I have a young friend who is the adoptive mother of an 11-year-old, a child who came to her as an infant when the birth mother died. There was an older sibling, born of a different father, who was adopted by someone else and is being raised on the East Coast.
My friend’s child does not know of this sibling. And my friend believes that this is the right time for her child to be told.
We have so many decisions to make as we raise our children – choices made with the best interest of our children in mind, choices that turn out well and sometimes not. Adoptive parents have some additional hurdles, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for them all.
When I first heard of my young friend’s plans regarding her child, I thought that it was a great and courageous thing to do. Her reasoning is that her child is now old enough to be able to receive the information, which will be presented in a calm, controlled and loving environment. No finding out by accident. No explosions as a teenager as to why the information had been concealed. No drama.
What she plans to do is have the conversation this spring and sometime later in the year take a trip back East where they would do fun tourist things, with a short side trip to meet the sibling.
Sounds so smart and so caring to me. But then I got another take on it from another friend, a woman my own age who has two children, one born to her and one adopted. She adopted her son when he was 2, a boy who was passed around among relatives and then in the foster care system before being relinquished for adoption. He is an adult and the father now of two almost-grown children himself, and he never really expressed interest in learning about his birth family, though his mom was supportive of whatever choice he made in that regard.
They had a conversation a few years ago when someone her son knows, someone with connections in the community where he was born, said she could help him find birth relatives if he was interested. He and his mother talked about the pros and cons, and he eventually decided to leave things be. He recognized that he wasn’t released for adoption because things were healthy and good with the family he was born into, so he didn’t want to poke what he felt was likely to be a hornet’s nest.
When I asked his mother, my fellow gray-haired friend, what she thought about my young friend’s plans for her 11-year-old, she said she thought it was a terrible idea. She gave me many examples she knows of how such reconnections have gone bad, how now-adult children have been emotionally damaged by what they discover, how rediscovered families have turned out with needs and wants (often financial) that they press upon the relative who found them and that for all the healing and closure that are sought, most are unfulfilled or disappointing.
Everyone imagines the Hallmark card ending, the happy reconnection with sweet music playing, my friend said, “but life is a lot messier than that, and it often turns out badly.”
Personally I know several stories, two of which seem pertinent. In one case an adult woman I know found her birth mother and discovered a woman who repulsed her. Another relinquished a newborn for adoption because she was young and unmarried and emotionally unable to care for the baby girl. As an adult, that daughter located her, and they began a cordial but distant relationship. The birth mother was able to answer some questions and remained available for whatever contact was desired. It wasn’t good; it wasn’t bad.
But there were two things that were said to me in my most recent conversation that stuck with me. First, most contacts – successful or otherwise – are when the individuals are older. “This is just an 11-year-old child” my friend said. “Still too young.”
The other thing she said was that she thought the child would immediately romanticize the newly discovered sibling, which could cause a host of problems, especially since they live on opposite sides of the country.
I can see both points of view about what to do and I certainly don’t know what the right course is here. I hope and pray that whatever unfolds turns out well. I commend my young friend for being proactive in a way she believes is best for her 11-year-old, and I hope her choice turns out to truly be the right one.
But how do we know? How do any of us ever know ahead of time when we make decisions for and about our children? I guess all we can do is just love them and do the best we can.
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