Adoption relationships can be complicated, being kin adds another layer…

21 Jun


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.”


Posted by on June 21, 2014 in Adoption, adoptive parents, biological child


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

26 responses to “Adoption relationships can be complicated, being kin adds another layer…

  1. JavaMonkey

    June 21, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    It’s all so complicated, TAO. I really feel for the granddaughter, because it seems that she’s going to grow up in a really tight spot. I don’t see how she will ever be able to honor everyone in her life without someone feeling slighted, and that has everything to do with how this particular adoption was handled.

    I disagree about renaming, even though I understand the AP urge to do so. As a man, I bristle at the thought that my adopted name has been passed down to my children and will continue to be passed to their children all the way down the male line. Sometimes, the renaming makes me feel like it’s not only me that was adopted, but all of my descendants until the end of time. Maybe that’s why my APs chose boys… not only for the experience of being parents but for the continuation of the familial name.

    I still need to gather my thoughts on this and put it into an essay. I think it has a lot to do with the way men perceive adoption, and why so few search.


    • TAO

      June 21, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      I can understand not wanting to be renamed, I can also reach back in time and see the difference if I had not had the surname I had. It is all so complicated. The male does carry the surname primarily in society today – the opposite for me is that I see surnames as disposable – I’ve had four different surnames all together, hopefully I don’t have any more. I’d love to read your thoughts.


  2. eagoodlife

    June 22, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I carry my real name proudly, now I know it, and can trace it back to 1700. I have always hated my adopted name, still do and use my real name as often as possible in as many situations as possible. I believe adopters would do better to accept that ‘their’ adoptee has had a first name and should be able to honour that name in honouring the child. It is part of her history and perfectly ‘correct’ for that name to be used in blogs etc by someone who has known that name originally. Not enough has been written about grandparents and adoptees and it’s time this special relationship was given more attention.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Von – that would be the perfect response, honor the name at birth. I also think that the original name is not wrong to use on blogs but – ego’s are a fragile thing, especially in adoption. I agree that the majority in adoption seem to not recognise the very real loss for grandparents – it makes me sad when I hear them speak about the grandparents wanting the parents to keep the baby and offer help as something wrong, or selfish. That is the very definition of being family, and how families have worked until it seems just recently for some. People in adoption seem upside down when they think that way…


  3. cb

    June 22, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Even though there is a first name listed on my OBC, I have no idea whether I was named by my bmother or by the nurses at the hospital. I was listening to an online radio program by an NZ DJ (who was born 3 years after me) who said that when he got his OBC, he was all excited because he had a name on there – however, he discovered later that he had been named Nigel because he was born on “N” day, i.e. the nurses named the babies and each day had a different letter of the alphabet , so on the day he was named, all the babies in the nursery would have been given names that started with N. So now I am assuming that I was named on “H” day. I’ll probably never know either way who named me. I do note that my OBC has my bmother’s actual place of birth on there (only she would have known that because it isn’t the same place she lived), so unless she filled out another form which I haven’t seen (and I have seen 2 interview forms) and the nurses got the place from that other form, then that might be a sign that she registered the birth (although again I am assuming that was the job of the nurses/receptionists, I don’t really know).

    As for grandparents, I’ve never had any living ones, adoptive or biological. Mum and Dad’s parents had all passed away before I was born. Bgrandparents had passed away long before I mad contact (although if I had made contact as soon as I got my OBC back in the mid 80s, bgrandmother would have been alive).

    I actually don’t mind having a different adoptive name to birthname. I don’t know that I necessarily like the idea of bparents and aparents coming up with a name together – I actually prefer the separatedness of bparents naming one name and aparents naming another name. However, I do think that using a bname as a middle name is a nice touch.
    (The above is in regards to newborns only. If I were an older child and used to my name, I wouldn’t want it changed as it would be part of me by then.)


  4. Dana

    June 23, 2014 at 3:20 am

    This all smacks of “I don’t care how much it hurts or that you wouldn’t have gone through with this if your situation had been better, you should center your entire existence and choice of behavior around what it would do to the people who took your child/grandchild away.”

    If they can’t handle knowing the child came from somewhere not of them, they shouldn’t have adopted. They can always go back to court and return the child to the family; no one is stopping them except themselves.

    Sounds harsh but try living it.

    My son’s name wasn’t changed because he was four when adopted. Except his surname, but his father was grandparent-adopted also, and went around with a false surname. (Yes, false. His birth certificate is false too, even if it’s legal.) So the surname was wrong to start, and then my ex-in-laws made it even wronger. It’s a good thing we do DNA family-tree tracing now because he’d never know where he came from. My son’s paternal grandmother lied about my ex-husband’s paternity to start with, too, so even his OBC’s wrong. It never ends.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm


      I actually think working towards what’s best for the child’s environment, even if it isn’t what’s best for the adults, is worth it.


  5. Andrea

    June 23, 2014 at 3:39 am

    I agree that children have the best of both world’s when all their family can love them and share in the child’s life. I disagree that adoptive parents need to rename an adopted child to “stake their claim” or “ownership” to become a family and bond with that child.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Andrea – we all have different experiences – mine come from being named because I had no name, not on my OBC, so mom and dad had to find one quickly, because – in my case – a good home was found for a baby that needed one, not a baby for a home that wanted one. I know that is rare today and was rare in my day – but I wish it wasn’t. I also know for some, naming does help the bond and that is my only concern.


