Deciding Who Gets to be at the Birth Family Meeting

I had a question this week from an adoptive mom (I’ll call her M),  who just recently completed a successful search for the birth family of her 15 year-old daughter (I’ll call her R).  As with a lot of adoptive families, especially those with teens, M and R were eager to begin planning a first visit with the birth family.  R had been thrilled to receive the search report which she pored over, practically memorizing every word, and she was excited to finally be able to meet her birth mother face to face. M also has an 18 year-old biological daughter who was happy for her sister and excited to participate in the visit trip.  But M wasn’t sure what to do when R told them she didn’t want her sister to be there on the first visit.

When I ran this situation past a good friend who also has adopted and biological kids, her response was that there just wasn’t a good choice to be made.  And while I agree, I do have thoughts on what to think through when making a decision like this.

I don’t often see adoptive families having to make choices about who in their family will attend a meeting.  I suspect this is because the majority of visits we do are with families with younger children, where the idea of a trip without siblings isn’t something anyone would consider.  On the other hand, I do see this situation a lot on the other side of the equation- when the birth family wants to know who is invited to the meeting.  Many birth families where the adoption was not a secret are so excited about the prospect of meeting the adopted child and his family that they want to bring aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, all of whom are equally excited about the meeting.  

And whether “fair” or not, in both situations, the decision about who attends the meeting falls on the adoptive parents. In both cases, there are similar factors to weigh in making the decision, such as the expenses involved in bringing everyone together and whether there will be future trips, but at the top of the list is what will make the adopted child most comfortable and best meet his expectations for the meeting.

For younger kids the focus is on making sure they are not overwhelmed and have no doubts that at the end of the day/trip they are going home with their adoptive family.  Some young kids love the bustle of a large birth family meeting, but most are pretty shy at being the center of attention of so many strangers, in a strange place where everyone is speaking a language they don’t understand.  Teens on the other hand are a whole different animal, but again, their personality and needs should be what dictates who is present at the meeting.  Only the adoptive parents can really make this decision, as they are the ones who know their child the best.  

In M’s case she decided to honor R’s wishes, knowing that there would be future trips to Guatemala, and planned the trip for a week when her older daughter would be on a trip of her own.  I can’t wait to hear how it all goes.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments or via email.