Dear Margo: Yet Another Adoption Dilemma

How can I help my adopted child manage his relationship with his birth parents? Margo Howard’s advice

Yet Another Adoption Dilemma

Dear Margo: Ten years ago, my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby boy from a teenage girl, “Anna.” The three of us, plus her boyfriend, “Kyle,” agreed to keep in contact to allow the two of them and “Ethan” to have a relationship. While I had certain misgivings at the time, it really has worked out wonderfully. Anna and Kyle, who are now married, visit every few months, and Ethan considers them a favorite aunt and uncle. The problems I worried about have not come up: They’ve never tried to take Ethan from us; he’s never been upset about being adopted; my husband and I have never worried about our place in his life. Ethan understands that Anna and Kyle actually had him but couldn’t take care of him, and that my husband and I are his parents. There had never been any real confusion or hurt feelings among the five of us — until now.

Recently, Anna announced that she is pregnant. Ethan became upset about why they would give him up but not their soon-to-be child. My husband and I have tried to explain to him that they were not in a position to be parents when he was born, but they’re ready now. He won’t listen and keeps insisting that everyone just likes the new baby better. The four of us have discussed this, and we cannot come up with a solution. My husband suggested that maybe Anna and Kyle should stop coming around as often, but it seems that would make Ethan feel even more unloved and abandoned. What do you suggest? –Worried Mother

Dear Wor: If Ethan is 10, he is not a “little kid,” and the situation he finds himself in is a little like sibling rivalry squared. Because you say his birth parents visit every few months, the contact is not terribly frequent. One thing that might be useful is that when the new baby comes, Anna and Kyle bring him or her over and make Ethan feel that this is his baby, too. In a best-case scenario, he will feel a brotherly regard for the baby.

If you feel he is obsessing, perhaps introduce a child specialist into the situation. I have never been sure about keeping birth parents in the picture, but you absolutely did the right thing telling Ethan he was adopted. –Margo, hopefully

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie — but Where?

Dear Margo: My wife sleeps with her two beloved dogs — sometimes on the bottom bunk in one of our two sons’ rooms, sometimes on the couch. She says she would sleep with me if I let the dogs join us in our bed, but I find them bothersome. Am I wrong in not accepting this compromise? –Getting Used To Sleeping Alone

Dear Get: It depends on how important it is to you to sleep with your wife. If you are allergic (which doesn’t seem likely) or simply don’t like the idea of livestock in the bed, you are not wrong. However, I know so many couples who do allow the dog(s) to sleep with them, I am wondering what your reasoning is. I also don’t know your definition of “bothersome.” Do the dogs try to play at 3 a.m. or lick your face at dawn? (I also don’t know how large these hounds are.)

Your wife seems to have taken quite a strong stand on the issue, but it’s not clear to me what her point is. Is she saying she prefers the dogs to you? Is she trying to get you to love the dogs as much as she does?

I suggest giving it a try, to show good faith, and if they do actually interfere with your sleep, perhaps your wife will return your good faith effort. –Margo, drowsily


Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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94 comments so far.

  1. avatar Paula says:

    I never got the impression from the first letter that this boy is WANTING his birth parents to take him back, and my guess is that if any such thing were mentioned to him, he’d be horrified!  I seriously doubt he would want to leave his adoptive parents!

    He’s at a difficult age, where he can understand the legal and biological aspects of his situation, but is probably not yet mature enough to process the emotions.  Good idea to involve him as much as possible in the impending birth, and chances are he will be very excited when the new baby is born.  However, counseling sounds like an excellent choice, too, if he continues to have problems.

  2. avatar SAS-Can says:

    Kudos to the adoptive parents who have maintained the open relationship.  I have two adopted children and have done the same.  I would recommend that instead of backing off with the relationship, that you increase contact for a bit to make him feel a bit more secure in his relationships with his birth family.

