Love Is Not a Pie
When I tell people that I have developed a good relationship with my daughter’s biological mother and am feeling very positive about the efforts my husband and I have been making to include her more in our lives as an extended family member, they almost always respond with some version of the following: “Wow, that’s great! But aren’t you afraid …” This is followed by the expression of various concerns that naturally arise.
This response is not too surprising. We live in a fear-based culture that tends to encourage scarcity thinking. One of the dominant undercurrents of the concern I encounter is that if we allow our daughter (whom we adopted through the foster system, finalizing last year) to have continued contact with her biological family, she will be less attached and bonded to us. I’ve also seen this fear in other adoptive parents. Even therapists sometimes express the view that contact between an adopted child and his or her biological family can confuse the child and inhibit bonding with the adoptive one. I disagree.
Here's the thing: Love is not a finite object, like a pie, that gets divided up and handed out in limited quantities. It isn’t the case that if my daughter gives X-amount of love to her biological mother, there will be X-amount less for me. Love just isn’t like that. As parents, we know this in relation to our children. When we give birth to or adopt a second child, we don’t divide our love so that the first child now gets half the amount. True, our time and resources are limited and we must sometimes divide those, but the love itself is infinite and ever reproducing. The more of it we dole out, the more of it we have to give. Most people don’t question that parents can love more than one child, yet we sometimes assume that children are not capable of loving more than one parent or set of parents, biological and adoptive.
I’m happy to report that, from what I’ve seen so far, the fears of well-meaning friends and family members are unfounded. As we’ve increased contact between the adoptive and biological sides of my daughter's family, her relationship with me especially has improved. My daughter had bonded first with my husband, her adoptive father. Her relationship with him was less complicated because there was no other father figure currently present in her life, mind, and heart. But with me, there was that divided loyalty issue; she had grown relatively close to me, but there was still a bit of a wall between us. In the months following the finalization of her adoption, that wall got a little thicker as she processed what it meant to be a "forever" family. But as we increased visits with her birth mother, the wall began to crumble. She became warmer and more affectionate toward me, began to seek me out more frequently for comfort, regulation, and companionship. Our bond strengthened.
I am not surprised. For one thing, who would you feel warmer toward: someone whom you perceive as keeping you from someone else you love or someone who facilitates that connection? Her birth mother has also done a great job of giving our daughter “permission” to love me and my husband. She tells her, as I do, that having more parents just means more people in your life who love you. She also has told her that she considers my husband and I to be the parents, and that she likes us and is grateful. And when our daughter sees me with her birth mother, she can tell that there is genuine warmth and friendliness between us. It’s easier to give yourself permission to love two people when you can see that they like each other. Another positive factor is that the tension my daughter felt around visits has evaporated; the visits now occur with enough frequency that she no longer has to feel anxious, wondering when, if ever (always that doubt lingered), she will get to see her birth mom again. The visits, quite frankly, have become non-events -- they are not disruptive; they are simply a normal part of our life.
Every family is different and every adoption is different. What has worked so beautifully for my family might not work at all for another. (In our case, the birth mother is someone who has worked hard to turn her life around and is currently very stable -- that’s not always the case in foster-adopt situations.) But I’m glad that my husband and I had the courage to follow our instincts and create the right situation for our family. Everything in life involves risk. Is there a risk in allowing an adopted child to have more contact with the biological family? Sure. Do I at times feel jealous of my daughter’s biological mother? Sure, I’m human. But there is also a risk involved in restricting contact between the child and his or her birth family. There is a risk to the child, emotionally and psychologically, and a risk to the relationship between the child and the adoptive family. I’m so grateful that my husband and I chose to gamble in the direction that we did because the prize has been not only a fulfilling relationship with our daughter’s birth mother but a closer, more bonded relationship with our daughter as well. We didn’t just get a piece of the pie -- we got a whole lot more!
Photo Credit: theblueberrywoods.