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I am an adoptive mom. My husband and I have adopted five children, who are all adults now. My concern is one of my sons, who recently turned 40.
The birth mother of this son contacted him two years ago. She wants to make up for the time she lost with him after she placed him for adoption as an infant. I have met the birth mother and find her to be a smothery person. On occasion, we all meet at my son’s home during family gatherings when she comes into town. My son often goes out of state to spend time with her and her family.
My husband and myself are beginning to feel left out. This year, he spent Mother’s Day weekend with her. For Father’s Day, he went to meet his birth father’s dad, who is ill. My son suggested alternative things we could do with him and his family instead of our usual Mother’s and Father’s Day activities.
My husband and I find we are uncertain what is the best way to deal with this situation. We don’t want to alienate our son, but our feelings are hurt by his enthusiasm for his birth family. It is beginning to feel that he is drifting away from our family and us. He is also becoming very critical of his siblings and their lives. Can you make any suggestions to help us to handle this situation?
I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to see your son energetically connecting with his birth parents and their extended family. This is especially so because you’ve been the ones who have spent the past forty years supporting and caring for him. Even though your hurt feelings are completely understandable, I want to help you see this situation clearly enough to preserve the relationship between you and your son.
Perhaps you’ve seen the television drama, “This is Us”, which features the subplot of a black man who was adopted by a white family who kept the truth from him as to the whereabouts of his biological parents. There is an emotional and heart wrenching scene in the series where he learns that his adoptive mother withheld information about his biological father because she was terrified he would leave her in favor of living with his father. The painful look on his face and his adoptive mother’s face spoke volumes of the conflicting needs and desires in situations such as this. She learned to step out of the way and allow her adult son to finally build a relationship with his father, which required her to show courage and faith in his ability to love all of the parents in his life.
Although your situation isn’t identical to this television example, you and your husband need this same courage and faith in your son. You cannot be replaced by anyone. You are his parents. His entire survival depended on you from the day he arrived in your care. The attachments to you and your family run deep and won’t be superficially dissolved now that he’s building a relationship with his biological family. His relationship with his biological family doesn’t threaten your relationship with him, even though it may feel like that right now.
I recognize that you can’t do anything to stop him from building relationships with his biological family, but you can certainly run the risk of putting him on a guilt trip and sending signals to him that he’s betraying you. Please be careful to never send him a message that you are jealous, upset, or hurt by his decision to spend time with his biological family.
It’s common for adopted children to feel a strong desire to connect to their biological families. They naturally want to know where they came from. Additionally, they often have an innate longing to find closure for the primal wound of being separated from their biological parents. Some adopted children don’t experience this, but many do. So, please know that this isn’t necessarily a reflection on your performance as a parent or what you mean to him. He’s simply looking to close a circle that has probably felt incomplete.
You run the risk of damaging your relationship with your son if you resist his efforts to connect with his biological family. I don’t know the particulars of your story and how the adoption was set up. Perhaps you had a closed adoption where the birth family weren’t given access to him. Perhaps you simply didn’t want them to know about him or have them involved in his life. Regardless, of the reasons, he’s now a grown man with a family of his own and he can decide if these relationships are ones he wants to pursue.
I encourage you to be generous and reach out to him and ask him what he is learning about his family. Ask good questions, stay curious, and encourage him to share his experiences. Work to be supportive in sharing holidays that have traditionally been reserved for you and your family. This is a time to expand, not shrink. Pull them into your family and make it easy for him to connect to everyone without feeling a loyalty split. And, of course, please make sure you don’t fault-find or criticize his biological family out of jealousy.
Also, please recognize that your other adopted children may have strong reactions to this situation, depending on their individual situations with their biological families. The reactions may include emotions like sadness, joy, jealousy, and anger. It might be a good idea to check in with each of them to see how they’re feeling about these new developments.
Your son is aware of you and is trying to stay inclusive and sensitive to your desire to be close to him. He has not forgotten you and what you’ve done for him. This is a wonderful growing opportunity for your entire family as you learn to include people who are important to your son.
The author would like to thank Jeff Ford, MS, LMFT for his review and suggestions on this column.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.