This guest post is by AdoptiveBlackMom, an adoptive mother and blogger.
I was a very naïve parent when Hope first became my daughter. She was 12 at the time, and while she talked about her custodial parent a lot she never really had much to say about her other parent or her extended family.
I listened to the things that Hope’s social worker said about her extended biological family; most of it wasn’t very nice.
I found myself with a lot of questions about them. How did Hope end up in foster care? Where were they? Didn’t they want to raise her? Were they unable to? Why? What was the real story that brought Hope and I together?
I initially figured that I would never have the answer to my questions. I knew Hope had questions since she certainly had a lot of big emotions when it came to her history and her family.
A few months after her placement, I found myself online looking for her family. I had a few names, and I had some locations.
I was curious; I was also learning that adoptees often want to connect with their first families.
I was learning that at least having information about them might be helpful to my daughter.
I eventually reached out a friend who was really into genealogy to help me locate and learn about my daughter’s family.
I quickly had a lot of family history, a mini chart of relatives two generations back and the exact location of some important folks.
I saved this information to my cloud as Hope and I prepared for the finalization of our adoption. I didn’t tell Hope I had searched for her family at all.
I wrestled with my own emotions about what I learned, my own unanswered questions and how to even bring it up with my daughter.
Weeks later, while we were enjoying a celebratory trip to Disneyworld, the first strange Facebook message showed up. Other messages soon flooded my inbox.
Friend requests were flying. It took me about 15 minutes to really make the connection that Hope and I had been found by her family.
We weren’t hiding, but I was still shocked. I logged into my daughter’s account to see she had also been flooded with messages that she hadn’t yet seen.
I rerouted everything to my account and rounded up the group to create one big chat group. We started talking and soon enough I had some answers to my questions, and they had answers to theirs.
I sat Hope down and filled her in on everything as soon as I could. I told her about my search; I told her about her family’s search for her—because here’s the thing: They never stopped looking for her.
I told her that we’d all been found and that now, I would follow her lead in how she wanted to proceed.
Over the next several months we all talked a lot; there were laughs, tears, packages sent and received. We visited her family, having set some parameters around the visit to make sure Hope wasn’t overwhelmed.
I made sure she had solid therapeutic support before and after in order to help her wrestle with the tough parts, and there were lots of tough parts.
As for me, I made a very conscious decision early on to figure out how to make the big family thing work.
Hope’s family is our family. Her aunts now refer to me as their sister; her grandmother says I’m another daughter.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy or that it even remains easy. It wasn’t, and it isn’t.
We routinely deal with communication challenges, unrealistic expectations and a spotty desire to adequately explore how this big unwieldy family came to be.
As a parent, I find myself often the mediator of our family, despite Hope’s freedom to contact her family on her own terms.
Reunion is beautiful, but it can be complicated. I have learned my role is to firmly support Hope and navigate these relationships in ways that move things in a healthy direction, even when that direction is away for periods of time.
I’m hopeful that Hope sees me modeling the cultivation of healthy relationships, graciousness, boundary setting and self-care. I want her to one day be able to handle these relationships without my mediation in any way that she chooses.
My advice for parents and families considering open adoption is that they will look to open adoption and actively choose it.
Yes, at times there are safety issues for some families, and yes, there are circumstances in which it may not be appropriate.
That said, I’ve learned that open adoptions are about the larger family. There are many, many people who love Hope; they searched for her and wanted to make sure she was ok.
Hope’s ability to have relationships with her people have been an important part of her growth, with her own emotions around the need to be adopted, and with her continued healing from past trauma.
I can’t imagine being a barrier to all of that; she needed these relationships, even the complicated ones.
I won’t lie and say I didn’t have my own big emotions about opening our adoption. Initially I was afraid. I felt threatened.
I thought about the things the social worker said and some of the things I learned during my own search. I also didn’t want to share Hope; I felt like she was mine!
Our relationship was so new. What about our attachment? What if she rejected me? What if she chose them over me? What if I they undermined me as a mother?
I spent a lot of time talking about these fears with my therapist and my family. Not everyone was supportive of my moving forward to make this work.
Ultimately, I wanted my daughter to trust me and for me to give her everything that she deserved. Hope deserved the chance for connection with her extended family.
Open adoption doesn’t come with a manual. As Hope’s parent, it is my job to figure out how to make it work until she is able or willing to take on these issues herself. That is my guiding principle in our relationships.
Families are constructed in all kinds of different ways. In our family, Hope and I chose to be a family and we’ve chosen to be inclusive about our extended family. It is rewarding, and there is a lot of love around these parts.
AdoptiveBlackMom and her daughter, Hope, live in the DC area with their dog, Yappy. ABM blogs about her adoption journey as a single parent to a teen adoptee at www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com.
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