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 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I have always been in favor of telling an adopted child he/she is adopted.  It seems the truth eventually comes out one way or another.  I grew up with quite a few adopted children/teens/adults and all seemed perfectly comfortable and happy with knowing that fact about their parentage.  In addition, I know some who have sought out their birth parents when they were adults and established some sort of relationship with them (some closer than others but never talked to an adopted friend who didn’t consider her adoptive parents her *real parents*.  I have wondered about this concept of *open adoption* and what the unseen consequences might be and this appears to be one.    If LW1’s child is an only child and has been the center of the world for these four adults it has to be unsettling for him.

    I think some consultation with a child specialist is a good idea.  Maybe just 2 or 3 sessions with a child therapist would help the boy get over what looks to be a classic case of sibling rivalry but with a twist…his birth parents…unlike most parents who are faced with sibling rivalry…are not going to be with him everyday and assure him of their love and will probably on their own tend to reduce the number of visits etc as they become involved with the newborn so the 19 year old may feel truly *abandoned* by them.  

    Sort of makes you wonder about the wisdom of letting bith parents play a significant role in your child’s life…at least until the child is grown up enough to handle and understand the dynamics.

    #2:  I  don’t know what is going on.  Our cats sleep with us.  If we had small dogs they would probably sleep with us too. Big dogs not as I like room.   If everything else is ok with your marriage and you are only unhapy about not *sleeping* with your wife as opposed to having no sex with your wife, then let it go or get used to the dogs. Maybe you snore or have bad breath and that makes it hard for her to sleep with YOU!    

    • avatar ish tate says:

      I wonder if the issue isn’t the dogs at all. A while ago I read an advice column about a woman who let her son sleep in her bed to avoid having sex with her husband. She thought he was cheating. I think something similar may be going on here and the dog co-sleeping is just an excuse. I mean, really how can you choose your pet over your spouse?

      Before we got our dog my husband and I talked about what kind of pet owners we would be. This included whether he would be an inside or outside dog, whether he would be able to get on furniture and whether he could sleep in our bed. My super awesome and adorable dog weighs between 55 and 60 pounds. It would be like having a small, squirming and SNORING child in bed with us. But even if he was 10 pounds I wouldn’t let him sleep with us. My husband regularly takes naps on the couch with the dog and they both seem satisfied with that. : )

  2. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    On Letter 1 this seems to have less to do with adoption than it does being displaced as the only child in his birth parent’s life. My son was the first baby in our family and he was upset when my sister and her husband were expecting because he was their favorite. If this child has a stable home and it sounds as if he does he will get used to the idea. Ten is the preteen age where you are no longer a small child but not quite old enough for independence. He may wonder where he fits in.

    • avatar K Coldiron says:

      Totally agree. The adoption part seems like it’s making the situation all messy, but I suspect it’d be just the same with a non-adopted 10-year-old with parents who decide to have a baby.

  3. avatar Amy Barklow says:

    Margo is unfortunately WAY off on LW#2.  The man said his wife is sleeping with the dogs simply because he won’t allow them on the bed when they sleep, which to me says she’s choosing them over her hubby.  Get thee to a marriage counselor, sir.
    Marg, your tone is that of a biased dog owner scolding a man who isn’t one.

    • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

      I agree.  I love my tiny dog, but there is no way she’s ever sleeping in my bed with me.  Expecting the dogs to sleep in dog beds is not unreasonable or a sign of lack of proper affection for them.

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Amy — funny. I do not have a dog because my husband says no!

      • avatar Anji says:

        LOL Margo!
        I do not think that Margo is being biased. I think that there are more things going on here that the LW was not clear about. Honestly, I suspect they need to get to a counselor. A souse that prefers their animals is definitely trying to make some sort of statement!

    • avatar jayHG says:

      Exactly, Amy.  I just said that in my own post below. 

      The husband said the dogs were bothersome, which means he apparently HAD slept with them (otherwise he couldn’t have found them bothersome).  The woman has chosen the dogs over her husband.   He needs either a marriage counsel or a lawyer to stop the madness and get out.  I dare say that this woman and her dogs will live happily ever after.  She’s made her choice. 

