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Adoption Reunion: The Adoptee Do's and Don'ts (Corrected Edition)

Nowhere in this blog do I say "be an asshole". All through it, in fact, I say, "Adoptees, do what's best for you, as the only real victim of adoption."

I have seen too many blogs in which relinquishers think they have some kind of special insight into reunion and the adopted condition. It often feels like some kind of sick cosmic joke; adoptees longing for answers and ownership of responsibility from the women who rejected them finding relinquishers who blame, finger point, and gaslight. It's like everyone is mismatched, adoptees desperately searching for peace and being thwarted at every turn by adopters, governmental agencies, and overly sensitive, self involved relinquishers. And still we just want the people we're blood related to.

This post was inspired by Musings of the Lame's blog post, "Ways to Ruin an Adoption Reunion II, Adoptee Do's and Don'ts edition".

*How An Adoptee Might Hurt Their "Mother"*

Keeping in mind, the ways you "might hurt your relinquisher" are not particularly your concern, considering the level of damage perpetrated by relinquishment.

(#1. DON'T Use Your "Mother" As Only A Medical Clearing House of Information)

1. Your Relinquisher Owes You Your Medical Information.

I know this one is kind of hard because giving out medical history without expectation of reward is such a hard pill to swallow. The need for updated medical information is a basic right of any and every adoptee. There is nothing wrong with asking for it because we should have it, and the person attached to that information is no more our problem now than we were hers growing up. It may feel awful to her to be "used" (asked or required to provide) said information, but probably not as awful as it feels having to make such a request in the first place.

DO NOT feel obligated to be open to contact simply because you want your records. You don't have to be open to any kind of relationship unless or until you decide it's healthy for you. Most relinquishers cannot navigate reunion with long term success, as much as they may want to. Although they have been "wondering and waiting for you to be ready", this isn't about them. If you want and need your information, demand it. Relinquishers are adults, they can cope with their own feelings. They may want to play Mom or be besties, but if all you want is your information, that's perfectly fine. You don't owe her any kind of contact.

(#2. DON'T Create an Adoption Closet and Make Your "Mother" Live There)

2. Your Reunion Is Your Business.

Part and parcel of being relinquished is a feeling of not being good enough. Especially if your relinquisher parrots the narrative of, "I made the best decision and I don't regret anything." When you don't announce your reunion, it may feel to her as though you are ashamed of her. Rest assured this isn't your problem.

Granted, many adoptees rightly do not share news of their reunion with their adopters. Relinquishers are clueless about how many problems their reappearance on the scene can cause adoptees. She may feel she's always put everyone else's feelings before her own (except ours, of course!), and that now is her time to put her feelings equal to or above everyone else's. She is wrong. This wasn't about her then, and it isn't about her now. The sooner all relinquishers realize that it never has been and never will be about them, the better off we'll all be, and the easier it will be to navigate this earthquake known as reunion.

She may not want to feel second best anymore, or expect to be considered "one of two mothers'". If she wanted to be considered a "mother", perhaps she should have kept us, thus placing herself automatically at the top of the parental totem pole. It is entirely up to you what place and title your relinquisher holds in your life. How you handle your reunion and who you tell about it is up to you 100%. If the relinquisher doesn't like being a second-rate secret, perhaps that should have been a consideration at the time of relinquishment.

DO NOT feel obligated to announce your reunion to anyone. Tell who you like when you like, and if you feel it needs to be a secret, keep it that way. Reunion needs to be about the Adoptee and our needs.

(#3. DON'T Insist That Your "Mother" Sees Adoption Through Your Perspective)

3. As the only party who has lived it since infancy, your perspective on your adoption is the only one that matters.

Don't worry about how your "mother" sees adoption; her perspective is often skewed and nonsensical. She's trying to make it ok that she gave you away, desperately, to assuage the soul crushing guilt she rightfully lives with. She may want to believe she did the right thing, that you were adopted into a "good" family where you were "happy", whether it's true or not. Really, they still think of themselves as our "mothers" and they think they did it "for us". They claim they want to see us happy, in spite of "their pain". (As you'll find that "their pain" is their only real focus.)

Keep in mind, they signed their rights away. All if them, including the right to sympathy, understanding, affection, attention, and consideration. Those are at OUR discretion now.

DO NOT feel obligated to  understand her point of view or circumstances. Do not feel obligated to abridge yourself or your perspective to spare her delicate feelings. If you are thankful for your adoption, be so. If you are angry, be so. Her feelings and reactions are her problems. She's an adult. She's had PLENTY of time to get her emotions in order.

