Adoptive Parents and Biological Parents

When I set out to discover the families I was related to by blood, more than anything I wanted to learn my family history. As an adult adoptee, I needed to find my roots. I wanted to meet my birth parents and other blood relatives if they were open to it.

But I didn’t yearn for new parents. After all, it wasn’t as though I grew up without a mother and father. Claire and Bob, my adoptive parents, raised me from infancy. They showed up and did the things parents are supposed to do. Dad chased down Maureen Murphy after she jumped me on the stairs outside of our elementary school. My father taught me how to drive. When I was about 17, Mom and Dad lined up an entry-level job for me at Talman Home, a savings and loan in our neighborhood.

My parents lost sleep when I ran around on Friday and Saturday nights with friends. (This was before young people used cell phones to ignore text messages from their parents.) Mom, Dad and I argued over my running around, smoking, friends, boyfriends and spending habits.

Bob and Claire never wanted their young single daughters to move out but I flew the coop when I was in my early 20s. Once they calmed down, my parents helped me settle into my single girl apartments. Our relationship improved.

My Adoptive Parents, Warts and All

Like all parents, my mother and father were flawed. They fought constantly. At least that’s how it seemed. Their bickering sounded like nails against chalkboard, an unpleasant, unrelenting racket that filled our home with ugliness. If only their fights had been a TV show, I would have switched channels after the first 30 seconds.

Living with old-fashioned parents, I felt oppressed. Traveling with friends to Cancun for spring break, going away to college, working as the editor of the college newspaper, my parents put the kibosh on everything I wanted to do.

More importantly, though, I wish my adoptive parents had been honest with me. I grew up unaware that I was not related by blood to any members of my immediate or extended families. Everyone in my mother’s extended family knew I was adopted except for Melissa and me. I’ll bet the neighbors, my teachers, even the mailman probably knew. When I found out, I felt like a fool. It’s taken me years to process and come to terms with the big lie upon which my childhood was built.

Adoptive parents
My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day

My Birth Parents — the Mom and Dad I Never Knew

While I never wanted new parents, I regret not getting to know Lillian and Steve, my birth parents. I will never know the sound of their voices, the things that made them laugh or how they sounded when they laughed.

In a different reality, I imagine the three of us sitting down and talking over coffee at a restaurant. I would have asked a million questions, taken notes, looked into their eyes, studied their faces and features, checked out their clothes, taken note of how they took their coffee. Maybe they didn’t drink coffee.

Lillian and Steve, their gestures, mannerisms, personalities, habits, opinions and interests, all buried along with them.

birth mother
My birth mother, Lillian
Biological father
My biological father, Steve

Sometimes adoptees connect with their birth parents in ways that were never possible with their adoptive folks. Who knows what would have happened if I had gotten to know Lillian and Steve? Maybe we would have hit it off.

Even so, I cannot imagine thinking of my birth parents as Mom and Dad. Claire and Bob will always be Mom and Dad.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees who’ve gotten to know their bio parents. Feel free to share your stories in the comments.





18 thoughts on “Adoptive Parents and Biological Parents

  1. Hi Lynne, thanks for sharing your story. It’s unusual, interesting and sad. I am glad you have found resolution and self-understanding along with your other discoveries.

  2. Hi Tom. It’s strange to have four parents. I imagine it must be complicated for adoptees who have relationships with all of their parents. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I recently have become interested in reading others stories.
    Like you I was adopted at birth. Unlike you my adopted parents told me at age 3 about my birth lady and birth man. As I grew up I was able to read a letter from my birth mother. How much she loved me, how hard it was to give me up, but also how excited she was for my parents to have a baby after 11 years of marriage. She selected my parents before I was born.
    I never felt the abandonment I have always felt loved, I have great parents with only a mild curiosity to seek out my birth parents.
    I am 38 now, two month ago I received a 2nd letter from my birth mother. Completely out of the blue. So I have been processing. I am getting answers to the nature vs nurture questions. I have met with her 5 times now, met my siblings, blessed to have living grandparents I met last Saturday. Oh and the cool one I had Lunch this weekend with both mothers, I want them to have a relationship as well. We live about 90min from each other. We are going forward with the role of bonus grandparent for my kids. I am excited to be in the building a relationship stage.
    My birth father I am torn about. He did not support me or my birth mother as a older teen. Yet I feel 40 years people may change. I know his name, city where he lives, I have looked at his Facebook page, his occupation, that he has no other biological children that I am aware of. I haven’t decide if and when I will reach out to him. I also know that he does have my name and can contact me anytime he would like. I am working on really developing a strong relationship with my birth mother.
    Honestly I feel like I am in a rare position to have had my birth family find me instead of the other way around.

