Why Does the Birth Family Always Look so Unhappy?

Have you received pictures of your child’s birth family where everyone looks like they are scowling, angry or terribly unhappy?  Do you then think maybe your contact is unwelcome or you are bothering them in some way?  

While I get questions about this a lot and routinely find myself explaining to adoptive families what is going on, when I recently received this photo from a visit to my daughter's birth mom, I couldn’t help but feel a momentary pang of discomfort at their expressions.  But then I looked through more photos from the visit and saw more candid shots that reflected the laughter and warmth that I am accustomed to seeing in their faces when we are together.


So why do birth families look so unhappy in photos?

 It’s pretty simple actually - they just aren’t used to being photographed.  Unlike us and our children who are told to “say cheese” and “smile for the camera” from the moment we are born, the families we work with have no such cultural experience.  Very few birth families own cameras unless you count the tiny, grainy, seldom-used ones on their flip phones.  They certainly are not used to people shoving cameras in their faces at every life event and family activity. And on the rate occasion they are photographed, they see a serious expression as a sign of respect.

When F. photographs birth families she often has to work hard to get a hint of a smile and quite often older family members or men in the family just outright refuse to have their photos taken.  

Understanding this may not keep that pang of sadness from hitting you the next time you receive a photo, but hopefully you’ll understand that it is not at all a reflection on your contact with them.



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