Q: We adopted our son at birth in an open adoption. His birth mother was in an extremely difficult place in her life at the time, and was certain she couldn’t parent. She really turned her life around, however—within two years she got a good job, married, and had a baby with her husband. Our son, who’s now three, enjoys visits with his birth mother and her family—but I worry about how to explain all of this to him as he gets older and can understand more. I feel like he’ll see this happy, stable, fun, young couple with a child who’s not much younger than he is and wonder, why not me?
A: Your compassion for your son and how he will understand his history will be really helpful to him. You can explain to him that “at the time” when his birth mother was pregnant with him, she was having difficulties and was unable to parent any baby. If it is true, you can also share that she made this decision while pregnant and hadn’t even “met” him; this will serve to underscore that the decision was made because of her circumstances at the time, and doesn’t have anything to do with him as a person. The focus of your explanation should be the timing, and, like everyone else in life, his birth mother’s life situation changed and she was able to parent once she had a good job and a partner to parent with. This is actually a good life lesson: We all have to make choices based on feelings, as well as reality factors, even when these decisions—as is the decision to place a baby for adoption—are very, very difficult.
You sound like you may have concerns about how your son will react to such a “happy, fun, young” couple as he grows. How should you respond if your child says, after a visit or when angry, “Why can’t I live with my birth mother and her family?”? Know that such thoughts are typically fleeting fantasies, since your child will be firmly attached to you as his parents. If anything, your son may fear losing you once he knows that his birth family is so functional. So you will want to firmly reassure him that he is at no risk of losing you, the family he knows and loves, even though his birth family appears to be so capable. If it feels right, you can also empathize and let him know that you understand it can feel confusing to have two families, and that you will always support him in knowing his birth family.