Helping Adoptees Reconnect with Their Birth Parents: As More Adopted Children Desire to Learn about Their Biological Parents, EAPs Will Need to Learn How to Minimize the Impact on the Workplace

Article excerpt

Employee assistance professionals address diverse problems and challenges that employees bring to the workplace. One issue that has been gaining attention in recent years--thanks partly to a new reality show on television that highlights emotional reunions between long-lost family members (mainly adult adoptees and their biological parents)--is the trend toward greater access to adoption information.

Several states have begun to relax their laws governing the privacy of adoption records. This means that information about biological parents that previously was off limits to an adult adoptee may now be accessible. As a result, EA professionals may begin to encounter more adult adoptees who are considering searching for their biological parents.

An employee struggling with this issue may expend considerable emotional energy, both at work and during his or her personal time, considering this major life decision. There is a very real danger that this person will rush into a reunion without adequate emotional preparation. If the employee lacks sufficient support, he or she may experience diminished productivity, conflicts with co-workers, erratic attendance, or other performance problems.

Early EAP intervention may help circumvent any workplace consequences of adoption searches. EA professionals are in a position to direct adoptees to appropriate resources that can help guide them toward a successful reunion outcome.

PREPARING TO SEARCH

Most adult adoptees who decide to try to find their biological birth families want to complete their sense of identity-that is, they want to know who they are and where they came from. They want to know whether they look like their biological parents and whether they share similar traits and talents. Learning about who they are and where they came from can provide adoptees with a more complete sense of their personal identity

Adoptees may also want information about any genetic diseases that can affect not only their own health but that of their children. Knowing whether they are at risk of inheriting certain conditions may guide them in making lifestyle or other changes to avert these health problems.

Regardless of the reason(s) for undertaking the search, the process generally begins with locating the biological mother. But in order for a reunion with the mother (and/or father or siblings) to be successful, the adoptee must ensure that he or she is emotionally prepared. This entails examining the reasons for searching, the fantasies (if any) the adoptee entertains about his or her biological parents, the circumstances of the adoption, and any expectations the adoptee may have about developing a relationship with the mother.

It's also important for the adoptee to understand how the search might affect his or her current relationships, especially with adoptive parents, partners and children. It's helpful for adoptees to be open with their adoptive parents about their interest in searching for their birth parents. Sometimes, adoptive parents can be a good source of support during the search and reunion process. Some adoptive parents may feel threatened, however, especially if their relationship with their adopted child is strained.

It may be emotionally challenging for an adoptee to search without the approval of his or her adoptive parents. Pursuing a search without such approval may have a negative impact on the relationship between the adoptee and the adoptive parents as well as on the adoptee's work performance. It may also exacerbate any underlying mental health conditions, which can also have workplace consequences. Even if the adoptive parents give their approval, the introspection needed to emotionally prepare for a search can be psychologically demanding and may manifest itself in the workplace in the form of distractions and errors.

What should adoptees expect from a reunion? Some hope to build a relationship with their birth mother; others will be satisfied simply to obtain some answers to their questions. …