My sister's baby was adopted by a very nice couple who were amenable to an open adoption. They allowed my sister to name the baby. The only contact over the years was a package sent around the birth date of the little girl with several pictures and a short note describing a few of the events and achievements of the child. The package would be sent every year to my parent's home as their address was fixed; Mom would forward it to my sister.
Somewhere between this young girl's fifteenth and sixteenth birthday she was allowed by her adoptive mother to make contact with my sister. I won't go into the particulars of why it happened when it did because it isn't all that relevant to the story of my sister and me. The adoptive mother first contacted my sister and discussed whether or not my sister was open to meeting her biological daughter. Naturally, sister was thrilled with the prospect.
One evening I received a phone call from my sister who immediately demanded an audience with both myself and my daughter. After my daughter picked up the other phone my sister launched into her news...she was on her way home from a visit with her biological daughter. She and her husband had spent the weekend in the town where her daughter lived and had gotten acquainted. She tried to get my daughter all excited over this meeting by telling her how alike she and her cousin were and then listed some dubious similarities that made my daughter and me quietly roll our eyes. She would follow up her rendition of their similarities by then asking my daughter, "Don't you want to meet, K? Aren't you excited about having your cousin in your life?" My sister tried to convince us that we should meet her daughter soon. We remained non-committal. We were also not terribly enthusiastic though we tried to sound happy for her. It was extremely inconsiderate of my sister to assume that now that her bio daughter was back in her life that it naturally followed that we would want to be in her bio daughter's life too. It was presumptuous and utterly inconsiderate for her to push us like that especially upon our very first hearing of this news. And by her pushing for our meeting her bio daughter in this very first conversation after her meeting with said daughter we were immediately set up to disappoint and anger my sister if we answered in any way other than in the affirmative. No delicacy was undertaken. No consideration for a viewpoint other than her own. I look back at her phone call that night and now see how utterly selfish and self-involved she was over this development from the very outset. I have never been able to deprive my sister of something she wanted from me and not end up making her very angry. I was set up from the beginning to have to disappoint and anger my sister. I resent having been put into this dilemma by her insensitive presumptions. There was no consideration for feelings or a viewpoint other than her own. I was to be condemned, ultimately, for having feelings and a viewpoint other than hers. I see no fairness in her way of reckoning. I did not condemn her feelings or viewpoint even though they differed from my own. I received back no such kind allowances. Typical for my relationship with my sister. One way street with all the grace going in her direction from me.
I do not think open adoptions are a good idea. I especially don't think that minor children should be in contact with their biological parents. Then there is the issue of bringing a kid into our f&*%d up family. With my evil mother, my complacent and complicit father, my sister who is consumed with herself, and my sister's extremely strange husband, I had some even more serious reasons to feel very uncomfortable with the idea of this young girl entering my sister's sphere of influence. I asked my sister if she intended to let her biological daughter, K, meet our mother. My sister assured me she would do all she could to make sure K never would meet our mother. I was only somewhat relieved as I know my sister could easily change her mind on that at some future date. Especially if my sister could use her biological daughter as a bargaining chip in her relationship with our mother.
K was a well-adjusted kid from all my sister's accounts for the first 18 months of having contact with her. K was doing well in school academically, excelling in athletics, well-liked by her peers, enjoyed a happy family life getting along with both parents and her siblings. In my opinion, she didn't need the complication of meeting my sister, her bio mother. As stated already, I kept my views to myself. It was apparent to me that my sister would tolerate no dissenting notes. She would often hint at how much she wanted my daughter and me to meet her biological daughter, but she stopped short of pinning me down to specifics or a commitment. I have no power or responsibility for my sister's decisions, therefore I did not feel like I needed to state outright what my differing views were. I figured if she wanted to know she would ask. I would only be forced to spell out some of my opinion on the matter if my sister tried to get me directly involved. So, what I'm saying is that I wasn't being dishonest by not explicitly stating my opinion from the outset. Opinion is not necessarily fact. I wasn't going to force my opinion on someone else. If solicited, I would then feel free to state it. Unlike my sister, I do not try to force people to take my view on things. When I have no power, I do not try to change a circumstance. I knew that my opposing views brought into the open would not change my sister's behavior in her own life. My opposing views would only become relevant when having to make a decision about my life. It was not insignificant to me that my sister waited two full years before directly asking me the question of whether or not I would want to meet her bio daughter. That it took so long was proof to me that she was quite sure I had an opposing viewpoint. She was not going to be able to graciously allow me to have a differing opinion therefore she avoided soliciting it.
