Reunion: Is There Enough Room for All?

One of the things that adoptive parents are told as it relates to their adopted kids is that there is enough room in the child’s heart to love more than one set of parents. It's similar to how parents can love more than one kid.  I have always believed this to be true and my parenting reflects this belief.  

However, does this still hold true when an adoptee is an adult and has already established a life of their own prior to reunion?  Is there REALLY room for reunion from an adoptee’s perspective? 

I think the answer is many times no.   I think sometimes an extra set of parents, along with their established families, may not be desired by some.  Understandably, this is hard for first mothers, especially, to accept. 

Of course, there are many good reunions.  But because I am not currently part of one, I have spent a lot of time talking to other adoptees and examining why. 

I have found in my own reunion, although I wanted there to be room to incorporate my maternal birth family, the truth was there just wasn’t room.  It’s not because my heart is two sizes too small either.  It’s because once I finally came off the reunion honeymoon high, I became a realist about my situation.    

What I can see now in hindsight is that I had a healthy and positive view about my adoption until I entered reunion.  Prior to reunion, I had no reason to dislike or feel upset toward my first mom, who I know placed me with a reputable adoption agency like millions of other women did during an era that shamed and blamed them.

Once we reunited, my first mom gave me as many reasons to dislike her as she did to like her.  I found reunion to be traumatizing and unsatisfying.  Think of that old marriage adage:  deposit more into the love bank than you withdraw and you will have a happy marriage.  My love bank got into the red and I had to run to therapy to deal with it.

Here are some of the reasons I believe that reunion may not go well when an adoptee is an adult before meeting their first parents.

Romanticizing reunion.  The media is guilty of this and we as adoptees run all sorts of romantic movies in our heads while growing up and searching.  Some of these fantasies can be dark, but for many, they can include the birth family embracing you with open arms because, why not, you are the bomb, and they should feel like they missed you.  How could they NOT love you and your amazing kids?

When expectations are not met and you aren’t feeling a lot of love coming your way, it can be a shock.  Once the shock wears off, you can settle into the mindset of, “I’m glad I wasn’t raised by THAT family.”

I think this is a normal response for many adoptees because prior to reunion, the “what ifs” aren’t really known.  It’s only until you become part of the family dynamic that you can start to see what you missed (or the bullets you dodged).

What you missed can include an alcoholic, abusive, emotionally unavailable family member.  What you missed can be a woman who has not dealt with her own issues and says unkind things about you as if she knows you well.  Or it could be the most amazing and loving family you could never envision because that was not your experience growing up.  Even amazing birth family members can enter reunion with assumptions about the adoptee, for example: that the adoptee had a wonderful childhood because they are adopted.

False intimacy- In the internet age, reunion is kind of like on-line dating.  Two total strangers, share a few phone calls, exchange letters (or texts/emails) and then meet for the first time. 

What if the chemistry is off?  What if you genuinely don’t like that person?  What if you sense this person is a victim and cannot accept responsibility for their life choices?  Although we share genetics, in some ways, reunion can feel like rolling the dice.

If we go into reunion, knowing that trust and intimacy take a long time to build (and that includes trust with other family members), then I think less reunions would fall apart.  But we have to be willing to put in the work.  The work includes honesty.  If trust cannot be established, then intimacy will also fail. 

Not Attending to Own Issues.  People with issues?  That is all of us.  If both parties are working on themselves personally (in therapy or otherwise), and keep their expectations realistic, and this is a big one . . FULLY ACCEPT the other person AS IS, then the relationship has a good chance.   

I am not going to lie – I failed at reunion big time.  It’s been a decade since I have spoken to my maternal birth family. Reunion created so many issues for me at that time in my life.  I know many in the adoption community who could not sustain a reunion for various reasons—not the least of which is how it affected them psychologically.

Adoptive family is unsupportive – If your adoptive family is unsupportive then it triggers adoptee loyalty.  When you have kids, you are generally going to give the mom who raised you the title of Grandma (yes, there are exceptions for sure).

And Grandma doesn’t always feel too kindly about First Grandma being involved.  People can be jealous and possessive and it does not necessarily make them bad people.  In a perfect world, these family loyalties would not cause friction, but in the broken world we live in, they do.

How do we do weddings, birthdays, funerals, and holidays logistically?  It’s hard enough with in-laws, ex-spouses and step-children.  How about when everybody lives in different states?  True, we have the internet, but many of our birth parents are older and don’t use technology. 

What do we call First Grandma and First Grandpa?  “It’s complicated” barely scrapes the surface of how to merge these families.  There is a reason many adult adoptees wait to search until after their adoptive parents pass away.

No Room at the Inn – as a lifelong Christian, reunion reminds me of the story of Joseph and Mary not being able to find a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus.  They ended up in the stable, which was not part of the main house. 

This is sometimes how we treat our first parents and relinquished children during reunion.  We compartmentalize them from our regular life or keep them secret.

When you are an adult with a life (all of us), we are busy with already juggling so much.  Sometimes there just isn’t time, energy or room to incorporate another family (along with all of their people) into our lives.

And people should never be secrets. If you can’t honestly introduce your first son or daughter to the rest of the family, then expect your reunion to end very soon.

Bad Timing – Did someone just go through a divorce or death of a close family member?  Sometimes reunion can’t get off the ground because the people involved are dealing with major life events that take precedence.  When you are grieving and have nothing to give, entering into reunion is the last thing on your mind. 

I’m sure there are other reasons than the ones I have mentioned.  There is a lot of pressure.  People on the outside want to hear all about the wonderful new relationship and how you have accomplished the coveted feat of melding families together.

But usually those stories are meant for Hollywood, and not real life. 





  1. Adoptee finds some of birth family , discovers both parents died years before. Contact with sibling (same mother, different father), sibling wasn't aware of the adoption, lived as only child with chronically ill mother, now the sibling has questions and anger at mother for not telling. Sibling has poor relationships with biological family so won't tell other family about adoptee. Siblings meet and enjoy company but find different life styles not compatible for close relationship.

  2. Another great post, Lynn! The last two points about secrets and bad timing (and pressure) really hit home with me. Thank you.

  3. I am a secret. Thank you for this "People should never be secrets" This journey is hard, and I needed to read that.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Narcissism and Adoption -- Very Likely Bedfellows

What To Do When Your Birth Mother Refuses Contact or Vital Information

Common Traits of Adoptees