Over my years in the adoption field, I have heard one consistent fear from prospective adoptive parents of domestic children. They are afraid that their adopted child will one day want to leave them and move in with their biological family. With open adoptions becoming more common, adoptive children know enough about their biological parents, that this is a natural fear of parents. The thinking is along the lines of, “If I maintain a relationship with my child’s birth family, then why wouldn’t my child want to leave when they aren’t getting their way? When I say, ‘No, you cannot go to that party at Michael’s.’ why wouldn’t my child say, ‘Then I’ll go live with my birth mother because she’d let me go!’”
Of course it would be painful to hear your child say those words. I don’t think any parent wants their child to be wishing to live elsewhere. You want your child to be happy and secure in their house, with their family. Right?
Your child’s request to live with their birth family, means you’ve made a major parenting mistake, and they are upset that you adopted them. They wish they had never left their biological roots. Right?
I may have answered, “Absolutely.” before I heard the following story from my close friend, Jackie. She is an adoptive mom who has a very open relationship with her daughter’s birth mother, Michelle. They spend time together several times a year, and have celebrated important occasions, like birthdays, together. Below is a conversation Jackie had one evening while hanging out her living room with her six year-old daughter, Emma.
Emma (E): Mom, I want to go live with Michelle.
Jackie (J): (Holds breath for at least 5 long seconds and then speaks in what she hopes is a calm voice)
E: I just want to.
J: OK. Why do you want to go to Michelle’s house?
E: I like it better at her house.
J: (Tries to control her rapidly beating heart. Realizes this is not just any “normal” conversation)
What is better about it there?
E: I like the way it looks.
J: Well, she lives in the city so it’s different than ours. Is there any other reason you want to live with Michelle?
E: I really like her new car. It smells so good inside. I like the smell of a new car.
J: But don’t you like my car too?
E: No. It smells yucky.
J: (Remembers how sensitive Emma is about the way things smell)
Would you like it better if it smelled better?
J: Would you be happier if I got a car freshener?
J: So, if I got my car to smell better, would you still want to go live with Michelle?
E: Hmm….no I guess not.
During this conversation, Jackie told me that she was terrified. She was thinking, “Oh no. We had an open relationship and look what has happened. She thinks I’m not as great as Michelle and now she’s chosen her over me!” When in reality, it boiled down to Emma wanting to ride in a nice smelling car.
After the conversation, all Jackie could think was, “Really?!? That’s all she wanted? If I get a car freshener then she doesn’t want to live with Michelle? Really?!?”
This conversation was an eye-opener for me. It showed me that we have no idea what goes on in a child’s mind. Especially the thoughts of an adopted child concerning their biological family. I will never fully understand to the emotions that come with being adopted.
If my child does pull the “I want to go with my birth family” card on me, then maybe I should not immediately get defensive. Odds are there is a deeper (or maybe much shallower) reason why they made that request. It could be that the child doesn’t feel like their feeling are being heard by their parents. It could be that the child isn’t happy with their new curfew time. It could be that they are curious what it would be like to live in the state where the birth family are at. Or it could just be that the child is disgusted by the smell of her Mom’s car.
After hearing Jackie’s conversation with her daughter, I now feel more prepared for a conversation I am sure to have with at least one (if not all) of my children someday. Maybe they’ll request to live with their birth family for a real reason or maybe it will be just to get a rise out of me. Little do they know though that I’ll only have to recall the “smelly car” story and be reminded not to overreact.
Odds are if they couldn’t ask to go live with their birth family, they’d be asking to go live over at their best friend’s house. Most likely it isn’t that they are upset that they were adopted, they are probably unhappy with something within our family and using the “adoption” card to solve it.
Danielle I. Pennel
Three Yellow Roses