In open adoption relationships, it’s not uncommon for adoptive and birth families to get together at least once or twice a year, if not more often. For many reasons, both parties often prefer to have these visits in a location other than their homes. Having an extensive list of options for where to have visits with birth family makes it easier to plan visits that everyone will enjoy.
Is it okay to have birth family visits at an adoptive family member or birth family member’s home?
If both families are comfortable with having visits at one of your homes, it’s absolutely okay to do so. However, don’t feel pressure to meet at a home if you don’t believe that it’s in everyone’s best interest.
What if we want to stay in touch with birth family but aren’t comfortable having visits?
There are quite a few adoptive families who have major apprehension about any level of contact with birth family. Giving out an email address or even a phone number is a very low risk. Making the effort to connect once or twice a year will go a long way toward giving your kids ongoing contact with their birth family and provide peace of mind for birth family about how the kids are doing. It’s okay if this contact is limited to phone calls and video calls if you truly believe that’s what’s best for everyone.
General considerations when planning birth family visits
In light of everything that’s been going on the past couple of years, please exercise appropriate caution when planning birth family visits. If anyone involved in the visit is sick or worried about exposure, cancel or postpone the visit. When you’re in a public space, follow the guidelines and safety precautions for the given location, such as using hand sanitizer, wearing masks, and staying out of certain areas. Limit direct physical contact, especially for newborns, adults, and elderly individuals.
Meeting in a busy public place during the day also provides peace of mind for many people during birth family visits. Despite popular misconception from the media, the vast majority of adoptive families aren’t worried about a kidnapping. However, for many reasons, when you aren’t comfortable meeting at a private residence, the safety that comes with a visit in a public space is very important.
Transportation and other expenses
For many (though certainly not all) birth parents, transportation and other expenses involved in birth family visits, such as food costs and zoo admission, are prohibitive. When in doubt, as one of the adoptive parents, offer to provide transportation, such as arranging an Uber if you don’t feel comfortable providing the ride yourself. Make it clear that you’re happy to cover all of the other expenses involved in the visit.
Make your kids the top priority
As you decide what you’d like to do for your next birth family visit, always keep your kids’ best interest in mind. Young children won’t want to sit through a long lunch at a nice restaurant or spend hours looking at art. Choose activities and locations that will appeal to them and help keep them interested and engaged throughout the visit. Over time, the best location for a visit will change, which is to be expected. For example, as kids age out of playgrounds, think about a visit at a miniature golf course or ice skating rink instead.
Where to have visits with birth family
Restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries
A restaurant is a good place to meet when your kids are a bit older and you’re on fairly familiar terms with the birth family. I know that it seems like an obvious, easy choice for any meeting. But the pressure to sit down face to face and have a whole meal together can be a lot. With younger kids, think about a restaurant with play equipment or a novelty theme, such as Chuck E. Cheese or a restaurant where your food is delivered via train. A coffee shop or bakery can also be a nice option for a casual visit without the pressure of a full sit-down meal.
Playgrounds or parks
Playgrounds or parks are ideal places for birth family visits with younger kids who just want to run around or would rather spend the visit playing catch or Frisbee than sitting around someone’s house. A playground or park is also a nice place to enjoy a walk or picnic lunch together.
Indoor inflatables or trampoline centers
Indoor inflatables and trampoline centers and other types of indoor playgrounds are so much fun for kids from their toddler years all the way through middle school. While this sort of activity doesn’t give birth family a lot of one or one time with kids, it does give them time to sit back and observe them in action, which is also much appreciated.
Zoos or aquariums
We love our zoo membership and are always looking for excuses to head to the zoo with family or friends. The zoo is nice with younger kids because you can spend a lot of time looking at animals and you can also just spend time letting the kids run around and enjoy the play equipment. If you live in an area with an aquarium, that may be a nice option as well.
There are so many museums that make great destinations for family outings, including children’s museums, art museums, history museums, science centers, and planetariums. Think about what will most appeal to your kids’ ages and personal interests.
Conservatories and botanic gardens
Conservatories and botanic gardens are another personal favorite destination. Of course, botanic gardens are spectacular during the warmer months of the year. Gardens with indoor greenhouses are a welcome change of pace during the colder months of the year when everyone is craving green and warmth. Many conservatories and botanic gardens bring in special exhibits throughout the year and hold seasonal and holiday events, such as Christmas shows. These exhibits and events also make for good family outings.
A beach destination is nice for a family gathering. You can walk the shoreline or simply hang out on the sand. For younger kids, think about bringing sand buckets and tools. For older kids, think about bringing a Frisbee or volleyball set.
Miniature golf courses, recreation centers, and bowling allies
Having a set activity for a birth family visit can be nice. It gives you the opportunity to engage in the activity without having to make constant conversation. Kids who are shy or simply don’t see their birth families all that often and don’t always have a lot to talk about with them will appreciate being able to focus on the activity at hand. Depending on the age of your kids and the options in your area, a miniature golf course, a bowling alley, or another recreation center, such as an arcade, may be a fun choice.
Roller skating or ice skating
Roller skating or ice skating is another fun athletic activity to enjoy as a whole family, especially with middle school and high school age kids. The holiday season is a perfect time to take advantage of seasonal pop-up ice skating rinks that aren’t available during the whole year.
Make your own pottery or painting
If you like having an activity for birth family visits but prefer something craftier and less sporty, visiting a make your own pottery or painting studio is a great option. Many studios offer free painting and throwing times as well as a range of structured sessions and even formal classes. You’re sure to find something that fits everyone in your group.
Fairs, festivals, and other local events
Outdoor art shows, neighborhood street festivals, seasonal and holiday events (i.e., lights displays, German markets), and other local events are a great opportunity to enjoy a little culture while getting together. If you aren’t familiar with any local upcoming events, search “[your city] events” to find a calendar. For example, in Milwaukee, Milwaukee 365 and Visit Milwaukee are great resources. You’re sure to find similar resources for your own area.
Theme parks or water parks
When one or both families lives in close proximity to a major theme park or water park, it can make a great destination for the occasional get together. When your birth family visits are just once or twice a year and often involve a large event, like a theme park visit, kids will look forward to it for months. Keep in mind that most major theme park and water park tickets are expensive. Plan accordingly, so you’re able to cover the expenses for all those who will be in attendance.
Your child’s sporting event, recital, etc.
I know it may seem weird that your child’s own events are all the way at the bottom of the list of where to have visits with birth family. The events that your own child is involved in may seem like one of the easiest, most natural ways to get together with birth family. If you have an outgoing child and a close relationship with birth family, a child’s event can be great. However, it’s important to talk to your child ahead of time before extending that invitation. For many kids, a piano recital or important basketball game involves enough pressure without the added layer of having birth family there.
Adoptive and birth families, are there other places or activities you would add to this list of where to have visits with birth family?
I would love to know what has worked well for your birth family visits!
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