Saturday, February 16, 2008

Reunion Etiquette

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Acknowledging the Other Party

"I am your child, but you are not my mother..."

Happy as they may be, adoption reunions can turn into a minefield of unintended slights, unfulfilled expectations and hurt feelings. Adoptees, in particular, walk a tightrope. While their natural families do have reunion-related challenges of their own to overcome, adoptees must now contend with the sometimes conflicting expectations of two sets of relatives. In addition to their own potential ambivalence with respect to the reunion, particularly if they were not its instigators, loyalty demands that they make it known, loud and clear, that their only "true" family is their adoptive family. As a result, many reunited adoptees, unable to integrate the various sticky issues, seem to live by the above statement in apparent ignorance of its built-in contradiction and its potential for creating hurt feelings.

"I am your child..."

I would think that most adoptees want their families of origin to acknowledge them and make them part of the family. What could be more natural? After all, nobody wants to be someone's dirty little secret. They want to belong. They want to be fully embraced as their natural mother's child. Anything less would be interpreted as a second "abandonment". What could be more understandable? In many cases, until reunion the shamed mother had kept the birth and adoption a secret from her current family. She must now come clean, make whatever revelations are called for, and publicly acknowledge her child. All of that is totally right.

"..but you are not my mother."

Conversely, don't our reunited children owe us the same respect and consideration? That should be a given. Yet, time and again I hear about adoptees who are keeping their reunions with their natural mothers a secret for years, if not forever, for fear of hurting their adoptive parents' feelings. And most want to be acknowledged for who they are, our children, but refuse to acknowledge us for who we are, their other mother. To quote some of them, all we have in common with them is genetic material and all we are to them is "a good friend". I wonder how these same reunited adoptees would feel, should their natural mother do likewise. How would they like to hear that the only bond their natural mother feels with them is "shared genetics" and "friendship"? I'm willing to bet that this would not sit well at all. Yet, they expect us to be content with that and to silently swallow the affront. Which we do, fearful of losing our child again.

Walking a mile in the other person's shoes works every time, and so does treating others as we would be treated. Respect all around is required, and respect is based on truth. Just as adoptees want the truth of their origins and belonging to be acknowledged, natural mothers want their motherhood acknowledged and honored, at least in private. I don't know of a single natural mother who expects and demands that her reunited child now call her Mom in front of the whole world. But being pointedly told that we are not Mom, just "a good friend", is dismissive and unnecessarily hurtful.

Source: Josee Larose
Founding director of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers

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