Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dear Abby Gets It! Firstmother Husbands cont'd


I foolishly asserted in the June 19 column, “Firstmother Husbands: How They Handle the News of an Earlier Child,” that “the outraged husband who rejects his wife when he finds out about her sin … is a myth.” In her June 21 column, Abigail Van Buren responded to a woman with an outraged husband. Here’s the letter and Abby’s response.

"DEAR ABBY: I became an unwed mother many years ago, when there was a stigma attached to having an illegitimate child. Unable to care for my son, I placed him for adoption. He has now found me.

I have a family, and my husband does not want me to tell our adult children or contact the young man and his family.

Do I go against the wishes of my husband, whom I love very much, or should I tell our children and perhaps risk my husband leaving me? — CONFLICTED IN NEW JERSEY


DEAR CONFLICTED: From the tone of your letter your husband is the dominant partner in your marriage. If that’s the case, and you really think he would leave you after all these years because you leveled with your children about the fact that they have a half-brother, then keep the secret.

However, if your relationship with your husband is anything approaching a partnership, then stand up for yourself and make it clear that you are the sum total of all your experiences — both the joyful and the painful — and you need to see your son, thank his family for the love and care they have given him, and let your adult children make up their own minds about whether they want to be contacted.

This is the 21st century, and we are far beyond the attitudes of the 1950s in which a human being who is born out of wedlock is a shameful secret forever to be buried. In addition, secrets have a way of always coming out eventually."


JANE: The letter is right on except for the “thank his family” part. I can’t agree that raising a child is so much of a burden that birthmothers should thank the adoptive parents.I’d also add the following paragraph:

Consider the situation from your son’s viewpoint. He found you because he needs to know his origins and connect with people who share his genes. You gave him up because you had no choice but now you do. Think how painful it will be to him if you refuse to contact him, in effect telling him once again that he cannot be a part of your life. Learn more about why adoptees search and encourage your husband to do so as well. A good place to start is Tim Green’s “A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son’s Search.” You and your husband might also consider joining a support group for adoptees and birthparents. The American Adoption Congress has a list of resources on its website.

3 comments :

  1. Jane, I am surprised you thought creepy "dominant" overbearing punitive husbands were a myth!:-) I have known quite a few mothers who surrendered who married husbands like that, especially right after the surrender when they felt no "good" man would want them.

    Sure, those of us active in adoption reform married good guys who support our work and relationship with our kids, but this is not always so. It is easy for us to tell women in a bad marriage what they should do from our vantage point with supportive husbands. Not so easy for them to do it and face the consequences.

    Mothers in these relationships are between a rock and hard place. Yes, some can work it out, but others never come around. I know a mother in a good, close, loving relationship with her surrendered son whose husband has never met him. He does not forbid the mother or other family members from the relationship, but wants no part of it.

    In worst-case scenarios, men who are already abusive use the surrender as just one more thing against their wife, and women who put up with this for years are not likely to stand up to the jerk unless they have a lot of support from outside. Often it is a case of "better the devil you know than the one you don't" and at that point the surrendered adoptee is an unknown.

    If they can all get into counseling, sometimes that helps, but a man who feels so hostile about his wife having surrendered a child is not likely to go to AAC events or read books she recommends. Sad but true. Sometimes divorce is the outcome, which can be for the better in the long run, but terrifying as a threat to a woman who has known no other kind of relationship.

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  2. Anon1 here who also posted in reponse to the first post. I don't know where you got the idea the rejecting husband was a myth either. All over the world, all over North America even, there are men whose cultural values don't include accepting the kids the wife had with another guy. they are not prepared to deal with their wives' feelings (talking about the feelings commion to first mothers) and they make it clear that a) contact or b) trying to integrate the families would be verboten. In some cases these guys are actually thinking, "What would mother say?" this is just another slammed door in the face of these women, some of whom already went away to have the child in secret so other family members wouldn't know.

    The problem, Maryanne, is that these guys are not necessarily jerks. It's just that nothing in their lives ever prepared them to deal with such an issue and if the marriage isn't majorly old-fashioned, the power balance is usually at least tipped in the man's favour so he doesn't have to account for how his feelings are crippling the feelings and rights of another. Nobody even has the guts to bring it to his attention. In the case I am up close and familiar with, I believe the mother took out her rage against the people who made her get with this stupid program on other family members. It's a sick situation but the guy himself may not know why because his wife never confronted the basic imbalance in the marriage. After all, the person who was made to hide this thing forever isn't exactly adept at healthy confrontation.

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  3. I was going to post the link to the "Dear Abby" exchange as a response to your earlier column, but decided not to. I'm glad I didn't and that you brought it up yourself.

    While I some pity this woman, I reserve my sympathy for her son. I also feel for the 1/2 siblings too, who deserve the opportunity to know their brother - or at the very least to know that he exists.

    OTOH I find it hard to summon up much kindness toward the kind of man who would put such intolerable conditions on a woman he supposedly loves - especially if he has known about the relinquishment since the early days of their relationship.
    Of course, if he has only just discovered the truth, that's another matter. I'd say he has good reason to be angry, and deserves time to sort his feelings. The "Dear Abby" letter isn't clear which kind of set-up this is. My sense is that that the husband has known for a while, but I could be wrong about that.

    Re. the thanking the a-mother advice, I agree, but with the proviso that I don't think there is anything intrinsicly wrong with showing respect and appreciation for good parenting where and IF it's deserved.
    That's not the same as "thanking the a-parents" and it's not slavish gratitude. Personally I don't think reuniting mothers should be advised one way or the other with regard to this. It's their call, and I would assume they'd know best depending on the particular situation.
    If people deserve respect they should get it, and if not, not. Of course, respect goes both ways.

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