  4. I met my first mother, Jane, last year; I am 49 years old. I was surprised by the similarities in our personalities, as well as by our life experiences. I wanted to study her face longer, but I didn’t want her to think I was a kook for staring at her! 😁 She was kind enough to share some photos with me. I have to stop myself each time I look at one of them in particular because my brain cannot seem to accept that it is not a picture of me. I cannot explain how it feels to look at someone who looks like you for the very first time. It is surreal. Getting to know Jane, has been a wonderful experience. We live too far away from each other to be able to spend time together on any regular basis, but nonetheless I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to know her.

    I always knew I was adopted, so I cannot imagine how I would have found out I was adopted at an older age. That must have been very difficult to deal with, but it seems you have found a way to share your experience in a positive way. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Kimberly, I am awed by your story! It is remarkable how you and your birth mother, bio siblings and even grandparents. How wonderful that your two mothers are starting a relationship. It all sounds good for you and your children to have these open, honest and caring relationships. Your children have a village and you have a loving blended family. Stay in touch. Would love to know if you and your father get in touch. Thanks for sharing your story here.

  6. MOadoptee, I felt almost spooked when I saw photos of my birth mother for the first time. There’s a strong resemblance. You are fortunate to know Jane and likewise she’s lucky you welcomed her into your life. Are your adoptive parents supportive of your decision to be in contact with Jane? Thank you for sharing your story here.

  7. Since both of my biological parents were deceased by the time I reconnected with my family I was never able to ask either of them anything. If I could, I’d like to sit down with Mary, my birth mom, and ask her about how it felt to do what she did. I’d like to have the opportunity to hold space for her because I know she had much sorrow in her short life.

  8. Being adopted profoundly influenced me. I know I was never quite good with it because I have a letter from the adoption agency when I was five years old responding to a question by listing what they thought (incorrectly) were my nationalities. I was apparently curious/annoying enough as a child that my parents were compelled to send a letter on my behalf to the agency, so I suspect I was pretty persistent.

    After 12 years of pre-Internet searching (I love reference librarians) I found my birthfamilies at the age of 30. I had nine years with my birthfather and 16 years with my birthmother and they weren’t enough.

    My birthmother was “Fairy Grandma” or just “Fairy” to my kids, who were her only grandchildren. She was my only parent who loved me unconditionally, and when she died I paid for her funeral.

    I wish I could have them back and miss them a lot.

  9. Lynne,
    I really only have one question for my adoptive parents: Why? Why was my adoption kept a secret from me when all around me knew the truth? My adoptive parents gave me a great life. They taught me how to work hard and never take anything from anyone unless it was earned. They taught me the importance of family. They taught me right from wrong. They taught me to always be honest and to tell the truth. But beneath all of that…they kept the most basic truth hidden from me and 19 years after the discovery of my adoption, I’m still trying to process the “why”.

  10. Hi Bill. Are your adoptive parents deceased? Our stories sound somewhat similar. My parents adopted me in the early 1960s during the so-called closed era of adoption. Like you, I’d love to have an honest discussion with my parents but it’ll never happen. Before I discovered I’d been adopted, I used to think my parents and I had no unfinished business but I no longer feel that way. It’s possible my parents and maybe yours, too, thought we would look for our bio parents if we knew we had been adopted. I would like to think my parents kept my adoption a secret so that I would grow up not feeling different from other children. Ironically, I grew up feeling different from my parents even without knowing I’d been adopted. Thanks so much for sharing your comments.

  11. Linda, my birth mom also experienced trauma and hardship throughout her short life. She passed away at 48. I feel nothing but compassion for her. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. Albatross, you are so smart. I also appreciate reference librarians. You are fortunate you found and spent quality time with your bio parents. Were your adoptive parents alive? How did they react to your relationships with your natural parents? My parents would have flipped out. Thanks for sharing your comments.

  13. My birth mother had passed away. Not even any videos of her, so there was no chance to hear her voice or observe her in any way but a photo. I did meet my birth father. My husband & I both agreed about the similarities between him and the dad who raised me: same style of glasses and shirt w pockets, (gotta have a shirt w pockets for that pack of cigarettes! LOL), similar political beliefs, even prefaced words the same by adding “Goddamn” in front of every noun and adjective you can think of! LOL, came from working-class backgrounds… Old guys from that era … LOL They were very different people as far as most interests go. My birth father did get to meet my adoptive mother a few times. (We had a couple of blended Xmases and Thanksgivings plus my daughter’s wedding in 2012.) My A-mom accepted my need to know and build a relationship w my birth family. My A dad was very insecure. My A dad passed in 1996, so it never became much of an issue.

