adoptive mom feels left out when her son reunites with birth mother

I get a lot of questions from folks and usually either jot off a quick reply pointing them to a Creating a Family resource or I request that they post the question on the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group and I respond over there. But every once in a while a question comes in that haunts me. I mull it over while driving, running, and cooking. I feel it pecking at me demanding my attention until I finally write a full-blown blog response. Such was the case with the following question:

Adult adoptive son (age mid thirties) wants us to embrace his birthmother whom he met recently and join them in a huge birthday celebration of their 1st child. We have never met them by choice, and now they want us to meet at this celebration. I thought that was a lot to ask of us adoptive parents. Perhaps we should meet first before the big party. I know it will be an emotional thing for me (adoptive mom) and husband. It looks as though this is going to be an ongoing thing the rest of our lives. Any thoughts? It is very hard for me right now as I feel our upbringing is second fiddle to his new find. We feel very left out. ~Other Mother

Other Mother, it sounds like this reunion has thrown you for a loop. I can totally understand that. You adopted at a time when openness between adoptive and birth families and between adoptees and birth families was not a part of adoption; in fact, it was often actively discouraged. You’re now being asked to adapt to a new world with new expectations, and that’s hard.

Walking in an Adoptee’s Shoes

It is difficult for us non-adopted people to understand the situation adoptees face. I want you to try something. As best as you can take your son and your hurt feelings out of the equation and try, I mean really really try, to put yourself in an adoptee’s shoes. Imagine never knowing whom you look like, who else in the world has your weird laugh or strangely bowed legs. Imagine wondering and fearing every time the news reports another disease with a genetic link that maybe you have those genes. Imagine something as seemingly “silly” as wondering what you will look like when you’re older. If you were able to imagine even one of these feelings, you get a glimpse of what many adopted people feel. The desire of an adoptee to find their biological family has nothing to do with the love they feel for their adoptive family.

If We’d Only Done a Better Job of Raising Them

The desire to search does NOT reflect on you or the way you raised your son. I suspect it has a lot to do with innate temperament. Some people are just inherently more curious than others. As a very curious person, I get it. Perhaps your temperament is different, but the job of a parent is to understand and encourage the temperaments that our children came with. For many adoptees, making these biological connections completes them, and what loving parent would want their child to go through life feeling incomplete?

While your son’s desire to find his birthmother does not reflect on his dissatisfaction with you, what does reflect on you and the way you raised him is that he wants you to meet his biological family. One way to look at it is that he wants you to embrace his birthmother. Another way to look at it is that he wants you to be a part of this new phase of his life.

How unbelievably wonderful is that – your adult son cares so much about you and his relationship with you that he wants you along on the journey! Think about it–you are living my dream! Your son trusts you enough to ask this. I pray that my sons and daughters will feel the same about me when they are grown. Adult children don’t have to include us in their lives, we are only allowed in by invitation, and he’s inviting you. You must have done a great job raising him.

Feeling Left Out

What is causing you to feel left out? Could it be a touch of jealousy? I can understand that, truly I can. But jealousy implies a limited supply of something, and the fear that you aren’t going to get a fair amount of that limited something. What is that “something” that is limited in this situation? Love? Time? Both?

Love isn’t limited. If your son is married, he already loves his partner. If he has children, he loves them. If he isn’t married with children, I assume you want him to experience these loves some day. His love for other people doesn’t diminish his love for you, regardless whether they are his wife, kids, or birth family.

While love isn’t limited, time is. Is your son spending less time with you now that he has met his birth family? At first this might be natural, but I would be very surprised if it continues. If it does, have an open conversation with him, making sure to use “I” phrases. “I miss you and I’d love to see you more”.

Where to Meet the Birthmother

I don’t think it matters where you meet your son’s birth mother. Meeting privately for the first time allows for an in depth conversation and the expression of emotions. Meeting at a large party allows you to be more of an observer. Both ways have their advantages. If you’d rather meet your son’s birth mother before the party, then simply suggest it. If you meet for the first time at the party, make sure to schedule a time later to meet privately.

Before You Meet

Before you meet your son’s birth mom, spend some time trying to imagine her feelings right now. She probably has a mix of emotions, just like you. I can almost guarantee that she is probably feeling afraid of being judged; feeling regret at what she missed; feeling intensely thankful at all you’ve given her son; and maybe, just maybe, she’s also feeling jealous of you and left out as well.

Think of all the joy and experiences you’ve had with your son. What might you say to the woman who made this all possible? Do this for you, do this for her, but most important, do this for your son. You’ve clearly done a great job of raising him, don’t stop being a great mom now.

P.S. Another question that haunted me and demanded a response via blog is Who Has A Rightful “Claim” On Our Kids: Insecurity In Adoption. It is related in some ways to this question, and I still think about this woman and this question.

First published in 2014; Updated in 2017
Image credit: Rouf Rafi