For two years, rather than ask me my own thoughts on the matter, she would just regale me with stories about their visits and phone calls. She was always overly excited (by that, I mean it seemed like contrived excitement) and braggadocios about her relationship with her "daughter". I have a long history with my sister where she finds something exciting and works over-time to try to whip me up into an emotional high resembling hers. If she is excited about something then everyone around her needs to feel the same way. I always felt she was trying to manipulate me when she would do this. It never worked to her satisfaction. I would give my honest reaction and leave it at that. Sister is someone who wants to hear your affirmation not just once, but over and over again. For example, she might call me and say how she had an answer to prayer over something. Voila, everything worked out perfectly (i.e. how she wanted it) so it was obviously an answer to prayer. "Isn't that incredible??!!" I might reply with something like, "Yes, it is. I'm very happy for you. You must be so relieved..." That is far short of enough for the likes of my sister. A few minutes later she would say something like, "Aren't you amazed at what God did? Aren't you thrilled?" Poke, poke, prod, prod. She was none too subtle that my response was not nearly enthusiastic enough. She wants effusive confirmation that I see things exactly as she does and am just as thrilled as she is for something that went well for her. It was usually just as subjective as the example above as to the "facts" of the case which required that I take her subjective opinion as my own in order to be just as thrilled as she was about it. It felt manipulative and childish when she would do this kind of thing. For someone who showed so little interest in my own life, why was I supposed to be as thrilled as she was about hers? It was just another manifestation of her extreme self-focus and it wearied me. I would have been embarrassed to conduct myself this way in my relationships. If my telling of an event in my life doesn't excite people then who am I to try to force them to feign excitement they don't feel? Why would a person feel satisfied with a prompted excitement in others? How does one convince themselves it is real when you had to force them into it? Very narcissistic, if you ask me. Only someone who can relate to an artificially constructed reality as if it was real would be satisfied with such a thing. It requires a certain level of narcissism in order to live happily in a false reality. I finally realize that my sister was inelegantly attempting to get me to mirror back to her the reality she wanted with this kind of behavior. She was trying to use my person hood, my face, to reflect back a certain rosy glow over her version of reality. A classic maneuver of a narcissist.
I remember clearly one phone call when my sister was angry, though not at me. She was angry with her biological daughter's adoptive mother. I will refer to the daughter as "K" and the mother as "P". K and P had both been over at my sister's for a weekend visit. P seemed a bit insecure during this visit and showed signs of being uncomfortable with my sister spending alone time with K. My sister, instead of understanding this mother's justifiable reaction, instead was furious at the mother's attempts to not allow K and my sister to spend alone time. By the way, "furious" was the exact word my sister used. My sister later chooses to forget the obvious problems that P had, at least this one time, with having allowed her adopted daughter into my sister's life as you'll see in her second email to me.
My concern was greatly increased the day my sister, in her usual over-excited way, called me to let me know that K was going to come live with her and finish out the last half of the school year where my sister lives. (They live in the same state but are a many hour drive apart.) This was going to happen in January of 2005. I was shocked. Dismayed. Terribly worried. I know that I was unable to hide my complete lack of support for such a decision. I wasn't going to lie and pretend I thought it was a good idea. So I uttered a series of "uh huh"s and "I see"s. Again, my sister didn't ask me directly for reasons for my cool response. I found out later she was quietly simmering in anger over my lack of happiness for her being reunited with her bio daughter going back to that first phone call two years earlier. I was failing her as a sister by not "entering into her joy".