  14. Paige, that’s great that you and your bio father spent time together, that he and your a-mom met a few times and even shared holidays together. Did your daughter get to know your bio father? Do you see any similarities between your daughter and your bio dad? I think my son, who’s almost 19, looks more like my bio father than his other bio grandfather. And salty language? I heard plenty of cussing in my family’s home. Both of my adoptive parents sprinkled four-letter words into their everyday conversation. Thanks for sharing your comments.

  15. My adoption wasn’t a secret. I was told when I was about four. At roughly age 30 I started to search for my birth parents. I knew my birth father had been drafted into the Korean War. Based on that skimpy bit of information, it seemed possible he’d been killed in combat. And, like most adoptees who search, the person I was most interested in finding was my birth mother. — But, 20 years of on-and-off searching led nowhere. However, I was registered with the International Soundex Reunion Registry. One day, in 2002, when I was 50, I received a letter from Soundex telling me my birth father was looking for me. —- I immediately called the Registry, and within another 30 minutes I was on the phone with my birth father. — At the time, I was living in Brooklyn. He was in Manhattan by Union Square, both of us near the Q train. — We met the next day. It’s been great; we get together almost weekly — The bad news was simultaneously discovering that my birth mother had been dead for over 20 years — a stroke. But I discovered a half sister on my mother’s side. — We’ve had a great relationship since 2002. My birth mother was a prolific letter writer, and my sister gave me copies of letters she’d written. Letters from college. Letters from her apartment in NY City mailed home to Iowa. And my mother’s high school diary. —- So I have a pretty good idea who she was, and for that reason, a profound sense of loss for never getting the chance to meet her. —- I wanted to thank her for enduring the trials of being a 27-year-old, single, pregnant woman in 1951, worried that all possibilities for marriage and a conventional middle-class life would go up in smoke if her condition were known in her social circle, in her office, and among the members of her family. —– But, with the help of my birth father’s father — my paternal grandfather — she was able to keep out of sight, deliver me, hand me over to Spence-Chapin and resume her life on the staff of Esquire Magazine. — Meanwhile, my adoptive parents were decent people who gave me a good home. No major complaints on that end. My adoptive father died about 10 years ago. My adoptive mother, now 93, is descending into Alzheimer’s. My birth father is almost 89, and in pretty good shape. —- Bottom line, Nature is far more powerful than Nurture.

  16. Chris, how wonderful that you established good relationships with your birth father and half sister. That sounds so rewarding. You must treasure those letters from your birth mother. I am glad to have a letter from each of my bio parents. Since I never knew them, I appreciate any little scrap of information I can lay my hands on. How did your adoptive parents tell you about being adopted? I think it’s better for parents to tell children when they’re young. Your parents were ahead of their time. I know many adoptees from our era who were never told. Finding out you’re adopted as an adult is unsettling to say the least. I agree nature is more powerful than nurture.

  17. Lynne,
    1) How did your adoptive parents tell you about being adopted?

    —– I was so young I don’t remember the moment. But I have no sense of being traumatized. More likely curious, probably because I didn’t know anything about reproduction at the time. But I was given a copy of “The Chosen Baby.” I remember that. I’m also sure I was told before starting kindergarten. I think my adoptive parents wanted to be sure I heard it from them rather than other kids in the neighborhood whose parents knew my story.

    2)I think it’s better for parents to tell children when they’re young.


    3) Your parents were ahead of their time.

    —- I did know other adoptees. They were told at an early point in their lives.

    4) I know many adoptees from our era who were never told.

    —– This is interesting. I have not run into any old friends who were among those who found out late in life they were adopted. Though I can understand the initial feelings of adoptive parents who kept the facts from their adopted kids, it appalls me that they could not get over their own insecurities and share the facts at an early time. For the kid, it’s a little like religion. When you’re very young and unquestioning, you just accept what you’re told.

    5) Finding out you’re adopted as an adult is unsettling to say the least.

    —– Traumatic in so many ways. I wonder what makes some adoptive parents withhold the facts? Did some adoption agencies suggest this? I was adopted through Spence Chapin, and I believe Spence urged parents to tell the kids as early as possible.

    6)I agree nature is more powerful than nurture.

    —– I Nature in my own kids. And Nurture. But Nature runs the show.

  18. Hmmm. Chris, that’s interesting that all of your adopted friends knew they were adopted at a young age. Maybe NYC adoptive parents were ahead of the times. When I was growing up, the only adoptee I knew was Anne from Anne of Green Gables! Surely I went to school with other adopted kids but they may have been in the dark like I was. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, I believe social workers advised adoptive parents to not tell the children about their adoptions. Some parents probably feared that their children, if they knew they were adopted, would search for their bio parents. So messed up!

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