Visiting with Birth Parents

Our open adoption expert explains how to transition from letters and phone calls to visits with birth parents after adoption.

Understanding contact with birth parents after adoption

Although both parties might be nervous before the first face-to-face meeting, you already have established a caring relationship through phone calls and email. It will be easier than you think to take the next step. After all, you share a common and powerful connection (the love of your child), and, over the past three years, you have learned to care about and trust one another.

I’ve worked with many parents who say that the fears they had prior to adoption, or early in the placement, soon disappeared. You may have perceived the birth mother as a threat to your family. Once you realize that you are the parents, you don’t feel threatened by her.

With ongoing visits, the birth mother is part of your extended family. Children see it as normal to have contact with birth parents after adoption and visits, as they do with other family members. If your son’s birth mother is a presence in his life, he will understand adoption, now and in the future, and appreciate the love that went into his birth mother’s decision.

First-Meeting Guidelines

Your first meeting could be either in the birth mother’s community or in your home, depending on what seems best for all of you. The advantage of inviting the birth mother to your home is the opportunity for her to see your child in his own environment and to see him as part of your family. It also sends the message to your child that, when his birth mother comes to visit, he stays where he is — reinforcing the permanence of your family.

For the first visit I recommend seeing the birth parent(s) only, not extended family. Start slowly. A subsequent visit may include relatives (yours and/or the birth mother’s), if desired.

It’s also a good idea to establish ahead of time how long the visit will be. For example, you can tell the birth mother that you would love for her to come for lunch and spend the afternoon with you. That lets her know that this is not an all-day visit. Again, start slowly. After you feel comfortable with one another, a future visit might be longer or might include an overnight stay.

If the birth mother lives far away or is flying a long distance to meet with you, a longer visit makes more sense. In that case, she could come for the weekend and spend part of each day with you. You could suggest or arrange tourist activities for her for the time you are not together. However, if you feel comfortable with her at the beginning of the weekend, you might decide to alter the plan to include more contact.

Talking With Your Child

You have probably talked with your child about adoption and his birth parents. This is a good opportunity to bring up the subject again, and talk about the fact that he grew in his birth mother’s tummy. It’s best to call the birth mother by her first name and to state that she is his birth mother. You can introduce her by saying, “This is your birth mother, Marsha. You grew in her tummy.” At your son’s age, the questions and discussions probably won’t go beyond those facts.

Before the visit, explain to your child that his birth mother will be coming to visit, and ask him for suggestions of things to do while she is there. He might want to take her to your local park. You do not need to ask his “permission” for her visit, just as you don’t ask his permission for grandparents and other relatives to visit. Mention the upcoming visit in a natural, matter-of-fact way.

Sending Clear Signals

Well-meaning friends or relatives may warn you against visits, saying that it will be confusing to your child to have “two mothers.” Kids are smarter than that! They know who Mom and Dad are — they are the people who are there every day. Children can also understand that they have caring family members who come to visit occasionally, including birth parents.

One mom, Debbie, recently talked with me about their ongoing relationship with 16-year-old Shannon’s birth family. Shannon’s birth parents are both married (to other people), and Shannon has gotten to know both birth families over the years, through visits once or twice a year, sometimes including overnight stays.

Debbie said that Shannon has always thought of her birth families as relatives. That is what open adoption is all about – accepting the birth family into your life as relatives, as people related to your child!

You will be glad that you chose to take the step to fully open the adoption, and your child will be the beneficiary of this evolution in your relationship.


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