One of the most common concerns I hear from adoptive families, both before and after searching, is how to maintain a relationship with the birth family and how to navigate the power imbalances inherent in that relationship. I’ve always believed that there is no right answer here and we are all just muddling through as best we can, that each family needs to take things as they come, look at all sides of issues that arise and then do what feels right for them and their family.
At a recent get-together with a few other adoptive parents, all who have contact with their Guatemalan children’s birth families, a wide array of opinions on feelings towards the birth families came up in discussion. I talked about how I feel a bond of love for my daughter’s birth family and consider them a part of my family, not just my daughter’s family, which gives me the right to and even the responsibility to maintain a relationship with them apart from my daughter’s relationship with them. Others in the group argued that the birth family belongs to our child and not to us and therefore can’t be part of our families and that the relationship needs to be driven solely by our children. And others talked about how they feel no need to have more than cursory contact with their child’s birth family and were concerned about potential requests for support and being viewed merely as a source of cash.
This conversation got me to thinking about the ways I've seen adoptive families approach relationships with birth family. I could categorize these approaches into four general "points of view." While I don’t personally agree with all of these, I can understand what leads parents to these views and do believe that each family needs to do what feels right for them. I've even seen where some families pass from one point of view into another as they get to know the birth family and as their children grow.
4 Points of View on Birth Family Contact
These adoptive parents want to find the birth family but have little interest in maintaining a relationship. They're often concerned about requests for support and how that may impact them personally or their children over time. They often state as the main reason for doing the search that they want to be reassured there was nothing illegal or inappropriate in their adoption.
In these cases the adoptive family wants to do everything in their power to “fix” the issues they see caused by poverty in the birth family. They often offer large cash gifts early in the relationship and attach strings to these gifts determining how the money should be spent based on what they feel will make the biggest difference in the family’s life.
This probably covers the majority of relationships I see. The adoptive parent feels a bond with the birth mother, wants to retain consistent contact regardless of if their child is interested or able to maintain a relationship, wants to understand what the family needs and their culture and be respectful of how help will be perceived while also wanting to maintain clear boundaries on financial support.
These adoptive families search for the birth family and may start out with contact, letters, and visits but then drop contact. Months or years later they may come back and ask for an update on the family or want to resume contact. While I think this is extremely hard on the birth family, I completely get why this happens. Time goes by quickly for all of us and before we know it we have lost touch with people we care about. In the case of adoptive families, if their child seems uninterested or indifferent about ongoing contact with birth family it makes it even harder to maintain the contact and can lead to uncertainty about if they should.
Do any of these points of view describe how you approach your birth family relationship? Or maybe you have another point of view on contact or fall into more than one of these categories? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.
Thanks for reading.