Care and Feeding

I’m Devastated My Daughter Secretly Contacted Her Birth Mother

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Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last week my 17-year-old was showing me something on her phone when I noticed a text from “B.M.” When questioned, she admitted it was her bio mom. Apparently, when she went through our files a few months ago looking for her Social Security number, she found some adoption records with her biological mom’s name and a little bit of info, and she used it to find her on Facebook. We did a closed adoption and have never had contact with the woman. I am in shock since my daughter has always accepted us as her parents. I didn’t think she cared who her bio parents were, or about being adopted. Sure, she occasionally would have questions about where she came from, and we talked openly about her adoption, but it was just something that existed that we didn’t really acknowledge regularly. Apparently they’ve been talking for about three months, but she hadn’t told me because she was afraid we wouldn’t approve or we would think it was a rejection of us.

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They’re planning to meet at a coffee shop, and from the messages, bio mom sounds very eager to meet my daughter. I know I should be happy that they’ve been reunited, but I can’t help feeling hurt and rejected, like I’m not enough for her. I am terrified that this woman might try to take over my role in her life and become her mother figure in adulthood. I’m also apprehensive because my daughter has kept their relationship a secret. It worries me that they have been talking behind my back.

The main reason I’m writing is because my daughter is now wanting to involve me in the in-person reunion, and her bio mom wants to meet me too (we never met when I picked my daughter up from the hospital). I don’t want to go. I appreciate this woman for giving me my daughter, but I chose a closed adoption for a reason. I feel that trying to include bio mom in our lives will make things more complicated and likely end up with heartbreak for my daughter if things end up going badly. I don’t know what the right thing is to do. Part of me believes I should go if my daughter wants me to, but I can’t help feeling like there will be a lot of tension. I am concerned, at the same time, that turning her down could lead to her pushing me away and toward her bio mom … but I’m also concerned that the same could happen if she meets bio mom and decides that she’s more her mom than I am.

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—Tale of Two Moms

Dear ToTM,

I understand how hard this is for you. If you chose a closed adoption because you didn’t want the bio mom involved in your life in any way, and you’ve spent 17 years certain that your daughter “didn’t care” that she was adopted or have any curiosity about her biological parents, this development must make you feel that your world is tilting on its axis. I’m hoping you can take a breath and think this through clearly, setting all of your own feelings aside for a moment. Your daughter is offering you the chance to participate in something that’s important to her. Is she making that offer because she truly wants you and her bio mom to get to know each other? Maybe—maybe simply sitting with the two of you will be helpful to her and bring her a sense of wholeness or resolution that she is seeking as she enters adulthood. Or maybe she is asking you to join her simply because she wants you to feel included, to make it clear to you that her desire to meet her bio mom is not a rejection of you. Or how about this? Maybe she’s nervous about this meeting and wants to be able to lean on her mom. Or—for all you know—maybe she’s acceding to the bio mom’s wishes: The woman who gave her up for adoption would like to know who has been the mother to this child. To reassure herself that she did the right thing all those years ago—and/or to have the chance to thank you. And the daughter you raised is kind and generous enough to want to help her do that.

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No matter which one of these possibilities is true—and all of them may be true—you should brave this meeting. It’s the right thing to do. Will there be tension? I suspect this is up to you.

And please try to let go of your distress about your daughter keeping her correspondence with her bio mom a secret from you, and talking to her “behind your back.” She did so because she feared you wouldn’t approve or would feel rejected—and she was right, wasn’t she? You don’t approve; you do feel rejected. Your terror, as you describe it, that the woman will take over your role in your daughter’s life is something for you to work out (I hope with the help of a therapist, because it sounds like you are having a very rough time with this). You can’t pretend any longer that your daughter’s adoption at birth isn’t a part of her life story.

And I will remind you, too, that the amount of love we all have available to give is not finite. If it turns out that your daughter and her bio mom do develop a real, ongoing relationship at this point, it does not take anything away from you; it gives your child one more person to love and to be loved by. I’m not suggesting that jealousy and envy—and insecurity—are easy to rise above. What I’m suggesting is that for your daughter’s sake, you make every effort. And if, in the end, nothing comes of this reunion except that your daughter is able to satisfy her curiosity about where she comes from, I hope you’ll make an effort to understand and support her in that too. For that matter, if things “get complicated” and go awry, as you also fear, and your daughter ends up heartbroken, your job will be to support her through that too. Because you are her mom, and that’s what moms do.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I (both cis men) have been fostering a baby girl from birth (we picked her up from the hospital). We keep receiving over-the-top praise for “caring for someone else’s child as if it were our own,” with people typically adding that they don’t understand how we can do it, or can’t believe how good we are with her “as if we were real parents.” I never know how to react when this happens. We’re caring for a baby … just like hundreds of millions of other parents in the world. And it doesn’t feel like we’re caring for someone else’s child. We’re not a day care center. We have been parenting this baby 24/7 since she was born! Also, we’re not superheroes, so receiving extreme praise for what I see as an “OK but nothing special” parenting job is making me feel like a fraud. And in the back of my head, I keep wondering if maybe people are surprised that two men can somehow manage to care for a baby at all, as if we were supposed to lack some female-only child care brain component? So how do I respond to a random clerk going out of her way to tell me how impressed she is with us? Sometimes I’m tempted to blurt out: “I know, right? Who would have thought a male brain could figure out how to feed a baby and change diapers!”

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—Just Like Any Other Parent

Dear Just,

Ah, welcome to parenting! All parents have to learn how to handle or ignore the comments made by random strangers about their parenting.

