Do I have to choose between my son, or, my dad & stepmom?
August 6, 2012 4:27 PM   Subscribe

My father and stepmother have rejected my son, after I placed him in an Open Adoption following his birth earlier this year. How do I deal with important family events where both parties would be welcome and invited? Snowflake details within.

Last year, I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant (thanks a lot, condoms + Mirena). When I discovered that the pregnancy was viable, I considered my options. My father and stepmother both said that they would support me in whatever decision I made for the baby.

I discussed options with the baby's father, and we both agreed that an Open Adoption would be the best choice for us and the baby.

I started talking to an Open Adoption counselor, and at about that time, my dad/stepmom seemed to backpedal on their supportive words. My dad would tell me things like "I don't want my family/my neighbors to know that you're pregnant" and "I don't want to hear about the baby," (which I didn't see as being supportive to me, at all, but, I could understand his likely feelings of loss and grief about the situation, along with his lack of being able to express it to me in a way that is still "supportive" to me).
The rest of my family has been completely, 100% supportive of me & my decision, and we all enjoy visiting with the baby and his family quite often.

I already have another child from a previous marriage (she's 6). During this summer, I threw a party for her, and she wanted to invite her brother. I discovered (through my fiancee, after-the-fact) that my dad and stepmom opted-out of attending the party, not because they didn't want to go to my daughter's party, but because they didn't want to see my son and his family there.

My dad and stepmom say that they want their involvement in my son's life to be "his choice". My stepmom herself was adopted (in a closed adoption) but was reunited with them in adulthood, and has a wonderful relationship with her birth family; She was also rejected by someone in her family, on the basis of her being adopted. She knows how much it hurts to be rejected like this, ironically enough.

They have both rebuffed my suggestions that they speak to my adoption counselor about the issues surrounding my adopted son.

I feel like I'm torn between two parties when it comes to important family events.

I am thoroughly convinced that I will never be able to change their minds on the issue of welcoming my son as their biological grandson, but I think it is really unfair to me and my family to have to choose between inviting my dad/stepmom or my son and his parents when it comes to important family events.

I'm beginning to think it might be more proactive to simply ask them "Which life events do you want to be excluded from, so you can avoid seeing/meeting my son and his parents?" That's a brash way of putting it, but feels like it might be necessary to avoid the heartache of inviting them and being asked "is he going to be there?"

Some examples of the "important family events" that I'm talking about:
- My wedding (If my dad doesn't show, it looks like I walk down the aisle on my own)
- Getting hospitalized for some major reason
- My (someday) funeral
- Holiday gatherings
- Parties (Birthdays, etc)

I don't think it would be very polite to exclude my dad/stepmom from being invited, and I don't want to exclude them, but I don't want to keep asking them to join me if their answer is always going to be "no."
I also think it would be unfair and unacceptable to exclude my son and his family from these events just so that my dad and stepmom can avoid seeing them/meeting them. I am not going to reject/exclude my son and his family for some "blood is thicker than water" reason, because my son is my blood, too, even though I am no longer his legal parent.

I respect my dad and stepmom's decision to not be involved in my son's life whatsoever, even though their choice really hurts me (they know this).

What is the best way that I could approach this situation? Should I exclude them from events like my wedding, without discussing it with them? Should I ask them which events they'd prefer not to be invited to, until the day comes that my son asks about meeting them?
Your suggestions?
posted by erasorhed to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to exclude your father and stepmother. You invite them to things you wish to invite them to, and you invite your son and his family to things you wish to invite them to. Your father and stepmother will then make their own decisions about attendance, as they did about your daughter's party. (When you invite them, don't inform them that your son will be there, though I don't think you should lie if they ask.)

This does mean that you will hear a lot of them declining, but it also leaves it open for them to change their minds. You can always see them individually.
posted by jeather at 4:36 PM on August 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

You pick your son because he's a child - your father and step-mother are adults who make their own decisions, right or wrong.

I would keep inviting them, even if they're going to say no. Send them an invite like everyone else.
posted by heyjude at 4:36 PM on August 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

My first thought is that it might be painful for them to have a grandson who is not fully a part of their lives (i.e. he is not living with his birth family).

Have you discussed this grief with them? Can you suggest they see a counselor, possibly with you? Do they just need more time? Just because you're okay with having adopted out your son doesn't mean they are.

You're understandably upset, but asking them for a list of what events they'd like to be excluded from is passive-aggressive and is not going to help the situation at all. You have some weird dynamics if you're finding this stuff out via your fiancee (is your SO female or was that a typo? if you're lesbian, is that factoring in?).
posted by desjardins at 4:37 PM on August 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

What does the boy's parents think about all this? They want what's best for their child, so they must have an opinion about whether or not they want to raise him with these issues surrounding every visit with you.
posted by Houstonian at 4:38 PM on August 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

In this situation, I would invite everyone I would like to be present and let them make their own decisions about whether or not they wanted to attend.

