to be invited to family dinners with your adoptive family, but people don’t want to be talked about in whispers like a nasty rash either. Again, truthful as possible
3. DON’T Insist that You Mother Sees Adoption Through Your Perspective
It’s not a bad thing that you were adopted into a good family and had a really great life. Really, this is your mother we are talking about and we kind of have natural desire to want to see our children happy. But, depending on her part of the story and where she is in the journey, she could also see your adoption as one of the hardest days in her life and it could also be a big cause for trauma and caused great grief and loss. Even if she says otherwise, the pain is usually still there, buried, even if deeply.
Even if you really do feel a great sense of relief that you weren’t raised by her, try not to be so obviously about it. Chances are, she can see the obvious too and might feel either bad that she couldn’t do those very things for you and give you’re the same life or sees that she might have actually been able to give you a good childhood under different circumstances.
DO some research and find out the history and factual information about the adoption industry before you just repeat everything you were told about adoption in general.( More about your specific story later on). Try to understand that your mothers version of her truth does not need to mesh up perfectly with your version of your truth. You had different experiences, that were separate, because of the adoption. Control the “Thank God, I was Adopted!” and perhaps begin to see that there might not be such a clear cut “better”, but only “different” if you were raised by your original family. And no one can ever really know now what that life would have been like for anyone.
4. DON’T Expect Her to Be OK
She might be on the outside. She might have managed to redeem herself from the circumstances that necessitated placing for adoption. She might have also lived her entire life trying hard to follow the stupid rules that claimed she “would get over it” or she might have really “never spoken about it again”. If you are both lucky, then she has begun to process the grief and loss of you and can talk about it, but especially for older moms of the BSE times, having been found might be the first time in your whole life that the reality of what she lost comes back to bite her. And it bites hard!
On the same token, if perchance you mom is not OK as in a healthy emotional or poor life choice sort of way, don’t be so quick to judge her on that. There is a decent chance that some of that was due to dealing with the adoption loss. Self medication through drinking and even drug addiction might be a tool that she used to combat and forgot the pain. Poor choices in the rest of her life, even abusive relationships, could be due to the real lack of worthiness that the adoption industry does so well. When you are such a bad person that you can’t even parent your own baby, often people feel that they don’t deserve anything good.
DO be mindful that adoption screws people up and she might or might not be aware of how it has affect her and continues to do so. You should remember that it’s NOT your fault as you were a tiny baby and for sure had NO choice so you did not DO this to her. You also cannot fix her, but can only support and encourage her to find her own path to healing.
5. DON’T Blame Her 100%
I know this one is hard especially if you happened to be one of the all too many adoptees who did not fare well. While you had NO choice at all whether to be adopted or what family you went to, there is a good chance that her choices were limited as well. I have heard of more reunions go bad and more mothers get really upset after explaining what they went through to their found child again and again and their much desired, much wanted, much mourned for kid is just mean and nasty and crazy angry at them. Yes, you have to deal with your hurt inner child, but keep that inner child in check or let it be expressed in a safe place away from mom at times.
DO get angry that you had a bad parents, but place that anger at who deserves it. Your birthmother might not have been there to save you, but was she told you were in a better place? Did she have a choice? Was she failed by her family, your father, and society as well? Someone approved your adoptive parent’s homestudy. There was agencies, and lawyers and other professionals involved as well. Most mothers will truly BE sorry and horrified that they were lied to about your care. Many will take blame for their part, for believing, for trusting, for giving in. But don’t make her eat the whole regret pie. And if you are still mighty pissed off at her after she has said she was sorry five times, please look for some professional help to work through it. Many moms will do almost anything not to lose their child again, but hopefully no one accepts an unhealthy abusive relationship. Don’t be that adoptee. Don’t let your inner child run amuck.
