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Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT
Friday, October 11 2013

Your Hardest Family Question: My adopted adult daughter has disowned us as parents

By Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
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Question:

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?

Answer:

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.


8 Comments

  1. My son who is now 37 has been doing drugs since he was 10 years old. He has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He has been through several rehab programs, however he does not want to get off drugs. He has been in jail numerous times. He will not seek help for himself or make any effort to live a decent life. I have been divorced since he was 3, so I feel somewhat responsible for problems I may have caused for him. I do have 3 other children who are very productive members of society. Everyone else in the family has turned their backs on my son and won't have anything to do with him. They advise me to stay away from him, mainly for my personal safety. I feel like I should do what I can for him as his mother. Also, the scriptures tell us to care for the poor and needy, so I feel like I should help him. I don't know where to draw the line between personal safety, manipulation, verbal abuse, and doing what I can to help. I am 70 years old and know I can't help him forever. I am in need of professional advisement and appreciate your help. Thank you in advance! Barbara Carroll
  2. 2 years ago our adopted daughter found her birthmom. She was only 17, so we still had some controll. Unfortunately, our daughter did as this young lady re: gospel living. However, they were both taught the gospel when they were young and had love and safety. It is very hard to watch our beloved child make very bad decisions. As soon as she could our daughter moved to another state to live with her birth family. This hurt very much but it hurt my husband terribly. We decided to continue to give her unconditional love, support and put her name on temple rolls. Plus we have had friends and family pray mightily for our little girl. Then Heavenly Father told us to move to the same city as the birth parents, which we did. The birthparents have been very nice to us, but still we felt that they were usurping our roles as parents. However, our daughter always turned to us when she needed anything. We have always tried to be there for her. Just in the last month we can see her maturing and is now living with us again. The Lord has continually told us that everything will be all right. Our daugter is sealed to us. Now she is moving away from both families. The Lord has blessed us with such great opportunities that we will not be moving. I know it is extremely hard, but love you child unconditionally, pray, pray and pray some more and be there for her. Smile and keep you cool around the birth families. Then wait on the Lord.
  3. This was a perfect response. Really. I think we can all trust you, Brother Steurer for good insight and counsel. This new column popped up just as I was about to make a comment on last week's column and I really want to tell that sister who wrote something. So, sister, if you are reading this---or any other of our peers who can relate to the feeling of being left out of any combination of family relationships, I'll just say, read Anne Tyler's "Back When We Were Grownups" . It helps put things in perspective when you feel like a nerd trying to get in with the popular kids, even when it's your own family!
  4. Wow---as a Mom I can feel how heart rending this would be!!! I bet if you focus on showing love for your daughter and just let her talk, without making defensive replies, she will eventually return to you and the church. If she feels no pressure from you, I think she will be more willing to recognize the fact that you are her true family. She is very young and probably carried away into a fairytale fantasy about this "new" family, This "newness" will wear off when reality hits. I would imagine she is in for an emotional roller coaster ride, and she will probably need your support and love when she experiences a let-down with these people.
  5. Righteous behavior eventually leads to positive outcomes. Unrighteous behavior eventually leads to negative outcomes. This young woman's birth family have acted in such an insensitive, self-centered manner, I cannot see how they will be able to keep her under their spell for a long time. If they are callous enough not to pay due respect to the woman's adoptive parents, their callousness will eventually show up in the way they deal with their birth daughter. I do indeed believe that time will play in favor of the most deserving adoptive parents.
  6. I don't understand, the father has to give up parental rights for the adoption to happen. My daughter went through LDS Services - unless the state makes the difference - the father had to be found and sign his rights away. She was told that even if the mother claimed to not know who the father was and she did know, then legally she could be in trouble for perjury. I'm thinking the father is lying to her. How sad when you consider the time and moneys and emotion involved in raising a child. My heart breaks for them.
  7. We too adopted a son. In fact, I also have 6 stepchildren. I have told ALL my children, including the 3 birth children, that they ALL belong to Heavenly Father. I have had the privilege to raise them, and love them, but someday I will have to account to my Heavenly Father, how well did you love your children? If I do the job right, they will go and get married, and then have families of their own. Relationships are difficult. Loving people is difficult. As much as we want control, these are sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. Hey, having two fathers who will love you isn't a bad thing. Having two mothers love you isn't so bad either. I wish you all the best, if you have raised them with the gospel, sooner or later they will return to activity. Sometimes people have a great longing for the birth family, and all we can do is say I hope you're happy. We love you too. There is nothing wrong with letting people decide for themselves who to spend time with, who they should marry, and who they should love. My children's birth father paid next to nothing to help raise them. I told the step kids it doesn't matter. I love them, it will all work out. I think too many times people get "sealed" to these children, and think they now have a title to them like a car. Getting sealed means they are entitled to all the blessings promised us in the temple. Learn patience, don't rush people, nor take away their ability to love others, and you'll find yourself happier, and glad you trusted in the Lord.
  8. "if you have raised them with the gospel, sooner or later they will return to activity." I know you are trying to give these heart broken people hope, but hope can sometimes paralyze. Sometimes they won't return to activity. If our hope and love is on that basis we will continue in heart ache. Loving our children when they turn against us and or our values for whatever reason is heart wrenching on a daily basis. It is hard, but necessary. But don't hold out that they will return to us in full or to the gospel ever in our life time or at all. Just love them. I'm trying to do just that and it is so emotionally draining. I have to lean on the Lord and my good husband daily.

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