The fear that your child will leave you one day is a very real fear for most parents. For adoptive parents, there is sometimes fear in the back of one’s mind that their child will one day leave or even be taken away from them. While irrational, it is just a fear that kind of sits there and permeates. This may be due to the poor media portrayal of adoption or just due to the sometimes difficult aspects of the adoption journey. Regardless of the reasoning, this fear is often very real and is a valid feeling shared by many parents, adoptive or otherwise.
It is hard to guess how a child will react or what will happen when a child reunites with their birth family. As there is so much unknown with this, it is very common to jump to conclusions. However, it is best to leave the unknown just unknown. If your child has not yet reunited with their birth parents, assume the best and be supportive. Worry about it when you have been given a real reason to worry, otherwise, you are likely stressing over nothing. If your child has already reunited with their birth parents and is acting distant, there may be a reason for this or they may simply need time. It is likely just the newness of it all. Reuniting with family members who have so much in common with you and share your blood can be quite impactful and overwhelming at the same time. It is likely that your child is embracing the newness and needs time to soak it all in.
Your child may also act distant if they are being given information about their adoption that they did not know before. Where the information is true or not, it is important to keep communication open. If there is anything that was withheld from them, it is perfectly valid for them to feel a certain way and need to communicate his feelings with you when they are ready. Regardless of the reason your child is being distant, it is important to give them time and space. Patience will be a virtue and understanding will be needed. Keep the lines of communication open and be forthcoming with your child. Let your child take the time that they need to embrace this new part of their world.
The first area to be concerned about if you feel like your child is becoming distant is communication. It is important to have open communication with your child throughout their life, but especially at this time. If you see your child becoming distant, reach out. Do not come from a place of anger or from a place of trying to make them feel guilty. Even just checking in once a week can be helpful. Just let your child know that you are there for them.
In communicating, you may find out that your child is upset about something or needs to talk to you about something that they are afraid to bring up. Communication will be key in letting your child know that you are ready and willing to talk about anything should they need. Communication will also open the door to conversations that have information about the reunion. Your child may be more than willing to talk about what is going on, but be worried about sparing your feelings. Simply letting your child know that you are open and willing to talk when they are ready can go a long way.
I know there have been many times where my children have been quiet or distant, and I have given them their space. However, I always made sure to check in or to plan something so that they knew that I was there. I did not press them on the issue but just simply made myself available. There will be things that our children go through that they simply need to go through alone. The road that they travel through in an adoption reunion is a very personal one. By allowing our children to trust us and know that we are there, they will come to us in their own time.
The approach that you take to the situation of your child being distant after an adoption reunion will depend on the circumstances under which the reunion occurred. If your child has had a fully closed adoption for their entire life, this is going to be a huge event. It will be a big event for anyone, but especially for those who have been in the closed adoption and who are finding out all new information about their family. Their distance may simply be because they are overwhelmed with everything happening, and frankly, the relationships in our lives that are old and secure are not at the top of their list right now.
You really have to look at it like this. We give our immediate attention to the things that need the most attention. I have five children. Two of my children are older and very independent. Unless there is some personal drama going on, they do not need their mom as much as my other little ones. On a given day, if my 5-year-old is playing nicely in his room, I may want to reward him and spend time with him. However, if my 3-year-old is having a meltdown and crying at the drop of a hat all day long, most of my attention will need to go to her to figure out what is going on and how to remedy the situation. Similarly, if you want to buy new couches but you desperately need a car to get to work, your money and attention will go to finding a new car.
Understand that your child being distant is likely not personal. They may not even realize that they are being distant. Take the time to understand that this is a lot for them to take in. A reunion is no small event and can be overwhelming. Let them know that you are there, but provide them the luxury of not feeling guilty at the moment that their attention is elsewhere. If there are issues that you need to address, do so when you are able to have time with them. However, know the difference between your child being distant and a simple shift in priorities.
Own Your Discomfort
Now, for the hard question: Is this really about distance? This may not apply to you at all and if that is the case, please disregard, but first, take a moment to be honest with yourself. When it comes to our children, it is easy to feel somewhat possessive. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Our children are very much “our children,” and it’s only human nature to feel some sort of protective nature. We want to be with them, and we want them to want to be with us. There is no easy scenario where we share our kids with someone else. This can go for adoptive parents or even parents who have children from previous relationships. In this case, you have to ask yourself if your child is really being distant or if they are staying away because they risk hurting your feelings or they sense the apparent hurt you feel by them seeking to reunite with their birth parents. Have you given the indication that the interaction with their birth parents is hurting you or that your pride has somehow been affected? Their seeming distance may be their way of protecting your feelings.
As I said, this may not apply to you at all. However, if there is any truth to this, it’s a great time to take a step back and remedy the situation. Take a look at how you are acting or what you are portraying and figure out how you can move past and change that. Communicate with your child that you recognize the issue and do not at all want them to feel guilty for seeking out their birth parents. If you are comfortable, you could go as far as hosting a get-together for both the birth and adoptive family.
It is human nature to feel protective of your child. It is not necessarily wrong to feel some sort of jealousy. It’s even normal to feel worried about being replaced or having your role as a parent challenged. While there are plenty of stories and research that indicate the above is not usually the case, it doesn’t make fighting those fears easy. With this, you have to tackle these fears head on for yourself and for your child. This jealousy will only breed more distance and possibly resentment. Try to understand why you feel what you do and speak with your child about your part in their distance if applicable.
Patience will be key to being the greatest help to your child during this time. In all likelihood, your child is just overwhelmed during this time of reunion. This overwhelming feeling can be part of a good thing or it could be part of a bad thing. Regardless of how the reunion is going, it is wonderful if you can have patience with your child as they go through this new stage in their life. They’re likely learning so much and taking in so much. It can be helpful if you can put yourself in their shoes and imagine meeting a whole second family. Imagine meeting aunts and uncles and various family members who all maybe look a bit like you and share some of your traits. Not only just meeting people in your birth family, but knowing that many people may have various opinions about your own adoption.
Can you imagine having to respond to opinions on or defend your own adoption? Adoption is one of those weird things where people feel entitled to have an opinion on one of the largest part of your life. It seems insane when you really think about it, however, it’s incredibly common. Give your child a firm foundation from which to respond to these questions with love while standing firm in their own assessment of their life and adoption story.
The stress or anxiety your child may face during this time may be great. Having patience with your child will help your child to not have to worry about you during this time. If they have to worry about your feelings and worry about you being upset that they are being distant, it will only add to their stress. Let your child know that you are there and let them know that you are willing to talk if they need to talk. Just being an ally to your child during this time will mean the world. If there are issues that you need to communicate or that your child needs to bring up with you, just letting your child know that you are there will be the key to successfully navigating this time. It will be a stressful time for your child, the rest of the family, and you. However, it’s important to remember that this is likely not a long-term situation.
As your child gets to know their birth family after the reunion, things will likely settle down, and there will become a new normal. It may just take some time. Give your child the gift of your patience and your time. As their parent, you know well how to put your child’s needs and feelings before your own. Take time to take a realistic look at the situation, understand where your child is coming from, and give them the support needed to navigate their reunion with their birth family. If you are able to embrace their birth family genuinely with your child, that support can be a godsend to your child in this delicate time. Support and understanding will be key in helping close the distance between you and your child.
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/.