Extended Family

Sometimes I wonder whether it makes more sense to compare adopting a child to getting married, rather than to the usual way of becoming a parent.

Sure, we adopters don't stand up in public and make solemn vows, but there is a legal process involved. More than that, though, it's the way that adopting a child joins two previously unconnected families together in a long-term relationship of sorts.

I've never been married, so forgive me if I'm off the mark here, but it seems to me as though you don't just marry your partner - you also marry their extended family, their friendship group, their past and their future. It's the old cliche of "not so much losing a son as gaining a daughter" oft repeated by the father of the bride.

When I adopted Birdy and OB, I made a lifetime commitment to both of them. I also inextricably linked myself with two sets of, sometimes shadowy, extended families. I have never met the vast majority of them. In some ways I'm only guessing at the existence of most of them, assuming there are aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents on both sides, as well as the birth parents and siblings. And yet when birthdays, Christmases and celebration days roll around, they are in my mind, as I imagine our children are also in theirs.

Every so often, a member of these extended families will pop into reality, becoming more than a just a figure in my mind. Most recently, it has been Birdy's birth mum who, apparently, after all this time has asked the social worker to request adding photos as part of our letterbox agreement - that's a whole can of worms I'm skirting around right now. Before that it was OB's half siblings, needing an adopter, and before that Birdy's mum adding two more children to the mix. There was OB's grandma who went to great lengths to send one letterbox letter but then never sent another, and I can't forget the momentous day I saw OB's birth mum walking down the street not far away.

For most adopters there are also foster families, so recently in their children's past, and all the extended family network involved in that life too. It's a huge mesh of interconnected lives that can be challenging to explain to a young child who barely grasps the relationships involved in their immediate adoptive family.

I suppose there's an extent to which we, as adopters, choose our children, rather like a person chooses a spouse (although it's usually more of a blind date arrangement!). What we don't choose is the family they will, even indirectly, bring with them into our lives together. There's no option to walk off into the sunset. There are obligations to be met for the sake of the children involved and we adopters must navigate these murky waters to the best of our abilities, knowing that one day our children will hold us accountable for the decisions we made.


  1. This is spot on. I have been married (still am) and one of the shocks and difficulties was the extended family who suddenly claimed to be part of my husband's life. In the same way that I did only marry him, I didn't marry my mother in law etc, I also did adopt my children but with that is a love for their other siblings (who I will probably not meet) and a real concern for the birth family. And indeed each birthday etc I do think and shoot a quick prayer for them because I am pretty sure this was never the plan they had for their or their children's life.
    At dinner my son asked me if tragic was the same as sad. He's 8! We explained that tragic is deeper than sad but sadness is the outcome of something tragic. We talked about death being tragic, we didn't talk about how actually adoption is tragic for everyone but us. But it is. The children and their family have lost so much and that should never be forgotten. Thank you for this reflection. I look forward to helping my kids rebuild any relationships they want to with their birth family when they are old enough and mature enough to handle it.


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