The key to having that strategy work is not second-guessing people's choices to attend or skip any given event.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:45 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

And walking down the aisle with your spouse-to-be is a lovely tradition, btw.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:47 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm thinking at some point his legal parents might decide this all is way too much drama and the problem will resolve that way.

I think I would tell your folks that as soon as they feel strong enough to be in the same room as this child let you know and then you will start inviting them to things again. I see no reason to put yourself through constant stress over this. They will either then decide to be adults, i.e. either get over themselves or work out whatever the problem is with the counselor, or they will have to deal with the fact they have chosen to be excluded.

I don't play this kind of crap. Neither should you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on August 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

I am thoroughly convinced that I will never be able to change their minds on the issue of welcoming my son as their biological grandson, but I think it is really unfair to me and my family to have to choose between inviting my dad/stepmom or my son and his parents when it comes to important family events.

Perhaps you are right, that they will not change their minds, but I don't think you have to choose. Your son's parents and your dad/stepmom can make their own decisions and I think that it's kind of leap to go from not attending a child's birthday party a year after the event, and not attending your funeral many, many years from now. Has the "is he going to be there?" stuff actually happened? Because in the example you gave, if you are finding out from your fiancee why your dad/stepmom haven't attended the party, that's a different issue.

Perhaps you enclosed the "his choice" about their involvement in the child's life in quotes because you don't believe them. Maybe it would help them if the adoptive parents and you spoke with them, especially with regard to how the families will continue to interact in the future? Maybe they don't understand how this is supposed to work?
posted by sm1tten at 5:01 PM on August 6, 2012

How sure are you that your son and his family are going to want to go to all of these family events, in the long term?

Similarly, from what you wrote it sounds like your son is still a baby, and like this is all very new. Is it possible that your dad and stepmom will eventually come around? Just about every Person A Will Not Abide Family Arrangement X situation I've been a part of in life has resolved itself in much less time than you'd think. People get used to things they never imagined they could. Families adjust.

Nthing inviting everyone you would like to have attend an event, and making it everyone's choice whether they come or not.
posted by Sara C. at 5:02 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've worked in the adoption field and this is a pretty common landmine. In past generations, adoption worked very differently and people bring preconceived notions in with them that aren't wrong but just out of date.

Remember that your dad and stepmom have not had the advantage of talking with your counselor. I know that you have offered that option to them, but they probably don't even understand the situation enough to realize that that is something that could help.

The best thing you can do is keep trying it include them in a low-key non-pushy way. So long as you don't give in and start playing the game of not mentioning your son around them, it is likely (though not certain, of course) that they will eventually come around. Or at least your father. It's hard for people not to care about their biological offspring.

In the meantime, do your best to shield your son's legal parents from the drama. They don't need this in addition to the challenges of being parents.
posted by 256 at 5:12 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have watched friends go through this as well. In most cases, it really has evolved over time, on all sides, and what people are comfortable/uncomfortable with today is likely going to be entirely different in a year or five years or ten years. Do the best you can to be gentle with everyone's feelings, including your own, and know that this is just really challenging in entirely different ways for everyone involved. The more you can talk about it and get support from counselors, etc., the better.
posted by judith at 5:36 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Always invite your son. He's the child and it's most important to consider him first. Shield him from any nonsense coming from your parents.

Invite your parents. If nothing else, every time they decline due to their inability to be adults about this, they'll have an opportunity to reconsider. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh about their decisions, but when their lack of support of you and your choice is framed around them not wanting their peer group to find out about your pregnancy and adoption, as though it's something to be ashamed of, I have less regard for their feelings. This is about a child and they're prioritizing their own crap over his well-being.
posted by quince at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whether the boy gets together with you and your family is none of your parents' business. Don't try to persuade them of anything. Just tell them you know adoption has changed a lot in the recent decades, and you hope they'll get used to the idea.

I know three couples who've adopted kits through open adoption. Every one of the adults started out wary... "How much contact is the birth mother going to want to have? Are there going to be conflicts? It seems like there are so many ways it could be...not good." None of their fears were realized, but please understand that adoptive parents don't want the child to be affected by your family drama. So yeah, if you want to continue seeing the little guy, don't draw his parents into the issue.

Your parents have every right to their opinions, but they don't get to keep expressing their objections if you don't want to hear about it. Tell them kindly that you heard them, you're not going to argue with them, and that nobody needs to discuss it further.
posted by wryly at 6:11 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should gloss over the step-mom's experience with closed adoption - I know other people who grew up adopted w/o birth family contact, and she may feel that it's best for the baby to not have the confusion of two families. She met her birth family as an adult, and may feel that's the best/right way to go. Loyalty to her own adopted family, concern about the birth family... all those feelings might be coming back for her and causing concerns completely unrelated to your actual situation. Open adoptions are still kind of a new thing in many respects.