  3. avatar Jean B says:

    LW1: No one should be surprised at this little boy’s feelings. Feeling that his birth parents like the new baby more than him are normal and should have been expected. He is confused and hurt. Kids have no concept of their parent’s lives before they came along. It’s not until we become parents ourselves that we fully understand that our parent’s lives did not start when we were born. He needs to see a professional, he also needs reassurance from his birth parents that they love him just as much as the new baby. It’s because they love him so much that they gave him up for adoption, they did what was best for him no matter how much pain it caused them, THAT is what he needs to be told, and it needs to come from the birth parents. Only he can decide if he “gets it” or not.
    LW2: When my boyfriend moved in with me I already had 3 cats who slept with me. He didn’t say a word about it until we moved from the 2 bedroom apartment to a 4 bedroom house. We set up one of the rooms just for the cats (litter boxes, food, water, toys, beds). It was then that he said it really bothered him to wake with cat hair all over his face (and in his eyes, and up his nose, and in his mouth…..) every morning and suggested we close them up in their room every evening. We also close our bedroom door during the day to keep them out of there and off the bed when not in their room. It took a while for them and me to adjust, it was hard not having my baby boy sleeping on my pillow when he had been doing it for over 10 years. But I have to say I do like not having all that animal hair in my bed. The dogs we have since adopted are another story, they are way too big. I will never have another animal in my bed.
    As for the wife of the letter writer, something more is going on. I also know this from experience. I loved my cats more than my now-ex. When he was not-so-nice to them, I would tell him that I would get rid of him before getting rid of the cats. It was a very mean thing to say but it was also true, and in the end that is just what happened. He is a mean-spirited person and I didn’t want to live with that anymore. So, the question the LW has to ask himself is how does he treat his wife? If the answer is positive then he needs to ask the next question, what is going on with her that she is not telling him? She might be willing to open up in a counselor’s office, but she might not. It can’t be forced. The final question is, just how much is he willing to put up with if she is not willing to change or even talk about it?

  4. avatar David Bolton says:

    What child doesn’t like to feel important? The birth parents should take the time to clearly explain to him that they needed help raising him, and that the entire group is a family, connected together because of him which makes him very special and unique. And now they need help raising the new baby, and they will need his help for that as well to make the baby feel loved and wanted.

  5. avatar Elaine says:

    I agree that “Ethan” might need some counseling to deal with this change in his life situation. He is, after all, closer to puberty than Mom & Dad might want to admit, and once those hormones kick in, they’d better fasten their seatbelts. But outside of that, his parents can gently explain to him about time, and how it changes things. He’s at an age where he can understand that a young couple can’t take care of a baby the way they can when they get into their 30s. They can remind Ethan that there were some things he couldn’t do just a few years earlier, and that there will be some things that come more easily once he’s in high school, then college, etc.  This is the reason why so many young people give up babies for adoption. If they want to get even more esoteric and philosophical, they can introduce the concept of destiny — him being “their” child was meant to be, and things happen for reasons we don’t always understand. There are plenty of ways to help him through this, and they should also be trying to keep the jolts to a minimum as much as possible.

  6. avatar impska says:

    LW1: It seems like a lot of people are suggesting to emphasize how lucky he is to be a big brother and how important that it, and I don’t understand that suggestion at all. He’s not really a big brother to this child and their age disparity will make it difficult for Ethan to see the baby as a positive thing. Babies are boring, they completely dominate adult attention, they receive nothing but praise for anything they do, he will not be able to play the baby, he is not equipped to care for the baby and the baby will completely take over his birth parents’ lives. Oh and if he sees the baby often, he’ll get a whole load of concrete examples of how his birth parents are able to care for a baby, so obviously it was his fault that they didn’t keep him. Why wouldn’t he be happy about that? He’s sooo lucky.
    It seems like they should actually minimize his contact with the baby. His birth parents should continue to visit him on the same schedule and they should NOT bring the baby. Visits that include the baby should be kept short and at Ethan’s request and they should be separate from the regular visits with his birth parents (preferably at a different location). Visits with the baby should be scheduled so that they end due to a commitment on Ethan’s part: dinner with grandma, soccer practice, etc; that way no visit with his birth parents ever ends because “the baby needs X.”
    If they bring the baby along to regular visits, the baby and its care will completely dominate what used to be Ethan’s time with his cadre of parents. Even his adoptive parents will be tempted to fawn over the infant, so that Ethan will be left with the idea that he really doesn’t matter to anyone and everyone loves the baby more than they love him. It seems better to avoid that. When the baby is older and has a personality and is able to engage with Ethan, he can view his sibling as an individual and perhaps develop a bond. He will also be older, and hopefully better equipped to deal with the emotions involved with seeing his birth parents with the child they kept.

