Friday, August 10, 2012

Grandparents and Relationships

Our family relationships extend beyond our parents and siblings. What's your experience been like with your extended family (either adoptive, natural or both)? How does adoption play into those relationships (or not)?

I have a large adoptive family and a large natural family.  It's one of the things both families have in common.  My adoptive mother comes from eight siblings and my natural father is one of ten.  So it's one of the few things that feels familiar as I learn to deal with extended family as an adoptee.

I am not in reunion with any of my natural grandparents.  My maternal grandparents know that I exist, but not that I am back in the picture.  There's talk of cluing them in, but I'm in no hurry.  As someone who is currently dealing with new relationships, I don't want to overwhelm myself at the moment.  My paternal grandparents were never told about me.  I like to think that my grandfather knows about me know that he's gone.  My grandmother is still clueless and someday I hope that's not the case.  She sounds like an amazing woman who I would someday love to meet.

As for my adoptive grandparents, I've seen plenty of examples of how my adoption has played into the mix.  On my adoptive father's side, out of the eight cousins, four of us are adopted.  My family likes to act as if adoption means nothing to our family because its our "normal".  However, my grandmother has some pretty strong feelings about family.  I am a part of her family, and her family alone.  It's no secret that my adoptive father doesn't always deal with the adoption stuff as well as he could, and she'd do anything to protect her baby boy, including throwing myself or my sister under the bus.  Whenever she has a beef with my (adopted) cousins, she is the first to say that they don't feel like her granddaughters because they were adopted later in life, although they have been in our family since they were little girls.  It is because of this grandmother that I have kept my reunion a secret.  It's common knowledge in my family that my grandmother, who I am very close with, will disown me and make everyone else miserable about it.  I've been asked by several aunts and uncles not to say anything, as well as my parents.  I know my grandmother well enough to know they speak the truth.  That's not to say that my grandmother isn't a nice person.  She's wonderful and I have wonderful memories with her.  We used to bake cookies together.  She calls me all the time to check in on me.  She's been supportive of my relationship with my fiance from day one.  But she's set in her ways and at 80 years old, she's not going to change.

On my adoptive mother's side, there are over twenty cousins.  My sister and I are the only adoptees.  Growing up, I felt a difference in my relationship with my grandfather.  I cannot tell if it's because I'm an adoptee, or if it's because I am a girl.  All I know is that my grandfather would attend every single one of my cousin's baseball games but could not make it to a single one of my soccer games.  We never really got along and I remember sobbing as my mother would hold me at night asking her why he said the mean things that he did to me.  She never really had an answer but I do know she spoke to him a few times.  As I got older, things changed.  Now I'm one of the few grandchildren who call the house at least once a week just to check in.  I stop over after work to see if they need anything.  I'm the "good grandchild" now.  I think that as time has gone on, my grandparents have learned to accept me as who I am, and have stopped wishing I was more like everyone else.  Everyone else is too busy doing their own thing.  Because I'm different we have a better relationship.  It's worked out rather well.

I'm getting ready for my reunion to not be a secret anymore.  I'm gearing up for the hard conversations that I'm sure will follow.  And it's going to be hard.  My family understands on one level, but doesn't on another.  They will never truly "get it" because they haven't lived it.  We'll have to wait and see how this one goes!