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Posted on Sun, Feb 20, 2011 : 10 a.m.

Allowing adopted children to connect with birth parents can be painful, but models real love

By Heidi Hess Saxton

valentines 2011.JPG

Photo by Heidi Saxton

At our house, Valentine's Day can be a feast-or-famine holiday. The "feasts" range from an all-night, chocolate-laden celebration built for two to a family-wide endeavor to find just the right expression of sentiment. The famine? "Oh. Right." (Insert self-inflicted head-smack here after coming home exceptionally late from work.) "It's today!"

This year V-Day had something for everyone. Craig's signature love icon: a dozen white roses, because he knows I love them best. Then came the "I Luv U" Peeps on the children's dinner plates (which, miracle of miracles, they were allowed to consume before dinner). This was followed by my husband's favorite Thai peanut shrimp, which he washed down with his favorite beer, Sam Adams "Octoberfest." (I had squirreled it away in the laundryroom closet last November to be sure I'd have it on hand).

We were just finishing up dinner when Chris got up from the table and returned with something in each hand. "Here. Open this."

Wrapped in notebook paper was a handmade card with a picture of a leprechaun (judging from the three-leaf clover in the hat brim). It read, "Open note first, then look on back." Inside was a large heart with a little "Roses are red" poem, and "I love you" balloons liberally sprinkled throughout.

"Oh, how beautiful! What's in your other hand, Sweetie?" I asked him.

A little reluctantly, I thought, he showed me. An identical card... for his birth parents. "Can we put it in an envelope and mail it to them?"

This is not entirely unexpected; we've allowed the kids to send to and receive from their birth parents holiday and birthday cards in the past. Even so, my heart skips a beat.

In my head, I know it is not uncommon for adopted children (especially those who were adopted at an age that they remember their first parents) to continue to hold a strong attachment, even when their "forever family" includes loving, wonderful parents.

In my heart ... well, I needed a moment. So I quickly hugged my son and sent him to get a large envelope from my office, to give me a few minutes to recover my mommy face. "I just know R___ is going to love this," I told him.

As an adoptive parent, the temptation can be strong to redirect the child's attention in a misguided attempt to win the child's undivided loyalty. After all, we have invested many years in parenting our children — is it really too much to ask that they consider us "real" mom and dad?

Don't worry. Real love — the kind of love that offers oneself freely to another person, and puts his or her needs above one's own — can at times be uncomfortable, or even painful. But it pays rich dividends over time. And the most wonderful thing about real love is that it tends to expand to fill the space provided. The more people your child has in his circle of love, the better off he'll be.

Yes, real love delights in the handmade Valentine... and is generous enough to spring for the stamp for the second one. Not just for the benefit of the other parent (depending on your circumstances, you may well have mixed feelings about them). But because it provides another opportunity to show your child what true love is all about.

Now please excuse me while I go and get that stamp....

Heidi Hess Saxton is an author and a contributing writer for the "Parenting" channel. She blogs for parents of adopted, foster and special-needs children at the Extraordinary Moms Network. You can reach her at


Heidi Hess Saxton

Mon, Feb 21, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

Thank you for your comments. I find it interesting that each of you objected to the use of the term "adoptive" parent. While I'm sure you do feel strongly that the people who raised you are your "real parents," the fact is that a family formed through adoption has many of the same challenges as biological family members -- as well as a few unique challenges all our own. And most of those challenges originate with the existence of birth family and the child's feelings about them. Currently the trend is toward "openness" in adoption, with birth families being kept in the loop throughout the child's life to a greater or lesser degree, and the child knowing from the beginning that he or she was adopted. It is too soon to be able to tell how this realization will affect the family bond over the long-term. In the short term, I can attest to the fact that it all too often leaves the adoptive parent grappling with a lot of questions other parents don't. "Should I allow contact before s/he is 18? If so, how often and how much? And how is that contact going to affect my ability to parent this child effectively?" That doesn't even begin to factor in the additional challenges that come up when birth families seek more and more involvement. Or how the knowledge of his or her adoption from the earliest, most formative years (or later, his teenage years in which he seeks to separate himself from his family and now has a built-in excuse to do so) will affect the development of the child and his or her ability to form healthy long-term relationships. Time alone will tell. Which isn't exactly reassuring -- but then again, no parent has any guarantees. You just do your best, and hope love covers the rest.


Mon, Feb 21, 2011 : 12:54 a.m.

I too agree that adoptive parents are Parents - and don't need that added title of adoptive. However, as an adoptee who met her birth family with the total support of the family who raised me, kudos for being supportive of this with your children! That reconnection has not diminished any part of the relationship with my family, but I'm so thankful that I have some answers. My birth mother was incredibly thankful as well, as when I was adopted the birth mother had no idea what ever happened to her baby. I couldn't imagine that!

Top Cat

Sun, Feb 20, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

Heidi, from a person who was adopted, you are not an "adoptive parent" are a Parent AND a Real Mom ! Parenting is showing up day after day and being there. It is going to your child's concerts and soccer games. It is cleaning up a scraped knee. It is being there at the dinner table to hear what your child learned in school today. It is showing your child the proper technique to eat a chili dog. It is demonstrating the art of catching a firefly. Some day your child will realize what you did and what the "birth parents" did not do.


Sun, Feb 20, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

Top Cat? I could not agree more. I too am an adoptee and want to find my birth mother. But finding her in another state could prove difficult because of their adoption laws. Yes, there is a big difference between being the birth mother and being the adoptee's parent. Love is unconditional.