A common concern amongst parents intending to adopt is on tackling the “root search” by the children. For the uninitiated, root search is the quest by a child who was adopted for its birth parents. Parents in adoption often wonder at what stage should the child be told about adoption. By what time do they start asking about their parents. What do they think about their parents? Do they often or think at all about their parents? Does it affect their personality and growth? Does their relationship with parents’ change? What happens if the birth parents are discovered? Can they be discovered? Does the child move away, physically or emotionally, from the family in search of birth parents?
While questions abound, there are hardly any right or wrong answers to the above. Adoption, like any other relationship, is a life long journey. There are no destinations. Only milestones. Before we start worrying about the turn where root search starts appearing, it is essential to prepare the child (and ourselves too) for navigating those turns.
Root search is quite like a game of chess that you have inherited mid-way. You cannot go back to the start position. You can either brood over what you have inherited or you can train yourself to win the game. Each move requires to be mindful of its impact on future moves and cleverly safeguarding one’s position at all times, so as not to be check mated!
Therefore, telling the child about birth parents is not the first step in root search. Neither is telling the child that she was adopted. The first step in root search is telling the child about adoption itself. What we think, believe of and communicate to the child about adoption is the origin of all questions related to adoption – for the child. If the child perceives adoption as an act of charity, it may not accept being a subject of charity, and there might be a feeling of frustration towards birth parents. If she understands of adoption as an inferior choice by the parents, she may yearn for birth parents to redeem her honor and status in society. If adoption is passed on as an act of redemption, somewhere positioning birth parents in poor light, the child may express anger with the birth parents. If she thinks of adoption as an escape by the birth parents, the child may carry self-pity and even bemoan her existence. The perception of adoption determines how the child relates to her identity in adoption and therefore the quest or the need for such a quest for birth parents.
The void felt by a child to get that original blueprint, the gap between the capabilities of the family adopted in and her own potential, the missing piece in the identity jig saw puzzle are REAL for the child and can be nerve wrecking. Root search may just be a manifestation of the underpinning anger, thirst, longing, excitement, ecstasy or any other unexplained emotion that the child has to grapple day in and day out. The first step therefore is to put adoption in the correct perspective, so that the family that adopted, the situation that resulted in adoption, the experiences therein, the visibility of birth parents or lack of it – are all pegged in their respective spots. Not a piece transgressing upon the other. It is like describing the game to the child, not the players.
As the child enters pre-teen and teenage years, she will pick up alternate perceptions on adoption, beyond what the parents have communicated. Some better, and some not so good, in comparison to what she already knows about adoption. These will influence her thought process. Even innocuous references like genetic build, blood group, place of birth, surname, religion, caste etc. is likely to trigger a chain of thoughts for the child leading all the way to the doorsteps of the birth parents – unfortunately, the road may not exist. They will succeed only if we teach them the right moves, empower their potential and train them to outsmart difficult situations.
Once adoption is positioned correctly, the next step is to refer to birth parents with utmost dignity and respect. In most Indian adoptions, there is unlikely to be any information available about birth parents as India follows a closed adoption system. Our hesitation to refer to birth parents stems from our own conditioning and stunted innuendos to adoption – thanks to Bollywood! How can we even comment on players, when we didn’t even know them, when we inherited the game! But crediting them with a smart legacy will lend positivity to each child. The child will identify herself as an outcome to be cherished, rather than an avoidable offshoot of circumstances. As and when the urge for root search develops, it is likely to be powered by thankfulness for birth parents and not a complain to them. It is probably to count their blessing in their personality, physicality, emotionality, intelligence and spirituality than to question – Why Me or Why Did you? After all, each child is every inch a replica of her birth parents and discounting that legacy amounts to discounting your own child. Parents need to complement the child with assets and skills inherited from the birth parents. In doing so not only the child feels important, through him the birth parents also get the importance they deserve.
Seeding the young mind with positivity around adoption and lineage is just half the battle won. The distance to root search still remain uncovered. The last leg calls for explaining the rules of the game, yet again. We need to coach our children to accept victory and defeat with equal humility. In victory may lie some ugly truths that may take us to the next destination, but scar our journey thereafter. In being defeated, we may learn to appreciate the moves of the Master! We need to tell our kids that having tried well is more important than getting what we wished for. Under current Indian laws, children may only get to the doors of the adoption agency from where they were placed into adoption – no further. The law protects the privacy of the parents over and above the right of the child to know about its parents. Knowing that fully well, it is recommended to go the distance to retain the trust that the child needs for the journey thereafter. It is therefore critical that parents support their children in the root search. They should not just try, but be also perceived as having tried, in the eyes of the child – to attain the peace of mind.
Life just does not stop at root search. Many of the questions that triggered root search, remain unanswered past the milestone. We need to help our kids live beyond that stage. Life is too beautiful to be spent moaning about where you started from. We need to help them discover the beauties of life unravel before our kids, because of where they started from. We need to exemplify through lives of several other people whose Start Game may have been known, but who have been checkmated several times over as they perhaps never learnt the game. They simply kept judging the players.
We need to tell our kids that each game is different. Winning a game is not important. Even less important is to know who won that game. What matters is – did we make most of the Game!
The key lies in our first move after we inherit the game.