Birth Families and Adoption
Adopting parents often struggle with the decision about whether to preserve birth family contact once an adoption is finalized. More often than not, prior to being matched with a child, adopting parents have the intention of preserving the relationship between their adopted child and appropriate and safe birth family, whether through phone calls, letters, or occasional visits. What we know to be true is that once child placement occurs, something often shifts for our adoptive parents and hesitance to continue such birth family relationships can dwindle. Some families attribute this shift in willingness to fear they will be rejected or that the child may be confused about who their real parents are.
We want our adopting families to appreciate that even if their adopted children are not talking about their birth family or asking to see them, the birth family, especially the birth parents, will always have a psychological presence within the child.
Liz and Patrick were parenting three foster-adoptive children, ages 3, 5 and 7. When they learned that the parental rights of the mother had been terminated and the adoption would go forward, they were uncertain about how they would continue contact between the children and their birth mother. They knew it would be healthier for the children to have some type of relationship with their mother. With the rise of social media, they figured if they did not support birth family contact, their children and their birth mother would eventually have easy access through Facebook or other social utilities that connect people. Despite the birth mother’s choices and behaviors, they knew she loved the children and they did not want to deprive their children of her love. With that came the understanding they needed to set strict boundaries with her through a written contract for visits, including off-limits topics, food choices, and remaining positive during the visit. As some initial visits had not gone well, the adoptive parents, social worker and mom sat down to discuss what visits needed to look like in the future.
To everyone’s surprise, the birth mother arrived to the visit in a positive and happy mood. She was welcoming to Liz and Patrick and talked to them like they were her friends. She even told the children how lucky they were to have two mommies and a daddy that love them so much. She told stories of how she named the children and volunteered information about her family and upbringing. She bought each of the children a sterling silver necklace and explained to each child why she chose the necklace for them. The children reacted better to this visit. Liz and Patrick knew they made the right decision to maintain contact with the birth mother, as the relationship was important to the children, and with boundaries established, the birth mother was impressively appropriate.
Continued contact with parents, if safe, can improve a child’s sense of identity, reduce a child’s feelings of rejection and abandonment, and can give them permission to bond with the adoptive family. It is important that adopting parents explore the potential for managing and structuring birth family contact because of the positive impact it can have on the child. If contact is not appropriate, remembering to honor the psychological presence by providing the child with a safe place to talk about their feelings about the birth family is essential. Honoring the positives a child may remember about their family of origin as well as the positive attributes they may have intended from their family supports adoptive children in having a stronger sense of self. Sierra will support you in this process and help make best decisions possible.