(#4. DON'T Expect Her to be OK.)

4. Don't worry about her, make sure YOU are OK. 

She's caught up, let's face it. Relinquishers always make it about them. News flash: it's NOT. She may believe she's redeemed herself for the circumstances that caused her to relinquish you. There is little redemption for someone who abandoned her children. She may have done as she was told by agencies, and "never talked about you again", and she may expect that to change your opinion or feelings. She may believe that her processing her grief and loss is going to have some kind of bearing on you processing yours. She may think you've come back to bite her ass, because "I'm a victim in all this."

She may be a junkie or an alcoholic and blame your relinquishment for her addiction. 
Know that she is an addict because of her own choices, and you do not have to respect that aspect. She may blame the rest of her life choices on your relinquishement as well, i.e. abusive relationships and other poor life decisions. Know that these were HER choices, and you bear no blame or responsibility for them. Her poor choices are not a reflection on you, and your sympathy is not required, regardless of what she may think.

DO NOT feel obligated to help her heal. We have enough healing of our own to do without the added burden of the healing of our so-called "mothers".

(#5 DON'T Blame Her 100%)

5.Place the onus of her choices squarely on her head.

I know this one is hard especially if she refuses to admit she had choices. While we actually had NO choice at all whether to be adopted or what family we went to, there is a good chance she's gotten herself convinced over the last 30 years or so that she didn't either. She did. There is ALWAYS a choice. Maybe not a good one or an obvious one, but it's not our fault that they were either A) too blind or stupid to see it, or B) too cowardly to make it.

She may have mourned and searched, or she may not. Most will claim they did, even if they never lifted a finger to find you. How would you know? You can't fact check her claims, now can you? And she may be hurt or offended by your righteous and justified anger. She may be sad that her "much desired much wanted much mourned for kid is just mean and nasty and crazy angry at" her. However, the fact remains that we have every right to be angry. She. Gave. Us. Away. We have every right to blame her for what IS HER RESPONSIBILITY. 

DO NOT feel obligated to absolve your relinquisher of responsibility, or to displace that blame onto the agencies or your adopters. They have their own blame to bear, just as the relinquisher does. Maybe she WAS decieved, unsupported, or too young. She isn't anymore. Maybe she is sorry. That doesn't always help, and we are under no obligation to pretend it does. And if you are still mightily pissed after she has said she was sorry five times, you do NOT need to seek therapy to "work through it". Words are empty platitudes after their actions proved they didn't love us enough. Do not think you are unhealthy or abusive to be justifiably angry in spite of hollow apologies. Relinquishers owe it to us to prove to us they'll be better people now, before we have to accept it. They must prove through patient, steadfast presence and honest admittance that they are worthy of us "working through it".

(#6 DON'T Make Her Stay in Second Place Forever)

6. It is entirely up to the Adoptee the depth, scope, and positioning of your relationship with your relinquisher.

This one is quite simple. We decide. It's up to us.

We decide if we call her "mom",  or "first name",  or "lying bitch", or "incubator". I personally use "human garbage" for mine. We decide if she is an acquaintance, friend, loved one, or stranger we're related to. She has no right to demand positioning (i.e. "I am your mother/ children's grandmother.") She may want her titles back, but she should have considered that when she signed those rights away. The consequences for some choices last forever and continue to manifest.

Now you are in reunion and trying to connect again. How far it can be mended depends on the level of responsibility your relinquisher is willing to take. It's ultimately our choice, but we can only work with what we're given.  It is not our responsibility to chase and reach out. We've been doing that our whole lives. She missed our childhoods by her own choices, and we are under no obligation to build bridges for her.

DO NOT feel obligated to discuss and define the parameters of your relationship with your relinquisher. It may make things more comfortable for her, but demanding that we define what we expect to feel and receive is unreasonable. She may be uncomfortable with a free-flow, undefined expectation, but being adopted is not comfortable, and she can cope with wondering and worrying. We've been wondering and worrying all our lives; I assure you it isn't difficult. She may squirm a lot and want more (some even get belligerent and demanding), but you are under no obligation to extend your hand further than feels safe to you. If she is a decent human being, she will gratefully accept what you give and not push, and gracefully acquiesce to your needs.

(#7. DON'T Accuse Her of Lying)

7. Demand uncompromising honesty.

When you ask her to tell you your story and it doesn't match up, chances are the story you know is wrong. We're generally lied to about at least a little. There's also a good chance she's polishing things up or outright lying to make herself look better it try to gain sympathy. Ever heard the old adage, "There's my story, there's your story, and somewhere in the middle there's the truth"? Chances are your adopters don't know the whole story, or outright lied to you. Agencies lie. Relinquishers lie. In fact, we spend so much time drowning in lies that the truth feels painful and foreign.

