Blindsided by Adult Adopted Daughter & Birth Mother

Dawn Davenport


Adoptive mom fears meeting her child's birth mother

Sometimes an adoptive parent’s fear puts their child between a rock and a hard place.

We have worked hard to make this blog a safe place for all sides of the adoption triad (first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees) to share their triumphs and concerns. It easy to find safe places to share the hearts and butterflies parts of adoption, but far harder to find a place to share the fears. I take that responsibility seriously.

Ever since I posted a blog response to a question from a mom who was struggling with her adult son’s reunion with his birth mother, we have received several other emails from parents in similar positions. There are so few places that they can reach out for advice. I feel their pain.

My husband and I have been blindsided by our adoptive adult daughter. She has invited us to attend a Dinner honoring her and her husband for philanthropy in our area. After she invited us reluctantly and we accepted the dinner invitation, she indicated that her birth Mom and Sister would also be attending.

We have been aware that she found her birth Mom and sisters 20 years ago. At the time her birthmom indicated she didn’t want to build a relationship with her. We supported her finding and expressed a desire to meet the birth mother; we also met and welcomed one of her bio sisters during that time.

What’s troubling is that we had not known that our daughter had been building her relationship with her birth mom over the years. And, now without any previous discussion, we will be meeting her birthmother (oh, by the way) at this fancy dinner. I am not sure how to explain my feelings, except to wonder why it is that this birth mother relationship comes as a surprise to us the adoptive parents. Any comments? Is it a reflection of our upbringing? We are full of fear and puzzlement. What`s happening?

I don’t know why your daughter hasn’t told you. I completely understand why you would feel hurt that she has not mentioned something that obviously is so important to her. Secrets hurt. We preach that all the time to adoptive parents, but the reverse is true as well. I suspect that what’s happening now is that she is trying to rectify this situation.

Why Not Share a Birth Family Reunion with Adoptive Family

I tried to put myself in your daughter’s position and imagine why I wouldn’t want to share this info. These are some of the ideas I came up with:

  • Maybe she was embarrassed, feeling rejected and disappointed when her birth mother didn’t want the relationship 20 years ago and wanted to try again without anyone knowing to spare her future public embarrassment.
  • Maybe she sensed relief from you or her dad when the first reunion didn’t take and wanted to spare you the second time around.
  • Maybe it happened very gradually. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, but then when it developed into something, it became too big to just casually mention.

It could be other reasons or a combination of reasons. In an ideal world, your daughter would have told you in a different way, but it helps to have some compassion as to why she might not have. You didn’t mention why she was “reluctant” to invite you to the dinner, but I wonder if it was because of the weight of this secret.

Don’t Speculate, Ask

All my thoughts are just speculation. Why not ask her, but do so in a way that shows compassion for her struggles.

“I know that establishing a relationship with your birth mother was important to you in the past, so I’m happy for you that it has worked out. I can’t help but notice that you haven’t mentioned it before now, and I wonder why. Did you worry that I wouldn’t be supportive? Or did it just feel awkward to bring it up? It troubles me if we have given you any reason to feel the need to keep this a secret. In any event, I want you to know that we are happy for you, and that you can share this part of your life with us.”

Live Up to Her Trust

Your daughter has opened the door to invite you into this part of her life. You were hurt that she kept her relationship with her first mom from you, but now that she has opened up, you are afraid and also hurt. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?!?

Do you see that in some ways your daughter is in a “darned if she does, darned if she doesn’t” situation? I understand your fear of the unknown, but would you rather be kept in the dark? Try your best to put aside your fear and live up to her trust in you. I hope your love for her will carry you through.

Thoughts? Advice?


