Thinking About Adoption Affects on the “Kept” Child

Ramifications of Adoption Relinquishment on Parented Children

I was thinking about this the other day while chatting with an adoptee on Facebook one night. Since I am handing out Kudos for inspiration, Kristina, this one’s for you.

From that conversation, and then from a conversation I had with Miss Scarlett on the 7:30 ride to school this morning, there was another excellent Facebook conversation having to do with these issues of how the previous or subsequent child/ren  can feel about the adoption of their relinquished children sibling and adoption in general.  Again, this is an area that I know almost NO mothers considering relinquishment were counseled on as a risk, or even a possibility to think about.  So I think it’s a good topic to explore and I would LOVE to have other siblings add their views and feelings.  I am just observing  that part and there is quite a difference.

When I relinquished Max, it was suppose to be something that affected ME. The pain and loss was to be mine to bear as Max would be “better off”, his father unaware, my brother and extended family equally as clueless and my mother, well she didn’t matter.. at least I was not give pause to consider how nay one else felt. Like so many things in adoption, the professionals were wrong. Like we say, the “gift of adoption” just keep on giving and giving.. the pain has a huge ripple effect that touches every aspect of a woman’s lives including ALL our children.

The Affect of Relinquishment on Mothering

I have been hearing these conversations for over a decade. So many moms who have relinquished speak of an intense hyper vigilance for the children they did parent. “Clingy”, “over-protective” and “over achieving super mommy” are just some of the terms repeated in this regard. There are reports of a great anxiety from conception on through the hospital birth to doctor visits to school interaction; the fear that moms will be deemed, once again, unworthy of parenting and the child will be taken away. I know moms who never could deal with being separated form the parented child to the point that certain “normal’ kid activities like having a baby sitter and sleep-overs became forbidden.

I have written before how I think I went in the opposite direction. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not, but how could I freak out that my kids were at Grandma’s or whatever if I was Ok with sending my newborn to people I have never met? Sometimes I worry that the dis-attachment has gone farther than that.  I know the kids prefer to ask me if they can go to a friend’s house because I’m always like “Sure, go have fun! See ya later.” Sometimes I have to remind myself to be a bit more concerned and to make sure they know I actually DO worry.

Now I am conscious of that fact, but what about the moms that aren’t? My kids know the deal, what I do and why. Even this week, they know that I’m on tear patrol, we communicate, no secrets here now; but what if they didn’t know at all?

The Cost of Secrets and Lies on Children

I am friends IRL with a kept sibling and without putting words in her mouth she has told me how she knew something was “wrong” with her mother who had the secret relinquished child, but never knew what or why. Kids pick up these things and worse, they internalize it, and often think they are the cause. Just like so many adoptees who were never told they were adopted and later went “Ohhhh.. that explains it”; I can see kept kids also knowing something is off, not feeling able to ask mom why she is sad. It’s only later on, if they are “lucky” do they find out the cause for their mother’s own behavior.

While relinquishment grief might be easily confused as depression or anxiety in a mother, how sad is it that the kept children also lose a mother that they deserved. They have lost the mother that might have been should the relinquishment never happened. I can see it being like raised with a ghost of the lost sibling.. always present, but never fully realized, nothing that can be pinned down. A half mother, a shadow of herself constantly denying so many aspects of her reality. She is not fully present as she lost part of herself in the past.

While it broke MY heart to hear Garin, around the age of four, say he “wished he had an older brother”, I know he did not, could not, understand some of my own behaviors such as forcing him to be Where the Wild Things Are “Max” for Halloween.  And when I told him, at age 13, about the existence of his real flesh and blood brother, his first words where “Why didn’t you tell me” and he was upset that others knew and he did not. This is a betrayal to a child. Is it forgivable?

Other Loses to the Kept Sibling

Of course, the obvious loss is the normal sibling to sibling relationship. Shared memories, wrestling matches, bickering, family vacation car rides from hell;  all gone and never to be recaptured again.

I see my two oldest boys, barely three years apart in age, with a love for playing music, a natural talent and so alike in more than just their shared bone structure and wonder what might have been had they been raised together. I know there would have been many bands and fights over practice space, but what could have been gained with a partner in musical crime? We’ll never know.

One son lost to adoptionOne son not lost to adoption

When we visited Max last in Boston, I could see how strongly Tristan took to his oldest brother. Tristan is the only blue eyed child and all the rest of us have brown eyes, but in Max, he can see his own face looking back at him, blue eyes and all. A few months ago the kids and I were bopping around New Paltz and in one of the shops, Tristan found a hat  that was pretty much identical to the one Max had in Boston. I wasn’t going to buy it for him, but then he said the magic words “It’s like the one that Max has” and I bought the hat.  Was it worn for school pictures this year and on all special occasions? Yup. Tristan needs Max for his own healthy genetic mirroring. Adoption took that away from the child that should never have been affected.

