Even though most adoptive parents today understand the need some young people have to search for biological roots, surprising emotions can surface when a teenager expresses an interest in searching. For some parents, old issues such as infertility, entitlement, claiming, and acknowledgment of differences can arise. You may wonder if your teenager’s reunion with birth parents will mean your child’s love and loyalty will now have to be shared.
What can add to the stress is a teenager who discounts adoptive parents’ concerns that the process of search could possibly involve difficult or confusing emotions for all members of the triad. Because teens tend to focus on their own intense needs, they may not fully understand or accept that their own need for search and reunion could come at a difficult time in a birth parent’s life.
Why Teens Search
Part of how teens slowly evolve a personal identity and self-image is to compare themselves to other teens and to members of their family. They find ways they are alike and different and explore how to craft an individual style.
Because adopted teens are not physically or genetically related to their adoptive parents, they have difficulty in figuring out who they are and how to emotionally put pieces in place.
Information about birth parents and their cultural heritage can help with some of these pieces. Meeting birth family members or connecting with people involved with their adoption process, or from that particular heritage, is another way some of the gaps can be bridged.
This is no simple task. Making sense of genetic and cultural information while exploring talents and interests is difficult. Separating from one family while reconnecting with another, and figuring ways to smoothly integrate the past and present are confusing—and exciting.
When you talk with adoptive parents, adopted persons, or birth parents about searching for birth families, you often get a wide range of options. Here are some suggestions from parents, teens, and adult adoptees:
- Although information should be shared beforehand, actual search and reunion is best inititated when teens are already moving toward independence.
- Courtesy and respect for all members of the adoption triad should be actively strived toward. You cannot expect respect for your own choices if you are not willing to demonstrate respect for others.
- In addition to books on the subject, there are a number of support groups that can help with both the practical aspects of the search process and with emotional support. Get in touch with several.
- Everyone involved needs to look carefully at what their real needs and expectations are before the search and also periodically during the process.
- If there is negative information about the birth family or circumstances of the adoption, talk to a counselor or support group member.
Talking about a search can trigger a variety of emotions and questions for all members of the family. Your desire to help your children may be tempered by the tug of your own emotions. This can leave you uncertain about the best way to help. As with many other areas of parenting, one of the most useful ways of approaching this with your teen is honesty. Share with your teen that you understand how important this is and want to be supportive, but you’re not sure of the best way to do that.
If you connect with a support group or counselor, let your teen know and ask if he or she will join you. By looking for information and support, you are providing a terrific role model for your teen. You are also giving your teenagers a positive message about how you value their support and input, as well as how much you value their needs and concerns.
Adoption connects lives, but it also complicates lives, particularly in adolescence. Keeping lines of communication open and practicing mutual respect can seem like monumental tasks. But putting in the effort on a daily basis can make a difference in the long term. Your support and your continuing love as your child struggles to make sense of the past and present is an invaluable part of helping your teenager feel secure in the world.