6. DON’T Make her Stay in Second Place Forever
This one is hard and encompasses a lot of things. Some are subtle and only issues for some folks. Like what do you call her? Is she mom? Is she Bernice? Do you think of her as a new friend? Is she your mother? Is she you children’s grandmother? Now you are in reunion and trying to connect again. How far are you planning on mending it? Many moms are resigned to knowing that they lost your childhood, but the hope of reunion is that they can build a bridge back. Like I can tell you that I don’t want a created role or title when the grandkids come into play. I can share “grandma” but I want my title back. It doesn’t mean I will get it, but I want it. I actually anticipate at this time that that will be the next big hurdle in my own reunion. What happens when my son gets married or has a child? There are no plans for either, but I am already thinking about it.
DO: Talk about it with your found family member. Find that place that works for both of you. Let the other party know how big of a bridge you think you want. Do you want to be like distinct cousins? Do you want to be like sisters? Do you expect her to feel like a mother? The chances are that she will do whatever it is that you want to do simply because she will not wish to risk losing you again, but letting her know will make it so much easier. And then, expect that sometimes, she might squirm a tiny bit and want more. She might hint because she is afraid of asking. If you hear that, talk about it. What she thinks she needs might not be that hard and you might find yourself willing to make that bridge a tiny bit bigger. If nothing else, at least she’s not wondering and worrying.
7. DON’T Accuse her of Lying
When you ask her to tell you her side of the story and it doesn’t match up to what you have been told all your life, there is a really good chance that you have had the wrong information the whole time. Granted not every birthmother is able or willing to tell all the gory details, but I have known more adoption agencies that lie than moms! You don’t even have to mentally pit adoptive family verses birth family. She is not saying that your adoptive parents are lying freaks, but they probably got sold a story from the agency too and just passed on what they were told.
DO read up on the experiences of other mothers who relinquished in the same time frame as your birth. Do some research on even your particular agency . I have noticed that many adoptees have the same basic story that was given to the adoptive parents with the baby! It’s like the agencies knew what makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy and everyone got the same vanilla flavored story.
8. DON’T Keep Reunions Remote For Too Long
( this one is word for word the same for both sides of reunions)
I have no problem with people wanting to take things slow, but both parties should try to keep the other abreast on their personal comfort level. Making the other party wait years for a face to face meeting is cruel especially if you don’t give a time frame to go by. Again, there is nothing wrong with saying something like “I have too much going on right now with school/ my huge project/my sick mothers/ my husband’s cancer/ the move across country and I just don’t think I can handle another important thing right now”, but say, “Let’s talk about this in 6 months and come up with a plan that works when I can give you the full attention that you deserve.” or something. Open ended waiting is going to kill anyone’s good will.
DO be aware that the one who is found often needs more time to prepare. The one who did the searching had time to get ready. Again, it’s about being open and honest.
I have to add that for the most part, I think mothers are more apt to desire to see you sooner rather than later even if the adoptee was the one the initialed the search. After all, often she has been waiting for this a long time. I know I counted down the days for 18 years. Granted I didn’t make it the full 18 years before I found Max, but then I did wait almost 2 full years after contact for the first face to face meeting. I could not wait much longer.
9. DON’T Disappear and Don’t Make us Worry
This is kind of like don’t keep remote, but bigger. Nothing is worse for a parent than worry in my opinion. I tell all my kids that all the time.” Let me know what’s going on, Don’t make me worry. When you make me worry, I get angry.” Mothers, even mothers separated from children form adoption worry, especially mothers separated through adoption worry. We don’t just worry that you will drive into a ditch, but we worry that you hate us. That you never want to see us again. That we did something wrong. That we are smothering you and are too much. That we are not doing enough to show you that we care. So, when you just stop bothering with us and we have no idea why or for how long, a mom can seriously panic.
DO just communicate. It’s OK that you are busy or working or even if you just can’t handle adoption stuff right now. Just drop and email, send a text, leave a message letting her know you are OK. And if you find that you need to take a break for a little bit, that’s OK too. Just let her know. We feel bad when we are ready to jump into that “nagging mother role” and we understand that you often have another mother that you have to placate too, so we don’t ask. But we are worrying.
