I get a lot of emails from people asking for advice when an adoption reunion hits a rough patch. And when I say rough patch it can be anywhere from contact dropping off for a known or unknown reason, a falling out, a message that rubs someone the wrong way and needs interpretation of sorts. In other words, the same issues that happen in most regular relationships, but with the added level of issues that happen in adoption.
No Magic Wands to Make an Adoption Reunion Work Out
Mostly, I almost always give the same advice. The person that writes to me is usually very articulate and honest in their feelings. They can say what they fear, hope and are confused by. The words are usually kind and forgiving, understanding of the other persons feelings, and the desire to make things right, is strong. I do my best to guess at what the underlying causes might be, but of course, it’s literally impossible to do anything but guess since I have no idea who the person is under discussion or what they are really thinking and experiencing. In the end, I tell the writer to go with what feels right for them.
So, I pretend to know what the undercurrents of emotions are that might created the issue and, then, I encourage the writer to share what they have shared with me, to their reunionee.
“I think you should be able to tell her what you said here; that you really do want to have a relationship, but that this is confusing and you are not sure what she wants. That you are worried that this means something else, but want to understand or do understand that they could feel differently. That this thing that is expected of you will cause you to feel this in the long term and that’s not healthy for either of you.”
Notice how just about any situation can fit into the above sentences? It’s pretty much like that; every time. I say to express it kindly, but directly. To just be honest about where they are, what they feel, and what they want, what they are able to do.
Now, nothing I can tell the writer will be able to guarantee that this communication will work. I have no magic wand to make it all better. It’s more like encouragement to follow up, to take the next step, to feel confident in what they want, desire and deserve. And the key here, I think, is to feel confident enough about what they are giving in the relationship to be able to accept the outcome.
You Can Only Change Yourself
There is that classic saying; “you can’t change another person’s actions or feelings, but you can change how it affects you.” I think that is really important to remember in an adoption reunion. No matter how much we might want another person to think and feel and usually more importantly act differently, we cannot make that happen. No matter what you do, what hoops you jump through, the emotional gymnastics you attempt; you cannot change which you cannot control. If life was controlled by force of sheer will alone, this world would be a much different, though I don’t know if necessarily better, place.
This isn’t an adoption reunion example, but it fits this scenario; I really didn’t want my first marriage to end in divorce. When my first husband took off quite unexpectantly from the relationship, I tried everything I could to show him that we could be ok. I talked, I cried, I was angry, I talked more. If I could have saved that marriage because I wanted it to be saved, it would have been. That’s how strongly I wanted things to work out. But nothing really did work, though we did get back together again for another go eventually. However, that only happened after I stopped trying, and just accepted the separation and got living. Two years later, we were in the same spot, with him just not wanting to even try and me talking and crying and wanting more. Eventually, it was a dead dog of a relationship and I was able to give in, but I was fine this time. Why? Because I knew I had done everything I could do to make this marriage work and it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t change him and no matter what I did, it was just not going to work.
To me the lesson learned and can be applied to reunion is that I felt good enough about my role in things to just let go. I was confident that there was nothing left for me to do to fix things, and so the final outcome was beyond my control. I could accept that. I was happy with my role in the relationship, so the outcome, even if a failure by traditional standards, was not a personal failure that I internalized as something I did wrong.
So that’s the basis of my advice. The person seeking help needs to feel confident and be reassured in that what they share is congruent to their own truth. If they are honest and real and try their darnnest, but still the outcome is undesirable, at least they knew that they could not do anymore. Since they can’t change or control the actions of the other, it’s important to feel good about what they do control, their input in the relationship.
You Control Your Own Happiness
Now, they also have to be able to accept that the final outcome might not change and that has to be OK. Hence, the contact becomes about what the contact-or needs, not what the contact-ee will DO. The only person you have total, absolute, and unwavering control over is yourself. Which brings me back to the other tried and true advice; YOU are responsible for your own happiness.
Of course what other people do and say can be hurtful. Adoption, as always, adds that other layer because we are under the hopeful assumption that there is a connection by blood, that family is supposed to care, no matter what. It’s hard being treated unfairly by people we do not know, but at least we can say that they are just clueless. It’s worse, when it someone you DO know, as they should have know you better. Adoption often blends those two components in a blender of crazy! It doesn’t matter as rejection, no matter what the cause, no matter how understanding, just plan hurts.
I think it’s human nature to say “they hurt me”, but is it really the other person TRYING to be hurtful? Or is it what they cannot do, what they are not capable of doing, or what they don’t know they should be doing or that they are doing what they think is best for them that is hurtful? And if that is the case, are they really hurting you or are you allowing yourself to be hurt? Then, I have to wonder, if we are talking about grown adults, is another person really responsible for your happiness?
