We adopted our daughter through LDS Family Services when she was a newborn. Her birth mother was a member of the Church and her birth father wasn’t. Eighteen years later, we (my daughter, my wife and I) met her birth mother and everything went very well. Her birth mother turned her life completely around and is doing great. We then met her birth father. To make a long story short, my daughter has gone to live with her birth father’s family. She has walked away from us as her parents, walked away from Church, and walked away from college scholarships to live with them. She considers them her Mom and Dad and their family as her family. My wife and I are now the secondary mom and dad. Her birth father and family have also told her that he was wronged by the birth mother allowing her to be adopted and not allowing him to raise her. He says he wanted to raise her all these years. He feels cheated out of his daughter. They have done everything they can to pull her away from the gospel and Church. She has bought into the whole story and now is angry with her birth mother and our relationship with her is very strained at best. It’s very hard to listen to her go on and on about how the birth father’s family is so perfect, the birth mother was so wrong, and all the things that her new family do together and how wonderful they are. She has taken their side in everything imaginable and feels totally at home with them. This has hurt both my wife and I, but it has especially hurt me. I feel much like this is a parent’s version of “my wife dumped me for another man”, only it’s “my daughter dumped me for another dad.” I feel hurt and betrayed. I especially feel betrayed by the birth father and his family’s total disregard for family boundaries. He’s gone so far as to tell me in an email that it was his turn to be her father now, and he is going to do it, and no one is going to stop him. How do my wife and I handle this?
What a shocking and devastating turn of events for your family. Your relationship and influence had suddenly been questioned, misunderstood, and mocked not only by strangers, but your own daughter. I’m sure this is an outcome you didn’t anticipate, so the shock and deep sadness of losing your daughter must make for some difficult days.
What’s most tragic about this whole thing is that three innocent people (your daughter, you, and your wife) have been caught in the crossfire of two adults who clearly have twenty year-old unfinished business. The truth about the development of events surrounding her unexpected pregnancy, dealings with the birth father, and subsequent decision to place will never be something everyone agrees on.
While you had legal protection to raise this little girl in peace for the past eighteen years, she is now on her own to pursue relationships and form whatever narrative about her life story she chooses. Not only does this happen with adopted children, but also with all children who reach adulthood and decide how they will remember and interpret their childhoods.
Your feelings of betrayal are understandable, as you’ve only done what any loving parent would do in providing a stable and values-based upbringing for your daughter, only to have all of that rejected and dismissed as unimportant. You have some important decisions to make that can determine whether you stay bitter and resentful or heal from the deep wounds inflicted by all of these wounded people.
Elder David Sorensen shared the following counsel from Brigham Young:
President Brigham Young once compared being offended to a poisonous snakebite. He said that “there are two courses of action to follow when one is bitten by a rattlesnake. One may, in anger, fear, or vengefulness, pursue the creature and kill it. Or he may make full haste to get the venom out of his system.” He said, “If we pursue the latter course we will likely survive, but if we attempt to follow the former, we may not be around long enough to finish it.”[i]
It’s important that you preserve your emotional, spiritual, and relational foundation so you can be around when and if your daughter wants to continue her relationship with your family. Cling tightly to your wife and other family members to get the support and understanding you all need during this time. Take advantage of any long-term counseling services offered by the adoption program through LDS Family Services and continue to seek priesthood blessings for strength and comfort. This is a significant loss that needs to ongoing support.
Even if the birth father was prevented from raising his daughter, this man and his family currently desire a relationship with her. Some adopted children feel a strong biological bond to their birth parents and feel a sense of relief and completeness when they’re able to reconnect. My sense is that you share this understanding, as you and your wife helped facilitate reunions with her individual birth parents.
As difficult as it might be, I encourage you to see this through your daughter’s eyes. She’s in a developmental stage of forming her identity and connecting to her biological family members is important to her identity. You gave her a solid start in a home where she was safe to build an identity and strong sense of self.
The excitement of this newly discovered relationship will have a honeymoon period, as do all new relationships, and she’ll eventually settle into reality about how she’ll relate to all of these new family connections. I’m sure all of the attention she’s having showered on her by her birth father’s family is a form of celebrity, though unanticipated, creates a strong draw away from the ordinary family relationships she’s been accustomed to.
Look for opportunities to build connections to her birth family. Your willingness to help her expand her family connections was an unselfish gift of love to her. Although it flared up in a way you didn’t expect, continue to offer the hand of family connection and fellowship to this family. Hopefully they will come around and recognize that you’re not a threat to them or her. Hopefully they can eventually see what a blessing you’ve been in her life.
Your relationship with her will more than likely continue, although on a different trajectory than you had planned.
Hopefully enough time will pass so everyone can see the foundation she was given in your home. It’s hard to know where this will go. Keep facing her by reaching out in appropriate ways to her and her birth family. Your consistency and stability will make it easier for her to find you when she’s ready to reconnect with you.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author would like to thank Jeff Ford, MS, LMFT for his helpful feedback on this column
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:
[i] David A. Sorensen, “Forgiveness will change bitterness to love”, General Conference April 2003