*As part of Parentology’s series on adoption, we’re answering questions about some of the different things parents may experience as their child seeks their family of origin.
Almost 20 years ago, Mark Myers did something he’d been thinking about doing for a while. He put a letter in the mail. The letter was addressed to the last known residence of his birth mother and it arrived in the mailbox of his biological grandparents. They passed his letter on to her, and within a few days, he was in touch with his birth mother for the first time in his life.
“I always knew I was adopted,” Myers tells Parentology, explaining his parents told him at a very young age. “I occasionally thought about my birth mother, but it never crossed my mind to search her out until my late 20’s.”
Myers says he wouldn’t recommend children start looking for their birth parents until they’re well into adulthood. “It’s a big shock to your mental system, and if you aren’t fully mature it can mess with your
“It was a hard choice to reach out but I’m glad I did it,” Myers says. His advice to anyone else who may be considering looking for their family of origin — Don’t go unless you are 100 percent committed. “You should be prepared to face what you find, good or bad.” Which can include learning your birth parents don’t want to be found, or realizing that some members of your family of origin aren’t interested in having a relationship.
“In today’s age, an increasing number of adoptions are somewhat open, meaning there’s some level of communication between the child and birth parent(s),” Dr. Jeff Nalin, founder and executive director of Paradigm Treatment Centers tells Parentology. “Whether this be through a simple exchange of information or a more active type of involvement.”
If your child is expressing a desire to find their birth parents, it’s important to offer support and guidance in the search process. A process Nalin says that can be lengthy and generate emotional ups and downs. He advises parents follow their child’s lead, and be as involved in the process as they are asked to be.
The important thing, Nalin explains, is to offer support as they’re coming to grips with feelings about looking for their birth parents. He also suggests arents let their child dictate the pace at which they start their search, making sure not to rush them if they aren’t ready. Vital, too, is being mindful of the maturity required to deal with what they may find.
Coping With a Range of Emotions
It’s normal for parents to have mixed emotions when their children start broaching the subject of looking for their birth parents. Some parents may find themselves struggling to offer unconditional help and support while coping with internalized feelings of fear and insecurity.
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a nationally recognized expert in clinical psychology and the author of several books, including But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life, tells Parentology it can be painful, scary, or even feel offensive, for some parents to hear their child wants to locate their family of origin. Parents need to find a way to cope with those emotions so they can fully support their child. “To feel scared or threatened is normal, but the only way to make these fears come true is to hold your child back from meeting their [birth] parents.”
She adds that parents struggling with complex feelings, should seek therapy or
The Legal Side
While there’s much to negotiate on the emotional side, Colleen Quinn, ESQ explains to Parentology the legal aspect of helping your child track down their family of origin can also be complex to navigate. Quinn says every state has their own laws surrounding how adoptions are handled. In Virginia, where Quinn practices, the laws have been amended to make it easier for children to locate their family of origin. All Virginia-based adoptions with a signed “consent to adopt” dated after July 1,
Before that, she says, someone looking for information would have to contact a lawyer who specializes in this type of work to help them navigate the legal system. Some processes required those seeking information to “show good cause” for their request, and then jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to have details released. Even then, many times they would only be able to access “non-identifying information” like the child’s date of birth and the name of the hospital where they were born.
Quinn says these changes have been instituted to help children know more information
For adoptions that took place prior to July 1, 1994, or in states with less transparency, Quinn says there are still options. Many people have found a great deal of information by using popular DNA databases like Ancestery.com or 23&Me. While others have had luck using
Dealing With Rejection
There’s always a chance a child will discover their family of origin doesn’t want to be contacted. Campbell says this can be
Of course, every situation is different with no one-size-fits-all approach to locating your child’s family of origin. Additional counseling and therapy may be advised in these situations for both parents and