Adoptive Mom Feels Left Out Of Son’s Reunion with Birthmother

I tried to read between the lines as I perused the letter from the adoptive mom who feels excluded from the unfolding relationship her adult son is having with his natural mother.

It’s not clear if Mom or Dad wrote the letter to The Ethicist at the New York Times but let’s assume Mom wrote it. She portrays herself as a supportive mother who has always been open with her son about his birth parents and adoption, who made adoption a part of his life story and followed the rules of the adoption agreement. The adoptive parents even agreed to the natural mom’s request that they attend therapeutic meetings with adoption experts. The meetings were set up “because (the natural mom) wanted to loosen the arrangements and spend time with our son,” the adoptive mom wrote.

Adoption Agreement Stipulates Rules

Adoptee and birthmother reunite
Adopting a child is complicated for everyone in the family

When mom and presumably her husband adopted their son, they reached an agreement that stipulated they would provide pictures and updates once a year and be open to answering any letters the natural mother sent to the adoption agency. The agreement permitted the adopted boy to search for his birth parents with permission from his adoptive parents after he reached 18; after age 25, he would be allowed to search without permission from his adoptive parents.

At some point, the natural mom wrote to her son’s adoptive parents expressing an interest in opening the adoption arrangement. Naturally, the letter startled the parents who opposed any changes to the original agreement.

“Every expert we met with advised us that we should stick with the original parameters of our agreement,” Mom wrote.

Birthmother Contacts Son, Upsets Adoptive Mom

When their son left for college, he told his parents that his first mother had contacted him via the Internet. While on a college break, he revealed that his first mother had asked him to attend her wedding. The young man and his natural mother eventually reunited and since then have gotten together a few times. While he didn’t initiate the search, he didn’t rebuff his mother’s overtures. It seems he finds value in having a relationship with his first mother. Maybe they have bonded emotionally.

Meanwhile, his adoptive parent feels left out.

“This is not the connected, united family situation we were hoping we could offer our son,” she wrote.

Mom thinks the natural mother “placed our son in the middle of a difficult situation.” She resents the natural mother for circumventing the rules of the adoption agreement.

Adoption Rules Infantilize Adoptee

While it’s true the birth mother violated the rules, let’s look at the rules. I think they infantilize the adopted son. People who are 18 drive cars, work, pay taxes, marry, have babies, vote, and in some states buy guns legally. Under this adoption agreement, the young man was not allowed to search for his bio parents without permission from his adoptive parents until age 25. That’s ridiculous.

While the adoptive mom says she’s glad her son and his other mother have met, she seems a little threatened by their relationship, a development she was not able to manage. While she portrays this as a difficult situation for her son, it seems to be more of a problem for her, a situation she’d like to control but cannot.

My advice to the adoptive mom is don’t go where you’re not wanted. The birth mother doesn’t want a relationship with you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe she’ll change her mind some day but don’t count on it. Treat your son like an adult. Support him and show him you love him. Don’t interfere in his relationship with his other mother.

As Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote in his response, the adoptee can bring all of his parents together some day if he wants to.

What did you think of the adoptive mom’s reaction and Appiah’s advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.




14 thoughts on “Adoptive Mom Feels Left Out Of Son’s Reunion with Birthmother

  1. I’m so glad you posted about this. I too read the letter and I was troubled by it.

    First let me explain that I’m an adoptive mother in a fully open adoption. We have no formal agreement and no rules to follow, although we did 12 years ago when we first adopted. When we first adopted, we needed some boundaries (quarterly visits, email before calling etc.) because we were finding our way as parents and I felt a tremendous amount of guilt about the fact my son’s mother went through such a huge loss. I had to bond with and parent my child. I had to make him my first priority. As the years went on and all parties saw that they were respected and the “rules” were followed, we no longer needed rules. My son’s family is free to talk to him, see him, call, write, email or facebook us any time they want. We can have this level of openness because all parties agreed to keep the kiddo in the center of our decision making.

    The adoptive parents in the letter were under no legal obligation to open the adoption when the natural mother asked, but when they stuck to the strict terms of the “agreement” they showed a lack of faith in openness. They showed that they want to be in control. They showed a certain level of emotional stinginess. And now they expect their son and his natural mom to just welcome them into their relationship?

    I am not trying to set myself up as some sort of saintly adoptive parent. But I do think that when I became a parent by adoption I was fully aware that it was wrong to see adoption as only a way to fulfill my desire to parent. I had to recognize that my child has a family. That he comes from somewhere and somebody. My husband and I think of our son’s family like we think as one another’s family. They are our in-laws.

    When the parents in the letter chose to abide my the strict terms of the “agreement” they exhibited that they see their son’s family as interlopers. It is no wonder they are not currently welcomed into the relationship between their son and his family. It might take a long time (or never) for hem to have a relationship with the natural mother.

    And YES. It is crazy to think you can dictate who an 18 year old (or a 24 year old!) can have contact with. This language in the agreement wasn’t about creating healthy boundaries so the parents could do their job. It was about delaying the chance for an emotional connection between their son and his natural family for as long as possible.

