Adoption relationships can be complicated, being kin adds another layer…
This is a completely different type of post and how I have written it, is based both on what I have read that made sense to me from adoptive parents who’ve been in the process a long time, and thoughts from my experience. Hope it gives others reading a few more things to think about.
The least talked about people in adoption are the grandparents who lost their grandchild to adoption. I have read a few posts by them over the years and their loss, is an invisible loss in many ways. I know from conversations my grandparents felt the loss deeply. I’m sure it is just as difficult to grieve and in many ways, mimics the same feelings of loss a mother or father have, but it’s also a different loss as well. We need to respect and confirm that loss as real, that is their grandchild who isn’t in their direct family line anymore. It also stands to reason that they should also be less threatening (perhaps not the right word, intimidating?) to adoptive parents by the very nature of the role they play as in any family, there are at least two sets of grandparents already, and often, more than two.
Recently, I was talking to a grandmother whose daughter chose adoption, in fact, she chose a very close kinship adoption (another area we hear less about than stranger adoption). She’s struggling with what took place at the beginning, a rocky start for sure complicated with deep grief of what could have been, and she’s not having the relationship she expected to have. She’s also posted on the internet some of her deep thoughts and disappointments in how it all turned out. As it turns out, what she is struggling with, comes up from time to time in other first grandparent/adoptive parent relationships. Her grandchild’s adoptive parents have read her writing and have problems with it, primarily, I think, because she uses her granddaughters name at birth because that is how she knows her in her thoughts as they don’t have any relationship, but that is not her name anymore, she’s someone else now. In her mind though, it also protects the privacy of granddaughter exactly because that isn’t her name anymore, plus all the names for people she speaks of are changed. So, she asked me for my opinion as an adoptee about the name we were given at birth (if we were), how I feel about it and others I know, and if it is strange, or weird, to choose to use the child’s original name, for the two reasons mentioned above. So, with saying all that, below is my response and I’m posting all of this with permission of the grandmother.
The underlying reason your granddaughter’s parents may not like you using her original name may actually stem from feeling that you do not see them as her parents, her family. That it disrespects their family, makes them not seem real (that dreaded term). Those feelings and fear are pretty common, and understandable, and those farther out in being parents through adoption, have told parents like your granddaughters parents, to let it go for many different reasons, but most come with caveats. I’m going to try to recreate some of those from memory, and toss all the different reasons I have heard from adoptive parents into the following paragraph with the general caveat at the end.
That was their child’s original name and will always be a part of who she is, regardless if she has a different name now. There is no harm in them using her original name to talk about her, many people will use pet names for someone they love and we’d never think that was a problem, so why is referring to her by one of her names a problem. Consider that it may be a way of dealing with the grief of losing a family member, that is the hardest loss to bear, if that helps them mourn the loss and it doesn’t impact your child, what is the harm. Most of these came with the general caveat that it’d be a problem if you called the child by her original name in person, or you refused to acknowledge they were her parents, and as such a family.
You all started off on the wrong foot to be sure, but you can’t go back and change it, but it can be different going forward…
Your reasons for using her original name are valid (if also at the same time problematic), you don’t have a relationship with her, so to you, she still is who she was then. You are also protecting her privacy, and if you used her proper name in your writing that would likely cause problems too, so, that isn’t the solution either. I’m also pretty sure if you had a relationship – you’d would call her by her given name in person, and gradually over time that would become her name in your thoughts as well, except in your writings, because it does protect her privacy and her family’s privacy as well. I think other first families who know their writings or blogs is likely read by the adoptive family, have chosen to use nick names instead. I don’t see that as necessary because you are all kin, but it may be the only way to make peace.
I want to give my thoughts on naming: I love that your daughter named her daughter, to me, that means she was loved, worthy of being named. It’s a gift from her mother to her. I don’t have a problem with adoptive parents renaming a newborn – I think some really need to do that to make them a family, a claiming of parenthood of the child and bonding is very important for the baby, and if that helps – it’s worth it. I tried thinking back last night to when I was a small child and if I wondered if I was named, or questioned that mom and dad named me. I don’t think I did when I was still a child, I think I was probably too busy being a kid to think that deeply, but, I think if I had been named and mom and dad knew that, and shared it, it might have made things easier later on. Basically, if I had been named, then I was worth fighting for, I was loved, and adoption wasn’t something they would have wanted to do all things being equal. Hopefully that made sense and perhaps something her parents may want to share with her when she starts to understand what adoption really means to show she was loved. As to families now days doing the naming thing together – not my cup of tea because of what I have just said, although, I do like that adoptive families sometimes keep one of the names, merging the old and new together – that kind of seems to be a very honest recognition and respect for the family the child comes from and naming their child as the parents.
I was also pondering last night on how complicated it may seem to be with family holding dual titles, and if I have it right, you are both her grandmother and her aunt, and honestly that is easy enough to explain. With the hierarchy in titles within a family, and making sense of who is who for the child, it actually makes more sense for you to be seen as a grandmother, and not an aunt, because you are first, the mother of her mother of birth. If the concern is that will confuse the child – it doesn’t, kids are pretty smart and if it’s our normal, it’s fine. I grew up with three grandmothers, none of who had any biological connection to me, obviously, two were mom and dad’s moms, the third was a shirt-tail relative connected only by marriage. They were all my grandma’s, and to me, you can’t have too many grandma’s, it’s just not possible – some of my favorite family pictures are of all three sitting in front of the fire in the living room, enjoying just being in our home, with us.
What is the greatest gift of knowledge mom and dad showed me through their actions is what being a family truly is. It isn’t who is (or was) right, or wrong, it’s that being a family means you love each other, and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. Family should be a united front, helping each other – whether that’s fixing a roof, making sure someone has food, a home, loved, stability, a shoulder to lean on, or just talk, or talk and work disagreements out. In your family is a small child who is adopted, yet has an ability to grow up with all her family surrounding her, loving her, that’s a gift many of us never had, her nature and her nurture combined. How you reconcile the hurts each of you feel, your own insecurities and fears, is on you, but I would urge you to do it now before she is old enough to know about it. In the best outcome you will both agree to most things, both relax a bit, give a bit and accept differences will occur and that they take nothing away from the relationship you have. Whatever that looks like, don’t make it so she ever has to feel like she has to protect either family and feel like she must show loyalty to just one side – make it okay for her to love all her family. Reach across the aisle and be open to making it better for the other, support each other’s fears and see them as valid – otherwise there are no winners, and you both lose in the end, and more importantly, so does the child. Do it, reach out, make it work – move through the awkward, put the past problems to rest and don’t let them creep back in when you feel the smallest slight. A child can never have too much family to show them how to live honestly, openly and with grace.
The quote below is something I taped on my monitor at work when I was struggling in a situation that had some similar issues to what you both are facing now. It helped me, I hope it helps you too. I can’t give credit for who wrote it because it has been attributed to many.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
― Walt Whitman
Oct 2014: You may speak freely, but please try to use words that everyone can hear about your individual story or view. If you don't, those who can actually benefit won't hear it, I want to see change in my lifetime. I may refuse to approve certain comments.
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