If you are an adoptee who has or will be reunited with their birth parents, it is likely that you have built up in your mind for quite some time what this reunion will look like. You may be nervous about it and think it will go horribly or you may have this vision of hugs and tears. Whatever you have envisioned, reunions do not always go the way we think they will go and that can sometimes be good or bad. There are many factors to consider and be conscious of when you are embarking on a reunion. After the emotions have died down, any sort of relationship is going to take a lot of work.
There cannot be an expectation that everyone will be comfortable right away. Even though you are family, it is going to take some time to get to know one another. As with any relationship, there may be things that you disagree on or feelings that you do not share. It is important to take things slowly in a reunion situation and understand that the relationship may ebb and flow. There may even be a point where your birth parent becomes distant. There may also be a point where you feel that you need to distance yourself from your birth parent. There are many reasons why reunions can become uncomfortable situations or difficult situations when the relationship part begins.
While you may feel like your birth parent is being distant, it may simply be a case of them giving you space and not knowing for sure how much communication you would like. It can be incredibly hard to build a relationship after a reunion. While you are family, it is going to take a long time for you all to get to know each other and to know what level of communication is appropriate or comfortable. This can be true for all parts of the adoption triad. Relationship after reunion is often incredibly difficult to navigate.
I saw a story on an adoptee recently who struggled with her relationship with her birth father after reunion. She had actually sought him out and searched for him to initiate the reunion. While she was excited to get to know him and finally have her questions answered, she struggled with the way she felt after the reunion. It was not that she did not want a relationship, but the relationship her birth father wanted felt like a lot very quickly. She had relationships and family already, and to her, it felt like she now was obligated to two different families. Her birth father wanted her to meet her biological siblings and his side of the family immediately.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, just overwhelming all at once. For her, she needed to take a step back from the reunion to sort out her feelings for a bit after their initial meeting. This was hard for her birth family to understand, and they could not understand why she was being distant after seeking them out. It was not that she did not want a relationship; it was simply that she needed time to process everything that was happening. After the door has been opened for reunions, many things change. It is hard to then navigate holidays like Father’s Day or Christmas. It is difficult to handle possible hurt or questions from your adopted family. The same can be true for birth parents. They may have to take time to figure out what life looks like with you now in it.
If your birth parent is being distant after a union, they may just be in this processing phase. It is incredibly understandable and common for birth parents to also have to process reunion. They will need to process their relationship with you and their new relationship in regards to your adoptive family. It may just be that they need time to sort out their feelings on the reunion and try to understand more about how to best approach the relationship with you. The reunions may have also brought up some bad memories of possible guilt or heartbreak. Adoption comes with a lot of loss and even trauma. This is true for birth parents too. It may be that you just need to give them some time. It is best not to assume that they are being distant for any negative reason.
If you are simply at a state where you have not had a reunion but are worried that your birth parent may become distant, it is important to keep things in perspective before going into the reunion. Keep your expectations low. This is not for any negative reasons but understand that this will be a strange situation for both of you. It is likely to be uncomfortable as you get to know each other. This is only normal. There will have to be some time where you get to know one another and not try to force a relationship. This distance you may feel from your birth parent may simply be the result of processing. Give yourself time to process the reunion and see what type of relationship you would like going forward.
You may want to talk about this idea of an ongoing relationship at the reunion and possibly set a date of the next time you will speak or meet up. Many people enter reunions without a plan. If you have not had a reunion yet, it may be good to plan when you might speak next or maybe simply have dinner together. It is easy to want to jump into a relationship with your birth family with both feet. However, this often comes from a set of expectations you have imagined over the years. Many of these expectations are based on ideas you have in your head about who the other person is, when in fact, you don’t know who they are yet. Start with small events and small commitments such as lunch or dinner. Look at it as you would building any new relationship. You don’t jump right into moving in together. You take time to get to know the other person and the relationship builds from there. Distance may be more about being uncomfortable rather than actual distance. Give each other the time and space needed to grow your relationship slowly.
It is also important to look at your relationship with your birth parent from the perspective of other relationships in your life. This relationship may be very different than the relationship you have with your adoptive parents. It is easy to go into a relationship with your birth parent with the expectation that this relationship will be very much like a parent-child relationship. However, you have to understand that as an adult, this relationship will be very different. Most parent-child relationships do not start in adulthood. You both have figured out who you are as people and did not get the opportunity to grow together. While you may develop a very close relationship, this relationship will have to grow on its own and be something completely different than what you have with your adoptive parents.
For example, I am very close with many of my aunts and uncles. They are some of my favorite people. However, due to life and time, we speak to one another seldomly. Our relationship is very restricted, mostly to social media. This is not because I don’t want a relationship. I would love to talk to them and see them every day. However, our relationship is what it is based on our distance and the trends in relationship we formed as I grew up. The distance you are feeling with your birth parent may just be consequences of the type of relationship you are growing. Think about the expectations that you have. Are you expecting to see them a lot? Could you lower your expectations to maybe talk by phone or via social media a few times a month? There may have to be a conversation between you and your birth parent to see what kind of relationship both of you are comfortable with. You may also choose to simply talk about what type of relationship you would be able to maintain with each other through the busyness that happens in life and the distance that you may have between you.
In many reunion cases, it is likely that you and your birth parents do not live close to one another. Even if you do live relatively close, you both have lives and relationships that you have built with other people up until this point. You both have entire other families and lifestyles. This is going to happen just as it would with friends. Life happens and we get busy. The distance you are experiencing could be nothing more than a busy life. It may be hard to handle, but I would not take it personally right off the bat. If you feel like you can, reach out with a supportive message and just know that you are thinking about them. Life may have just gotten busy and they may be happy to hear from you.
Unfortunately, there may be a reality where there are situations where a birth parent’s distance is because they choose not to pursue a relationship after your initial reunion. This can be incredibly heartbreaking for an adoptee, and understandably so. However, it is important to know that this distance or rejection is not your fault. It is not about you or the person you have become. It is not about your self-worth nor does it speak to your self-worth in any way. Your birth parent is human. As humans, we have a lot of emotions and baggage that we have to deal with. Some of the situations that caused your birth parent to place you for adoption may have not resolved even with all the time that has passed.
Your birth parent may have gone into the reunion with you and been overwhelmed. There may have been feelings or issues that resurfaced for them. Reunions can be an incredibly difficult time for all parts of the adoption triad. Your birth parent may simply choose to be distant because they are not ready for a relationship. This will be hard to swallow and hard to cope with, but, unfortunately, there is not much more you can do. You can certainly let them know if you are willing to start a relationship when they are ready. However, try to understand that this is a possibility and it is not one based on anything that you have done. Seek the support of your family and friends during this time.
The unknowns that come with adoption reunions can be nerve-racking. Relationships are hard in general. Trying to build a relationship with a parent you have never known is bound to have some challenges. Understand that your expectations need to come from a place of reality and not a place of imagination. Whatever you have built up in your mind may not come to fruition. Understand that you are both coming into this relationship with different feelings on adoption and different emotions that you carry as a person based on your shared but very different adoption experience.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of your birth parent and understand that this may not be an easy process. Keep your confidence and understand that whatever they decide, it is about them and not about you. Hopefully, you can build a relationship or bridge that distance in the future. If your birth parent is not comfortable with a certain level of relationship, offer an olive branch such as keeping in touch on social media and allowing them to reach out when they are ready. Take the time to process the reunion yourself and get support from those around you if needed. Talk to other adoptees about their reunion experiences and understand that your relationship with your birth parent may continue to change multiple times as you grow together.
Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/.