In Reunion: Navigating New Family Connections
The right and wrong ways to approach newly discovered family.
Posted Dec 14, 2018
The pace at which you enter into reunion with new family will vary widely and is a characteristic of Parental Identity Discovery™. Chances are, you are chomping at the bit for answers and connection to happen as soon as possible, I certainly was. I urge you to think of this as a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing yourself allows for natural processing on all sides, but more importantly, it allows you to make informed decisions rather than emotional ones. Rarely do positive outcomes come from emotional or rash decisions.
It is easy to take for granted the benefit of bonding with family over your lifespan, through the essential and expected milestones that bring people together through celebrations and personal accomplishments. A natural process, unfolding at a natural pace. However, entering into reunion with newly discovered family does not follow this natural pacing and it can be unsettling to everyone. I use the phrase being in reunion intentionally to simulate the concept of being in recovery; it is a long-term, dynamic process requiring intention and support.
What Contact Could Mean
The only wrong way to approach connecting with new relatives is bludgeoning them over the head with it. They haven’t had the benefit of the time you did in finding them, so they are at an automatic disadvantage when you approach.
Then there is the possibility that your introduction could blow up a family due to past infidelity. I had to weigh that possibility too, and to this day I do not know what I would have chosen to do if I knew my announcement would alert a spouse to an affair. I do know that it makes them far less likely to embrace you.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is essential to rehearse how you will contact family and what you will start the conversation with. Practice If, Then scenarios, like a flowchart. You will probably cry or freak out and that’s okay, it’s why you practice all outcomes, especially the worst case scenario.
We prepare for emergencies all the time, whether they be school earthquake drills or fire drills at work. This is simply another drill, please prepare for it rather than going in blind. I often use this strategy when working with parents of self-destructive adolescents. Emotions get the best of you in the moment, but you can lessen that if you have practiced a variety of outcomes. And your anxiety or calmness in a conversation can influence theirs.
If the connection is accepted, then the awkward process of bonding with strangers begins. Initial conversations with my biological father felt like interviews with uncomfortable salutations and prolonged silence. Once I settled into matching his pace we found a natural rhythm. Go slower than you think, cause you can’t make up for the lost time anyway. Although, I like the way a friend decided to send 30 birthday cards to make up for all the missed birthdays after his daughter found him. That showed some style.
I always try to find the humor in things, it’s just easier to cope. And the early reunion phase felt a little like speed dating to me. The conversations are awkward, you’re not sure how much to divulge or ask without seeming eager or like you have no self-control. Simultaneously, you want information and acceptance quickly. It reminds me of Billy Crystal’s line in When Harry Met Sally, “...when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” When you find family, and you decide you want a connection, you often want it as soon as possible.
If The Connection Is Broken
Ideally, you will get family history and stories directly from new family, but in the event they aren’t receptive, you can research culture and history on your own. This is a way to craft a narrative for yourself and create a bond with the culture as a whole. I did some of this myself to fill in some of the gaps in Clan McLeod until I met bio-dad and I found it very helpful.
Sadly, the acceptance rate from biological family is lower than you would hope, so it’s important to be realistic and plan for everything. Since the discovery is life changing, closure or resolution is important. Resolution can occur even if they don’t want contact. You know what you know, and their involvement doesn’t change that. If you have little information and were relying on them to give you more but they are not receptive to contact, then consider hiring a genealogist. Then lean on your support system and professional therapy if needed.
You are not alone. There are a lot of us out there.