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Navigating Reunions Post Honeymoon Stage

March 7, 2016

A friend recently posted about some challenges with his reunion and his birth mother’s husband. As I read his post explaining the details of the issues between the two, it brought me back to my first reunion with my birth mother.

Although our reunion began in 1995, the feelings and memories of those days remain with me. I envisioned a “happy, joyous, emotional uplifting reunion” with my birth mother. Like the reunions I watched on talk shows as I grew up. Those hallmark inspiring moments reinforced, at least to me, that adoption reunions would be happy and ever lasting, similar to the fairy tales we grew up learning “and they lived happily ever after.”

What a bunch of BS those story endings are. relationships are complex, hard, joyous, invigorating etc. but there is one common thread. All relationships, to be meaningful and healthy, require work, dedication, commitment, trust, and a willingness to put up with the shortcomings of others.

Relationships are give and take. They may require letting go of our own expectations of other people. That doesn’t mean we can’t set and hold boundaries for ourselves and maintain a healthy point in the relationship. But it does mean that we can consciously choose to accept that we are not going to get all of our needs, desires, or wishes from others that we want.

This reality is, I believe, magnified in adoption reunions. Both adoptees and birth parents in closed adoptions enter the reunion with many years of fantasies of who the other person is. These unrealistic expectations, if not dealt with, can create HUGE letdown from the birth parent or adult adoptee.

Betty Jean Lifton wrote in her book “Journey of the Adopted Self” that meeting our birth mother will not heal us completely. I discovered this to be very true within my own reunion. I did get many of my questions answered from meeting my birth mother and I am very grateful for that. Sadly I’ve discovered that many adoptees do not get the answers they are seeking.

I think another aspect of the adoption reunions that needs acknowledgement is adoptees need to realize that their birth parent may come with a “package” in the form of a spouse and siblings, etc. No matter how good the feelings of the honeymoon stage of reunion may be initially, there will almost always be some resistance to the new “stranger” (the adult adoptee) in the family.

It only makes sense the attention the birth parent focuses on the adoptee will have a huge impact within the birth parent’s family. Everyone involved in reunions, the triad members (adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents) are affected by reunions in some way. Add to that all the significant others within the families, that will only add to the amount of people’s feelings that have to be taken into consideration.

I think trying to achieve a healthy balance is what to strive for. There is no way that someone’s feelings will not be affected at one time or another. Fear of rejection from the birth parent (known as “second rejection”) is present in varying degrees from the adoptee.

The birth parent is often feeling caught in the middle of this balancing act (assuming the birth parent is open to an ongoing reunion). There is a tug-of-war between wanting to please the adoptee and also maintain a happy equilibrium within the existing family. This is not an easy position to be caught in the crossfire between the spouse and the adoptee.

Add to this mix, grandparents, siblings, the couple’s children, cousins, etc. and the whole thing is overwhelming. It’s very easy to see why everyone can feel like they are “walking on eggshells” with each other.

I think it is healthy to give space for the birth parent and adoptee to get to know each other or have private time. I don’t think it is healthy to make everything exclusive of the birth parent’s spouse of family.

When my birth mother asked me if I wanted her husband to come with her on her first trip to see me, I replied “No.” I was feeling threatened by him at the time and I felt he would prevent me from having time with my birth mother. I was trying to be honest with her but she NEVER for got my reply and she would use it as ammunition against me for years to come.

In hindsight, my desire to not include him on her trip to Texas was selfish on my part. He was her support and he deserved to be included. I am glad he came with her on the trip as it gave he and I a chance to talk and work out our differences.

If your desire to have a long lasting reunion with your birth parent and family, look at it as a marathon and not a sprint. The fear of rejection will always be there and there are no guarantees the reunion may end.

If the relationship is important, then make a commitment to be a healthy and positive influence within your reunion. Yes there will be times when we feel uncomfortable or get triggered.

If the relationship becomes toxic between the adoptee and birth parent or other family members, then re-examine the situation. Are you getting more positive than negative experiences from the relationship? If not, then it may be a time to step back and let things settle down.

Daryn Watson, Adoptee




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