Just like any family relationship, managing the one that you share with your birth parents can sometimes be delicate and complicated, but also rewarding. Not all adoptees have a relationship with their birth parents. Not all adoptees want a relationship with their birth parents. But for those that do, this guide to birth parent relationships may be useful.
For Adoptees of Closed Adoptions (Post-Reunion)
The relationship that you have with your birth parents following search and reunion is likely still new, and you’re probably still trying to figure out where you fit into each other’s lives. This is an exciting time for both of you, but it can be a little confusing, too. Here are a couple ways that adoptees of closed adoptions are often uniquely affected when developing a relationship with birth parents with whom they’ve recently reunited:
Getting to Know Birth Parents After Reunion
Navigating the search and reunion process is tricky, but for many adoptees, the emotional minefield doesn’t end with reunion. Figuring out this new relationship with your birth parent(s) can be difficult for everyone involved, so use care and take things one step at a time.
You’re strangers, but you share a very significant connection. Making sense of that and then moving forward to build a positive relationship together can take time and work from both parties. After the initial meeting in a successful reunion, there is often a “honeymoon stage,” where both parties are on an emotional high from the reunion. After this stage, it can take a while for the information you’ve learned about each other to sink in. Once you’ve let everything process, you’ll likely be in a better place to come up with plans to see each other with more regularity, depending on how comfortable you both feel. This stage of processing, simply put, takes as much time as it takes… so both parties must remain patient and understanding.
Establishing boundaries with your birth parents may sound counterintuitive — as an adoptee of a closed adoption, you may be eager to have them in your life again. But creating personal boundaries is often healthy for everyone, and it can help you to foster mutual respect early in your relationship. Once you’ve clearly communicated boundaries that you feel are appropriate for you, you’ll be able to get to know each other without worrying about accidentally crossing into emotionally complicated territory that you’re not comfortable with.
When One or Both of You Wants to Change the Amount of Contact
Change is a normal part of any relationship. Over time, one or both of you may find that you want to change how often you see one another. Hopefully, you’ll both be on the same page about that decision.
This is a new situation to both of you, so change is likely to happen in some form. As you come to know one another better, you may find that you’re comfortable with the relationship and that you’d like to see each other more frequently. Or, you may find that you’re confident in the relationship, but you don’t need to see one another as often and you’d like to pull back a little. Sometimes the birth parent becomes overwhelmed and pulls away. In some cases, the reunion relationship isn’t going to progress any further, and contact is ultimately ceased.
As the adoptee, particularly coming from a closed adoption, you’ll typically be the one to take lead on contact and communication. Do what feels comfortable for you, and remember that things can continue to change and evolve over time. You’re not obligated to have a fantasy version of a reunion — it’s ok to need more space or take more time. Each person’s relationship with their birth parents will look different.
For Adoptees of Open Adoptions
As an adoptee in an open adoption, you already have some sort of relationship with your birth parents, and maybe other members of your birth family, too, like biological siblings or grandparents. But as you grow, those relationships will evolve. Here are a few ways that open adoptees are often affected in their relationships with their birth parents:
Maintaining a Relationship into Adulthood
Growing up in an open adoption, your (adoptive) parents took the lead in how much you saw your birth parents. Now that you’re an adult, your relationship with your birth parents is your responsibility. You can decide what that relationship looks like for yourself.
Some of the key aspects of maintaining any positive family relationship are applicable to your relationship with your birth parents. You’ll both need to put in effort to:
- Keep your promises to one another. Whether that’s being on time for dinners together, or calling on birthdays, be sure to follow through if you promise something in order to have mutual trust.
- Spend quality time one-on-one. It can be great when extended adoptive and birth families all join in, but having some individual time together will help you get to know one another better now that you’re an adult.
- Be honest and open. It’s not always easy, but communicating your needs, boundaries, and feelings will help you get closer and prevent hurt caused by simple misunderstanding. When one person communicates something, the other needs to try to understand and respect that rather than taking it personally.
Again, any family relationship requires effort from both parties to succeed. And there are sometimes rough patches. But as long as the majority of interactions with your birth parents remain positive, the effort to maintain that relationship is worth it.
When One or Both of You Wants to Change the Amount of Contact
Even if you’ve had a relationship with your birth parents your entire life, that relationship probably hasn’t always had precisely the same amount of contact. All family relationships continuously evolve, so it’s ok to make communication changes as needed.
However, remember that whatever amount you do communicate, staying consistent and following through on promises will prevent hurt feelings and foster a greater trust between you.
If only one person wants to increase or decrease the amount of contact you share, it can be uncomfortable. But staying honest, understanding and forgiving is important for the health of any family. Respect one another’s boundaries and need for space. Remember that the amount of contact you share right now will probably also change throughout the years, and that your birth parents will always love you, no matter how much you see each other.
For Most Adoptees, the Effort to Have a Positive Relationship is Worthwhile
An adoptee’s relationship with their birth parents is a very individualized experience. No two situations are alike. Many relationships between adoptees, birth families and adoptive families are overwhelmingly positive and easy. Others are difficult, even toxic, or dissolve. Most, like any typical family relationship, will fall somewhere in the middle. You’ll likely have some ups and downs.
For most adoptees, the opportunity to try to have strong relationships with all branches of their family tree is a rewarding experience, overall. You can find more support and resources for that journey here.