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Search for birth parents: disappointment ahead?

It seems to be almost expected these days that an adopted child eventually will try to seek out his or her birth parents. However, while television programs and newspapers occasionally profile happy reunions, the reality can be quite different, maintains Wanda Draper, professor or psychology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Typically, those who know they are adopted begin showing an interest in searching for their biological parents in their late teens, as their own self-concept develops. "Frank, honest talk is the best approach adoptive parents can take in handling this situation. Avoiding the issue, belittling the child's curiosity or vehemently opposing a search will only whet [his or her] curiosity and resistance. Surprisingly, if adoptive parents are simply willing to discuss the situation as honestly as they can when a child asks about his or her birth parents, the child's anxieties often are alleviated and the issue is dropped.

While honesty is vital, Draper suggests that adoptive mothers and fathers avoid initiating conversations about birth parents. "Let any questions come from the child. If and when they do, answer only the questions that come up. Don't overload or over-volunteer information."

If the child still wishes to begin the search, the adoptive parents usually can facilitate this without turning it into a crusade. Many oppose such actions because they fear they will lose their child to the birth parent.

"Instead, what I have seen is that children who find their biological parents almost never abandon their adaptive parents, unless that relationship was already troubled," Draper indicates. "In fact, when a child finds his birth parents and discovers that he was an unwanted child, he is even more likely to return to the parents who raised him."

While working together can bring the adoptive parents and the child closer, all parties need to be aware that searches often end in disappointment. Even in the best-case scenarios, the result inevitably is a great deal of turmoil in the lives of all concerned.

"The happy TV reunions are few and far between, and may give false hope to adoptive children and even to birth parents who seek a child they gave up. High expectations should be tempered, because life does not come with a guaranteed fairy-tale ending. [Those] who do search run a risk of receiving a cultural and/or social shock if they do find their birth parents. However, this also is a part of coming to terms with reality, and these children usually come to terms with the situation, even if professional counseling is required."

If the adoptive family is warm, caring, and supportive, the youngster will recover even more swiftly because that is the source of his or her mental stability. "Many adoptive children have a very strong family life, because they usually are not taken for granted. Most adoptive parents usually invest a deal of time, energy, dollars, and personal commitment in order to adopt and raise their child."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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