10. DON’T Make Her Push You Away
This one is hard. Of all the sad reunion tales I have heard over the years, the ones where an adoptee really really just behaves horribly are the ones that make me ache inside. I’m not talking about simple things like not calling her mom ( which is not a big do or don’t!) or even continuing to blame her for the adoption in the first place. We’re talking about serious bad behaviors, like “Intervention” bad stuff that no healthy person can be expected to just calmly accept and let happen in their life. Even if an adoptee is completely justified by the say, circumstances of a horrible adoption gone bad, no matter what your birthmother does, she cannot save you. Granted, it you are in those shoes, the you aren’t probably reading here.
The sad thing is that the moms I do know who did find adoptees with serious addiction issues or mental health concerns felt HORRIBLY guilty and responsible for the place that their child was in. In all cases that I can think of, they went above and beyond what most other folks would do sometimes t the point of really enabling more bad behavior.
DO know that if you are in a bad place and really, really are ready to heal and get over things, there is hope. But you have to be ready to do the hard work too. She does not have a magic wand and the magical childhood powers to kiss booboos away has passed it’s expiration point. Even a birthmother plagued by guilt will eventually have to say enough and create healthy boundaries. Sadly, this seems to be even worse for the adoptee who sees that as another rejection and does not take any responsibility for their behavior. So read the Primal Wound, get help, go into rehab and don’t live in her basement and make her life hell. No reunion, no relationship, can survive that for too long.
The up side is that if this DID happen with you, often, she WILL be THRILLED to try again. Give it a chance.
I know a lot of adoptees over the years have said something along the lines to me of “Why do I have to go through so much effort to understand her. She did this. I had no choice. And it’s always about someone else. When it is about MY perspective, my feelings?”
I hear you. I really really do. And I agree, in perfect world the whole thing would have really been about you and what you needed from the get go. I can’t make that happen for you. And I am sorry. So the question now is; do you want to have some kind of relationship with these people you are related to by blood or not? If you do, then the best I can do is give you a road map. What route you take is completely up to you. I can only point out some pitfalls. Hopefully others will share more too. Maybe between us all, we can make sense of this all.
I told you. I don’t know. I am no expert, I just try to share.
Here’s Other Posts About Adoption Reunion Issues:
please free free to add you own or other links you found helpful:Adoption Reunions: Secondary Rejections & Why Things Go Wrong
1) Find appropriate outlets for your "adoption crazy." Adoption reunions can bring out the nutty in the best of us. Adoptees and first parents may both enter the reunion process with wounds and scars created by their separation from each other.
Hearing the Rejected Adoptee's Pain I hate this conversation. In my opinion, I have it all too often. I hate it when one of my adoptee friends have come out of their adoption fog, gone through an adoption search, found their personal Holy Grail- their very own long lost mother- only to have her send that adoptee away, denied.
Ask yourself, honestly and truthfully, are you thinking ” I will be happy when my birthmother/ adopted child/Bio sibling accepts me?”
Can you be happy even if that never happens?
What do playing Angry Birds and struggling with adoption reunion have in common?
Truthfully? I have no idea. What works for one reunion might not work for another. The measure of what makes an adoption reunion successful really does depend on the parties involved and how they measure that success. Are they both satisfied with the measure of contact?
When the media has asked me about reunion outcomes I always tell them that just like all other interpersonal relationships, they run the gamut from great to awful and everything in between and many - as we all know - can go back and forth and back again.
If you find yourself rejected during an adoption reunion, the facts and numbers of whether it is "rare" or common will not ease your pain and heartache.
What does an adoption reunion look like when it works? What works in an Adoption Reunion and makes it successful? How come a good reunion relationship is so hard?
A birthmother in adoption reunions can make some wrong moves that make an adoptee feel rejected. Avoid these common reunion pitfalls that can emotionally hurt an adoptee in reunion.
In an adoption reunions,an adoptee can make some wrong moves that make their birthmothers feel like crap. Avoid these common reunion pitfalls that can emotionally hurt an a birthmother in reunion.