Q: I recently found out that my teen is friends with his birth mother on Facebook. I have no idea how she found him, and am upset that she didn’t try to contact us or the adoption agency first. I looked at her page and see that she’s been posting about him, saying she’s “so happy she has (his birth name) back in her life now.” I feel a little badly that I found this out by “snooping,” but am also shocked and hurt by this and don’t know how to proceed. We have always been open about his adoption and birth parents, but he has never seemed that curious.
A: It’s understandable that you would be shocked and hurt by this news. It’s a confusing situation that lends itself to more questions—who made the first contact? Was your son planning to tell you about it? How long has this been going on and why didn’t his biological mom go through the usual channels? Was that just an oversight or is she hiding something?
Teens in general can be squirrelly when it comes to answering questions, but especially when it pertains to this topic. Your son’s feelings about his biological mom are complex and difficult to put to words.
As with so many issues, the way you approach your son about this depends somewhat on his age. If he’s an older teen, it would make sense to apologize for snooping and respectfully express interest in how it unfolded. If he’s on the younger end, the emphasis is different. It makes sense to do less apologizing and make clear that he needs to keep you in the loop. If he’s not much of a talker, he may clam up under pressure. If and when that happens, don’t feel like you have to get all of the info right away. As an example, you might say something like, “This is something we need to talk about, so let’s touch base after dinner.”
Try to manage your hurt and angry feelings when talking with your son. Despite his own complicated feelings, he may feel protective of his birth mom and take personally any criticisms or judgments. After all, as a teen, he’s in the throes of trying to figure out who he is and he sees her as a part of his identity. She plays a role in that, contact or not.
If and how you approach his birth mom depends in part on what your relationship has been like. Has she been generally responsive and reliable? Has she been respectful of your boundaries and requests? If you are apprehensive about her motives, it may make sense to contact the agency first. But, if you trust that she has your son’s best interests at heart and is willing to collaborate with you, you might consider approaching her directly—perhaps send an email asking her to get in touch.
No matter how positive the relationship between biological and adoptive parent, these interactions can be emotionally charged. If you son’s biological mother feels that you are judging or criticizing, she may become defensive and hostile. Of course, you don’t have control over her response. But, you can set a tone of respect and collaboration, for your son’s sake. You might write something like, “Hi ___, I understand that you and ___ have reconnected via Facebook. Would it be possible to keep me in the loop? I respect that you have a separate relationship with him, but it would still help me to stay up to date.”
While these situations can be stressful and confusing, they’re also an opportunity to connect with your son in ways that hadn’t previously been possible!
—KATIE NAFTZGER, LICSW,
works with adoptive parents and adoptees through the life cycle in a private psychotherapy practice in Newton, Massachusetts, and speaks nationally about adoption, race, and parenting. In her professional work, she draws on her personal experience as an adult transracial adoptee. Naftzger is the author of works with adoptive parents and adoptees through the life cycle in a private psychotherapy practice in Newton, Massachusetts, and speaks nationally about adoption, race, and parenting. In her professional work, she draws on her personal experience as an adult transracial adoptee. Naftzger is the author of Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.
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