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Fears About Your Adopted Child's Search

Many adoptive parents have powerful negative feelings about the idea of an adoption search. Should they feel guilty? I don't think so. I think they should feel human. But frankly, they don't have much to worry about.

Search Expectations versus Search Realities Search Expectations versus Search Realities
Expectation Reality

Birthparents will be beautiful, glamorous, famous, or rich Birthparents may be none of those things.
First meeting will be euphoric. It will be like a fairy tale come true First meeting may be positive or negative. (The birthparent may even refuse the meeting.)
Birthparent will welcome adopted person with open arms and unconditional love. Birthparent may accept or deny parenthood. The birthparent may reject the adopted person.
Adoptee will control the first meeting. Birthparent may surprise the adopted person by bringing the extended family to the first meeting.
Adopted person can control the relationship. Birthparent may want more or less contact than the adopted person wants.
Birthmother will identify the birthfather. birthmother may refuse to identify.
Adopted person will have new extended family. Birthmother may be unwilling to tell the extended family about the adopted
Birthparent will be a lot like the adopted person. Birthparent may be very different from them.
Adopted parents will understand the need to search. Adopted parents may not accept/understand.
Birth siblings will accept adopted adults with open arms into their lives. Birth siblings may be jealous of the adopted person.
Adopted person's life problems will end. Life problems usually continue.
Adopted person and birthmother will have a smooth relationship. Relationship may be rocky.
birthparent will want same kind of relationship adopted person wants, whether intense, at arm's length, and so on. Birthparent's needs may be very different from adopted person's needs.

As many as half of all searchers don't tell their adoptive parents about the search until it's over or they're well into it. Most are afraid of hurting their adoptive parents.

Whether they admit it or not, adoptive parents whose children search often feel jealousy and even anger toward the birthparent. The adoptive parents may feel that they've done all the hard work of parenting—and now this interloper, the birthparent, will take over. This rarely happens—but the fear is there.

One adoptive mom I know found the search painful and scary, even though she struggled to be supportive of her child's need to search. Other adoptive parents are more philosophical and accepting. There are adoptive parents who actively launch the search to locate the birthparents themselves, in an attempt to gain information the child can have when she is grown up.

Remember, it isn't inevitable that your child will search—most don't. Questions about birthparents' medical history may only mean that your child wants information rather than contact. Don't assume your child wants to search—many adopted adults express a feeling that they are expected to search and are concerned that something is wrong with them because they don't want to. It's okay to not search. However, don't blind yourself to the possibility that your child may want to search.

Adoptive parents might experience a host of emotions when they learn that their adult child has searched—or plans to search—including fear of being abandoned, concern for the adopted child's emotional well-being, feelings of rejection, or even a hopeful and supportive attitude. Their child's search might also bring up long-forgotten memories of infertility issues and the reasons for adopting.

Familybuilding Tips

It's hard to find information about how adoptive parents feel when children search. Many parents remain silent—whether they feel happy, sad, or ambivalent. It may not be politically correct for the adopters to admit to being upset, but that's a normal human reaction.

Fear of Abandonment

Some adoptive parents worry that if the adopted person likes the birthparents better, then he may devote all his spare time to them and forget he was ever adopted.

Does this make any sense? Of course not. No adopted person, whether they had a great, mediocre, or even terrible relationship with his adoptive parents, can forget that he was adopted and that he was parented by the adopters. You might forget where you parked your car. You might forget what day it is. You don't forget who raised you.

Still, it may be true that when the adopted adult first locates a birthparent, the birthparent will receive the lion's share of attention. Usually, though, after the excitement fades, the adopted person's relationships with both the birthparents and the adoptive parents becomes more balanced.

You'll Like Them Better Than You Like Us

Adopters often fear that their children will like the birthparents better than they like the adoptive parents. Why? One reason is that the adopted person has no history of bad times with the birthparents. They didn't yell at Susie for smoking in the shed. They didn't tell Jimmy that if he wanted a car, he'd have to save his own money for it.

First, realize that most birthparents are normal people who probably would have parented the child in the same ways you did. They would have punished Susie for smoking, too.

Adoption Alerts

Many adoptive parents are scared and apprehensive about an adopted adult's search. But some actually press their child to search. I don't think this is a good idea.

If your child wants to search, then be supportive. But don't pressure her and try to take over this important aspect of your child's life. Let your child decide whether and when to search for a birthparent.

Remember the flip side. The birthparents didn't see Susie play the lead fairy in the school play. They didn't sew her dress and create her gorgeous wings, which she treasured. Nor did they see Jimmy win a science fair prize. Or help him catch his first bass. You did.

Finally, some adoptive parents fear that the genetic similarities of the birthparents will prove irresistible to the adoptee.

It's very common for adopted adults and birthparents to explore mutual likes and dislikes when they first meet. If the relationship progresses, however, your child will begin to realize that although she and her birthmother share traits, they are also unalike in some ways as well.

It's notable that most adopted adults take great pains to insist that they love their parents and that their search was not initiated because they didn't think the adopters were “good enough.” They weren't looking for better parents. They just wanted to know the people who were responsible for their creation.

More on: Adoption


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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