My sister had told me in other conversations about the little problems that had started cropping up between K and her adoptive mother with increasing frequency. (Any coincidence that the problems didn't start until after K had met her bio mom? I don't think so.) My sister was pretending she knew better how to raise her bio child and would criticize the adoptive mother in her conversations with me. It was hard to listen to my sister acting like she knew something about parenting. She has never raised a child. She has certainly never raised a teen. Now, like her mother, she acts like she is some kind of child-rearing expert. I had to chew on my tongue. Now I'm hearing how K wanted a fresh start in a whole new town. Another reason that open adoptions are a bad idea. Adoptive parents are not babysitters. K perceived an escape hatch from her life because she knew she had an open door at her bio mother's home. Instead of having to stay and deal with life and learn the important life lessons that come from working out one's problems, now K would be living with my sister for at least a full six months. It was shortly after K came to live with her that my sister finally posed a direct question to me about whether or not I wanted to meet K.
It was the beginning of the end.
I reproduce now the correspondence that occurred starting with my sister's email. This was sent March 31, 2006.
Hi Anna,My sister had attached a picture of her self where she is crossing one eye. It used to make me laugh back when we were kids. It was a little ridiculous for a fat 40 year old woman to be sending a pic of herself looking like that. I was not amused. Notice the little pushy statement, "your niece can do it too". Um, not really my niece considering this child was adopted to another family effectively terminating my relationship to this child. The mention of the familial ability to cross one eye is another way my sister is pushing the whole genetic look-how-related-we-are thing. I am not exaggerating when I say that every conversation where she talked about her bio daughter to me, my sister would over-emphasize what she perceived to be proof of how strong the genetics are that link her daughter to us. It was interesting to me how K didn't inherit any of our family's bad traits. Amazing, really. Also, this child had gotten half her genetics from the father! What had she gotten from him? I saw her pictures for myself and could see how much she looked, physically, like her father. Something my sister never would admit to. In my sister's world, it was like the father never existed. My sister's psychologized view of life had made her look for biological explanations for all human behavior. It also convinced her that genetics are a much bigger factor in human development than it can be proven to be. With her, it boils down to an attitude that "blood is everything". In this way, my sister was taking much of the credit for the good qualities and accomplishments of her daughter. I find her willingness to take credit like this to be outrageous. I do not operate from this perspective. I put much more stock in the ability for humanity to rise above genetics and circumstance through the power of choice. I believe in personal accountability and that good character is no accident. My sister does not. This basic philosophic difference was a substantial one and placed a chasm between us on how we view the world. Sister's bio daughter coming into her life was an event that was destined to underline and highlight the very wide gulf between our philosophic views on family, personal responsibility, psychology, and basic morality.
I have been looking for my copy of the letter I wrote to Dad and can't find it in my files. Would you happen to have it? I want to show it to K. What I explain to her about mom and my relationship with her is incomprehensible to her. I think the letter will help. If you have it will you send it to me? Thank you.I am so glad N [my daughter] liked her gift. Did she have a happy birthday all around? I had forgotten that my lovely niece [referring to my daughter] was able to do the eye thing. that's so cool. I want a picture. By the way, your niece can do it too.Tonight K was asking me about you and N. She really has a deep desire to meet you both and know you. Tonight she asked me if you two even wanted to meet her. And you know, I didn't know how to answer. Is that something you would even want?She also wants to meet Mom and Dad. She is curious.Love you,D
Here is my response (sent on April 1st) to my sister's direct question:
You directly asked about how I feel about meeting K...so I will give you a direct answer. I have thought long and hard about meeting K over the last many months. I have talked to my family about it. We all want to meet her.....just not yet. None of us feel comfortable meeting her yet. I hope you will not be offended or try to pressure me to feel otherwise. I will try to explain a bit what my thinking and feelings on this are....not as justification, because I don't think I should have to justify myself in this, but out of respect for your feelings and desire to know why I would come to this decision.I had angered my sister. She shot back a reply rather quickly. She, I'm sure, was convinced her anger was not apparent in her answer. I begged to differ.
