Letting Go, Moving On, Going Back
by Barbara Free, M.A.
previous issue of this newsletter (July 2013), O.I. President Cathy Haight wrote
in her column that, after taking wonderful photos of scenery, family, and her new
puppy, she accidentally erased all those pictures from her camera, and had to just
enjoy the memories and move on. For this writer, it has been a year or more of looking
at old pictures, newspaper clippings, furniture, books, dishes, and memories associated
with them, or discovering things I never knew before: about people now deceased, with
whom I cannot discuss those happenings and objects. It has been a process of letting
go, moving on, and sometimes going back. In conversations with others, including some
in the adoption community, I found that many people have difficulty with these
processes of letting go, reconnecting, and moving on. It is difficult to accept that
life is not the way we have wanted, and will not become as we wish it to be, no matter
how hard we try to control life.
Certainly everyone has regrets about various decisions
they have made in the past, or events that have happened. The relinquishment of a
child, no matter what the circumstances, is a process that involves regrets of all
sorts. Even when the decision to relinquish is voluntary, rational, and well-thought
out, there is regret that such a decision should be necessary. It is never a
joyous decision. There is loss and grief for everyone involved. For the child, there
is unarticulated grief, even for a newborn, even though his life from then on may be
quite joyous and satisfying. For adoptive parents, there may be grief at not having a
birth child, but even when adoption is their first choice, there must be an admission
that their gain is someone elses loss, someone elses regret. We do no one
a favor by denying these various regrets, and associated grief. Grief for birth parents
is too often mislabeled guilt and shame, and hung on to, rather than being accepted and
Some relinquishments do, in fact, involve some guilt and
shame over the circumstances that led to the relinquishment, particularly in involuntary
relinquishments. Unfortunately, if the birth parents continue to focus on the guilt and
shame, and do not allow themselves legitimate grief, they may stay stuck, unable to let
go or move on. They may avoid searching or avoid a reunion later in life in an attempt
to deny their feelings to themselves, or out of fear of the consequences of contact.
Even birth parents who voluntarily relinquished may not allow themselves to grieve and
may believe they have done something so unforgivable that they must feel only guilt and
shame, and believe that neither the relinquished offspring, nor anyone else, will forgive
them. These are not rational beliefs, but they are often real to the birth parent. Such
thoughts and feelings have become part of their self-image.
Many birth parents, when a reunion does happen, find
themselves wanting sane kind of forgiveness from the relinquished son or daughter, some
absolute acceptance. The son or daughter, however, may either feel that there is nothing
to forgive, or may have their own grief, fear, regrets, and anger. They may have been
led to believe that to accept a birth parent is to reject an adoptive parent.
Forgiveness, even when appropriate, is in the control of
the offended, not the offender. It takes place in the offended ones time, not the
offenders. To beg or demand forgiveness of someone is to offend again, as it is an
attempt, however disguised, to control the offendeds thoughts, feelings, and
behavior. Forgiveness must be freely given, not coerced. If one makes amends, one lets
go of control of the outcome. Asking for forgiveness in the hope of reciprocation is a
set-up for resentment when one does not receive total forgiveness and acceptance from
the other. Asking for forgiveness only works is one has, in reality, already been
forgiven, or if the other, in fact, was not offended anyway.
Letting go does not mean forgetting. Obsessing on regret,
guilt, shame, or grief does not enhance anyone, in this case, neither birth parent nor
offspring, nor their relationship, and it usually poisons any possible healthy
relationship that could be developed. Relationships do not just occur full-blown all
at once, but are in a constant state of development and change. This is true of all
relationships, not just parent and child.
In a book called Finding Yourself, Finding Others,
by Clark E. Moustakas (Prentice Hall, 1974), Dr. Moustakas says, A sense of
relatedness to another person is an essential requirement of individual growth. The
relationship must be one in which each person is regarded as an individual with
resources for his own self-development. Self-growth sometimes involves an internal
struggle between dependency needs and strivings for autonomy, but the individual
eventually feels free to face himself if he is in a relationship where his human
capacity is recognized and cherished and where he is accepted and loved. Then he is
able to develop his own quantum in life, to become more and more individualized,
self-determining, and spontaneous.
