Whether your relationship with your birth child is relatively new or you’ve always shared an open adoption, this relationship is incredibly important — for both of you!
However, if you’re reluctant to pursue the relationship, you’re not alone.
Some birth parents worry that an existing relationship is causing both parties more harm than good. Others who are suddenly faced with a new option to have a relationship with a birth child are concerned that it’ll be too much to emotionally handle.
Sometimes, birth parents do find themselves wishing for a little more space from their birth child, and then they feel guilty having even felt that desire in the first place. They think, “So many birth parents would jump at this chance. What’s wrong with me?”
This is a complex dilemma for birth parents, but you’re not the first — or the last — to experience it.
So, how do you balance your needs with the needs of your birth child? Here are some things to keep in mind:
All Feelings Are Valid and Deserve Respect
First things first: Never feel guilty for your own emotions. You are entitled to your feelings, and your birth child is equally entitled to their own. But if those feelings and needs are at odds, it can be stressful.
As a birth parent, you understand that you are an important part of your biological child’s life (and they’re an important part of yours!). You may feel:
- Responsible for your birth child’s happiness.
- Fear of what your birth child thinks of you.
- Worry that you’ll somehow disappoint them or let them down.
- Guilty if you think you’re unable to offer the relationship your birth child desires.
- Resurfacing guilt regarding the adoption placement.
- Grateful to have the opportunity to have a relationship with your birth child, as many birth parents do not.
- Overwhelmed by the idea of maintaining these relationships.
Is some of what you’re experiencing related to unresolved feelings regarding the adoption? What aspects of your current situation are causing stress, and what aspects are fulfilling for you?
Take some time to try to name whatever you’re feeling. It could be a combination of things, but try to isolate those feelings and identify them. Then, ask yourself why you might be feeling this way. It often helps to write this process down.
There Are No “Supposed To”s
There aren’t any “rules” for open adoption, because every birth parent-child relationship is as unique as the people within it. If you’ve been comparing yourself to someone else’s adoption relationship, now is the time to stop.
Every time you catch yourself thinking that you “should” or are “supposed to” feel or do something in regards to your adoption relationship, pause for a moment. Ask yourself: Why do you feel that way? Why don’t you want to do that thing that you “should” or are “supposed to” do? Try to identify those underlying emotions, and then reflect on why you’re feeling them.
If you’re able to address those emotions, you’ll better understand why you’re feeling emotionally strained by your relationship with your birth child. That understanding will hopefully help you overcome those roadblocks.
Ideally, you’ll be able to let go of the “should,” and you’ll instead “want to.” But ultimately, if something is only causing you emotional harm, it’s probably time to set some boundaries.
Talking to Your Birth Child About Your Feelings Is Always Best
In some scenarios where birth parents feel unable to cope with complex or overwhelming emotions, they pull away from their birth child, often without explanation. However, this can be devastating to adoptees.
If you’re worried that the stress you feel regarding your relationship isn’t resolving itself, it may be time to have a conversation with your birth child. Talking through your feelings without assigning any kind of blame is one of the best ways to ensure that everyone’s needs are met, as well as prevent miscommunication.
The solutions that you may mutually arrive at will look different for everyone, but could include:
- Establishing a schedule for communication that suits you both (e.g. a phone call once a month, a visit once a year, etc.)
- Taking a break from communication.
- Setting new boundaries.
- Only as a last resort after serious attempts to work through problems, deciding to no longer be a part of each other’s lives.
Yes, you risk hurting your birth child’s feelings by expressing your discomfort. But, giving them the opportunity to understand your emotional state is far better than quietly removing yourself from their life. If your birth child is able to understand what you’re thinking and feeling, you can hopefully work together to change aspects of the relationship, so that you’re both comfortable.
Remember: If you decide to talk to your birth child about what you’ve been struggling with, make sure that you give them the opportunity to talk about their needs and feelings. Their feelings are just as valid as yours and deserve your consideration as you move forward.
You may benefit from talking to other birth parents, to adoptees or even to an adoption counselor. Asking for advice is always a good place to start!
The relationship with your birth child is worth time, attention and care. Any relationship needs those things in order to thrive! We encourage you to continue to find that balance between your needs and the needs of your birth child, so that you can both benefit.