Love Leads

Kathryn Russell
Kathryn Russell

LMSW, Director of Absolute Love Adoptions

Love Leads: How Two Families Granted Their Daughter's Holiday Wish

When I placed my daughter in her adoptive parents’ arms eighteen years ago I never dreamed that our relationship would bloom into what we have planted together. We promised one another two visits a year and to always keep in touch, as simple and complex as that can be for busy families. Their promise to me was also a promise to her, and they upheld it with the utmost honor. What was a simple promise has remained through her eighteen years, often in ways far beyond promised, even in the complex reality of what open adoption emotions can bring. 


Our Christmas traditions naturally fell into place beginning when she was six months old. Every year, with the exception of just a few, we ate at the same Japanese restaurant on the same weekend of December with the same people and had the same plans. We would eat, then go to their house to exchange presents amongst the kids of the family, play Dirty Santa with the adults, watch the kids play, tell stories and reconnect. My parents, siblings, and eventually my husband and parented children came to celebrate with me. My daughter’s parents, grandparents, aunts, and cousins all joined us for a beautiful chaotic blend of adoptive and birth families surrounding our daughter. It felt like a family reunion each time and was my favorite visit of the year through most of her life.

As the years went by the children of the family grew, some family members passed away, and thus fewer people came. What was once filled with people and playing, became quieter and more intimate. Slowly as the seasons shifted in our lives, so did our traditions. As wonderful as those memories were, I am excited about what the future holds.


Now she’s eighteen and we are embarking on a shift of traditions again. This shift brings questions about what adoption looks like for all of us now that she is an adult. For my birth daughter and I it feels like with this milestone comes a pinpoint of hope. There is hope that new doors will be opened and perhaps a new chapter of closeness will become reality. I feel this hope in the possibility of her and I to experience more of life together in an even more authentic way.  


I always say that her parents and I built a foundation for her in our relationship. We built it through honoring one another in our unique roles, communicating in healthy ways, respecting one another, and agreeing to support her in whatever is in her best interest.

Because of this foundation, she feels safe to now express her own wishes.

This year she expressed her desire to experience Thanksgiving and Christmas with her birth family. I know that request was a difficult one to make, as our daughter often feels torn between being with and being loved by both families. From experience, I know that with adulthood comes the excitement of choices and decisions, and while that is exciting, it isn’t lost on any adult-child the grief that also can weigh on a heart. Nor for any parent– whether biological or adoptive.


It is often said that adoption is bittersweet. There is a tug and a pull between the both/and, the joys and the pains, the in-betweens of both families, cultures, and worlds. My heart as a birth mom leaps with the excitement that for the first time ever all six of my children will be under my roof, together opening gifts and experiencing our traditions. Yet, it also breaks because I know for me to have those experiences with her this year, her adoptive parents will be missing those moments with her. It is strange to have switched places in a way with her adoptive parents. I am on the gaining side in this season– and they are sharing her with me. How odd. How humbling. How amazing. I entrusted my newborn child into their arms eighteen years ago and, in return, they have entrusted me with moments like these. For that, I am forever grateful. 

As our Christmas adoption traditions have changed over the years, one thing remains the same: love. Love for this not-so-little girl who is the center of our worlds. Love that connects us. Love that drives us to be the best people we can be for her. Love that sacrifices and gives. Love that seeks to understand and support. Love that propels this open adoption. 


May your holiday season be filled with love too, whatever that looks like in this season. 

About the Author

Leah Outten is a mother to five at home and a birth mom to one. She still maintains an open adoption relationship with her birth daughter and the adoptive parents she chose when she was 16 years old. Using her experiences a birth mom and a teen mom, she now works in the adoption and pro-life community through her writing, education, and mentoring. In her speaking and writing, she aims to educate on complex issues surrounding motherhood and adoption with grace.


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