The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Fears about meeting the child she gave up for adoption 17 years ago


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Tomorrow I am meeting my daughter, who I gave up for adoption 17 years ago. I am really anxious and worried that she won’t like me or that she won’t want to continue to have a relationship with me. I have been waiting for this day since I gave her away and now that it is here, I am more worried about what’s next.

We have communicated over the years through letters, e-mails and Facebook, but this is the first live conversation/meeting. Any advice?


(Nick Galifanakis/For The Washington Post)

It sounds as if you’re framing her in your mind as having all the power. Remember, you’re fully grown and much more prepared for this than she is, so it might be helpful to remind yourself that she’s going to be a bit of a mess, too. You’re both vulnerable. Understand that, and be ready to give both of you copious breaks and liberal amounts of forgiveness.

Also, I urge you not to go into this with any set expectations. Wanting her to like you and stay in touch with you is natural, but it also reduces this meeting to a transaction with a beginning, a middle and a fixed outcome — which it isn’t. It’s the beginning of a new phase of both of your lives, and it could have several different outcomes over time. She could decide against seeing you again — then reconsider in a year or five or 10. Or now choose a relationship and later change her mind, or something else entirely.

Since you are a mom, think like a mom: The joy of children isn’t in their turning out as you hoped, it’s in seeing them turn out as they are, whoever that may be. Adjust your expectations to, “I want to see who she is,” if you can. That can’t go wrong.

Some thoughts from readers:

●I’d take Carolyn’s advice one step further: Admit up front that you are nervous, don’t know what to expect, etc. I’m sure she feels the same, and opening up the dialogue sooner might relax things.

This is a unique situation that you’ll both need to navigate over time. Admit that, together. And don’t discount your previous mail/electronic interactions — she wants to meet you after years of being in touch. It’s a good sign!

●I met my birth-mother eight years ago, and have been lucky enough to have developed a relationship from that. However, I had read a lot of stories about adoptee and birth parent meetings that suggested she would not be as welcoming as I had hoped. As a result, I walked in with no expectations, and every additional interaction has been a gift. Best of luck.

●The birth mother said, “I have been waiting for this day since I gave her away.” As an adoptive mother, I’d like to respectfully remind her that she didn’t give her daughter away. She placed her for adoption. The difference in the words does matter. She did a difficult and selfless thing. Tomorrow, she may not only meet her child in person, she may be welcomed into her daughter’s adoptive family. I hope I get the chance to meet my daughter’s birth mother someday. Good luck, Mom. I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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