Ask AF: When Kids Don’t Ask for Birth Family Contact

A mother who adopted older children asks what to say to her children's birth grandparent when her children don't ask for contact.

Q: We very recently gained custody of two older girls (whom we knew before they moved in with us). They had been living with their biological grandmother for six years, but it was not a healthy home environment. I’ve explained to the children that we can continue to see or speak to their grandmother whenever they ask to (per the caseworker’s advice), but it’s been several days and neither of them has mentioned her. Meanwhile, their grandmother has been texting me and asking if she can talk to the girls. How do I explain to her that the girls are healing, adjusting, we are trying to bond, and that it’s their decision?

Members of respond:

“I told my daughter’s birth mom that she needed time to adjust before she made contact, that she had agreed to tell me when she was ready and that I was respecting her decision. My daughter had a lot of adjustments to make and it was easier for her to handle that without the pressure of being torn between two worlds. Also, I’d offer to send the grandmother pictures and updates unless the caseworkers don’t want you to.”

“Rather than describing it as ‘their decision,’ it might be kinder to say to the grandmother that, ‘on the advice of the professionals, we are giving the girls some time to settle in. I will mail you some pictures.’ After all, you promised contact, not the kids. For their part, the girls may feel you’d be angry if they asked to see her. You could say something like, ‘I am going to see Grandma to deliver some pictures. Do you want to go with me?’ or ‘I am sending Grandma some pictures. Anyone want to draw a picture for her or help me choose some photos?’ Just because they were neglected doesn’t mean they don’t love her. They were there a long time.”

“For the most part, I let my daughter (age seven) set the amount of contact, and her wishes vary. She will go through periods when she is starved for info about her birth family and asks to call constantly, then will go long stretches when she doesn’t seem interested one way or another, and occasionally will refuse to talk to them or look at anything they send. So, don’t be surprised if their feelings change with time. It’s always difficult explaining to my daughter’s birth family during the times when she wants no contact. I’ve told them that sometimes she needs some distance to process her feelings about adoption, but her birth relatives didn’t really seem to accept that. The next time I said, ‘S is so moody—sometimes she gets so chatty and wants to call everyone, but sometimes I just can’t get her on the phone at all.’ This seemed to go over a bit better. Even so, I still think they believe I’m preventing her from talking to them, which is probably less hurtful than to think she doesn’t want to talk to them. For now, I second ‘blaming’ it on the ‘adoption professionals’ who have said the girls need time to adjust, and sending your own letters and pictures.”


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