K is still very young. I had imagined that if she came into our lives she would be older and out on her own. She would be an autonomous adult, in other words. I will be ready and willing to meet her the day she can get in a car or a plane and come on her own to visit when she's an adult making her own decisions about her life. She will then be able to decide when to come, how long she wants to stay, and if she isn't feeling comfortable, she can leave when she wants. As a dependent minor those decisions are made for her. When she feels confident enough in her own skin to come visit us without you holding her hand, then she will be ready to "get to know" us.
Supposing we meet with her in the near future and the visit goes smashingly well and she likes us. Now what? How does she further develop and maintain a relationship with us? In other words, "get to know" us? It isn't like she would be able to come visit with any frequency....and long distance relationships are hard to maintain by phone. Or how about if she is uncomfortable, bored, or just not clicking with us? She is NOT going to say so to us. She will very unlikely tell you because she is not going to want to disappoint you. You've made it very clear to her that you think a lot of us....what if she doesn't? How is she going to be equipped at her tender young age to deal with that possible dilemma? I don't see how she is going to be able to "get to know" us in any meaningful way at this point in time. I will not feel comfortable with a visit until she is completely a free-will agent. When she has control over the decisions and doesn't have to worry about disappointing you.
The reality is, D, that K has a family. She doesn't need us to be in her life right now in order to make her life complete in some way. I respect adoption very deeply. Adoption, both in our legal jurisprudence and Biblically, is more significant and binding than natural birth and blood relations. I don't feel like she is being deprived of something important to her life and maturation by not meeting her right now. What teenager needs two families with all the complication and obligation that entails? Her mother doesn't need the sense of worry or insecurity that having her minor child all wrapped up in another family could induce. P [the adoptive mother] has had some struggles with just having you in the picture...so I don't think it is far-fetched to think she'd struggle some with K bonding with your extended family. I highly respect and admire P for her loving, generous heart that brought K into her heart and home. She has given K every advantage to make a success of her life. I can't articulate how much I respect and honor that. I don't want to add even a smidgen of anxiety to that dear woman's life. When K is an adult, then pursuing some kind of relationship with us will be much less threatening to P. We don't even know yet how things will ultimately pan out between you and K. So giving this time and letting a meeting occur organically when K is able to do so under her own steam isn't a bad thing. It is prudent and cautious.
My concern, ultimately, is for K and for her adoptive family. Even though I expect you will disagree with my concerns, I know there is nothing you can say that will change the basis for those concerns. So, I hope you will respect my feelings and thinking and not put one more drop of pressure on me to meet with K, or on K to meet us. It will happen when it is supposed to happen without you having to orchestrate it.
I also hope that you will put the most positive construct on this as possible for K. I don't want her to feel like I, and family, don't want to meet her. We do! But under the above described circumstances. You are free to read this email to her so I can, in my own words, explain to her what I'm thinking and feeling about this, if you wish. I don't doubt for one tiny second that K is a delightful, beautiful human being. Everything you have told me about her has made it clear that she is a wonderful girl. She hasn't turned into this sensitive, thoughtful, kind, athletic, smart person because she is related to me...or to you, for that matter. I think she is a living testament to the loving home and good parents that chose her to be their daughter...and most of all, because there is a God in heaven whom K has met because of being raised in a God-fearing home. She is who she is because of her Heavenly Father who has guided events since before her birth and Who has used your many prayers on her behalf to bless her life. She has had everything you had hoped she have. Myself and my family are simply asterisks in her life at this point.....and I'm fine with that. It needs to continue to be that way until she gains the maturity to know her own mind and to pursue what is best for her once she is able to determine that from the perspective of an adult.