This week was the fall finale for “This is Us” — and, in true fashion, the show dropped a few bombs before bowing out for the winter.
While plot twists and future reveals are staples of the NBC drama, lessons on the challenges of adoption are also frequent visitors. And this episode didn’t disappoint.
In the annual Thanksgiving episode, Beth and Randall hosted dinner at their new Pittsburg home. The whole Pearson clan showed up, as did their adopted daughter Deja’s biological mother, Shawna. Her appearance stemmed from Deja’s admission last week that she felt her parents had forgotten about their promised visits with her birth mother.
Deja and her mother have a rocky personal history. Before she was adopted by Beth and Randall, Deja spent years bouncing from apartment to apartment with her mother, including living in a car briefly before being placed into foster care. So, when Shawna agreed to Thanksgiving dinner, Beth and Randall were understandably nervous about whether — and how — she would show up.
To their surprise, their worry was for nothing. Shawna arrived early and bearing pineapple upside-down cake, boasting of her new job and her apartment. But, despite her happy news, not all was well for every member of the adoption triad.
Talking with an Adoptee About a Birth Parent’s Change in Circumstances
After learning of her biological mother’s newfound success, Deja excused herself in a flurry of emotions. Beth followed her upstairs, where Deja soon asked in between tears, “Why couldn’t she be like this with me?”
These are common emotions from adoptees in contact with their birth parents. Whether they are adopted through foster care or private infant adoption, every adoptee questions what their life would have been like had they stayed with their biological parents. And, when their biological parents seem to be thriving, it often prompts the question: “If they’re doing so great, why couldn’t they have parented me?”
It can be a complicated conversation for adoptive parents to have with their children, especially when the adoptive parent is likely battling conflicting emotions of their own(more on that below). Your gut instinct may be to remind your child of their birth parent’s situation at the time of their adoption, but that may only remind them of trauma and history they are well aware of.
Beth, instead, takes the path of reminding Deja of the good times she had with her mother: “You may not have had a fireplace, but don’t let yourself forget all the times you had with her when she was absolutely perfect.”
If you’re in this situation, remind your child that you are committed to open adoption with their birth parents, whatever their personal circumstances. Yes, it’s normal to have complicated emotions about a birth parent’s success now, but your child should take advantage of this time to build or continue their relationship with their biological parent. Their birth parents may not have been able to parent them, but their parents are a part of their lives — and the positive situation they’re in now will help make that relationship even easier.
Don’t forget to acknowledge your child’s feelings. It’s a complicated situation to be in, so don’t immediately try to “fix” what’s wrong. Give your child time to process their emotions in a healthy way, so they don’t bring any of that tension into their relationship with their birth parent.
Tackling Your Feelings of Jealousy as an Adoptive Parent
At the same time, if you’re an adoptive parent, seeing your child’s birth parent succeed can be a double-edged sword. You probably care about them just as much as your child, and their successes are your successes. At the same time, society tells adoptive parents that they can provide a “better” life than a birth parent can, so it can be disruptive to have that image challenged.
Remember: Adoptive parents are not “better” than birth parents. Yes, at some point, they may have been able to provide better opportunities than a birth parent could, but that is not a dynamic that necessarily exists forever. As an adoptive parent, you need to recognize that bias and put it aside to do what is best for your child.
That means supporting an open adoption relationship, no matter what circumstances a birth parent may be in. It’s for the best interest of the child at the center of the adoption.
Similarly, when an adoptive parent sees their child bond with their birth parent, they may feel jealous. Again, society has long enforced the idea of a child having one father and one mother. A birth parent’s involvement obviously changes that dynamic.
As amazing a mom as Beth is, she’s not immune from these feelings. She confesses to her sister-in-law that, while she was praying for Shawna to show up in a good place, seeing Deja and Shawna bond over the past causes her some pain.
“Randall is the only father she’s ever known, but she already has a mom, you know. Where does that leave me?” she asks.
When you become an adoptive parent, you will likely experience the same emotions at one time or another. Being prepared for this situation can help. That’s why American Adoptions is so serious about educating our hopeful parents about open adoption, before they even receive an opportunity. While it’s a beautiful process, open adoption is not always an easy journey, and we want you to be ready for that.
Adoptive parents and birth parents fill different roles in an adopted child’s life — and both are important for the well-being and best interest of that child. Whatever kind of adoption you choose to pursue, keep this in mind.
You can also watch “This is Us” online here.