Thursday, December 20, 2012

Round Table: Extended Family

Rebecca Hawkes: When I started my reunion search years ago I was focused on finding my biological mother and perhaps siblings. I hadn't given much thought to other family members but soon learned that I had an aunt and uncles who were eager to meet me. In fact, for geographical reasons, I ended up meeting an aunt and uncle before meeting my mother. Now I'm in a new phase of reunion with my biological father, the oldest child of a large family, and have been invited to attend a big family reunion this coming summer. I've been told I have "about a hundred" cousins. I'm excited but also nervous about the opportunity. If you are in reunion, have you attended large gatherings of natural family members? How was the experience? Were their any awkward or amusing moments? Do you have any tips or advice to help me make it through my gathering later this year? Do you have other reunion stories involving extended family?

Laura M.Dennis: My first mother organized a bbq so I could meet my uncles and cousins, about a week after she and I met for the first time. It was amazing, but it was sad. They sat and listened to me, they wanted to know everything about me. But it was very hard to talk about "my life in my family growing up." I had a whole other family. And here I am with my biological family, meeting me when I'm 23, and we're all pretending like it was no big deal. But it was one of the best days, ever. Meeting them was bittersweet. All these cousins who have all this shared history, and I'm not a part of it. ... My advice would be to try to keep an open mind, and to remember that when people are nervous they often say weird, emotionally insensitive things. My first mom's best advice to me: Always give people the benefit of the doubt.

Julie: My natural dad had been in first parent support groups for several years before we found each other. He was very concerned about our reunion moving too fast, too soon. There was so much emotion involved on both sides as my paternal grandparents had done everything they could to stop my adoption--obviously without success. Nobody spoke of me around my grandfather because he would get too upset. And my aunts helped my dad search for several years. Holding them all back during reunion would be hard. So we focused on the two of us for a bit. Several months into our reunion, my dad told my grandparents that we had found each other. I spoke with them on the phone and then my dad finally brought me "home" to them. From there I went on to meet my aunts, uncles and cousins. This gradual approach worked well for me. I was still overwhelmed but could manage it in steps. When my oldest son was three months old, we spent Thanksgiving with my extended paternal natural family. It was amazing. We took photos of my grandfather holding my son, his great grandchild. We all had a good laugh with this. While fighting with Catholic Charities to stop my adoption, my overly emotional and sensitive grandfather told the priest representing my maternal grandparents to f-off. The priest responded by telling my grandfather that he would never live to see his grandchild. Well, my Gramps lived to see not only his grandchild but his two great grandsons. And thanks to our many family gatherings, we have photos of four generations.

Jenn: I'm currently still a secret to my extended natural family. Most of them have no idea I exist. Someday....

Image courtesy of adamr at