  4. avatar Margy says:

    LW 1: Guess ten year old Ethan has been the apple of his adoptive and birth parents’ eye for so long that he is feeling jealousy over the unborn sibling. He must not have much friends or doesn’t have good buddies. If he did then maybe he would be welcoming, relishing the idea of being a big brother. I mean, if he had friends who have brothers or sisters and he spent time playing with them (as opposed to just seeing them at school only) then he would see how these families get along.
    In retrospect, maybe just telling Ethan he is adopted and having Anna and Kyle in his life as an aunt and uncle instead of his birth parents would have been better;revealing Anna and Kyle as the birth parents when he reached eighteen or thereabouts…
    LW 2: I like cats and I have no problem sharing my bed with a cat or two or three! But I don’t care to share with a dog. If my husband wanted to sleep with his dog on the sofa that’s fine with me!

    • avatar Grace Malat says:

      I don’t think it has anything to do with whether or not he has close buddies/friends and seeing how other families get along.
      I had a very difficult time getting pregnant and was even told I might not. When I finally did get pregnant it was wonderful but for many reasons my husband (at the time) and I decided to have only one child.
      When my daughter was under the age of 6 and she started noticing that other families had more than one child she started asking for a brother or sister, this started when she was about 3. When she started school, kdg, and started going to friends houses for play dates, she quickly changed her tune and decided she did NOT want a brother or sister. So it can cut both ways. And yes all her friends had loving stable homes. She just realized what a hassle it could be sometimes to have a sibling.
      When her dad and I divorced she was 12 and a few years later I remarried and was blessed with another daughter. They are 15 yrs and 3 mos apart LOL, and although they don’t get to see each other, we live on opposite sides of the country, they get along great through phone calls, emails and such.
      One of the great benefits has been that my oldest daughter has been a great source of information and advice.
      For this LW I would agree it’s normal sibling rivalry that happens when a new child enters the family. He just needs to have a bit of extra attention and be drawn into being a big brother. If the birth parents could take him with them to hear the baby’s heartbeat, show him sonogram pics, maybe get his input on a name, although don’t promise you’ll use it. Also take him shopping to buy a welcome home gift for the baby and maybe matching t shirts of big brother little brother/sis. They just need to assure him of his place in both families.

      • avatar Margy says:

        Hoping Ethan will love his adoptive parents (yes, he does), love his kid brother/sister (perhaps years later!), appreciate his birth parents decision to have another child, this time to keep and raise… Be content to have a kid brother/sister who lives in another home!
        Going off on a tangent here, my landlord mentioned how his son (28/29 thereabouts) still harbors resentment over a trivial (through my landlord’s eyes) incident. I think  some children never get over something (nursing that “wound” all through childhood, teens, young adulthood…) while others grow up, not necessarily through being a parent but just through maturing, how some things have come to be…

  5. avatar Rosemary Celeste says:

    I think that Ethan the 10 yr old should get to be more involved with his birth-parents’ lives  so he can help welcome in his new sib, get more connected to his birth -parents and  find his emotional security as far as that goes. I think he will get over this phase by getting to have more closeness with them. It is a tough one to swallow for a kid: if they did stay togther and get married, then why didn’t they want/keep me? More open of arms would be good between the families. The blessings will reverberate throughout the years to come.

    The dogs on  the bed could be solved with a cot or chaise in the bedroom for the dogs to sleep on next to her side of the bed. Win-win.

    • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

      I don’t see how more closeness will help at all.  No matter how close he becomes, he will never be their son – he’s already someone else’s son.  What he is dealing with – the fact that his parents could not keep him but, now, can keep his sibling is something he’s going to have to work through with his parents and himself.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        My partner is adopted and your observation is completely incorrect. His birth mother regards him very much as her son, and we are quite lucky to have her in the picture. And to suggest that a ten year-old “work through” something like this himself is ridiculous.

    • avatar D C says:

      I have a friend who found out at about the age of 36 (because that’s when her adoptive mother died and she finally felt free to find out about her birth parents) that the woman she had grown up knowing as her aunt (mom’s sister) was actually her mother.  Her birth mom had been there for every important event in her life, which was wonderful…. but had gone on to have 4 more children, the next one in line only 14 months younger than her.  THAT left her feeling a lot of the “why didn’t she want ME” stuff.  Her father, however, was not the father of her half-siblings, so that was pretty much the answer to the why not me question.  She got to meet her birth father, about 6 months before he died of a heart attack.  LW#1’s child will eventually feel lucky to have know his parents his whole life, and between the ages of 10 and 20, he may not always have a good attitude about it.  Hopefully the whole family can work together and end up happily ever after. 