    The paradox of our adoption situation is that the more we opened up our adoption, the less our child’s natural mom felt she needed to keep in touch. My son has a close relationship with his grandparents (you can never have too many grandparents!) and his aunts, but doesn’t see his mom as much. She explained that knowing he is safe and loved and that she can contact him whenever she wants has eased her mind a lot. Meanwhile, we are feeling sad about the decline in contact. But that is not our choice. It is hers.

    My final thought is that I believe we do a lot of damage when we make the adoptive parents the center of the adoption discussion–their needs and wants seem to dictate every “agreement.” And while it is true that adoptive parents need to feel fully empowered to parent, I don’t believe they have any right to determine what kind of relationship their grown children will have with their families. And if adoptive parents choose to shut birth families out when their children are young, they will have to reap the consequences when the children grow up.

  2. I agree with you Lynne. While the first mother may have violated the letter of the agreement, it was probably intended not to confuse and divide the loyalties of a child. Once the boy turned 18, he should have been able to do as he wished. Moreover, the fact that the man and his first mother have a healthy relationship and the first mother evidently has done nothing to turn the son against his adoptive mother, her gripes ring hollow.

  3. Tom, the adoptive mom seems to be interested in controlling the relationships and calling all the shots. I think she’s frustrated because this situation is out of her hands. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. The adopter needs counselling. She sees the man she raised as a possession. She is clearly selfish, untruthful and wants to be in control. She has no respect for the mother of the child she raised. Her’agreement’, I’ve, purchase contract, is a farce. This man should have been supported to have an open, honest, meaningful relationship with his mother all through his life. The adoptee is typical of adopters- narcissistic, entitled, ill informed about adoption loss and trauma, and desperately needy. Stop treating him like a possession. He’s not yours! Good luck to the young man and his mother. His adoptee needs to piss off and leave them in peace to heal their lives together.

  5. Despite what that letter says, it wouldn’t surprise me if the son reached out to the birthmother first and then lied to his adoptive mother about it. I would have resented the expectation that I would ask permission at that age.

    Regardless, the adoptive mom needs to focus on preserving and supporting her relationship with her son, and not on resenting the birthmother. The contract didn’t work–that’s not surprising. The birthmother was probably pressured into agreeing with it in the first place (and she may have been a minor at the time). And the son didn’t agree to anything.

    By showing her son that she loves him, the adoptive mother will preserve her special relationship with him. By ruminating over how she was wronged, and how “harmful” the birthmom’s rule-breaking supposedly is for her son (really?), she risks damaging that relationship. The only way he is in the middle of a difficult relationship is if the adoptive parents make it difficult.

  6. It makes sense why the adoptive mother would feel threatened by the birth mother. She might think that her son’s birth mother has something to offer to her son that she cannot offer. She should challenge herself and her anxiety by staying out of this new relationship that she’s not fond of. It’d obviously be difficult for any parent in that type of situation, but she needs to stay strong enough to not intrude where she’s not currently wanted.

  7. Jake, your point about the birthmother having something to offer her son is spot on. It’s natural for bio parents to connect with their offspring in ways that never happen between parents and the children they adopt. Thanks for reading and posting a comment.

  8. Thank you, A.L., for your thoughtful comment. Your open-minded approach to parenting is commendable. I like the way you put your son’s needs first. I’m sure he has benefited from your generosity and open heart. Being adopted during the closed adoption era, I never knew anything about my adoption or natural parents. My adoptive parents carried that secret to their graves. I hold that against them. Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. Martha, you could very well be right that the son reached out to his adoptive mother first. That seems likely. I did not get any sense of how healthy or unhealthy the relationship is between the adoptive mom and her son. Things will go downhill if she continues to fixate over this new relationship between her son and his first mother. Thanks for reading and posting a comment.

  10. Bec, the a-mother comes across as very controlling. This new relationship between her son and his bio mom is out of her control and she’s not happy. But it is irrelevant since her son is now an adult. I think the situation is somewhat comparable to a young person dating someone that his mother doesn’t approve of. What mom thinks doesn’t matter once the child grows up. The best thing for mom to do is butt out of her son’s business and be there for him. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.

  11. Adopters are threatened by adopters mothers and fathers so they created words as birth mother to make adopters feel like the real parents which is a life.Adoption is a sick joke that should never exist by an adoptee

  12. Curly, the adoptive mother seems threatened by her son’s interest in his bio mom. Thanks for reading my blog.

  13. It was nice to read the adopter’s warm and caring attitude. She is so enlightened compared to most odopters. My sons adopters are horrific. A daughter they adopted had three nervous breakdowns by age 20. I never want to meet them.

  14. Hi Steffi. Are you in contact with your son? How old is he? I’m so sorry to hear his adoptive parents are horrible. That’s a shame. It’s amazing to hear about these cases. You’d expect the social service agencies to do a better job screening out unqualified adopters. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *