Another adoption reunion story in the news, an international adoption story from Japan with a State Senator from Hawaii being the one adopted. It was a good story. Hawaii state senator meets birth mother after almost half a century. It also highlighted what I’ve wanted to talk about, waiting till your parents pass away before searching, so that’s what this post is about, plus some other ramblings. Many adoptees are just like this Senator who waited until after both parents had passed away, it is a personal choice, but adoptive parents can make sure their children don’t make that choice solely because they are worried about how you might feel, or because the adoptee feels it would be disloyal to you.
Let’s face it, no one wants to hurt their mom and dad, even if they believe something wouldn’t, concern may cause them to put off doing it to protect them anyway, because we respect them for who they are to us. Respect though, shouldn’t come at the expense of what the adoptee needs to do, respect should guide how we approach it, but not stop it from happening. I didn’t know how to do that, but with hindsight, things could have made it so I could have been open and honest with mom and dad. Even though mom and dad told me early on that it was natural to be curious, they would be if they were adopted, and if I wanted to search they’d help me. Still, despite knowing that, and knowing they’d done it for a sibling, I never told them I had signed up on passive registries, scanned the newspaper on my birthday, searched websites for someone looking for me. I was afraid of hurting them, making them feel bad, yet I had no evidence that it would have. When push came to shove and I needed their help to do it for my health, it was easy, I picked up the phone and asked and they immediately filed the petition unseal my file. When I made contact and received a picture of my mother, mom was the first person I showed the picture to, because who else would want to see a picture of my mother, but mom.
Why I didn’t tell them I was passively searching is because I didn’t want to cause them any angst, it isn’t in me to do that, I’m protective of them. I also want everyone happy and not to worry, even if it is at my expense, and perhaps, if I’d said something earlier they could have pulled more strings. Perhaps if mom and dad had realized more about the adoptee experience, they would have found a way to get me to open up about it from time to time, and not just waiting for me to start conversations, they didn’t know, and they get a pass in my books, unlike parents today who have no ability to plead ignorance.
Parents today have multiple opportunities to understand what the different adoptee experiences are, that adoptees may not be able to share those deepest feelings about being adopted with their parents for fear of hurting them, being disloyal. Excuses from this generation of adoptive parents won’t get the pass from their children, that my parents get from me. Parents today clearly understand how the messages their children will hear over the course of their life can affect them negatively. The unrelenting messages that society (the public) has made it a point to drive home at every opportunity to adoptees, messages that they are the only parents and wanting anything else is being disloyal. Parents need to take the lead in ensuring the child knows that searching won’t cause them any angst, that they aren’t disloyal if they search, I also think it needs to be said more than once, not all the time, but at the different stages, yes.
Some adoptive parents today also need to do their own work on any insecurity and fears that are unrealistic, accept that it is something that their child may need to do and that it doesn’t lessen your relationship. And I’m not just talking about adoptive parents in the past seeing as many today with young children are in closed adoptions, or adoptions that masquerade as open, but might as well be closed. Some, perhaps even many of the adoptees today will have the same loyalty challenges that adoptees from my era have dealt with, are still dealing with. Even adoptive parents who state that my child can search when she reaches adulthood may also be telling the child – that they really hope they will be enough and the child will never want to search. You can see it in how they write, their insecurity oozes out in their words, and in person it is obvious from the non-verbal cues that they are just saying the words, but they don’t mean them. They are telling their child that this is something mom or dad fears, and it would hurt them if they ever mentioned searching.
How can adoptive parents get past those fears? Understand the fear first. The fear of not being enough, being replaced. I’m not an expert, you need to recognise the strength of your relationship to conquer the fear. Nor can I tell you how to make sure your child is comfortable with talking to your about the hard parts of being adopted, only you can figure out how to do that with your child. I’ve told you what might have helped me, having mom and dad reiterate when I was older that searching was perfectly natural, and they had no fears about our relationship, we were good. Talking about the harder parts of adoption, but they didn’t know them to talk about them, you do, there is no excuse today. It’s also up to you to figure out how to make sure your child knows that you are good with them searching if they are in a closed adoption. Just remember that memories and shared experiences accumulated over your life together are the reasons why adoptees don’t typically trade one set of parents for another. If you have that relationship, your fears are groundless so don’t drive wedges between you and your child with ungrounded fears. The adoptee searching is hoping to add to their family, understand their past, and know where they come from. It’s not about trading one family for the other. You getting past that fear will make it easier for your child share the parts they may think you don’t want to hear versus keeping the two lives separate. If you don’t have that type of relationship where memories prove you have their back and you can talk about the hard parts – then your fears may be well grounded, and that’s on you, not your child.