There comes a time where I think we have to almost give up on the things that we have decided will make us feel happy or content, and begin to accept the reality of life and be happy in spite of it.
Again, how much of this is just human nature? Think about when you were a child and thought things like:
- “When I get to High School, then everything will be great!”
- “I can’t wait to have a boy friend, then I will be happy.”
- ” When I have a car, life will be just like I wanted”
- “Once I finish college, get a real job, buy a house, get married, have a baby… I will be happy”
Of course, none of those things really make a person happy. It’s just that person is feeling accomplished for reaching that milestone and soon enough a new goal takes their place. Sometimes, humans get stuck, it seems, on a certain goal and that makes it easy for their whole life’s dissatisfaction to be placed upon that failed process.
Can you be happy even if that never happens?
Joy IN SPITE of Adoption Loss
I have to say, even before I became vocal in adoption truths, even when I was still sucking down the Kool-Aid, I was a happy person. I dare say, I would be happy even if I was not able to find Max and I would still be happy about life in general, even if he rejected me. I have chosen to live my life IN SPITE of adoption being a major force.
While that might seem like a contradiction as I do live, breath, talk and write about adoption all the live long day, what I do now, I choose to do. I suppose I could just as easily focus on the sadness and sit around crying all day. I know this. I can still find that place in 30 seconds flat and unleashed the most primal sadness ever, but I do not want to.
Now, my “work” in adoption allows me to feel a great sense of accomplishment. I love connecting with new people involved in the adoption community. I enjoy supporting and amplifying other’s voices and projects. I am not allowing adoption to “take” anything more from me, but I choose what I want to take from it and what I want to give back. The way I see it, adoption has got as much from me that it ever will; the industry duped me of my child. The rest of this is on MY terms. And I am really happy with what I do and my involvement.
OK, that’s not reunion related, but it’s the same concept. I could also worry and complain that I don’t see Max enough. I could see every day that he doesn’t text to me as a personal affront. Or I can be happy to know that when I choose to reach out, he responds in like and everything is cool. I could get upset that a bunch of his Facebook pictures of late were from a family wedding and they used the opportunity to take family photos, or I can just happily download the ones with him in it and laugh. I can completely acknowledge that if I focused on what I wanted, then I would not be happy and content with what I have. Let’s face it; I want more. I would love Max to leave Boston completely, take back his NY identity, move into my basement, but the reality is that none of that is going to happen and it would not be fair of me to expect that of him. It would also be setting myself up to be disappointed. If I choose to focus on that, then I would also be choosing to be hurt. Not going there.
Now, of course, these aren’t really strong examples, because yes, our reunion is good by most adoption standards. But I can say that even if Max disappeared tomorrow, I would be upset,I would wonder, ( I would also hunt him down again and ask what’s up!) but I would NOT blame myself and freak out about what I did wrong, or what I didn’t do. I know I have been real and honest and open and really, I have done the best I could.
Adoption Reunion Contact for YOU
Often, people ask me what they should do after a dry spell in a reunion when things haven’t gone the way they wished. Maybe there are those lingering doubts that “you could have done more” which leaves us up sleepless at night. Maybe we are not as emotional or mentally prepared at the time. Maybe we are in a better place now to try again. Maybe we can hope that the other party is ready to try again. That’s OK, too. If you feel you have another attempt in you, try it. Really, what is there to lose? You don’t have what you want now, so you are not losing what you don’t have! And maybe, even if the final result is the same, what changes is how you feel about what you did.
The contact, at a certain point, doesn’t have to be about making the other person do something, but allowing you to feel that you did what you could and should. Making contact again in an adoption reunion should become something that you do for YOU.
And at a certain point, THAT should be the guide especially in an adoption reunion that has fallen on hard times. Is this something you are doing for YOU or are you trying to do something to get the other party to ACT a certain way. One option has room for failure and the other option, no matter what happens, will always be successful.
Nothing will take away from the pain of not being accepted. Nothing will take the place of this family member in your life. But in the end, you cannot control them and you cannot let your whole life’s happiness be contingent upon something that you cannot control: their actions. The best you can do is be truthful to yourself, be honest with them and know that you have done the best you can.
Do it FOR YOURSELF because YOU NEED to no matter what the final outcome.
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
Both birthmothers and Adoptees ask WHY an Adoption Reunion goes wrong. These are the hard conversations that no one likes to talk about. We're talking. Please join the conversation!
- crowd rank
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.