Actually, scratch that. All humans, parents or not, have to learn to ignore the clueless remarks of busybodies, even when those busybodies are well-meaning and think they are complimenting us when they say things we find insulting. Still, as you navigate this new world, the comments you’re facing cut especially deeply.

Since I can pretty much guarantee that as you continue on your parenting journey your husband and you will hear many, many unwelcome things from strangers—some of them specific to your being a family with two fathers, but others virtually universal—allow me to suggest that you not waste your precious energy on a snappy comeback (which isn’t likely to make you feel any better and will do nothing to protect you from the next random stranger). When someone praises you for caring “for someone else’s child as if it were your own” and tells you they just don’t know how you do it, why not respond by looking every bit as baffled as you feel, and gently say, “Well, of course, we love her”?

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In other words, respond truthfully and politely—and very briefly. And consider this: if the “real reason” you’re being praised so lavishly is that people are astonished that two men can manage caring for a baby, the best way to demonstrate that this is nonsense is to be utterly matter of fact about it. This will be a more effective teaching tool—and will cost you less, emotionally, over time—than sarcasm, I promise.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Recently, I was going through my 15-year-old daughter’s phone (I believe parents have the right to know what their kids are doing/seeing online), and I stumbled upon several Google searches on the topic of asexuality. I don’t know what to do with this information, and I’m concerned that my daughter thinks she is asexual. That would mean she’s been having sex and decided she didn’t like it, right? How else would she know? Should I confront her about it? I don’t want her to decide this about herself at 15 and then hold on to it forever, especially because I would like her to settle down and have kids someday. I’m worrying too much about nothing, right?

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—Fifteen Is Too Young

Dear FITY,

Your teenager’s Googling “asexuality” does not (necessarily) mean she’s been having sex and disliked it and has found what she believes to be the explanation for that. (Indeed, this seems to me the least likely reason for her search.) I can think of lots of reasons she’s reading about asexuality online. Perhaps she’s wondering why she isn’t thinking about sex when her friends are. Or she may be trying to understand a friend—or even a celebrity, or an Instagram “celebrity”—who has come out as asexual. Or she heard someone mention it and she pretended to know what it meant and the internet is the only place she knows of to learn what it is—or to learn what anything is that she’s heard of but that hasn’t been talked about at home or in school. Or—yes—she may have figured out that she is asexual and doesn’t know where else to go but Google for more information.

But you most certainly should not “confront” her about it. If she is considering this possibility about herself—or has concluded that it’s true—it’s not for you to insist otherwise. If your relationship with her is one that offers her the opportunity to talk such things through with you, then she will, when she’s ready. If it isn’t, then she won’t (and forcing her to talk about it is not going to go well; most likely it will result only in efforts at secrecy that she hasn’t employed up to now). But your not wanting her to “decide this” about herself is, I’m afraid, irrelevant. She gets to figure out who she is without the permission of her parents. And if she does think she knows something about herself that changes later on (because she is still young, and her identity may still be in flux for some time), you are going to have to trust her to recognize change when/if it comes. Honestly, you have no choice about that. She is her own person.

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Finally, that you would like her to “settle down and have kids someday” is something you are going to have to accept as your wish for her, which may or may not turn out to be her wish for herself. It’s hard to be the parent of a 15-year-old—I understand that. But now is exactly the right time for you to start accepting that what you want for her and what she wants—and who you want her to be and who she is—may be quite distinct. This is a process, but it’s a process every good parent must go through sooner or later.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-year-old daughter is a free spirit. She is the first one to stick up for the underdog (animal rights, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, etc.). Recently she has told us that she might like girls but she is not sure, and my husband and I have told her that no matter who she chooses to love, we will love and support her. The trouble is that because she has spoken openly about how she might be bisexual, she is being picked on at school by boys who used to like her. She does not shy away from who she is, but she is bothered by how she is being treated. We are a religious family and my daughter is being told by some of these boys that being gay is a sin and that she is not going to heaven, which makes her feel awful. I’m not sure how to help her! Is there anything I can do other than to tell her that she has our support?

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—Confused Parent

Dear Confused,

Yes. You can tell her firmly that these boys are wrong—that being gay is not a sin, that it would not keep her out of heaven, and that as a religious family you are certain that God loves us all, no matter who we are or whom we love. And if the latter is not (yet) true, if you practice a faith that preaches otherwise, one important way to support your daughter—which goes well beyond telling her that she has your support—is to begin now to practice your faith in a way that aligns with your determination to be good parents and good people.

I would also ask her what she would like you to do about the bullying that is going on at school. If you report it to school authorities, will they support her and hold the boys accountable? Would it be helpful—or counterproductive—for you to contact the boys’ parents? Talk to her; make it clear that you’ve got her back.

I hope, by the way, that you have been supportive (and not just tolerant) of her championing the rights of others. Your daughter sounds like a great kid. What she deserves (ah, well, what every kid deserves—and if every kid got it, there might not be any bullies) is the full-throated, wholehearted support of her parents, always.

—Michelle

More Advice From Slate

My oldest daughter is 15 years old and is a straight-A student. I asked her the other night what her ideal job was, and she said, “Anything that makes me a lot of money so I don’t have to only wear bad clothes and won’t have to do dishes.” I first dismissed it as teenage snark, but then I realized that this materialistic attitude is pretty common for her. It breaks my heart now to think I’ve raised a kid who’s just greedy and materialistic. Have I messed up that badly?


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