  7. avatar Yooperjo says:

    Of all the suggestions here, David Bolton’s is by far the best.
    In all this discussion, I haven’t seen any reference to the similar situation faced by a great many adoptees from the closed era: reacting to a baby born to the adoptive parents subsequent to their adoptions. I’ve been involved in adoption reform for over thirty years, and have read countless accounts of adoptees who struggled with this situation. If they’d ‘had their druthers,’ they’d have been born to their adoptive parents, and as they deal with their adoptive status, along comes a baby born to their parents! It’s far more than a matter of sibling rivalry. It’s a matter of authenticity: this baby ‘belongs.’ I don’t.
    Adoptive parents who subsequently bear a child or children walk a tightrope, too. No matter how equally they treat all their children, the adopted child will often experience what he feels is favoritism. And when he sees how his ‘natural born’ sibling is being lovingly cared for by his mother, the rejection factor may intensify as he realizes his original mother didn’t lovingly cared for him like that. They can’t articulate these feelings, however, so their reaction is to act out. Adult adoptees in these situations have shared that they felt disconnected from both their adoptive families – who were all related by blood – and their birth families – who, they believe, ‘didn’t want’ them.
    I hope this family will seriously consider David Bolton’s suggestion.

  8. avatar crystalclear says:

    Letter #1:   This is a tough one.   Children at age 10 are usuailly sensitive as they approach puberty and hormonal changes.   This child needs to feel important and safe at all times so whatever it takes to accomplish this must be done.   Introducing the new baby to him as his brother needs to be done with enthusiasm so that the situation is one of pride for Ethan.  I also believe all of his questions need to be answered honestly. 

    Letter #2:   I believe some couples get into a rut.  It takes three days to break a cycle…time to start day one.

  9. avatar jayHG says:

    Margo has confused me.  The husband has “given it a try” and found it to be “bothersome.”  I mean, how would he know the dogs would be bothersome to him if he had NOT tried sleeping with them. 

    I always wonder about these people.  Did these dogs come into their lives AFTER they were married?  If so and the wife behaved this way, then I get it…….he didn’t know and had no way of knowing that she would choose these dogs over him, which is essentially what she had done. 

    If, however, she was this way about these dogs BEFORE they got married, then he’s on his own, because he knew this before, didn’t address it, made the usual mistake of thinking someone would change, and now he’s stuck with a wife who prefers dogs to her husband. 

    The husband should either call a marriage counsel or a lawyer.  This is not complicated.

  10. avatar Diagoras says:

    I wonder if the dogs have any emotional insecurities that make it difficult for them to sleep apart from the wife. We got our cat at a shelter (he had previously been abandoned and had some emotional difficulties at first) and he used to cry continuously when my husband would lock him out of the bedroom at night. In that particular apartment there was some reason why my husband wanted the door closed at night and we were worried about keeping the cat inside the door when his pan was outside. So I slept on the couch with the cat until we moved to a different place where keeping the bedroom door open wasn’t such a big deal. Of course, letting dogs sleep in the bed with you might be more difficult, especially if they are large dogs. But if there is some reason why the dogs don’t like to sleep without human company, maybe a dog trainer can help find a solution. (Like maybe training the dogs to sleep in a dog bed that is next to the couple’s bed.)