This description of healthy relationships would be
helpful for any parent, any adult child to bear in mind. Dr. Moustakas states
elsewhere in the same book, The life of any person or thing is the
persons own. Others can and do affect the environment in which potentialities
can be fulfilled, but in real growth the individual alone determines the direction
and what is true in his world ... ultimately, the person alone is responsible for
who he chooses to be and how he actualizes potentialities. These are words
that all parents, all adults, might use as guidelines in their relationships with
In the August 5, 2013, issue of Time, there
is a lengthy article about a professional football player named Colin Kaepernick,
who happens to be adopted, a young man who has achieved considerable financial
success, and who is tattooed with various scripture quotations, including Psalms
18:39, You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow
at my feet. To this writer, that sounds rather arrogant, not unusual for
someone 25 years old, perhaps, but it may be a permanent expression of a temporary
At any rate, his life story as presented in the
article is that his adoptive parents, the Kaepernicks, had lost two sons shortly
after birth to a congenital heart condition, and so decided to adopt a son rather
that risk having another doomed child. He was, then, admittedly, a replacement for
those sons. His birth mother was white, his birth father was black, or bi-racial.
Young Colin appears quite light-skinned, although darker than his white adoptive
He is also much bigger than they are,
and was not interested in entering their family cheese-making business. He states
that he was only interested in finding birth parents because of his athletic
ability. I was just kind of curious about, O.K., I feel like Im kind
of tall, I can play sports pretty good, what did my parents do? ... Am I going to
fit that mold where I might be able to play? That was about the extent of
it. Aside from his somewhat limited mastery of speaking, this does seem a
deliberate attempt to trivialize the significance of birth parents and the
importance of finding them. He apparently regards his birth mother as on of the
adversaries who should bow at my feet.
The article states that she is now a nurse living
outside of Denver, and is over six feet tall, and that the identity of his birth
father is not publicly known, although one assumes Colin knows it. According to
the article, At the time of Colins birth, she was a 19-year-old
single mother who didnt feel ready to raise a child. This choice of
wording would imply that she just blithely didnt feel ready,
which nearly any birth mother would say denies the agony of a decision to
relinquish, in 1940, 1960, or the 1990s.
At any rate, he found her, exchanged messages
a few times while he was in college, but he cut it off. In most cases, it
is the adoptee who stops contact, not the birth parent. They had not met. No
reason is given for his withdrawal from the relationship. The article goes on to
say that she did an emotional interview with ESPN in which she described
the day she gave Colin up. He wasnt happy about it. Apparently, he
thought she was sworn to secrecy for life, and somehow took offense on behalf
of his adoptive parents, which makes no sense to this writer, who is a reunited
He called his adoptive mother to reassure her, and
interpreted her tears as her being hurt by the birth mothers interview, and
said, To me, that was the point where I felt like my mother was
attacked. This again does not seem to make sense, although the interview
itself was not quoted in the article. Now he says he is never going to meet her,
because you hurt my family, you hurt my mother.
The birth mother, Heidi Russo, says, Im
sorry thats the way he feels. Im certainly not out here to hurt him or
his family. But I am out here trying to change the stigmas and stereotypes
associated with birth mothers.
He says hes clocked out on her.
I dont feel like you have any right to say you have any say in how
things go. Because you werent the one working those night shifts, you
werent the one driving me an hour and a half, two hours on the weekends to
go work with a quarterback coach for an hour or two, and driving me back. My mom
has gone above and beyond for so long, and I dont feel she gets the credit
she deserves for what shes done.
Again, the young man is not very articulate, but he
is very angry on behalf of his adoptive mother. We have no clue as to the adoptive
mothers own feelings, but the article presents no evidence that the birth
mother has threatened any harm or disrespect to anyone.
It is tempting to dismiss the young mans
remarks as those of a confused kid who thinks he has to choose between birth
mother and adoptive mother, but when printed in a national magazine read by
people who know nothing of reunion dynamics, it is bound to promote attitudes
of how terrible birth mothers are. Apparently, by disclosing her identity and
sharing her feelings, she did not bow at his feet!
