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Open Records Are Coming. Are You Ready?

If They Decide to Search, Your Children Need Your Blessing and Support By Susan Freivalds



The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. It will not stand in the way of adult adoptees receiving copies of their original birth certificates, complete with birth parent names. On June 12, 2000, the full U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion to stay a new Oregon law allowing adult adoptees to receive copies of their original birth certificates. This endorsement of open records comes close on the heels of a similar action by the Tennessee Supreme Court, which last September upheld a law giving adult adoptees access to birth certificates and other adoption records in the state.

Birth records are now accessible by adoptees in Kansas, Alaska, Tennessee, Delaware, Oregon, and Alabama. It seems inevitable that adult adoptees will eventually have access to birth certificates in all states. Whether you believe that this will be to the ultimate harm or benefit of your child, you need to prepare yourself. I'm talking about getting ready in your own head to support your children if they have the need or desire to search, and letting go of your fears about what this may mean for your relationships.

Old Fears


"If you're a good enough parent, your child won't want to search."

This old chestnut still holds currency with many in the general public and still plays in many of our heads when we think about our children's possible desire to search for birth relatives. Deep down, even the most enlightened adoptive parents may harbor some niggling fears that reconnection with birth relatives will damage our own relationships with our children. However, while there's little hard research about this, anecdotal evidence suggests that relationships in the adoptive family are actually strengthened when an adoptee searches with the adoptive parent's blessing and support.

But many of us are still just plain scared. Just this week, I was approached by my daughter's friend, a 21-year-old adopted as an infant. She was interested in learning more about her birth family, but didn't know how to start. "Have you asked your parents for help?" I inquired. "When I try to talk to them about it, my dad won't even look at me," she responded quietly. My heart went out to them both. This loving father - for 21 years his daughter's biggest cheerleader and most stalwart supporter - is so fearful that he is failing to help his child with this critical need in her life.

Will your child want to search? In my experience, the need and desire to search varies among individual adopted adults just as do other personality traits. It has little or nothing to do with the quality of parenting the adoptee has received. The need to know about or connect with birth relatives extends along a continuum from "couldn't care less" to "gotta do it," just as the interest in family genealogy varies from person to person.

New Realities

Open records are coming. If your child is one of the "gotta knows," you'll want to be prepared, particularly in your own head, to offer your blessing and support. Our children don't want us to do their searching for them (and that's not our role), but they do want to know that we support their decision and will be standing by to help as requested. What other need of our children would we find so threatening? What else would they be so fearful to tell us that many think they must wait until after our deaths? If your child has this need, you'll not want to ignore it.

Susan Freivalds is the founder and editorial director of Adoptive Families and executive director of the Adoption Education Institute, a new national non-profit organization offering support, advice, and connections for adoptive and prospective adoptive families. From 1987 to 1996, she headed Adoptive Families of America. She can be reached at sfreivalds@adoptioneducation.org.

2000 Copyright Adoptive Families Magazine.  Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 

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