We’ve all seen adoption on TV. Sometimes it’s done well; sometimes it portrays adoption in a terrible light.
This episode of the Disney show Jessie caught our attention. While it’s not how we would choose to script a search, it highlights some very important lessons. Nina Friedman, LCSW, Director of Post Adoption Support, gives parents advice on what NOT to do when your child wants to search for birth family members.
Don’t dismiss your child. Being curious and wanting to find out more about his history and story is normal and really his right. That history is part of who he is. It can be a scary step for a child to decide to learn more and to search for and connect with birth relatives, and even scarier to bring up the subject with his parents. It takes a lot of courage to ask adoptive parents to help. Kids may worry they will hurt their parents’ feelings, or make them uncomfortable. They also may wonder what they will find out – and how it will impact them emotionally. Dismissing your child or putting his questions on the back burner can make it even more frightening and difficult to bring up again.
Don’t confuse your own fears with your child’s fears. Searching for and possibly connecting with birth family can be scary for YOU as well. There may be information that disappoints your child, connections may not be possible, or you may have to manage new family relationships. But just because you may not be ready, doesn’t mean your child isn’t ready. As kids get older, it’s really difficult to determine what “ready” means. He’s asking – he’s ready for something.
Don’t withhold information. Talking to your child about his adoption – with age appropriate information – is extremely important. But if you haven’t, and you’re waiting for the “right time”, there likely isn’t one; that right time for YOU may never come. It isn’t too late to start the conversation. As your child gets older they have more and more resources at their disposal and they likely will start to use them to find information on their own if they don’t feel like they can rely on you to tell them. It is best that this information come from you as the parent.
Don’t let your child do this alone. In the case of Jessie's Luke, he “found” his birth mom on the internet. Armed with information about her, he built a fantasy reunion and relationship in his head…and then, after making contact, found out he had the wrong person. Because the story was on a sitcom, it ended well, but imagine ruining a real life fantasy, and the loss your child will suffer, or the consequences of your child arranging a meeting with the wrong person. Find the right resources and help him – so he isn't misguided, hurt, or finding himself in a dangerous situation.
We know that as parents, you want to protect your child – and searching can be scary for all of you. But if you’re not a part of the process your child may eventually do this on his own – and that can be scarier. The best way to protect your child is to join him. Help him through the emotions that come with searching and connecting. Help him sort through and verify the information that can be found and support him in the process.