The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families. On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill. You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.
(To read more about the Children’s Bill of Rights, look at articles at this site, and at Homeschool Under Siege.)
Right to know the family that they came from
If a child has been adopted, they have a right to know this by the time they arrive at an age when they can understand. Further, they have the right to know about and even meet and become acquainted with their birth family, if that’s what the child wants.
This is bound to be a contentious right for some families. It is wrapped up in powerful emotions.
What is a parent? Well, there are two definitions, aren’t there? There is the “biological parent”, who helped give a child birth through the procreative act, and through childbirth. These are sometimes called the “birth parents”.
And then there are the people who actually go through the years of effort and concern to raise a child. And in my mind, these are a child’s actual “parents”. Sometimes, the birth parents and the “formative” parents are one and the same. That is usually a happy circumstance indeed.
Whoever raises a child is beyond question that child’s parents. They have invested the love, the resources and the time to provide that child a safe and good life. Assuming that adopted parents have done all of this, and done it with love and patience, then they deserve all the respect and love in return that the child can muster, and all of the respect due a parent. Those people, in fact, provide us the best example of “parent.”
It sometimes happens that a child who has been adopted wishes to meet his birth parents. The reasons behind this decision are probably a bit different for each child, and the child might, in fact, have a difficult time verbalizing them. But we should all of us have the right to know and understand from whom we came. This is a deeply personal decision, and it should be honored even when the results might be emotionally difficult.
A parent’s first job is to protect their child. This is as true for adopting parents as birth parents. With this in mind, it is easy to see why some adopted parents might have real qualms about allowing a child in their care to meet birth parents that long ago abandoned the child. Adopting parents have also made a tremendous investment of themselves into the child they have raised, and may feel that their relationship with that child could be threatened by the insertion of the birth parents into the child’s current life. What’s more, it is entirely possible that the birth parents may not wish to meet a child they abandoned long ago, and this rejection could lead to real pain that adopting parents may wish to save their child from. Or upon meeting them, the child could discover that his birth parents are not very wonderful people, which might lead the child to question his own worth. These are reasonable and understandable concerns!
Still, many people feel a powerful drive to in some way “hook up” to their heritage. This should not be intended by the child to negate or minimize the contribution of adopting parents. If it is, then shame on the child! Or shame on the adopting parents for creating a life that led to such thoughts. But whatever the reason, we all have the right to come face to face with our heritage. We then have the right to evaluate that heritage and to determine its worth. And children, all too easily disenfranchised in so many ways, should have this right without question.
A very young child should perhaps not be allowed this right. The confusion that might arise could be devastating. But by the time a child is in his or her teens, they should know well enough who has raised them. They should know where their home is. They should be able to sufficiently differentiate between the past and present, what might have been and what actually was, to be able to face their birth parents and maintain perspective. By the time a child is thirteen years of age or so, this right should be made available to them.
It is, of course, the birth parent’s right NOT to be contacted, if they so wish it. And that, too, would provide the child a life lesson that they have a right to experience.
Such contact could be managed to be controlled and safe, at least at first. Such services as Skype make that easy to do. In-person meetings could wait for more familiarity, more of a purpose for such a meeting – and more confidence on the part of the adopting parents that the birth parent will be a safe person for the child to meet. What’s more, perhaps it could be required that the adopted and birth parents have a supervised meeting before the child is ever allowed into the process. Boundaries could be established for the birth parent as to what could be discussed initially with the child, and what the adopted parents could say to the child regarding the birth parent. It may even be felt necessary for adopted parents to be present at the first meeting – or ten meetings, if they felt the need. They should have rights, too. And the child should respect his adopted parent’s needs and concerns. They’ve earned that respect.
In the end, a child will eventually become an adult with the full legal right to speak to whomever he pleases. It can seriously alienate an adopted child to prevent him from meeting his birth parents, and he will just do it later, anyway. In some states, the law prevents the research required to locater birth parents long ago left behind. I personally think such laws are destructive. A birth parent could always initially be contacted by an agency, or even by an adopted parent. If the birth parent does not wish to meet the child, that is his right.
As I mentioned at the start, this is a difficult issue. There are few subjects more important to us than family. It is “the building block of civilization”, and has always been so. How we define family goes a long way toward making us who we are.
I personally believe that this is a rough world. I believe that you can never have enough people love and care about you. I believe that the possibility of discovering one has parents who could love one is worth some risk. I even believe that adopted parents who love their children should welcome that possibility for the sake of their children. I also think that adopted children should always remember who it was that raised and cared for them.