During our late teens and early twenties, a main developmental task is to establish our identity while simultaneously seeking independence from our family. In other words, to figure out who we are becoming, we need to know where we came from so that we can have something to actually separate from. For adoptees, who have limited information about their origin, this is often the time when there is an increase in wondering and seeking out more information about birth family—Questions like: What makes me unique? What about my genetic history? How am I similar and different from my birth and adoptive family? Where do I fit and belong? These are all important, valuable questions. Some adoptees move through this stage comfortably by exploring these search-related questions on their own without pursuing contact with birth relatives or an actual reunion. Yet for others, these curiosities lead to a strong desire for an active search and the hope of making a connection with birth relatives.
If you are in this age group, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide if this is a good time to pursue a search.
1. Do I have the support in my life to embark on a search right now, or should I build my community first?
Having a solid support system of trusted people who are accessible to you is critical during your search. Consider the kind of help that you may need and then think carefully about who in your circle of friends, family, and professionals can be there for you. Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding what they need, and that having the support of other adoptees makes all the difference. As you explore the answers to this question, you may consider working with a coach or therapist who specializes in adoption-related concerns. Joining an adoption community or support group can also offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experiences.
2. How will searching impact my relationship with my parents?
This is a tricky thing to talk about. However, overlooking it could lead to bigger troubles. Consider how much or little you want to involve your parents in your search process and be proactive in how you approach this so that you are in the driver’s seat. As a young adult, it is recommended that this process be on your terms—but you need to know what you want in order for this to happen. Take the time you need to explore and define what is right for you. If not, you may be swayed by other people’s point of view, no matter how well meaning. It’s important for you to feel “in control” of the process—so you can take responsibility for the outcome as well as feel confident that you are making the right decisions. These in-between years can be a confusing phase of life because parents have often been the stewards of the child’s adoption information. As you transition to adulthood, you can learn to own your story. There are often growing pains here—parents may need some help letting go while you may need some encouragement and support to take the lead. Being ready to deal with your parent’s feelings about a birth parent search is an important part of the decision-making process. This can be hard for anyone, and even harder for a young adult who is still “in the nest.” Bottom line is, recognize that searching affects your whole family system—especially your parents and consider this in the timing of your search.
3. Do I have the time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to a search?
Although everyone’s search experience is different, most would agree that the experience took them on an emotional roller coaster that, regardless of the preparation, was difficult to predict. Many of our coaching clients initially reached out because they were unprepared for the emotions that came up as well as the impact it had on their lives. This is also true for people who feel they had very positive experiences. With this in mind, consider what else is happening in your life and try not to overlap the active part of your search with other weighty decisions or commitments that require significant energy (application deadlines, school exams, new job, or stressful travel, etc…) Once you actively engage in the search process, it can take on a life of its own and the feelings that come with this are hard to anticipate and prepare for. As positive as your experience may be, it is likely to be consuming and distracting for a period of time.
In closing, keep in mind that your search doesn’t have to be conducted all at once. Searching can happen in phases over a period of months or years. Consider both internal and external factors that may be influencing you and set a pace that is right for you. If there is no pressure to move quickly, it is recommended that you give yourself time to think things through. Seek the support of a trusted friend or advisor who can support you to clarify what outcome you hope to achieve, as well as how you will manage both the joys and sorrows that may arise.
Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you at every phase of the birth parent search process. Contact us at 646-539-2167 or [email protected] to schedule an initial consultation.