Fitting Your Adoption Story into their Adoption Reality

Scarlett was not yet five and Tristan just three when I told them about their oldest relinquished brother. She “got it” and asked questions, he did not, at least on the surface, for a few more years.  I was very worried about telling them the truth, age appropriate but true, and not some happy adoption story since it wasn’t a good thing to have lost their brother. While I think it was a good thing and handle correctly, some aspects are unavoidable. There were conversations after about “being given away” which is a normal fear after finding out that your MOTHER GAVE AWAY YOUR SIBLING. You know, if she got rid of one, are you safe? What if Mom gets sick, or Dad loses his job; can I be placed for adoption? I can guess that even older parented children who see the new baby relinquished can wonder as well. Maybe they have their own way of processing that mentally and understand cognitively based on their age, but then they also have their own grief to deal with as well.  I know one of the worst things I have felt as a mother is that I let down, disappointed or hurt my children even unintentionally, so how does seeing your child mourn a lost sibling feel?

Scarlett has always been super accepting of the reality, or maybe the most UNaccepting as she brings it up the most and actual attempts to engage Max the most, and that has lead to some interesting situations. She announced at her fifth birthday party to all her princess guests that she had another brother placed for adoption. She tells her school mates and teachers as well. She understands all too well the political issues surrounding women’s rights. She joined me at the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in Chicago this past year.  And she speaks of reality, her reality,  and adoption truths even when it means, like our conversation this AM, telling her friends about the other side of adoption when they tell her that ” they want to adopt when they get older”. As thrilled as I am that she has such and understanding and as proud as I am for her fighting to make her own changes, how I wish that she did not have this loss to deal with.

Max called me back last night after I had texted him for his birthday and the kids were super crazy excited to talk to him. Like insane off the wall excited.  And my heart broke just a little when she asked Max, yet again, if he could come to Thanksgiving next week and the answer was no. While I have never spent a holiday with my child,  how do we prepare for the look on our children’s faces knowing they will probably never see all their siblings sitting around the holiday table? How I worry what they feel when a 40 minute phone call is the best thing ever? How can we expect them to accept that reality that another family has dibs on their brothers holiday time?  Especially when they , rightfully and normally, want more?

I guess I don’t, but I hate that my “choice” has done this to them all. I hate what adoption has done to my family.  Tell me again,  loving choice for who? I see my children yearning for something that can never be replaced and it breaks my heart, yet it has to break.. for it I ask them to stop for my heart’s sake, then we are back to secrets and far from the truth.

The truth is adoption relinquishment hurts us all..over and over and over again.

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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

19 Comments on "Thinking About Adoption Affects on the “Kept” Child"

  1. Right on point.. as this sibling, I grew up never living up to the perfect ones she gave away.. ttys!

  2. I had three daughters after I gave the first one away. I, too, was not a protective mother to my kept children. I felt a lot of guilt; how could I do this or that for them when I did less than nothing for their sister. I also felt like a fraud, which I was.

    Yes, the painful effects of adoption never stop. I see now how it affects the next generation, the children of my kept daughter who have an aunt they don’t know, the children of my relinquished daughter who aren’t sure what I am to them.

  3. It’s interesting, the different reactions we have to our situations. For me, I became the ever-vigilant mom. Always trying to protect, terrified of the idea of losing another child. I had the constant fear of something looming, waiting to take another one from me and me not being able to handle the loss. “I lost one already, I can’t lose another one” – became the constant refrain in my head.

  4. As an adoptee, knowing both my parents successfully raised other children causes me a lot of pain. I was raised an only child, and never experienced sibling rivalry. I feel it now, and I just turned 50. She kept him, and let me go. His child is her beloved grandson, and my four children are strangers. My 50th was 2 days ago, and neither Mom or Dad, or my newly found sibs contacted me in any way. Our reunion is less than 2 years old, and only one Aunt cares for me. I don’t know what I did that was so bad.

    • This makes my heart ache. I’m so sorry that this is your story ~ I cannot imagine throwing away the chance to finally have your (now adult) child lost to adoption in your life.

      I’m (impatiently) waiting for the day that my son allows me to meet his children and wife ~ the loss of those grandchildren weigh as heavily on me as does the loss of my son to adoption.

      Happy Belated Birthday to you!

  5. My second daughter has had a lot of issues with having her older sister not in the family. She has had run ins with kids at school because they tell her adoption is wonderful and she tells them it isn’t because it breaks apart families. At the age of 6, she told my daughter’s adopter that he shouldn’t have adopted her sister, that it was a bad thing he did. Almost 9 now, she gets very angry about it and says it is just not normal to have a member of her family out there living with people who are NOT family. She sees my eldest as her sister and is very hurt by Amber’s indifference to her. Adoption is not just something that affects mother and child. Its destruction reverberates through generations… through sisters, brothers, grandparents, children, grandchildren etc.

    Of course no one looks at that when they coerce and tell young mothers to place. Its all about the here and now and lining their pockets. They don’t care about the size of the hole it leaves behind in a family when a child is placed outside.

