Reference points for belonging*

I was raised primarily by my mother and we spent most of our holidays and vacations with her family. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I connected with relatives on my father’s side at a funeral and began a real relationship with them.

It has been a good and interesting process for me — helping me to understand my father better and making me feel more complete. Even though the bonds aren’t quite the same as those with family that I grew up with, the familiarty of these people is astonishing to me. I am not adopted but this experience is one which makes me think about the experience of those who are. Here are some additional thoughts:

  1. Adoption has been around as long as humankind but only in more recent times have children been placed with strangers. Previously if they didn’t live with an immediate family member, they at least lived within their community and culture.
  2. People often make a big point of transracial adoptions and there are points to be made there (especially when you have a parent from the majority race adopting children of a minority race) but all non-family adoptions are transgenetic and that is where a lot of the difficulty lies.
  3. The move towards open adoption is a good one, and these days the vast majority of birth parents in infant adoptions choose the adoptive parents and have some ongoing contact. Even international adoptions are becoming more open as parents hire searchers to find their children’s biological family.
  4. Adoptions from foster care should be the most open since they start out with mandated visits. However, close relationships between biological and foster families are rarely facilitated by case workers. And unfortunately, once adopted, foster care agencies generally make little or no effort to share information about new siblings or about relatives known to the child when they were younger.
  5. When children know their biological family, it can lead to a feeling of increased closeness to their adoptive family because their desire to connect is open and shared with their parents. Ruth McRoy has done a lot of research on openness in adoption, for example, this piece here.
  6. If it is impossible to be in contact with your child’s birth family, think about how else they can have frequent contact with their culture and wider genetic roots.

*This comes from something I heard Terry Cross say in a meeting, “All children need reference points for belonging.”

P.S. Thank you to Lily Gerstenzang for her comments on this post.

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