  6. onewomanschoice

    June 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about adoptees possibly feeling more loved by knowing he/she was named by their birth/first/original parents. I named my son at birth. My son’s adoptive parents included his first name that I gave him as an added middle name. So he was given a new first name and two middle names (one was theirs and one was mine). That did mean a great deal to me and I wondered as an adoptee how he feels or will feel knowing that one of his middle names was a name given to him by me and that his adoptive parents chose to honor it and keep it.

    As for what I call him, in the early years, I wanted to refer to and remember him by his original first name. Later, since we are in an open adoption, I came to know him and love him by his “new” first name which fits him perfectly. I also feel that by honoring his new first name, it became less painful for me. , And ironically, the first name his adoptive parents chose was actually a name that I seriously considered too. Funny part is I never told his adoptive family about any baby names. But every once in awhile I will refer to him by all three name either in person or on a card.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      I think it is perfectly normal to call him, think of him by the name you gave him. I hope the fairly new adoptive parents I wrote about can step outside themselves to see that too. Why I wrote the post so if other’s in their situation read it – they might get off to a better start.


  7. cb

    June 23, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    One thing I just wanted to point out is that for us older adoptees, not being given a name isn’t necessarily a sign that the bmother didn’t care – sometimes it depended on the agency policy. I have had heard of bmothers saying that they did name their children but that it didn’t end up on the original birth certificate.


  8. Dannie

    June 25, 2014 at 1:28 am

    In my situation no one could tell me if my daughter had been named by the hospital/social workers/nurses etc or the bio mom as she was a fost/adopt baby that didn’t go home with her mother. Because I don’t know, I kept her name as her middle name. Her first daycare only knew her as her original name until the adoption was finalized and always asks about her with the name she originally had…..doesn’t bother me.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Dannie – perhaps because we were brought up similarly that being upset over minor stuff, are traits better worked against, than held? Of just our personalities are similar that we often find stuff like that isn’t worth being upset about?


  9. kellie3

    June 25, 2014 at 3:30 am

    Being a first/birth grandparent, this is a subject dear to me. Ours is a kinship adoption that has gone exceedingly bad. It has become something that is (in my opinion) not in the best interests of my granddaughter. In fact, even me calling my granddaughter “my granddaughter” offends my BIL and his wife (granddaughter’s adoptive parents). They have an issue with us using a different name than the one they gave her. It is almost as if they seek to erase any and all connections she has to us. What will she think when she is older? How will she perceive their wish she were less like the people she came from? I guess I just believe it is a huge mistake to try and erase all evidence of a child’s family of origin.

    Ironically, the BIL who adopted my granddaughter named our youngest daughter and shares the same first name with my oldest daughter. They are both named after my husbands and my BIL’s grandfather, Charles. I love my daughter’s names. I’ve always loved the fact their names originated with their family and weren’t wholly given by me and my husband.

    Adoptive parents get so much. As a parent, I don’t understand the need to have it all.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Neither do I Kellie – I know this post was probably very triggering for you. Hugs.


  10. Delana

    June 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I enjoyed reading your post and the many comments. It is interesting that more is not said/written about the grieving process faced by biological grandparents when their grandchild (especially the first one) is placed for adoption.


    • TAO

      June 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      Delana – I find it downright sad how little is thought about the extended families loss. It’s real, having watched how much mom and dad grieved for their grandson, my son, when he passed away, I can’t imagine how they would have felt to know they had a grandson out there, somewhere, but they weren’t allowed to know him. Adoption severs the entire family both ways, and that should be seen, and recognised, but I don’t think most give it more than a passing thought.


      • Delana

        June 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        Oh…..I simply could not imagine having a grandchild out there and not knowing how he or she is doing. It would definitely be a very real loss. I do know a family whose grandchild was adopted…and when the child turned age 12 or 13 she ended up with her biological grandparents (my friends). The story is not mine to share…so I won’t…but I do know through my friends some of what it is like for the grandparents.


        • TAO

          June 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm

          Have you ever considered it as a topic to discuss with those who read your blog? It would be interesting to know how many open adoptions include the grandparents…and may actually make others who never went there, to think about it, or keep it in the back of their minds.


          • Delana

            June 25, 2014 at 2:31 pm

            Great suggestion! Maybe my friend will be willing to write an anonymous guest post for me about this topic. Or we could co-write a post about it. Thanks for the idea! It may just show up on a future post on my Nine Year Pregnancy blog! 🙂


  11. Valentine Logar

    June 26, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I think the renaming is a difficult one. I also think all the relationships, all the ties are tough, we continue to struggle through these throughout our lives.

    On the renaming though, my divorce was final last month when I asked for my name back I also asked that my first father’s name be added to my own. Now I have honored both my fathers. It pleases me.


    • TAO

      June 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      What a great idea to add your first father’s name. Brand new start and name. Cheers to new beginnings Val…wishing all good things and congrats on the new job too…


  12. Tanya

    June 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I am the Amom of a family member’s child. Our situation was a little different because we fostered our son before we adopted him. Everyone in the extended family had time to get used to the situation before we added the BIG A-word to everything. We kept his original first name and only changed his middle and last names. His bio-grandma has been extremely supportive of our family and we are all very close. Bio-grandma is raising my son’s older sister. I know there may be some difficult times but he has SO MANY family members that love him and only want the best for HIM. I hope he can find comfort in the fact that his bio-family has always been here for him even though his bio-mom is unable to raise him.


    • TAO

      June 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I’m sure he will… 🙂 thanks for sharing one that while difficult circumstances was a rallying event.



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