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
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.