Q: We adopted our nine-year-old daughter as a baby and are deeply bonded to her but we took her to see her birthparents when she asked to meet them. This visit helped her understand how much they loved her but it was incredibly painful too because her birth mother has chosen to raise several other children — both older and younger than my daughter — and now she is pregnant again.
Our child is obsessed with this new baby; she pines for the family and says that she adores her birth siblings — who she hardly knows — but hates her six-year-old brother who we also adopted as an infant.
Our daughter also says that she wants to live with her birthparents although they are a plane ride away and she is deeply attached to my husband and me. I have a hard time making her understand that we are the right parents for her and we always were. She was an extremely needy infant and toddler and we were able to give her the extra attention that she required.
Should she spend more time with this family? Less time? Although I understand her birth mother’s pain, she has refused to honor certain requests I’ve made, and she calls my child by the name she gave her instead of her legal name. This is very confusing to my daughter and she is really torn up about her relationship with her birth mother. How can I make my daughter feel better?
A: There is such a thing as being too understanding, too kind, too magnanimous. And this may be one of those times.
It is great that you and your husband were open-minded — and open-hearted — enough to let your daughter meet her birthparents because some adoptees really need to do that. As one of them poignantly said, “I dearly love my parents but I still have to know where these toes of mine came from.” Once she knew, she said, she would feel complete.
As you have discovered, however, an open relationship doesn’t always work, especially if your child is feeling left out by her birth family and if she is 8, 9 or 10 years old — a time when hormones kick in and magical thinking runs rampant.
Since reality, not magic, rules the world, your little girl still has to learn that we must work with who we are, not who we wish we were. If we have a limp, we swim. If we are poor, we ignore shop windows and catalogs. And if we are bad at math, we draw, we write, we tend flowers or children.
Your daughter will eventually learn that life is what she makes of it but she’ll learn faster if she — and you — get some professional help. You went through so much to adopt this child, but if you’re going to do what’s best for her, you’ll have to do even more.
An adoption agency can give you an assessment of the birth mother’s family, so you’ll know if this relationship should continue; the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys at adoptionattorneys.org can help you get legal protection if it’s needed and can probably recommend a family therapist who understands adoption problems. A good counselor will help your daughter understand her birth mother better; help her appreciate her brother more and give you the courage to stay strong when you’d rather cave.
Your daughter will accept your decisions better, however, if you are kind and gentle when you give them to her and if you let sympathy be your guide. Ideally, you can let your daughter visit her bonus mom for a week once or even twice a year, but only if you can afford four airplane tickets and a hotel room so all of you can go. If she wants to go without you, however, say no, because you are a family and families do things together and also because you love her too much to let her go alone. And who can argue with a rule based on love? Who can argue with someone who takes responsibility for that rule, even if it goes against her?
This may still be a tough argument for you to make, but it’s the same one you’ll use when your daughter is a teenager and asks you whether she can drive to a concert on a school night with a boy who got his license last Tuesday.
“I’m so sorry,” you’ll say. “I’d really like to say yes, but I love you too much to let you do that.” After a while she’ll accept this decision, not because she agrees with you but because she knows that this is the price she pays for being loved.
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