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How to Handle Changes in Contact with Your Birth Family

Change is a normal part of any relationship, including between adult adoptees and their birth family. That doesn’t always make it easy.

If you want to increase or decrease the amount of contact you have with your birth family, or your birth family wants to increase or decrease the amount of contact you share, this guide may help:

For Closed Adoptees (Post-Reunion)

Ever since you’ve been reunited with your birth family and you’ve forged a relationship with them, it’s likely taken you both some time to figure out your place in each other’s lives and how to communicate comfortably. But when things have settled down some, you may find that you wish to change the amount of contact that you currently have with your birth family. This can happen for a number of reasons following a reunion. You may feel more comfortable with one another and you think you’re ready to ask for more frequent contact, or you may find that you’ve gotten everything you needed out of the reunion or that the relationship isn’t going well, and you’d like to decrease contact.

For Open Adoptees

When you were young, communication and/or visits were handled by your parents and your birth parents. As an adult, you have the right to decide how often you communicate with your birth family, and in what way. This may mean that you’d like to change the amount of contact you have with your birth family to suit your changing emotional needs in adulthood. Your relationship with your adoption experiences will change over time. Relationships with people also evolve over time, and so will your relationship with your birth family.

Talking with Your Birth Family About Your Needs

If you feel like you need to change how much you’re in touch with your birth family, communicating that to them can be awkward. Some adoptees feel:

  • Afraid that their birth family will reject them
  • Guilty about potentially hurting the feelings of their birth or adoptive parents
  • Vulnerable about opening up to new people in their life
  • Frustrated if their birth family has been repeatedly crossing boundaries or has been absent

However, talking to your birth family clearly and honestly about what you need will prevent misunderstandings and will keep resentment from building between you. As the adoptee, it’s generally recognized that you take lead in the amount of contact in the relationship. But that doesn’t mean that your birth family can or should do anything beyond what they’re comfortable or capable of doing.

Hopefully, your birth family will understand and respect your needs, and will oblige your request to change the amount contact you share. They may, however, disagree with your request.

If Your Birth Family Wants More Contact than You Do

Whether you’ve approached your birth family and requested to decrease contact, or your birth family has approached you about increasing how often you see one another, sometimes you’re not on the same page and everyone is a little uncomfortable.

This can be hard for adoptees. You love your birth family, but you may not feel emotionally able to give them the relationship that they’re seeking from you.

Your first step should be, very simply, to let them know how you feel, as kindly as possible. Fortunately, for most situations, this is enough to resolve the issue of misunderstanding and heightened emotions, and your birth family will honor your decision, even if their feelings are hurt.

In some extreme situations, those heightened emotions can lead to a more toxic environment. If your birth family repeatedly crosses boundaries that you’ve communicated to them, and you begin to only have negative experiences with them, then it may be time to reevaluate their presence in your life or to cease contact entirely. You always have a right to happiness and safety, regardless of family ties.

If Your Birth Family Wants Less Contact than You Do

This can range from awkward to painful. For adoptees who want more contact with their birth families, but their birth families don’t want the same, this can feel like a secondary rejection.

It’s important that you respect the emotional needs and boundaries of your birth family, just as you would want them to do for you. Pushing for more contact if they need space and time would only damage your relationship. Even if you’re hurt by their absence, try to understand where they may be coming from. Remember that your birth family is dealing with their own adoption-related pain, and that their need to pull away is not your fault. There may also be a number of circumstances in their own life entirely unrelated to adoption, and they need to focus their energy on that right now.

Also remember that family relationships are constantly changing. The amount of contact you have with your birth family right now may not always be the type of relationship you share.

Outside Perspective Can Help

If you’re unsure of whether or not you’d like to change the contact you have with your birth family, or if you’re struggling with the amount of contact you currently have, talking about it with others can be helpful. Turn to your (adoptive) family, your friends, mentors, other adoptees who may have shared similar experiences, or a professional counselor who has experience with adoption relationships.

A few things that are worth reiterating:

  • Relationships in any family are always changing, and it’s ok to let your relationship with your birth family evolve over time to suit everyone’s emotional needs.
  • Your adoptive family loves you, even if contact with your birth family increases.
  • Your birth family loves you, even if contact with them decreases.
  • If your birth family decreases contact with you, it’s not your fault — they’re dealing with pain in their own life.
  • If your birth family wants to increase contact with you and you’re not comfortable with that, it’s ok for you to set boundaries for yourself.

The relationship that you share with your birth family is a valuable one. Additional support may help you maintain that relationship so that you can all emotionally benefit.