When I wrote 10 things no one tells you about adoption, I said that there was enough on the topic of building a birth family relationship for a separate post. One of my points in that post is that no one gives you a guidebook on building a birth family relationship. It’s a difficult subject because every adoptive-birth family relationship is different. It’s also a difficult subject because basically the only other people who get it are other adoptive parents and children. You aren’t going to get a lot of support from other friends and family. I’m not saying this to be harsh; it’s just the truth.
Despite the lack of guidance and support, building a birth family relationship is so important. Fostering a positive, open relationship with your adopted child’s birth family is one of the single greatest gifts you can give to your adopted child. The less groundwork they have to lay when they’re older, the easier it will be them to cultivate their own relationship. In the event that you don’t stay close with a birth family, you’re still creating memories that your child will be able to look back on for the rest of his/her life.
Disclaimer: I’m an adoptive parent. I am not a social worker. I don’t have years of experience in the field of adoption. I’m sharing the strategies that have worked for my family and other adoptive families I know for building a birth family relationship.
Always be yourself
Your birth family didn’t pick you because they think you’re perfect. They don’t expect you to keep a flawless, magazine-worthy home or to raise perfect children who are well-behaved at all times. They don’t expect you, your spouse, or your kids to look perfect all the time either. You don’t want to show up for a birth family get together looking like a slob, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to dress up either. Everyone will be more at ease when you keep it real.
Be respectful of their privacy
I think that it goes without saying, but you should be very careful about sharing personal details about a birth family with anyone besides your children and your social worker. I don’t ever use their names online and only use their first names with family and friends. You don’t want anyone Googling your adoptive child’s birth family or stalking them on Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Similarly, you should also be very careful about sharing photos of a birth family. I do keep a handful of photos of Tommy’s birth family on my phone because people are curious about what his birth family, most specifically his birth parents, look like. I don’t ever share these photos online. In my password-protected monthly/holiday updates for our families, I have included a few photos of his birth family. His birth mom and her family have been very involved in Tommy’s life thus far, and I want to include that involvement in my updates.
I realize that this topic varies from one birth family to the next. Some adoptive and birth families do choose to follow each other on social media. Sharing pictures, videos, etc. in a private Facebook group may be the easiest way to keep both birth and adoptive families updated, which I completely understand. If this is the case, your families will have access to some information about the birth families. It’s totally up to you if this type of scenario works best for all parties involved.
The privacy element goes both ways in building a birth family relationship. I request that Tommy’s birth family be respectful of our photos and take care in who they share them with, how they share them, etc. I have the same guidelines with my own family. Thus far, we haven’t had any issues. If you’re concerned about photo/video sharing and other privacy issues, I highly urge you to put your expectations out there as early as possible.
Be respectful of their emotions
Adoption is tough for both birth and adoptive families. There may be months or even years that birth families can’t handle looking at pictures, much less meeting with birth children. That’s okay. Some of the happiest days in your child’s life, such as birthdays and holidays, may be the toughest days for them.
There also may be times when a birth family may want to show up for an event but not interact with your family. This may seem weird, but again, it’s perfectly fine. For example, if a birth dad wants to attend your child’s baseball game, but doesn’t want to sit with you, Grandma, and Grandpa in the stands the whole time, he shouldn’t feel pressure to do so. Having him at the game is still huge.
Trust your gut when planning events together
Adoption pushes you out of your comfort zone in ways you can’t imagine. You have to know your limits, too. If you aren’t comfortable inviting a birth family into your home or to a familiar location (i.e. your child’s school, your church), don’t. Choose a neutral location, such as a park or restaurant. If you don’t know your birth family very well and/or don’t see them very often, a neutral location is always a good bet. Both families will be on safe territory, and you’ll have something to do together without feeling awkward sitting around someone’s home, not sure what to say or do. As children get bigger, they’ll do better having a destination for the outing, too.
Honor your commitment to send monthly updates
One common practice among open domestic infant adoptions is for adoptive families to send a monthly update to birth families. If you’ve been reading the public version of my monthly Tommy updates (all available here) or read kid updates on other blogs, you know what I mean when I say monthly update. If you agree to write monthly updates, you need to follow through with this commitment. You get to see your kid every single day. The birth family only gets little snapshots. They often look forward to updates and will be disappointed when you don’t follow through with providing them.
Personally, I think it’s easiest to send out monthly updates on the child’s month birthday. Until Tommy is two, I’ll stick with that schedule. After two, most likely I’ll transition to writing a more general family update on the first of the month. Of course, I’ll still be sharing all things Tommy, but there won’t be the same major milestones every single month. The important thing is to figure out what works best for you, and stick with it.
Remember the birth family on birthdays, holidays, and other major occasions
Reaching out to your child’s birth family on holidays, birthdays, and other major dates means so much. The gesture doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful. Sending a card, a few pictures, or flowers goes a long way. I always plan to reach out to Tommy’s birth mom on Mother’s Day, Christmas, and her birthday. We will invite her and her family to Tommy’s first years of birthday celebrations as well. From there, it will depend a bit on what Tommy wants to do for his birthdays. But they will always be able to involved in celebrating his birthday with us.
Are you an adoptive parent or child?
Do you have additional tips for building a birth family relationship?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!