In last night’s episode of “This is Us,” we saw a flashback to one of Randall’s first attempts to find his birth parents — and it didn’t quite go as planned.
(Spoilers for those who haven’t watched yet!)
To recap: Randall was adopted at birth through a closed adoption, in which his mother chose not to tell him anything about his birth parents, including that she knew who his father was. So, like any adopted child, Randall wanted to know who his birth parents were and set off to find them himself (which he did successfully last season).
In this week’s episode, we learn that when he was a teenager, Randall posted an ad in the newspaper to try to find his birth mother or birth father. We find out that a woman who responds to his ad is not related to him at all — instead, trying to take advantage of him for money. It’s a tough blow for Randall, but his curiosity and desire to find his birth family doesn’t go away.
This desire for search and reunion is not something unique to Randall, however; it’s a feeling that most adoptees in closed adoptions have. But, as last night’s scene showed, this can be a confusing and frustrating process for children— and even a dangerous one.
That is just another reason why our experts at American Adoptions encourage and require adoptive parents to be open to a certain level of contact with birth parents — to avoid situations like this. While an adoptee in a closed adoption’s search and reunion process is a deeply personal one, it’s also one that adoptive parents should be involved in, especially at key moments in an adoptee’s childhood and teenage years.
Randall meeting a complete stranger in the park, without telling his parents about it, should set off alarm bells for any parent. Fortunately, there are steps adoptive parents can take to keep their child safe from situations like this:
1. Choose a semi-open or open adoption.
Randall’s adoption in “This is Us” took place in the 1980s, when the adoption process looked a lot different. However, there are still birth parents who choose a closed adoption today, which has the potential to raise concerns down the road, especially when a child becomes curious about their birth family.
You can avoid these frustrating search-and-reunion dangers by choosing to be in contact with your child’s birth parents from the beginning. That way, you can provide your child the information they want about their birth parents and, when they’re ready, even arrange a meeting. Open adoption eliminates the question of “Who are my birth parents?” as it will be a question answered from the moment a child is brought home.
2. Make adoption an open and ongoing conversation with your child.
Adoption is a beautiful thing to be proud of — and your child should always know that. Part of the reason why Randall chooses to pursue a search and reunion without his parents is because his parents are not open to discussing his birth parents with him, believing that as his adoptive parents, they should be “enough.” As any adoptee will tell you, finding birth parents is not about this — it’s about discovering a part of their personal identity.
To avoid your child entering into complicated adoption situations without you, make sure adoption is a continual, open conversation with them. Allow them to ask difficult questions, and make sure to answer them as accurately as you can. You should be excited about their adoption story and be willing to talk about it. Your child will pick up on your attitude.
3. Be available for and, if appropriate, involved in birth parent contact and reunion.
In most modern adoptions, a formal search-and-reunion process is not necessary, as adoptive parents and adoptees have the information needed to know about birth parents and contact them if desired. However, meeting birth parents for the first time can be just as nerve-wracking a process as finding them.
When your child expresses a desire to learn more about their birth parents and even meet them, make sure you are supportive and as involved in the process as they want you to be. No matter how successful a birth parent search and meeting is, it will likely be an emotionally confusing process for your child — and they will need their parents there to support and reassure them. By being involved in the process, you can help keep your child safe, avoiding situations like the one Randall found himself in.
Searching for and finding birth parents may not be as common today as it was with Randall’s adoption in “This is Us,” but it’s still an important topic to address. Luckily, our favorite adoption-themed TV show continues to serve up important aspects of adoption to discuss each week. Keep tuned for other things about adoption we’ll learn all season.
You can watch “This is Us” online on Hulu.