Image credit: Diamondduste

21/05/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 20 Comments

20 Responses to Blindsided by Adult Adopted Daughter & Birth Mother

  1. Avatar Daisy says:

    I am the biological mom of 5 beautiful children whom I lost to the state. The adopted parents have played an important part of their lives that they had adopted all five but let had learned of what my daughters had went through compared to what the boys had. The girls off and on feel left out when they the see me and their adopted parents. When they aren’t with me she gets along with the girls but if they are staying with me then she only converses with the other kids. My daughters then feel left out and unloved. The adopted dad used to hit them with stuff when they dripped water on the floor and yell at them once in a while the adopted mom would have him apologize to them. When they started having marital issues they blamed the kids but mainly the girls for them almost losing the house. I try to tell my daughters the only one who they need to be happy with is themselves even though it is important to feel loved and fit in. My youngest daughter has a toddler son so I tell her he needs her to make him feel loved and she will get love in turn plus I would never turn my back on them. I just break down because it hurts me that they feel hurt and betrayed by their family. I want them which is the 4 children I have left alive to feel wanted, loved, and comfort from me and their other family not to be an outcast. I hurt when I see them hurt. Love always and forever their mom.

  2. Avatar Rosi says:

    i talked to my biological mother too on the phone. She said i’m mom (for 3 times) and i said “yes, yes…. i know it”. She expected me to call her Mom. Hahaha.

  3. Avatar Amy says:

    I am an adoptee who has recently found her birthmother and stumbled upon this blog trying to find a way to not to hurt anyone in this process. For the adopted parents on here- for me not yet sharing the news with my dad (my mother has passed) is pure fear. I love him so much, he raised me, he is my dad,and I love him. The last thing I want to do is hurt him. I worry it will make him feel less important or like he or my mother are being replaced or that I feel that they did not do a good job as parents. He is older, and why rock his world right now? And on the other side, I fear hurting my biological mom if I keep this a secret. These are hard feelings to navigate while also navigating my feelings and my needs. It is so hard for people, I think, who are not adopted to understand why one searches. For one, it is complicated. Although you grew up with a loving adoptive family (if you are lucky), the adoptee still has a yearning to know who she is, where she came from, what the full story was, and want a sense of biological connection- to look into the eyes and face of another and recognize oneself for the first time in your life. She may feel that although she was provided with love and a wonderful life, there was always something missing and/or she may have grown up noticing that there were some small differences between her and her adoptive family- maybe physical differences, maybe behavioral differences, and she never shared these feelings with you because she did not want to hurt you. All of this does not even scratch the surface of the myriad of feelings she is experiencing. Speaking for myself, I want to partially be selfish, and just take in the experience and all that is brought with it- manage my own feelings of joy, excitement, possibly loss and/or disappointment- which in and of itself is overwhelming. To add everyone else’s feelings into the mix- and have the that guilt added to an already emotionally charged situation is something I struggle with. As an adoptee this is a very hard juggling act to want yourself and everyone else to just be happy, or at least ok, and to not hurt either the relationship with the parents that raised you nor one’s biological family. I want to respect everyone involved as well as myself, and thus, I am currently avoiding the conflict altogether. I’d love the advice of you adoptive parents out there as well as biological parents out there as to how to best handle this.

    • Avatar Denise says:

      That was perfectly said! I’m not sure how old this post is but I came upon it when I googled “tips for telling my adopted parents I have found my birthfamily “. If anyone seees this I would love any advice.

  4. Avatar Rebecca Hawkes says:

    Thank you, Dawn!

  5. Avatar Rebecca Hawkes says:

    I had to write a whole blog post in response to this one:

  6. Avatar Sylvie says:

    You wrote: “We are full of fear…” What exactly are you afraid of? Your daughter is 40+ years old. Clearly, she feels your pain and insecurities acutely-Is it so hard to imagine why she would be reluctant to discuss her reunion with you? Sorry, but this is isn’t about you.

    • Sylvie, thank you for your comment. Fear, by its very nature, is often illogical. I suspect that this mother is afraid of a number of things, but mostly being replaced in her daughter’s heart. Given her daughter’s action, it isn’t logical, but that doesn’t make it any less real to the mom.

