Adoption search and reunion seems to be everywhere we turn these days: from tearful reunions displayed on TV to advertisements for DNA websites that can link you to birth relatives. As an adoptive parent you may be wondering, what should I say to my child about searching for their own birth family?
Adoptive Families’ magazine recently published an article available to their members titled “In Search of Identity” noting that “if your teen starts talking about a birth parent search, be supportive while preparing her for all possible outcomes.” Despite the fact that there are snapshots of search and reunion everywhere, it can still be difficult to help your child prepare “for all possible outcomes.” What exactly ARE the possible outcomes? How can someone truly prepare for these? There is no “normal” or “typical” reunion. The outcome that one may have thought would be the ideal or the hardest may be more difficult or easier than expected.
As “In Search of Identity” highlights, when this topic arises, focus strongly on opening up dialogue with your child. Remember that you can support your child by encouraging them to search; but that being supportive also includes providing your child the flexibility and independence to decide that they are not ready to search yet. Create the space for your child to share their motivations for wanting to search at this time and what fears they may have. Explore with them how they would feel about different responses from their birth parent. Ask your child to consider, “What would I like to tell them?”, and to write these thoughts in a letter. This exercise is useful both now—as you consider searching—and later—as an item that can be given to the birth parent if you decide to search and connect with family members.
Things to Consider Before You Search
We have put together our own list of “Things to Consider” to help guide your conversations and explore how both you and your child feel as you contemplate searching for birth family. It is very important that as you go through these questions, you:
Carefully consider your expectations
Think about what kind of search outcome you are hoping for. What are your expectations for the process and result? Are you seeking information? Some level of contact? An ongoing relationship? How do you envision it to be?
Prepare for a variety of outcomes
If your search outcome is not what you had hoped, how will you handle it? What if the other person cannot be located? What if they are deceased? What if they do not wish to have contact? What if the information you find contradicts what you had believed to be true? Think about how you might respond to a range of potential outcomes.
Questions before You Begin Your Search | for Adoptees
- What first made you think about starting the search process?
- Do you know the details of your adoption story? Please write what you know of your adoption story.
- What kinds of information do you hope to receive during the search process?
- Are you ready to think about your adoption and any unknowns in your story (including the possibility of receiving new information about your adoption story)? Please explain.
- The search process involves many individuals and situations may not progress in the manner in which we want them to happen. How do you usually handle situations that do not go the way you want them to go, or questions that remain unanswered?
- Are you prepared to know more about birth family and possibly meet them? Please explain.
- What level of confidentiality do you want during your search and what steps have you taken to protect that confidentiality?
- Have you thought about how searching could impact your life now and in the future? What are your thoughts? If your birth family is located, how would you like to include them in your life?
- Do you have a support system in place? Who or what is offering this support? Are you open to receiving additional support if you need it along the way? Please explain.
- With whom do you intend to share the information you learn during your search?
- What are the top five emotions that you feel when you think about your birth family?
- What is the “best” case scenario of your birth family search? What is the “worst” case scenario of your birth family search? Consider how you would respond in both scenarios.
Questions before You Begin Your Search | for Adoptive Parents
- Why does your child wish to start the search process?
- If your child is not ready to start the search process, have you provided him/her the room needed to choose not to search at this time?
- Have you shared the details/information of your child’s adoption story with him/her?
- What do you wish your child would receive from this search process?
- What role will you be filling throughout the process (active participant in search or DNA testing and review of results, or supportive when needed)?
- If you are participating throughout the search, are you ready to receive and share new information about your child’s adoption story with him/her?
- Are you prepared to step back if your child would like to complete the search on his/her own?
- The search process involves many individuals and situations may not progress in the manner in which we want them to happen. How does your child usually handle situations that do not go the way they want them to go, or questions that remain unanswered? Are you prepared to explain that this search process can take quite some time and is out of your control?
- Is your child prepared for a possible meeting with his/her birth family? Are you ready for a possible meeting with your child’s birth family?
- Have you thought about how the search process could impact your child and your family’s overall life now and in the future?
- If your child’s birth family is located, how do you envision them becoming included in your life?
- Does your child have a support system in place? Are you open to having your child receive additional support if needed?
- What resources and support do you have in place to help you process your response to your child’s reunion?
- What is the “best” case scenario of your child’s birth family search? What is the “worst” case scenario of your child’s birth family search? Consider how you would respond in both scenarios.
About the Author: Nichole Lange is a Licensed Social Worker on our Post Adoption team who builds curriculum for our adoptee support groups and assists adoptees and families with post adoption services.View Our Post Adoption ServicesRead “In Search of Identity”View MNAdopt’s List of Adoption Therapists