One thing that placing moms in open adoption sometimes worry about are the questions adoptees ask birthmothers in the future.
“Kenzie” was attending community college when she had an appendix attack in class. Upon arriving at the hospital, she was stunned when the doctor told her it wasn’t an appendicitis at all– she was having a baby. She knew she wasn’t ready to be a mother, and the baby’s father (a random hook-up) was long gone. So she and her parents talked it over and agreed adoption was the best alternative. Abrazo’s open adoption program appealed to her folks, but Kenzie was concerned. What if the adoptee might ask her things she didn’t know about the birthfather, and think less of her for not knowing him better?
This is a normal fear expressed by moms who are placing babies for adoption. Typically, though, most adopted kids are mostly interested in learning about the birthmother, and why she chose adoption for them. They like to hear about the things she likes, the story of their birth, and what made her choose their adoptive parents. Kids’ questions about the birthfather tend to be more general: what was he like? Did he play sports? Was he tall or short? Did he ride a horse? (One small child growing up outside of Texas did ask this one.)
Here’s a short list of questions kids who are adopted sometimes ask their birthparents, and here’s some guidance on how to respond to questions adoptees ask birthmothers.
Why didn’t you want to keep me? Was I a bad baby?
The answer you want to convey is “you were a beautiful baby and I did want to keep you, but I knew you needed more than I could provide, like a home with a mom and a dad. So I chose the very best family I could for you.” Adoptees need to be assured that there was nothing about them as a baby or child that made them unlovable. They may not understand all the factors that go into the average birthparent’s decision-making process, but a loving response that affirms that their future was planned by a loving birthparent goes a long way in helping them feel sure their adoption didn’t happen by accident.
Why did you keep your other child/ren, but not me?
Most mothers who place children for adoption do have other kids, whether before or after their placement plan. Sometimes, they chose adoption for their second, third or fourth baby because they felt they could manage with the ones they already had, but feared another would go hungry. Other times, they may have placed because they wanted no ongoing connection with an abusive babydaddy, or because they were already struggling and worried that adding another child to the home would take away from the kids they had already. Some mothers choose to parent after placing in an effort to heal their own sense of loss, or because they’re more ready to parent than they were at the time of the adoption. Birthmothers don’t have to explain everything to adoptees too young to understand; the important thing is to emphasize that “I made a very special adoption plan just for you because I wanted you to have a very special future with the parents I chose just for you.”
You have a (job/home/husband) now, so why can’t I live with you now?
Every kid, adopted or not, tends to think life would be better somewhere else… it’s called “magical thinking” and it’s human nature. Whenever these sorts of questions arise, it’s important to remind the adoptee “because you belong with your Mom & Dad; you’re an important part of their family. But you know I’ll always be your birthmom, and I never forget about you.” You don’t have to have all the answers, only to allow them to voice their question. Your responsibility is just to affirm the family you chose for them, validate the child, and assure them of your love.
Were you sad or happy when I got adopted?
This is a question that might catch birthparents off-guard, but the easiest answer is the most truthful one: “I felt happy for you and your parents to be together, but I was sad for me, because I knew I would miss you.” It’s important for adults to help adopted kids understand that adoption isn’t all happy or all sad: it can be both. It’s natural to have both positive and negative feelings about our life experiences. Keep in mind: it’s okay to not always have all the answers for everything an adoptee asks you. Sometimes, the best answer for a tough question is to answer “honestly, I’m not sure? What do you think?” and then hear the adoptee out.
Adolescent Adoptees: Things to Consider
The questions adoptees ask birthmothers do change over time. As adoptees grow and mature, you and your child’s adoptive parents may agree that it is appropriate to add more honest details they may be more prepared to understand, about such things as addiction, poverty, sexual assault, mental illness, incarceration or other factors that may be part of the adoption story. Keeping an open line of communication with the adoptive parents is essential, so you understand the adoptee’s developmental needs. It’s important to be honest, of course, yet sharing tough information in an age-appropriate manner is crucial.
One of the biggest challenges for any birthparent or adoptive parent is responding to adoptee anger. Adolescents have big feelings and don’t always express them in healthy ways. Parents shouldn’t ever have to endure abuse, of course. But they do sometimes have to bear witness to hard truths, so if an adoptee is angry with parents for having chosen adoption, it’s important to acknowledge what they’re feeling, so they feel heard. (For example, a caring birthparent might say “I get that you’re really mad and hurt about this, but I hope you can understand it was the best choice I felt I could make at that time.”)
Ultimately, though, whatever questions adoptees ask birthmothers, it’s always the adoptive parents, not the birthparents, who are responsible for the adoptee’s emotional needs, and it’s up to them to seek professional support, if needed.