If you’re pursuing an open or semi-open adoption – which is when birth parents and adoptive parents stay in contact following adoption – some other very important people in the mix are your child’s birth parent or parents. And this brings up some immensely important questions. What will this kind of relationship look like? How can you build a relationship that will be a strong one? And how can this benefit your child?
Open adoption can mean a lot of things. Some families who have this sort of a relationship with their children’s birth parents begin to be in touch with a birth mother while she’s pregnant with the child. Other families adopt older children. Some families have limited but still open contact with birth parents. This kind of relationship can take many forms, from talking on the phone occasionally and sending holiday cards, but maybe not seeing each other in person regularly, to a more in-person relationship where families might see each other quite often and come to think of each other a lot like extended family.
Because relationships are made of up of people, and because all people are different, your family’s own relationship with your child’s birth parents will be unique. The specifics of your adoption arrangement will, of course, influence this too. But if you work to help build a relationship that is healthy and beneficial for your child, you’re likely to find that this bond will be immensely meaningful to your child as they grow. And there are a few things that may help you build a solid foundation now and will help keep the relationship stable in years to come.
- Reach out, start slow, and do what feels comfortable: Relationships have to start somewhere, and a good way is just simply by trying to get to know each other. Who are they? What do you have in common? What can you learn from each other? You will be your child’s parent, but their birth parent is forever bonded to them in a special way too. You might find that this connection comes easily or is awkward at first, and whatever shape things take is entirely okay. Take it slow, and proceed in a way that feels comfortable for you and for them.
- Communication is key: Communication is the bedrock of any good relationship, and its role in your relationship with your child’s birth parents will be no different. As you get to know each other and as your relationship grows and changes, do what you can to be open and honest, ask questions and share concerns – and hopefully your child’s birth parents will do the same.
- Find boundaries that work: Certainly, in an open adoption, there will be a number of formally agreed upon boundaries, which could include specifics of how and how often you’ll communicate – and they’ve likely been agreed upon for the benefit of all parties, and especially for the benefit of the child. Beyond formal boundaries that have been established in your adoption arrangement, make sure you also find more informal boundaries that work for you. As your child grows and as the specifics of your family’s and the birth parents’ lives change, there may be new bridges to cross and new arrangements to be made. You might, for example, need to navigate social media connections or talk about new factors around interactions if siblings are added to the mix. Try to be both firm and flexible, as needed. Some good questions to ask as you navigate these complexities are: What’s best for your child and your family? Have you tried to consider the birth parents perspective? Lead with the first question, but also be generous as you consider the second.
- Keep in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint: All relationships change over time, and your relationship with your child’s birth parents – and your child’s relationship with them – will be no different. While you want to try your best to start things out on the right foot, don’t feel pressure to immediately establish a super close and comfortable bond. You may click right away or you may need time to warm up to each other. Often the strongest relationships are those that are built over time as you learn to be there for each other. As time goes on, you’ll likely figure out what will work best for all of you.
- Remember that no one is perfect: If conflicts ever arise, try to be generous with your forgiveness – with both your child’s birth parents and yourself. You’re all only human; you’ll all make mistakes. You might find that you can simply talk things through or just move on, or you might find that the conflict suggests that you should reassess some relationship specifics. Was there a miscommunication? Was something that was working before not working now? Has your child grown older and this has changed things in some way? Do you need to establish new boundaries? Again, it’s a marathon, and all relationships need maintenance over time.
- Always prioritize your child. Perhaps the most important guiding principle for any parent is “What’s best for my child?” Prioritizing your child’s needs and well-being in this relationship, and figuring out exactly what those needs are, may sometimes feel challenging, but often the payoff is tenfold.
If you keep all of the above points in mind, you’ll have some solid tools to build a good relationship now and maintain it over time. There may be some bumps along the way but that’s the case with most relationships. And you’ll surely have an immensely special one with your child’s birth parents.
- “Openness in adoption: Building relationships between adoptive and birth families.” Child Welfare Information Gateway. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau, January 2013. Retrieved September 14 2018. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_openadopt.pdf.