So this might not really be about you and the baby as much as you feel it is. Invite them to events, and let them decide what boundaries are best for them.
posted by hms71 at 6:42 PM on August 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

You've made some extremely difficult decisions already, perhaps you should let your parents make the decision of what they would like to do. Invite them to everything and know that you are doing the right thing. If they come great, if they don't, it is on them.

It's difficult for others to understand why we make the decisions we make sometimes, it is impossible for us to understand why someone else makes the decisions they do. You make the decision that is best for you and let them make the decision that is best for them. If you don't give them an avenue to be involved in the important parts of you life or to be in your son's life, you will regret that you may miss the opportunity when they are READY to be involved.
posted by Yellow at 7:00 PM on August 6, 2012

Thank you, everyone, for all of your advice. This has been a very difficult issue for me to deal with because they are actually saying "is he going to be there?"

- Yes, I have invited them to speak with my counselor about my son and his adoption. They declined the offer. Every time I have tried talking to them about the baby, they shut me down.
- The boy's adoptive parents think it's sad that my dad and stepmom don't know the baby. They have opened their hearts to knowing everyone in my family (their idea - I wasn't going to push my luck for a WIIIIIIDE-OPEN adoption).
- I don't want to keep inviting them to these events if they are going to preface their RSVP with a question of whether my son will be there or not. They showed up to my nephew's party, but skipped my daughter's party because they knew my son was invited. Every time I ask him and he says "no" on the basis of my son possibly being there, it breaks my heart all over again and I feel like he is asking me to choose ("him or me?"). As if coming to a decision to give up my son wasn't difficult enough...

You have some weird dynamics if you're finding this stuff out via your fiancee (is your SO female or was that a typo? if you're lesbian, is that factoring in?)
That was a typo. My fiance is a dude ;)
Also, I learned of this from him because he has been doing a lot of gardening and handyman work at my dad's house. My dad asked him directly whether my son would be at my daughter's party or not.

In a way, I feel like the laundry-list of "Family Events You're Going To Miss" may be a more direct way of showing them that I am committed to including my son (even if he decides not to join me!) in events are important to me.

All of this came up recently since my fiance and I started planning my wedding, and the question of whether or not my dad would show up and walk me down the aisle wouldn't go away by itself.
posted by erasorhed at 7:45 PM on August 6, 2012

When is the wedding?

Are you sure that your son's parents will attend and will bring your son, who will likely still be a baby at that point? Not that you shouldn't invite them or that your son shouldn't be welcome, of course. But lots of people prefer to leave babies home from weddings.

Have you talked specifically about the wedding with your dad? A grandchild's birthday party while the whole adoption thing is still fresh is very different from your daughter's wedding a year or two after everything has likely blown over.

In other words, are you sure that you have real grounds for worrying about this right now? Can any of the stress about this be left off until you know that there will be very real concerns on the day?
posted by Sara C. at 7:53 PM on August 6, 2012

So, have you grabbed your Dad by his shirt collar yet and screamed in his face that he's being an unsupportive asshole who is about to lose his daughter AND granddaughter AND grandson all in one feel swoop? Cause that's what I want to do!

The answer is no. No, you do not have to choose. Your father and stepmom are choosing. But, it's not clear to me that you've made it clear to them how deeply this hurts you. I'm so sorry that they are uncomfortable in this situation. It must be so hard on them to support their daughter in what was surely a difficult choice but which has, by your accounts, turned into the best possible scenario. Sheesh. Sorry...getting angry again.

Yeah, tell them that you won't be inviting them to anything. Your son is a part of your life. Full stop. They can call you when they are ready to be supportive parents and grandparents and they need to think long and hard about why they can't seem to do that. Selfish, selfish jerks!
posted by amanda at 8:34 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

St. Alia has got it. They want to have their bullshit parade? Let 'em have it. Without you or your children.
posted by angrycat at 6:57 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

What St. Alia said. If you want to continue to invite them preempt their question about asking about whether you son will be there by adding "son will be there". Ball in their court and if they don't pick it up it's their loss.
posted by Carbolic at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2012

Normally I'd say keep inviting them (dad & step-mom) and let them choose to be adults or not. But since it is causing you such emotional distress I'd go with what St. Alia said. Tell them that you refuse to keep inviting them to get-togethers only to get turned down when they find out that the boy is invited as well. They are to let you know when they grow up and are ready to be in adult company again. Once this happens you'll be happy to invite them to your social occasions. Make sure they know this includes your wedding.
posted by deborah at 12:09 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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