It would seem that a better understanding of grief
might be helpful to both birth and adoptive family here, not to mention Colin
Kaepernick himself. Grief can be likened to a closed fist or an open fist.
Years ago, a friends husband died suddenly of a heart attack. A few months
later, she said, I can either hang on to my grief like a closed fist,
owning it, shutting myself off, or I can have it like an open palm, being open to
my feelings, and to what might lie ahead. Hanging on tightly to grief can
eventually strangle good memories. A few years later, she remarried, not
because she had forgotten her first husband, nor even because she no longer
grieved, but because she let herself to open to letting go and moving on.
All parents, whether relinquishing at birth or
sending them out into the world when they are grown, must eventually give those
children to the universe, and let go of trying to control the outcomes of their
lives. Whether adopted or related by birth, they are not our clones.
Birth daughters/sons cannot fully know the birth
parents grief, nor should they always be reminded. Birth parents cannot
fully know their offsprings losses, nor should they constantly be told.
Again, it cuts off the chance of a healthy relationship in the here and now in
exchange for an indulgence in self-pity. It does not mean one should never
express true feelings of regret and loss, but dwelling on them limits possible
joy and peace. Sometimes the reason adoptees withdraw from relationships with
birth parents is due to the above-described dynamics, sometimes due to a
misguided idea that to have a healthy relationship with birth parents means
cutting off adopted parents in some way. Adoptive parents may share this
perception due to their own fears, or they may not feel this way at all, but
the adoptee assumes they do, picking up on societys attitude that birth
parents are evil, grasping, inadequate persons, or at the very least, mentally
or emotionally deficient, in that they were unable (perceived as unwilling) to
raise their child. Their only hope of redemption of any sort, according to this
view, is that they remain forever hidden in the background, or if found by the
adoptee, be forever humble and grateful for any bit of private recognition, but
never publicly acknowledge their parenthood in any way, because they dont
deserve to, having not been the ones staying up at night with
a sick child, etc.
Relationships of all sorts do change over time,
particularly those between parents and children. Children grow up, for one thing.
Their ideas, opinions, and decisions will not always mesh with parents, whether
birth or adoptive. Parents also change, and I mature, or not. Some would seek to
maintain their same level of maturity, and same level of relationship, with sons
and daughters that they had with them when they were children. When a birth
parents meets a relinquished son or daughter, they are not meeting the infant or
child they relinquishedboth parent and child have had life experiences that
did not include each other. This is true, to a lesser degree, even in open
adoptions. Adoptive parents also need to realize that their son or daughter, now
an adult or probably at least an adolescent is no longer a vulnerable infant or
child in need of protection, and will not be kidnapped by the birth parent. Their
own fears, just like the birth parents or adoptees, can sabotage the
possibility of healthy relationships among all the parents and offspring.
Adoptive and birth siblings are part of dynamics as well.
Moving on does not mean forgetting either events or
feelings, but it does mean looking forward rather than backward. It means being
open to new possibilities. This is true of all relationships, all parent-child
relationships, with those we raised as well as those we did not, or even those
children we hoped for and did not have. Its also true from the adult
childs perspective. Most of us did not have the parents of our fondest
fantasies, even if we had adequate parents, and some did not have
adequate parents. Moving on may mean letting go of those fantasies of the
perfect parents. Going back, in most cases, is not so much a literal action,
though it might involve reunions, grave visits, photos or letters, but it is
more of a mental and emotional journey, to come to terms with what was and what
is, to facilitate moving on to embrace reality and possibilities. For those who
have experienced international adoptions, going back may involve a literal,
physical trip back to the birth country, back to an orphanage or finding
place, and may also be important in the process of moving on, while
embracing all the aspects of ones self. Again, to quote Dr. Moustakas,
The relational world is individual, yet it is universal. These two
elements of selfhooduniqueness and universalitygrow together,
until at last the most unique becomes the most universal.
Excerpted from the October
2013 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity