Good relationship between your child and her birth parents

May 1, 2012

QWe adopted our 9-year-old daughter as a baby and are deeply bonded to her. When she asked to meet her birth parents, we took her to see them. The visit helped her understand how much they loved her, but it was incredibly painful, too, because her birth mother has chosen to raise several other children, both older and younger than my daughter, and she is pregnant again.

Our child is obsessed with this new baby; she pines for the family and says that she adores her birth siblings, whom she hardly knows, but hates her 6-year-old brother, whom we also adopted as an infant.

Our daughter says that she wants to live with her birth parents, although they are a plane ride away and she is deeply attached to my husband and me. I have a hard time making her understand that we are the right parents for her and we always were. She was an extremely needy infant and toddler, and we were able to give her the extra attention that she required.

Should she spend more time with this family? Less time? Although I understand her birth mother’s pain, she has refused to honor certain requests I’ve made, and she calls my child by the name she gave her instead of her legal name. That is very confusing to my daughter, and she is really torn up about her relationship with her birth mother. How can I make my daughter feel better?


(HADLEY HOOPER/For the Washington Post)

AThere is such a thing as being too understanding, too kind, too magnanimous. And this may be one of those times.

It is great that you and your husband were open-minded — and openhearted — enough to let your daughter meet her birth parents, because some adoptees really need to do that. As one of them poignantly said, “I dearly love my parents, but I still have to know where these toes of mine came from.” Once she knew, she said, she would feel complete.

As you have discovered, however, an open relationship doesn’t always work, especially if your child is feeling left out by her birth family and if she is 8, 9 or 10 years old — a time when hormones kick in and magical thinking runs rampant.

Because reality, not magic, rules the world, your little girl still has to learn that we must work with who we are, not who we wish we were. If we have a limp, we swim. If we are poor, we ignore shop windows and catalogues. And if we are bad at math, we draw, we write, we tend flowers or children.

Your daughter will eventually learn that life is what she makes of it, but she’ll learn faster if she — and you — get some professional help. You went through so much to adopt this child, but if you’re going to do what’s best for her, you’ll have to do even more.

An adoption agency can give you an assessment of the birth mother’s family, so you’ll know if this relationship should continue. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (www.adoption
attorneys.org
) can help you get legal protection if it’s needed. And both that group and an agency can probably recommend a family therapist who understands adoption problems well. A good counselor will help your daughter understand her birth mother better and appreciate her brother more, and give you the courage to stay strong when you’d really rather cave.

Your daughter will accept your decisions better if you are kind and gentle when you give them to her and if you let sympathy be your guide.

Ideally, you can let your daughter visit her bonus mom for a week once or even twice a year, but only if you can afford four airplane tickets and a hotel room so all of you can go. If she wants to go without you, say no, because you are a family and families do things together, and also because you love her too much to let her go alone. And who can argue with a rule based on love? Or, for that matter, who can argue with someone who takes responsibility for that rule, even if it goes against her?

This may still be a tough argument for you to make, but it’s the same one you’ll use when your daughter is a teenager and asks you if she can drive to a concert on a school night with a boy who got his license last Tuesday.

“I’m so sorry,” you’ll say. “I’d really like to say yes, but I love you too much to let you do that.” After a while she’ll accept this decision, not because she agrees with you but because she knows that this is the price she pays for being loved.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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RRead previous Family Almanac columns at washingtonpost.com/advice , and find news on the On Parenting blog: washingtonpost.com/onparenting.

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