Most adopted people are curious about their birth parents. The Search Institute found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents want to know why they were adopted, 65 percent want to meet their birth parents, and 94 percent wanted to know which birth parent they most resemble in appearance. This curiosity is normal, natural, and healthy, but can feel threatening to some adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents need to know how adoptees feel about reunion

As an adoptive parent, it is ever so tempting to view ourselves as our child’s only family. Intellectually, of course, we know this isn’t true, but emotionally, we wish it were.

We have written on how adoptive parents may feel during their child’s reunion with birth family before. On one blog, Adoptive Mom Feels Left Out at Son’s Reunion with Birth Mother, an adoptee, Kim Yoonmi, shared her thoughts to help adoptive parents understand the need to search and what reunions feel like to adopted people. With her permission, we share them here.


Reunions are difficult matters from an adoptee perspective. Remember the time where you were PAPs [prospective adoptive parents] and waiting for your child, your mythical child? Remember how much you built that child up in your mind while waiting and discounted anything negative you heard–thinking “Oh, that thing the other AP said isn’t going to happen to me.”

Adoptees tend to do the same thing towards their birth parents in reverse. Multiply your expectations by the number of years your child has waited and known they were adopted. Then bam, reality hits, and the reunion can be difficult without any support. If the AP is going to put us in a game of us v. them, the support we thought we were going to get leaves us feeling cold.

I do get it. You’re human with human jealousies. You were sold the idea by adoption agencies that love is limited by title, though it isn’t. But we didn’t sign up for this mess. You did.

How we feel along our own journeys definitely varies. No two stories will be alike. But asking us to choose is unreasonable and unhealthy.

Have you listened to this Panel of Transracial Adoptees?

Here is my favorite analogy for adoption: adoption is a marriage, a funeral, and a birthday all rolled into one.

The problem is that the adoptee sees all three from the time they know. Which is why, if you keep the fact they are adopted from them, they might experience something like seeing their own funeral.

The adoptive parents tend to try to focus on the birthday. How happy they are that this person came into their life.

The birth parents tend to see the funeral. How they lost their child, couldn’t raise them, etc., even in open adoption cases.

The Adoptee has to deal and balance all three — however, they choose to balance it. It’s not always 100% birthday or 100% wedding or 100% funeral, but it interweaves back and forth, and sometimes they’re just sick of all the ceremonies. Maybe one adoptee favors one over the other. It should be up to them, though people outside try really hard to police which one it should be.

The real problem occurs when the adoptive parents [APs] and Adoptees don’t agree on what the adoption is. The APs want to ignore their in-laws, though they signed up to get married, and the Adoptee didn’t. They want to ignore their in-laws ever exist. So sometimes it becomes a shouting match of “Look, you were the one that got married” and then a round of “No, I didn’t. You’re hurting me by talking to them and about them.” I ask, how can that possibly be healthy?!?

On the flip side with birth parents it’s an “I’m not dead yet” moment… my life went on, there is no need for the funeral at the same time being angry at needing a funeral, because yes, that person died. That version of you, their child that they imagined, died and is now a ghost. The person that you were not is staring them in the face as well as the person you can’t completely be, and of course, there is anger and sadness and grief from that. But you’re alive and still moving at the same time. Grief never matches, which makes it hard in reality to reconnect.

Often I know it’s easy to look at only the funeral or only the birthday and ask things like, “Why aren’t they happy on their birthday?” or “Why aren’t they sadder?”

young boy alone

So for those of you out there in the reunion phase, wherever you are in the adoption community (AP, birth parent, or adoptee), please remember that reunions are tough, really really tough, because you’re trying to marry a birthday with a funeral, and there is no way you can easily do that. Often the burden falls on the adoptee to do it alone. And if APs and birth parents don’t realize they had a marriage all of this time and one they (at least the APs) signed up for, it becomes tough. Don’t be the catty in-laws that become the rusty cog in the reunion by being surprised there was a marriage because that’s terrible wedding etiquette.

For that reason, APs should not insist on meeting the birth parents when the adoptee meets them. There is no relationship established yet. They need time to find where they are with that family and barging in and putting on pressure for it to be one way is *hard* and headache-inducing. Plus, they can’t warn you up front of bad behavior that would be disrespectful if they are trying to connect at the same time as babysitting you and your feelings. Imagine a funeral in one ear, while you’re listening to a birthday in the other.

Everyone needs space and time in a reunion to deal with their feelings. That is valid. But you also need healthy boundaries to deal with those feelings in your own space and time. Unhealthy boundaries are more likely to push them away, like a spouse telling the other spouse to stop talking to their family and friends altogether.

~By Kim Yoonmi, an adult adoptee. 

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Image credit: stefernie; Dallas Peters