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AF answers your parenting questionsMay/June 2009

Letting fantasy flow 

Q:Our four-year-old, adopted as a baby, has been making up stories about her birthparents lately--saying that they used to do certain things together, for instance, or that they both like certain foods. We haven't yet contradicted her fantasies. Is this OK, or should we start correcting her?

A:I don't think you need to be concerned about your daughter's comments about her birth family. She is clearly a bright and creative child, and she is imagining what it would be like to have known her birthparents.

You and your spouse should use these opportunities to share what you know about your daughter's birthparents, if anything. I would advise against correcting her or suggesting that she isn't telling the truth. While she won't always imagine having known her birthparents, she will always wonder about them and why they made the decision they did. This is a normal part of growing up adopted.
Ronny Diamond, Spence-Chapin, New York City

Explaining a lack of contact 

Q:We have a very open adoption with our son's birth family and see them often, but our six-year-old daughter's birth family restricts contact to occasional letters. She finds this hard to understand, and believes her birth family does not love her. I've shared her pain with the birth family, but they are not open to more contact at this time. How can I help my daughter through this?

A:You have identified one of the key difficulties children experience in open adoptions, the disparity between their experience and a sibling's or a friend's. No two families are alike, and the same is true of birth families.

Your daughter needs help understanding that the different level of contact or type or relationship does not mean a different level of love. Talk with her about two people who love her, but who express their love differently. She may have one grandmother who acts like every day is Christmas and always comes bearing gifts, and another who comes empty-handed, but loves her just the same. Or does she have cousins whom she loves, but only gets to see once a year because they live far away?

As a parent, you cannot take away all of her pain, but you can be there to support her when she feels it. Listen to her, and help her name her feelings (Is she sad? angry? jealous?). Reassure her that those feelings are real and valid, and let her know that you are also sad that her birthparents don't visit. Ask her what she'd like to include in your next letter to them.

Meanwhile, let her birth family know that you understand that visits or more direct contact might be difficult for them right now, but that the door is always open. And if you have not already done so, ask your son's birth family to acknowledge your daughter as family, so that she does not feel excluded when they visit.
Joni Mantell, Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, Pennington, New Jersey

Birthmother's Day

Q:I just read something online that referenced Birthmother's Day. When is it, and how do families typically observe this holiday?

A:The Saturday before Mother's Day was designated Birthmother's Day in 1990 by a group of birthmothers. Many adoptive parents I know send flowers or a card with recent photos of their child, or call the birthmother on this day. Birthmothers are always thrilled to know that you are thinking of them on Birthmother's Day.

One birthmother I know, Mandy, noted that many of her family members and friends do not understand the choice she made four years ago. However, when the adoptive parents send flowers on Birthmother's Day with a card thanking her for the gift of choosing them to raise her child, she feels that someone recognizes the love that went into her adoption plan--and the love she still has for her daughter. Another family has a special dinner with their child's birthmother each May, to celebrate Birthmother's Day and Mother's Day together. In this way, they recognize both moms' roles in the child's life.

If your child is old enough to participate in honoring her birthmother, she can sign the card or include a drawing to be enclosed in it. This is also an opportunity for another discussion with your child about her adoption and about the love and caring that went into her birthmother's decision.
Kathleen Silber, coauthor of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (Corona)

Continuing contact with the birth family?

Q:We recently adopted a seven-year-old boy. While he was in the orphanage, he had direct contact with extended family. We were given their contact information and have e-mailed them since coming home. We haven't told our son yet, because we don't want to disrupt his attachment. When should we tell him?

A:Since your son had direct contact with his extended family, I think that closing off that connection, even for a while, would make him question his worth--"Doesn't my family care for me anymore? Did they forget me?"

I cannot see how letting your son know that his birth family still cares and has asked about him would be harmful, though I don't think you need to mention yet that you have an e-mail link. Instead, let him write or dictate a letter, choose photos of himself, or draw a picture to send them.

Children can love many people, even as they develop or keep a primary bond with their parents. Remember, these birth family members didn't parent him before, and they aren't parenting him now. Let him know that they are happy and excited about his new family, and that you are all forming a network of love around him.
MaryAnn Curran, vice president of social services, World Association for Children and Parents, Seattle

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