    • one person well several people told me you don’t have to do so much. lol because you stand there and think the other child isn’t dying inside too. sometimes ignorance is bliss. my oldest boy who should know better tho i understand why he has to constantly lie to himself, says she never invited me. he’s near 50 60 for pete sake they’re all expecting to be invited!
      I met a judge that was livid, he believed the lie (I finally told a few sadists the truth, a bribe if you will) why wouldn’t you, there was nothing else. the few people that should know better and believe a lie that’s what gives them power, their stupidity

  6. you wrote this very well, darn good and i thank you for not telling all, respecting the surprise. i am filled with rage so often, i lived it. and people don’t want to know, they don’t, their rage isn’t going to change what happened. it will again kill the victims. yes why a person screams bloody murder when the children decide to hide n seek, the sheer terror that a mom has lost another one. some thing is wrong and yet who in the world says adoption oh i am so glad you are in hell. the flippin only “deciding” was the money changers “choice”

  7. I am always wondering what kind of mother would I have been to my “kept” kids if I hadn’t given away my oldest? I’m not always a helicopter mom, but I do have major issues with anxiety in certain situations with my kids. It is noticeable to other adults around us when my anxiety rears its ugly head. Like in the summer, at my mother’s pool, I can not relax at all, constantly chasing after my kids and worrying to the nth degree about them drowning. I bring them swimming because I know they love it, but I absolutely hate it. I’m exhausted from all the anxiety and worry by the time I get home. Driving with my kids in the car is another panic attack inducing situation. It is normal-type worry and I know the adoption has something to do with it. Would I be more easy going if the adoption never took place? Probably and that is sad for my kids.

    • You and I have the same issue. I’ve been scolded for being hyper vigilant. I have another friend whose 2nd son died at birth and she became the same way. But then there’s the occasion when I go numb and “freeze” like I did with the relinquishment, like if I see a car coming towards him. It’s one of the 4 responses of PTSD (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) and deep down I have a fear that my kept son will be killed. It is the PTSD that is trying to prepare your brain for the next potential “death” of your child to help you survive it. It’s a living nightmare but at least we have each other to help make sense of it and feel less isolated.

  8. Being hypervigilent isn’t a bad thing. i mean it is of course extremely important for the child to believe the mom is all powerful. finding they were so injured is not good. but meeting a mom that would run in front of a train for her kids is better than meeting one that throws her kids in front of a train. (or meeting the kids that got thrown) do i have to spell out who is who? mom’s who buy a kid … read solomon

  9. Count me in as a hyper-vigilant mother. With my other children, I had such extreme guilt every time I left them. I didn’t go out for a Mom’s night out with my friends, when I did have to go back to work, I panicked and cried, even though I only worked part time off hour shifts and the kids were home with my hubby. I felt like I couldn’t be a good mother unless I was with my kids every waking moment.
    Even now, while those exact feelings aren’t quite as fierce, I don’t feel like I’m a good enough mom to my children. I’m always lacking in some way, even if I can’t define it. I feel bad for my kids, because they know they have an older sister, even if she isn’t interested in contact right now, they know she’s there. Something unseen, but the effects are felt just the same.

    Just one more thing we weren’t told about

  10. kids were sold to take care of their parents every kid kinda does want to… some were sold to complete buffoons. but at what point do you tell these kids they have done enough. women who decide they don’t want kids and are able to control that okay but forcing someone else to have kids for a non-deservant or kids that are forced not to by control freaks.. there are government workers that are smart and too many that have no brains at all these kids shouldn’t suffer for the systems lack of intelligence. sorrydfadf;alkjsdflaksjdf;aljk’

  11. I reunited with my daughter 3 years ago and celebrated her 18th birthday with her. She fearlessly flew across the country to meet my family and I. It was a rather large group of immediate family. We have had two visits since then, with her coming back again once and me going to see her at college recently. I also have 3 subsequent children who were all present. I find that I feel the same way about her that I do about my other 3 children, I feel like I am her mother, but she views me as a friend. It’s difficult and bugs her that I feel this way. She is an absolute perfectionist, OCD about having her space clean and perfect-nothing is out of place. She gets perfect grades, and frets over school. I suppose she doesn’t think she’s good enough either. Her adoptive mother was always saying things like “if she could only lose weight” and things like that, so there is an expectation she can’t live up to. I am thin, and her adoptive mother is thin (too thin) and is an obsessive runner. My daughter is neither. Anyway, I think her behavior is obvious and that I probably over-parent my subsequent children. I am glad she is part of our lives, albeit infrequent and on her terms. She just wants “everyone to get along” she says. She’s also been in touch with her natural father who I spilled the beans to her at her request. That is also a positive experience to her but she has no feelings for him either. We are just some people she knows.

  12. | March 5, 2013 at 3:45 am |

    I’m a “kept” sister and the lies and secretcy have changed who I am, what I believe. trust, and I do nor feel like I know my bio fam anymore.

  13. I am a 54yr old “Kept child” I am currently in college and writing a English paper. The topic I chose was adoption and the “Kept child” I found out about my brother that was relinquished in 1960 about 12yrs ago. While doing my research I was unable to find anything that reconized the “kept child” We are just lost to society. I am learning so much about all involved. My mother, my brother, myself and everyone else that has been effected by this. I want to thank you for writing this and remembering the “kept child

  14. Revisited this post after 4 years. Since then, We found my brother, Mom has passed.. and we found my sister. Time has not made things less complex, unfortunately.

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