To date, or not to date?
Ok, so imagine a world full of people you are attracted to . . . but the catch is that there is a risk that someone you are attracted to might actually turn out be your sibling or maybe a cousin. YIKES!
Since I was adopted during the time of closed adoptions, I had no idea who I might be actually related to by blood.
I was confused about the idea that since I was not biologically related to my cousins I was growing up with, it would be ok for us to date!
I don’t know about you but my cousins were mostly gangly weirdos and geeks. (Disclaimer: If any of my cousins are reading this blog, I can attest that you all stopped being weirdos and geeks and became fine people.) So many challenges when adoptees reach the dating age! No one to talk to about these things made it even harder. I mean, imagine saying to someone, "Did you know I can date my cousin?"
As a teen, I was flat-chested and taller than most boys I knew, so the cards were already stacked against me on the dating scene. Imagine someone asking you out and you having to say, “um, well, I’m not sure. Can you ask your mom if she gave up any babies for adoption? Or if maybe her sister(s) might have?” Ok, ok, I mean you would not really ask that, just putting it out there that that kind of stuff ran through my mind as an adoptee.
Not to leave birth fathers out of this discussion, imagine having to worry about the chance that the father of the person you like might have impregnated someone, knowingly or unknowingly, in the past, and that baby might just be YOU!? These were real thoughts and fears. If you thought, "Did you know I can date my cousin?" was weird to mention to someone, how about, "Did you know I could accidentally date a sibling?" Yep, not a lot of room for sharing that kind of stuff and finding an empathetic listener.
When I was in my teens there were two brothers who were friends with my brother. They were close to my age and I found one of them kind of cute. They used to hang out at our house a lot and I tried not to be the 'pesky little sister' when they were around. Instead tried to be the 'attractive young woman' in order to capture his attention. I would make excuses to drop by wherever they were hanging out, or to stay home if they were hanging out at my house with my brother. Then one day my mother came in my room and asked why I was hanging around my brother and these friends so much. I hummed and hawed, trying to come up with some lame excuse but she saw right through that. She gave me the ‘stern mother face’ and said in no uncertain terms, “You will NOT BE DATING either of them so don’t even bother to try!” In fact, she went on to explain that if I didn’t cut out the flirting, she would not allow them to come over to the house anymore. Well, that was mortifying because of course I thought my flirting had been pretty subtle. What the heck was going on with my mom anyway?
Remember, everyone assumed that a birth mother’s baby would be matched with an adoptive family residing far away from her community. If you recall, I was raised just 118 kilometers from the community where my birth mother had resided. As well, my older birth half-sister was in foster care for over a year in the same community as our birth mother was living. Since there was a maternal birth uncle only months older than my birth sister, it is reasonable to consider the chances of my half-sister and our maternal uncle dating if both families had stayed in that community. The risk was real.
Years later, I heard about a concept called ‘genetic sexual attraction’. It’s a real thing, and I strongly encourage you to look it up if you were adopted or if you are adoptive parents. I recommend this site: www.cumbria.gov.uk for its clarity on the topic. Genetic attraction is believed to be a result of missed bonding due to the adoption process. If you are an adult adoptee, a birth parent, a birth sibling, or an adoptive parent this is important information to know. The potential for these feelings can be discussed and normalized before, during, and/or after connecting with birth relatives.
Cumbria County Council states, “The term, genetic sexual attraction is used to describe the intense physical and emotional feelings that some people experience following restored contact between an adopted person and a close member of his or her birth family.” In my career I have had birth mothers talk to me about the urge to curl up in bed with their adult child (in a post adoption meeting scenario) because they had missed that experience at the child’s birth. Cumbria County Council further notes, “Some birth family members report the urge to touch and smell each other, just as mothers and babies do after a birth and infant brothers and sisters do in play.” These reactions are normal. They don’t happen to everyone, but when they do it can be very confusing. Educating yourself about this topic is important.
Getting back to my teenaged dating life, such as it was . . .
When I was about 16, I remember going on a date in my grandparents’ very small community located hundreds of kilometers from where I was living. My date and I decided to go to a movie. When we went into the theatre lobby to purchase our tickets, we both looked at the ticket seller at the same time and said, “Hey, that’s my cousin!” I mean, in reality the ticket seller was my cousin through adoption but still, pretty much ended any romance on that date. After the movie we shook hands goodnight and never saw each other again.
I just wanted you to think a bit about the impact being adopted has on the social life of an adopted person. Dating is already challenging for many people. Being adopted adds another layer to that. Luckily, today’s adopted persons usually have a little more information provided when they join their new family than people of my generation did, and by the age of 18 years old many of today’s adoptees are now entitled to some identifying information through the government. (If you are from Ontario and you are interested in learning more about Post Adoption Services go to Ontario.ca. Then search Post Adoption Records. There is information about services and application forms for adult adoptees and birth relatives.)
So, what the heck was going on with my mom?? Years later I learned that the brothers who hung out at our house had a last name that turned out to be very similar to my birth surname. In hindsight my mom was afraid I was going to date a person who might be a sibling or close blood relative!
Ok, I can see her point. Thanks for trying to protect me mom!
