Friday, July 10, 2015

Dear Dad: The One With the 'New Big Sister'

Dear Dad,
I found out about six months ago that I have a half sister my mother had given up for adoption before I was born. The adoption agency contacted my mom (who had not told any of us we had a sister), and advised that she wanted to get in touch with us. We talked a bit and are friends on Facebook and finally we all met recently.
It is hard on my end because my mom is weird about it and doesn't really want to talk about the situation. When my sister came to visit, it fell to me to entertain her. My younger brother - who can do no wrong in my mom's eyes - is no help and I don't think cares about the situation as much as I do.
My sister and I now talk a few times a week on Facebook and just had a serious conversation where she confessed to me she does not feel like she belongs. I do not want her to feel that way, and I started a letter to her explaining how my mother is and how I sometimes feel like I don't belong, too (my brother is very much favored by my mother).
It has been a long road and I feel like I've completely changed since finding out I have a big sister. Do you have any advice?
Dear 'New Little Sister',
My mother discovered about ten years ago that her father was not her biological parent and had adopted her. We searched for years to find her biological family, and finally tracked them down using Facebook a few years back.
Last week my mother, sister, and I traveled to New Orleans, LA and finally got to meet her brothers and sister and their families. It was a life changing experience for all of us. I look like my uncle and my mom has the same hands as her sister! Everyone looked a bit like my brother (who my sister always joked looked like the milkman as he never looked like anyone in our family) and have the same laid back, loving demeanor as my mom! Meeting everyone was a little nerve wracking at first, but by the time we left, I was taken aback by how quickly these strangers felt like family - I felt connected to them and related to them and had a sense of family I had never before experienced.
I confess that during the visit a political subject or two came up that led me to believe we may not see eye to eye on everything. I felt a bit uncomfortable and worried that these differences in opinion would mean we could never truly fit in with each other, or be able to have conversations about certain things. I realized the feeling of kinship and intrinsic love I felt for these people was so much stronger than difference in perspective that none of that mattered. They are my blood, my kin, my family, and I would give the shirt off my back for any one of them and that is after only meeting once.
I understand the sense of not fitting in, and certainly the shock and amazement of discovering these roots, as you must have with your sister. Had my mother's father (my GRANDFATHER) been alive for this reunion, I imagine he would have experienced this gathering a bit differently than we all did as it would conjure up a lot of hard feelings from his past.
I would assume, based on the information in your question, that your mother may be a little embarrassed and have a lot of emotional baggage regarding an impossible decision she made years ago. I can only imagine that this carefully shrouded secret coming to light must have been a mixed bag of emotions. I know it is easier said than done, but try to look at this from her perspective and the difference between learning something amazing (albeit shocking) as you experienced, versus a secret coming to light that probably brings feelings of shame and guilt and devastation, as this situation must have for your mother.
My advice would be to approach your mother and let her know that you are not judging her or the decision she made many years ago (I'm assuming from your question you are not), and that you are just happy to know the truth and want to work as a family at building a relationship with your sister.
I think you should absolutely finish that letter to your sister, and describe and explain your family and specifically your relationship with your mom to your sister. Let her know that there are preexisting dynamics within your family that are not about her, even if she is made to feel uncomfortable or feels responsible for the tension she is sensing. I would explain that neither the past, nor any member of your family/their experience should ever have anything to do with your connection as sisters. Tell your sister you are glad she is in your life and how much it means to you and how much you have changed after learning of her existence.
In time, the two of you can become a united front when your "perfect" brother says or does something amiss and the two of you can put him in his place as all good big sisters do!
I wish you and your newly extended family all the best! Keep us updated!
Facebook and social media is such an invaluable tool for communication, and I know firsthand how it can literally change your life. Do any of you have any stories about reconnecting with or finding family and friends thanks to Facebook?

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