  7. Avatar Tracy says:

    I think the author should have deferred the response to the email to an adoptee in reunion, rather than speculating on why and Adoptee might keep this from their adoptive family. Many adoptees keep their reunion with their biological families secret from their adoptive families. Simply put, it’s about “the adoptee” not the “adoptive family”. The quickest way to implode your reunion is to include your biological family.

  8. Avatar Shelly says:

    If not for her ‘birth’ mother, she would not be here, so should she decide to have a relationship with the woman responsible for her being on this earth I think that is her business. Adopters get it all, at all times. Let someone else have something too, you know, from the child you got to covet all to yourselves all those years. This reeks of entitlement and insecurity from those who gain from someone else’s horrific loss. So sick of hearing things like this and the selfishness that rears it’s ugly head in adoption ‘reunions’.

  9. Avatar Von says:

    All adults have the right to keep things to themselves if they decide that is the best course of action. None of us know the full story here since we have not heard the adoptee’s views and I imagine are not likely to. For an adult to take this action I’d guess there has been much careful thought and time devoted to trying to please everyone. Please do not assume that that adoptee is at fault here. She may have had difficulties over the years in dealing with the adoptive parent’s insecurities, their attitudes to her mother or a million other things. Perhaps the message is ‘Be grateful you have raised an adult who cares and is still in your life.’

    • Von, [ For an adult to take this action I’d guess there has been much careful thought and time devoted to trying to please everyone.] I think you’re right. I often say “assume good intent” unless proven otherwise. Applies here as well. Insecurity and fear can sometimes make this hard to do.

  10. Avatar marilynn says:

    Dawn such a cool response to the letter. Telling her basically don’t make her regret telling you now. Just be cool

  11. You are very wise, Dawn. It’s evident you’ve done a lot of listening.

    • Lori, I’m not sure about the wisdom, but I have done a lot of listening to wise folks such as yourself and a lot of reading of great books, such as yours (The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption).

  12. Avatar cara johnson-blystone says:

    Secrets hurt. Very profound with so few words.

    • Cara, funny how it’s easy to feel the pain, even if it is irrational, when we are the one being kept in the dark, but harder to see how we hurt others when we are the secret holder.

  13. Avatar TAO says:

    I’m trying to word this as gently as I can as I don’t know if it is just your wording, or how it actually played out. You wanted to meet her birth mother. You met and welcomed her bio sister. Two completely different responses, one time meeting vs welcoming. If that is how it came across to your daughter, that could be one reason, but only one reason. An adoptee is likely reading both verbal, and physical clues, as well as your historical actions and words to know how you feel.

    Then you have the fact that your daughter is married and is close to, or over forty, she has her own life that is separate from her relationship with you. Creating a relationship with the mother that gave birth to you, but did not raise you, can be incredibly emotional with ups and downs. It’s also incredibly personal and sharing it risks being judged, or having to make sure you feel good about it too. It also can, and does, make some adoptees so over-conscious that they must not show any favor to either side that you end up feeling like a yo-yo and can’t be themselves. It becomes more about taking care of the two mothers needs, than the two people forming a relationship.

    I didn’t, and still don’t share with mom (or dad) things that were, or are, happening in my life, until I am ready to share them, if I ever got ready at all. Big things. Just because they are my parents, doesn’t mean they need to know everything that goes on in my life, who my friends are, what relationships I have. If it is relevant to them and our relationship, I share. If I want to share, I do, if I don’t, then I don’t.

    Your daughter is obviously a very caring person who has gone out of her way if she is being honored for the work she has done. Be proud of that. Celebrate that.

    Now to the part that no matter how I word it comes out wrong. You need to work on any feelings of insecurity you are having. You have a daughter of 40ish years who is still your daughter, you have a relationship with her, she hasn’t walked away, or turned her back on you. Why does it matter if she has a relationship with both her mothers as separate, unique relationships, instead of just one of her mothers, or both of her mothers combined?

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