Roadmap to Reunion: 8 PACTS|National Adoption Conference

Roadmap to Reunion: 8 PACTS|National Adoption Conference

Disclaimer: This article provides a framework for setting boundaries in an adoptee and birthmother or birthfather reunion. So, both parties decide together how the relationship will be and have set goals and expectations entering into the reunion with empathy, understanding and compassion, have an open mind, and respect they will have different narratives entering the reunion. You can’t contract behavior but you can create respectful experiences.

Why do 70% of adoption reunions break down?

Because there’s no roadmap.

The 5 agreements:

Everyone has been victimized.

Everyone has experienced loss.

Each person’s loss incomparable.

Everyone will make mistakes.

Practice forgiveness over, and over and over again.


  1. GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER: Try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before thinking you know why something happened. Respect each other’s experience. We don’t assume we know the other person’s story. Get to know the person first, not focus only on the answers.

  2. ASK PERMISSION: Ask each other permission before sharing important adoption information, regarding photos, letters or birth documents to build trust and control. Respect each other’s emotional bandwidth and emotional vulnerabilities. Write questions down to provide to each other, only answer what you feel comfortable with. As you grow stronger, you can answer more in-depth questions. Ask each other permission first before inviting more people into the relationship.

  3. CREATE LEVEL OF CONTACT: Neither party has the right to control the contact. You get to negotiate the relationship together. It will be hard, but it’s worth it. Ask each other the following questions: How do we connect after reunion? What do we feel comfortable with phone, Facetime, text, email, letters? How about on birthdays and holidays? Gifts or no gifts?

  4. SHARE YOUR STORIES: Provide space for each other to share your individual stories. The retelling can feel re-traumatizing especially for mothers. Use I statements when sharing each other’s pain towards the other “I feel…. I want… because….” Refrain from blaming to lessen re-shaming. No one’s pain is worse than the other.    

  5. BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALING: You are not responsible for each other’s wounds. You are self-responsible for your own emotional and psychological pain. You can’t fill each other’s voids. You will regress to the age of relinquishment. It’s ok to attend therapy separately and together at times, and join support groups. You can’t rescue each other from their pain.

  6. RESPECT THE RELATIONSHIP: Commit to the relationship, do not abandon each other or threaten each other. Because both the birthmother and adoptee are fearful of losing each other again. Ghosting is another form of betrayal. Stay in communication, hold regard together that this relationship matters. Take your time.

  7. SHARING WITH OTHERS: Secrets don’t help people, they hurt. Plan together how or when to tell extended family members of your reunion. Come “out of the fog” to support each other if the fear is being “found out”. If you want to have relationships with extended family members- ask each other permission to do so.

  8. RECOGNITION OF YOUR TRUST TREE: Respect the loved ones closest to you, and the other relationships on your trust tree.

E =  What is your expectation?

M = What is your motivation?

B = Make room to Breathe

R =  Respect

A = Accept

C =  Choose to be present and available

E = Embrace the experience

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

  • Adoption reunions bring family members together.
  • An adoption reunion is the continuation of a previous relationship.
  • Triad members are connected forever, regardless of whether they actually meet.
  • Adoption reunions can happen at any time – in open and closed adoptions.
  • Searching for one’s birth family or children is a natural extension of genetic curiosity.
  • Reunions can bring up many emotions – loss, grief, regret, hope, fears, gratitude.
  • Each person will process reunion feelings at their own pace and in their own way.
  • Being with groups of people who understand reunion and adoption can be helpful.
  • Respect your stage of loss, mourning, and healing. Respect the other person’s too.
  • Allow reunion relationships to unfold. Force and fear push people away.
  • Letting go of expectations frees the other person to come forward.
  • Maybe it’s not about you. Ask, observe, clarify.
  • Holding on to hurt, blame, and regret binds you to the past.
  • You may be creating the opposite action you desire.
  • Fear leads to grasping – leads to backing off – leads to feeling rejected.
  • “I’m sorry for anything I have said or done that may have hurt you.”
  • You can release others without losing them or approving of their actions.
  • Forgiveness releases the forgiver.
  • You can always be gracious. Sometimes you need to strive for superficiality.
  • It is what it is – birth, step, grand, adoptive.
  • Boxes, letters, poems and art. Groups, politics, rallys, and blogs. Kickboxing and knitting.
  • You can play the adoption card – or not.
  • Who are you without the adoption piece?
  • What lessons have you learned from your experience with adoption?
  • What are you holding on to? What would happen if you let go?
  • Old habits die hard. New habits often bring freedom.
  • How can you make your life whole, peaceful, loving, kind, and meaningful?

    Marlou Russell, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in adoption issues, an adoptee in reunion, and the author of Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption. Visit Dr. Russell’s website for more information.

ADOPTION WISDOM offers insight and understanding of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Includes chapters on Adoption Awareness, Basic Truths of Adoption, Search and Reunion, and an Ideal Adoption. ADOPTION WISDOM is a book for anyone who wants to kinow more about the lifelong impact of adoption.