I would love to read your comments/experiences. If you would prefer to share them privately, rather than on this public forum, please feel free to email me at email@example.com
Strong black tea for me this visit to Blogville!
I have learned so much in these last few weeks! In my career I used a term I referred to as, “Sudden Onset Parenting” (S.O.P) for adoptive parents and kinship caregivers. I would usually be explaining that typically there are no nine-month preparation time frames involved in adoption or kinship. One day you are living your life like you do every other normal day and then suddenly, a child needs you! Sudden Onset Parenting! Ready. Set. GO! Rearranging rooms, washing sheets, finding or buying car seats, booster seats, high chairs, cribs, twin or bunk bed frames . . .
I had the privilege of joining in on an adoption support group meeting the other evening ( I advise you to join one of these support groups, they are amazing) and the subject of short notice for being selected for a child came up. One person talked about how they got a call on Friday for a baby to arrive on Monday! That started a chat about becoming parents or primary caregivers with very short notice. Sudden Onset Parenting!
Typically, S.O.P. children or youth do not arrive into families as newborns though sometimes that happens. Usually, they come to you with some experience. You know those beautiful You-Tube videos about soothing newborns or infants? Well, there are no videos on You-Tube about calming and supporting a four-year-old who is suddenly and unexpectedly living at grandma’s house. There are no videos that prepare adoptive parents for what happens when the pre-placement period ends and the infant keeps crying unconsolably, or the toddler/preschooler refusing to eat while crying for their previous caregiver, or the child or youth tells you where to go when you suggest they might want to unpack some of their stuff and put it away. Nope, there are no videos to empower you and reassure you that you know what you are doing, that what you are doing is right, or even acknowledging that you can only do the best you can. There are some resources out there but who has time to search? Your worker can offer support but usually not when its often needed, like at 1 a.m., 3 a.m. when no amount of soothing is working; or at 7:00 a.m. when all you have are “The Worst Cereals EVER!” in your cupboard.
There are no videos for grandparents who clearly have “never raised children in their lives” and are “so LAST YEAR!” or maybe, “LAST DECADE” even. “Make sure you are in the house before dark” is replaced with, “turn off your screens” or “I don’t care if you saw it on Tik Tok, you are NOT trying that!” There are no videos for kinship caregivers about how to . . . “do, don’t do, allow, don’t allow, cook it too long, don’t cook it long enough, turn up the heat too high, keep the room freezing, don’t read the story right like mom does, or don’t sing that song the way dad does.”
Remember when you were the favourite aunt, uncle, older sibling, cousin?
Now you are, “THE WORST PERSON EVER!” for the child or youth relative you are suddenly caring for.
I’m 63 years old. Do you know how far down to the floor it is? My grandchildren think it’s easy to reach because they are so much closer to it! I only pick up that race track piece when I’m already down there for my yoga. When I’m standing and I identify a tiny race car as a tripping hazard, I simply kick it under the couch. That dinosaur figurine with its little claws stuck in my slipper, well, now everyone can hear me walking down the hall, so what. Complaints like “but we always have a bubble bath when we come here for sleepovers, and we play in the tub and blow bubbles . . .” are met with my response of “Well sweetie, that was then and this is now, get in the shower and hurry up.” “Oh, and before you go to bed, can you get that tiny race car that slipped under the couch for me?”
Without trying to reveal any of my family’s confidential information I will say that recently I have found myself in a scenario not unlike kinship. Sudden Onset Parenting of two grandchildren under the age of 8. They suddenly moved into our home with one parent who has experienced a physical injury. The other parent works in a different community during the week, commuting on weekends. No problem, right? The kids love sleeping over, right? Maybe on occasion, but apparently not every night indefinitely. Instead, I hear, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”, “I want to sleep in MY BED!”, “I miss my CAT!” “I miss my DOG!” (Just don’t miss the school bus is my thinking.)
COVID hit my external support system first and then, shortly thereafter, it hit directly in my home. Minimum five days of isolation . . . translation? NO SCHOOL for the kiddies and NO LEAVING the house for the rest of us. I seriously panicked at the thought of no TIM HORTON’s Tea for 5 whole days minimum!!!! (But my dear friend Jennifer had my back, even Timbits for the kiddies. THANK YOU!!!)
So, all that to say, I have always had a respect for people experiencing Sudden Onset Parenting (S.O.P.) but now I have an even greater respect because of this personal experience. I see the absolute necessity of reaching out for support through friends (hugs Jennifer), family members (when they are not COVID isolating), and support groups such as Adopt4Life, Cangrands, Adoption Council of Ontario, and many, many more. Just use a search engine and plug in key words like “kinship support”, “adoption support”, “customary care support”, and you might even find a group right in your community! These folks are walking a similar walk and can help carry your backpack when you need them to.
All I know is that when I look into my grandchildren’s little faces, I remind myself that they didn’t ask for this, they would rather go back to the lives they were living before moving in here, that they miss their “normal” as much as I miss mine. I just wrap them in my arms and appreciate that we can be here for each other, like family is supposed to be. WE GOT THIS!
I would love to read your comments/experiences. If you would prefer to share them privately, rather than this public forum, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.