  6. avatar D says:

    Is there any reason why the birth parents should not answer the question of why they have not made an effort to take the boy back?  The boy is somewhere thinking “My birth parents can take care of a new child but they still cannot/will not take care of me.”  That is a concern of his that needs to be answered and unless the birth parents answer that to the satisfaction of the boy, there will continue to be problems.  No amount of counseling will help.
    What I also find interesting is that the two sets of parents had a conversation about the boy without the boy present.  What sense does that make?  The boy is old enough to know what is going on and should be involved.  It will be probably be uncomfortable answering questions with the boy around, but the boy is more important than their comfort level (at least he should be).

    • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

      The child is ten.  The adults in his life (teachers, grandparents) will be having conversations about him without him present for many years to come.  And that’s healthy.
      And, honestly, this is quite a common situation.  When an adopted child attempts to find their birthparents as an adult, one of the things they are advised to prepare for is that their birhtparents may have since married each other and had children.  The situation is common enough, that I’m sure a child-professional has needed to deal with it before.

      • avatar D says:

        His birth parents know him and have been a part of his life.  Watching it unfold right before his eyes is going to affect him differently than if he learned about it as an adult.  In the situation you described, the adopted children and the birth parents do not really know each other.  I will say that I was partially wrong in my statement that no amount of counseling will help.  I should have said that no amount of counseling will help unless the birth parents answer why they are going to keep the baby but not the kid.  I am still trying to figure out how both sets of parents talked and the option of telling the kid why the birth parents do not want to take back the kid is not deemed to be a good one.  It would be painful and cause a lot of heartache, but it will be the best one going forward..  I think that both sets of parents want to keep this as pain free as possible, but if everyone is honest with each other, I am not sure that is possible.
        Is it possible to rescind an adoption and return a child to the birth parents?

        • avatar Mrs. Doolittle says:

          Rescinding the adoption is the worst possible consequence.  If you ever adopted and loved your child you would never have written this.  Talk about feeling rejected twice!  The parents he has now are his REAL parents in every sense of the word.  He will get thru this and as he gets older will understand it better.  This is just a twist on the normal preteen issues to come.

        • avatar Susan W says:

          Wow you don’t have a clue what it is to be a parent and to love and care for a child.  You also don’t seem to have a clue what it means to make a decision in the best interest of a a child.
          Both of these couples are parents to this child – the birth parents made a really good and caring parenting decision at the child’s birth, and the real parents – the adoptive ones – are making continuing good and caring parenting decisions for the child now.  They are discussing this situations privately as adults should, in order to present a united front in communicating this situation to the child, to minimize the child’s confusion and distress.
          The fact that the birth parents are having another baby that they will keep may be disturbing to the child, just as having a new baby enter the household may be disturbing.  This happens all the time.  The parents just need to all communicate through this situation that the child is loved and wanted and that he is in the best place possible for him and that is where he will stay.

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          Are you kidding me?  You seriously think rescinding an adoption for parents who have cared for and bonded with the child every day for 10 years is a viable alternative?  You need to learn more about child development, bonding, psychology, etc.  Terrible idea!

          • avatar D says:

            To everyone who seems to think I am evil for asking about rescinding the adoption, what I meant was if all involved (birth parents, adoptive parents, kid) were okay with him moving back in with the birth parents and the birth parents becoming the legal guardians of the kid.  I was more concerned about is it actually possible instead of whether it was a good idea or not.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            IT is possible. IT is called “interruption of adoption”. These birth parents don’t want this child. The adoptive mom pretty much says that at the beginning of the letter. The birthparents need to answer the question (after doing some research about the right way to say the right thing.
            I would have to speculate that a very large majority of teen birthmothers go on to have children when they are ready. It’s not uncommon.
            The boy needs to be reassured that everyone loves him, that he is where he belongs & not much will change.  Oh, and that he gets to be a big brother now.

    • avatar K Coldiron says:

      Take the boy BACK? Because someone adopted him! LW and her husband ARE his parents.