DO NOT feel obligated to take her story at face value. Interview relations and friends that were around at the time. Talk to the agency you were adopted through. Any doctors, nurses, social workers you can track down. Once you've heard all the sides of the story you can, you can begin to glean the real truth.

(#8. DON'T Keep Reunions Remote for too Long)

8. Take as much time as you need in reunion and move at your own pace.

There is no problem with people taking things slow, and if your relinquisher makes you uncomfortable, that's exactly what you should do. You don't owe her explanations of your life and circumstances that prevent meetings unless you want to explain. A simple, "Now isn't the best time. We can schedule something for later." should suffice. If your relinquisher is an adult with regular sensibilities, she will understand she put you into the position you are currently in, and take it all in stride, keeping her options open. 

DO NOT feel obligated to explain yourself. Contact can be an emotional wrecking ball in an adoptee's life, and that needs to be considered and accommodated.

I have to add that catering to her selfish needs for contact and redemption can be destructive to adoptees' mental health, and we really need to make sure what we're doing is best for US first and foremost.

(#9 DON'T Disappear and Don't Make Us Worry)

9. Don't feel obligated to check in with your relinquisher like a child.

We are all grown up now, and we already had parents, good or bad. The last thing we need is to be infantilized to satisfy the need for "redemptive parenting" so many relinquishers have with their relinquishees. Their worries are not our problems, and their needs are often counterproductive to ours. You owe her exactly what they all gave us... a lifetime of nothing. They don't get to be mom or grandma or at the family table UNLESS YOU GRANT THEM ACCESS. And even then you have the right to revoke that access at any time you need to for your own well being.

DO NOT feel obligated to hold up and maintain lines of communication unless you want to. The phone works both ways and most adults know how to use them. If she is worried, she can call.

(#10. DON'T Make Her Push You Away)

10. Don't take responsibility for her inability to stomach your pain.

We all go into this thinking, consciously or un-, reunion will fix something or give us some kind of peace, and it often does the opposite. Even with kind and good relinquishers who own their shit, reunion can be as messy as a garbage dump set with landmines. We each open our own Pandora's box when we make or take that call. 

It's not easy; it's never easy. The only thing I agree with the author of the uncorrected blog about is this: our relinquishers cannot save us. They couldn't keep us or raise us, what makes us think they can do anything for us now?

If you have one of those"mothers" who claims you're abusing them, that they've had to cut you out of their lives, chances are they're toxic and probably too damaged to form any meaningful healthy attachments. "I didn't abandon you again," they'll cry, "I had to do it for my own health!" Right. Like you "had to do it" the first time, right? You can't paint rejection with the brush of mental health and make it look like anything but rejection.

Carrying her guilt on your back is the last thing you need, especially if you're in a hard place in life. Right up on that list is a "mother" who rejects you again because the damage from her initial rejection is unpalatable to her. It is NOT your responsibility if she allows the discomfort of seeing what she has sowed to drive her to reject you a second time. The onus of that weakness lies with her; it is not your burden to bear.

Relinquishers claim to see and hear us when we describe our shit to them; it really translates into what they can use for themselves in most cases.


  1. Wow. So much of this reminds me of my dear mother. She was so mean to me! I still cannot get over it. She died 2 years ago, 4 years into reunion. We had not spoken for over a year when she got sick, her choice.

    Dad may still be alive, but he knows he did the right thing, so I must be happy, and if I'm not, who really cares anyway.

    Your attitude is so much healthier than the self loathing a prominent adoption therapist tried to put on me. I tried his way, but it almost drove me nuts.

  2. This is a really interesting take on reunion and original parents (relinquishers). After finding my mother, she traveled to meet me, and it was ok. Lots of conflict for me, but primarily positive regarding my new found knowledge of my history. I really, really wanted her to like memand be part of my life (very abusivea adopters). Several months in, she sends me a tape of many family events, weddings, vacations, holidays, graduations, etc. She meant it to be a good gift, but it was horribly painful for me to watch all the events I'd missed. I wrote and told her how I felt. She was so offended, she broke off contact. It was heartbreaking for me. I cried for years after that and it still hurts when I think about it. I am glad I know my 'roots', but she's a cold, selfish bitch. Thanks for letting me say that.

  3. Thank you for this post. And hugs to Moonchild, also. Aaargh.


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