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Navigating Your Post-Reunion Relationships with Birth Family

After what may have required years of searching, you’ve found your birth family. Navigating post-reunion relationships as an adult adoptee can be tricky. Here’s what you should know:

You’ve Found Your Birth Family… Now What?

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel about reuniting with your birth family. Families are always complicated, whether they’re biologically connected or not. And your family just got bigger! This is probably a lot to process, and you’re not sure what happens next.

Some adoptee-birth family relationships come easily and thrive. Others just don’t work out. Some relationships dissolve or even become toxic. Like all relationships, the one you share with your birth family will require work on both sides in order to succeed.

Here are three simplified steps for navigating often complicated post-adoption reunion relationships with your birth family:

Step 1: Establish Expectations

What are you hoping for? What are your boundaries? Address these early on, either before or immediately when an issue arises. You may each have different expectations for your post-reunion relationship, and you both may need to compromise a little, so be prepared for that possibility.

Step 2: Communicate Openly and Honestly

If you feel that a boundary is being crossed, if you need your birth family member to be more or less of a presence in your life, or if any other issue arises, bring it up. When you do talk, always do so with kindness.

Step 3: Keep Your Promises

Both parties will need to keep their promises. This means that if you call them every year on their birthday, stick to it. If you promise to meet for lunch, be there on time. A good relationship is built on trust. When adoption is involved, there may be additional trust issues to deal with, so everyone must work to keep their word.

Of course, every relationship is going to be unique and complex. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid as you move forward into this new territory:

This Goes Beyond You and Your Birth Parents

(Adoptive) parents, spouses, children, birth parents’ family, siblings, grandchildren and other family members— both adoptive and biological, can all be affected by this reunion. To an extent, you’re integrating each other’s lives together, where they were once quite separate. Everyone will need to be prepared for this change and consider who they want to include in their reunion and at what point.

That being said, priority should always be given to you and the birth family member you’re focusing on connecting with. Before you start planning the world’s biggest family picnic of both your birth and adoptive families, it’s important that you establish your relationship with your birth family member, one-on-one. Spend some private time just talking and getting to know one another before you start adding in other family members.

Additionally, the reunion process may feel overwhelming to some parties on any side of the adoption triad if it happens all at once, so be patient and focus on one new relationship at a time. Some adoptees and their birth families prefer to completely limit their reunion to just themselves or a couple other key people.

This is entirely up to you and what you’re all comfortable with.

If Any of Your New Relationships Become Toxic, Take Appropriate Steps

Unfortunately, some adoption reunions aren’t what one or both parties were hoping for. For some, the heightened emotions associated with the adoption, the search and then the reunion can carry over and create an unhealthy relationship. There may be lingering pain, guilt, shame or other difficult emotions that have gone unresolved and can create struggles between you.

This may express itself as one person being emotionally or verbally cruel, or as someone continually crossing the boundaries that were established.

Toxic family relationships can exist in any family, regardless of biological ties. And just like any relationship, extremely unhealthy ones may require that you distance yourself or remove yourself from the situation entirely. If, after time, you’ve found that the two of you can’t work through your issues to improve your relationship, then you may need to protect yourself from further emotional harm. This is a difficult decision, but in some situations, a necessary one.

Practice Good Relationship Habits

Figuring out your post-reunion relationship with your birth family can occasionally be a little weird, but give it some time. If everyone involved can put in the effort to practice the building blocks of any positive family relationship, then you’ll enjoy a stronger relationship. This includes:

  • Respecting one another.

    Your points of view, your boundaries, your need to take things at your individual paces, your time and your differences.

  • Forgiving each other.

    If either party harbors any resentments toward the other, adoption-related or not, try to let it go or talk through your grievances.

  • Communicating.

    Talk about what you need and be receptive to the other person’s needs.

  • Expressing positivity.

    Show affection, support and appreciation often in whatever way you feel is appropriate for your situation.

Again, like any relationship, your post-reunion relationship with your birth family may take a little work. But for many adoptees, that effort is worth getting to know the biological side of their family and enjoying a positive relationship with their birth family.