    • avatar AdoptAuthor says:

      Goodt point!  The birth parents need to tell him that they cannot take him back because his adoptive parents are now his parents by law and also they would be heartbroken because they love him so much!  Might help a bit, but still doesn’t answer why they are able to parent the new baby but were not able to care for him. that, I beleive is his real question.
      People who think this is nothing more than sibling rivalry and that friends would help Ethan are very much off base. They are playing in a league they do not belong in. Adoption is a specialized field.
      Ethan needs counseling with an expert in adoption!

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        The boy is ten, and although the problems with coping are his, he is not yet mentally or emotionally equipped to sort his issues out without input from the obviously very caring adults in his life. The best parents discuss the complicated, critical details of a situation like this (those that a pre-adolescent child’s brain is not yet developed enough to make sense of, nevermind that he doesn’t have the experience or objectivity to be rational about this) out of the child’s presence so that they can supply a united, supportive front for him when they discuss it with him. The language and thoughts of adults can be very confusing and even hurtful to a 10 year old…because they have no basis for understanding them.
        A therapist specializing in family and child therapy, particularly in adoptive issues (although this is sibling rivalry with a twist…a lot of children who have been “only” for ten years when presented suddenly with a pregnant mom will react very similarly as in, “Well, I guess I wasn’t good enough”, or, “I must be a disappointment”, or even, “Ah! They’re replacing me!”) could probably not only help the boy work through his worries, but also give both sets of parents coping skills for the future. Parenting isn’t easy…it’s hard work and a constant process of educating one’s self and finding new solutions to new and interesting (as in the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”) problems. Self-help books are generally full of crap, I’ve found, and don’t address those uniquely awkward situations like this one.
        Although adoption is a different situation…it is not the drama filled, so different thing too many people make of it. None of us get to pick our parents, and simply having one’s birth parents raise you doesn’t mean you picked that lucky long straw, or are any less confused about life. You may wonder just as much, if not more, what led your egg and sperm donors to ever conceive you, and why they didn’t just abort you, or give you up. This child has a wonderfully honest, loving group of people in his life…not some Gothic horror-show. I wish him, and them, well.

  7. avatar Maggie Tenser says:

    I own a very small dog.  I love her deeply.  She sleeps very happily in her own little bed next to mine.  Why?  Because it is my preference not have a dog sleep with me.  Being a dog-lover and sharing sleeping arrangements with your dog do not have to go hand in hand.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I think you should consult a child specialist, as Margo suggests. And quickly. I can see how this would mess with Ethan’s mind: Why did my biological parents give me up but they’re going to have/keep this baby? He’s too young to understand his parents as teenagers weren’t ready nor prepared; they’ve grown and matured since and circumstances are entirely different. A 10 year old can’t comprehend such life changes. Since everyone’s been entirely open and honest, yes — a specialist needs to be in the picture.
    L #2: No, I don’t believe you’re wrong. Your wife took marriage vows to you, not to those dogs. She seems silly to me, on this count.

  9. avatar Jrz Wrld says:

    With LW1, the kid is 10. Get him to a child therapist to work this one out – it’s a complicated situation. You’ve handled a complicated situations very well it seems, but an outside assist looks like it would be the best solution here.
    With LW2, I can’t help but wonder if the wife may have anxiety at night. I sleep with my dogs and my cat in the bed. If I have one of my crazy nightmares or anxiety issues at night, I can reach over without fear and wake up one of my pets, who don’t mind at all, and instinctively know that I am distressed. People have more issues with that. I can deal with my animals sleeping elsewhere just fine, but for someone who has a more severe sleep issue/anxiety issue, their presence could be vital.

  10. avatar Sazerac says:

    It’s rather late now, but the best option would have been to let “Ethan” know he was adopted–perhaps even let him know who his birth parents were, but not to let them become as intimately involved in his life as they have been. Adoption is just that–the child “becomes” yours and in no way should be considered a part of his or her biological parents’ family. In allowing “Ethan” to become intimately involved with “Anna” and “Kyle”, he has been set up for a mountain of confusion and heartbreak; the first of which has just happened with the advent of their second child.  It won’t be the last, either.  That confusion and heartbreak will follow him through life and affect his deepest relationships if it is not addressed.  The OP and spouse need to get Ethan to counseling, and based on the counselo’rs recommendations, take whatever steps they deem necessary with regards to “Anna” and “Kyle on how much interaction they need to have with “Ethan” moving forward.