For those who have adopted a child, Father’s Day is often a celebration a long time in the making. Adoptive fathers may have waited years or months to have a child of their own, and Father’s Day reminds them of the wonderful journey that helped them achieve their parenthood dreams.
However, there’s commonly another, often overlooked, aspect of Father’s Day for adoptees: their birth father. While it’s not the case in all adoptions, in many cases, adoptees may not have a close ongoing relationship with their birth father — or even know anything about this man at all.
If your child is in this position, Father’s Day is bound to bring up questions that you may not know how to answer. How can you address an absent birth father on this important day?
Because every adoption situation is different, it’s important that you speak with your adoption professional for advice and think hard about how you can address this sensitive topic. In the meantime, here are some tips to keep in mind to prepare for this unique situation.
1. Always be honest.
There are many reasons a birth father may not have been involved in a child’s adoption and subsequent open adoption relationship. They may have been unsupportive of the adoption, could not be contacted or were unknown, or recused themselves from the adoption process after signing over their parental rights. Whatever the situation may be, it’s important that an adoptee understand the truth, as long as it’s age-appropriate.
Creating stories, as much as they may make a child feel better, is counterproductive and can be harmful. Imagine a child growing up believing their birth father to one thing — and then discovering later they are not. As difficult as it can be, honesty is always the best policy when discussing birth fathers, especially those who are uninvolved.
2. Remind your child that DNA is not the only way to make a family.
When children start working on Father’s Day crafts at school and extracurricular activities, it’s common for these crafts to focus on genetics — even though the number of nontraditional families in the U.S. continues to grow. Therefore, it’s a good idea to speak with your child’s teacher about their situation well before to suggest alternative activities.
That said, it’s normal for your child to have questions about their birth father’s impact on who they are, including their physical appearance. While you don’t want to completely downplay this importance, you’ll want to continue emphasizing to your child that genetics is not the only thing that makes a family — love is.
Explain that, yes, their birth father may have given them their eye color and height, but families today are created out of many people who don’t look the same. Ask them about any peers with blended families, stepparents or stepsiblings, LGBT parents or other adoptees like themselves. Help them recognize that looks are not the thing to focus on when it comes to family. Instead, emphasize that love makes your family — and you will always be there for them, no matter your genetic connection. This knowledge can alleviate some of an adoptee’s fears about abandonment stemming from their birth father situation.
3. Suggest ways to celebrate an absent birth father.
Even if a birth father is not actively involved in an adoptee’s life, they are still an important part of a child’s history and identity. Therefore, many adoptive parents choose to celebrate birth fathers on Father’s Day to commemorate that importance.
Adoptees may find solace in writing a letter to their birth father, even if he will never see it. This way, they can express their feelings about their birth father on this important day, rather than suppress those emotions. You may also choose to celebrate the birth father in another way, like planting a tree or flowers, or giving back to a local charity dealing with children and families.
Instead of focusing on the role a birth father is not playing in a child’s life, focus on the positive roles a birth father does play. He gave his child life — and not only life but a life with parents who were prepared to give his child the best opportunities they could. It was a brave, selfless decision that deserves to be celebrated on this important day.
Remember, if you ever have concerns about talking to your child about their birth father, contact your adoption professional or a local adoption support group for more tips and guidance.