When you’re an adoptee, your birth family can be an important part of your history and your identity. But, if you’re like many older adoptees, you had no access to this information in a closed adoption.
So, what if after days, weeks or months of searching, you’ve finally found your birth family? What do you do next?
Reaching out to birth family — especially if you’ve never had contact before — is a big step. You may not know how to do it properly and respectfully. You may not be sure you want to do it at all.
This blog’s for you. We’ve got seven tips to help you take the next step.
1. Know that you don’t have to make a decision right now.
Whatever you’re feeling about locating your birth parents, it’s completely OK. Finding your birth parents is a big deal for some and not so much for others. That’s totally normal — just like it’s totally normal to not know what to do yet.
You don’t have to decide what to do right now. Adoption is a lifelong journey, and you’ve probably had conflicting feelings about yours as you’ve grown up. Your feelings may continue to change in the future, too. It may take you years to decide you’re ready to reach out!
Whatever you decide today — whether that’s to start a birth family relationship or not — doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t change your mind in the future. Be comfortable with that knowledge.
2. Take it slow.
If you’re unsure about having a full-blown relationship with your birth family, start with something simple.
For example, if you connected with them on Facebook, send a short message every month to tell them a little about you and what’s going on in your life. If your birth family tries to advance the relationship faster than you want, don’t be afraid to decline and express your current preferences. Above all else, set contact boundaries that you are comfortable with — and stand by them.
Don’t forget to re-evaluate your feelings every few months. They’ll tell you whether you’re ready for a deeper birth family relationship.
3. Recognize that contact will change over time.
People today have busy lives. You and your birth family are no exception. After the excitement of the initial contact, you may find that frequency of contact drops off.
This doesn’t mean that your birth family has lost interest in you. Instead, life just got in the way. Busy schedules, work and children can change up priorities.
Don’t take it personally if your messages go unseen or meetings get postponed. Remember: Your birth family members are likely dealing with the same conflicting emotions as you.
4. Don’t overpromise.
Temper your birth family’s expectations. It can be flattering and exciting to hear birth family is excited to know you, but don’t promise a relationship you’re not ready for. If you don’t want an in-person relationship yet, you don’t have to commit to one, even if birth family members ask for it.
Relationships have two sides, and they can only work when both participants are on the same page. Don’t let yourself get pressured into contact you’re not ready for; your birth family should understand and give you the time you need to work out what’s best for you.
5. Manage your expectations.
On the same note, remember that not every birth family member will have the same contact preferences as you. Make sure to respect their wishes, too.
Adoptee and birth family relationships can be complicated. There’s often trauma and history between triad members, and it can manifest in unexpected ways. Be prepared for challenges to arise as you establish your relationship.
While there are plenty of positive open adoption relationships out there, they take a lot of time and respect to develop. Your relationship with your birth family likely won’t be picture-perfect right away. Manage your expectations from the start, and you’ll be less likely to get hurt when things don’t go as planned.
6. Seek out additional support.
Finding birth family can be a shock to adoptees, even those who have grown up in a happy and supportive home. Trauma and difficult emotions may re-emerge, and you may have trouble identifying and coping with them.
It’s never a bad idea to ask for help. Adoption-competent therapists can guide you through what you’re feeling now and what you may feel if you pursue a reunion. These therapists have experience in adoption reunions and can help you process your conflicting emotions.
They can also provide suggestions and advice for moving forward with your reunion healthily and safely.
7. Remember there’s no “wrong” or “right” way to be an adoptee.
Every adoptee is different. Some create long-lasting, intimate relationships with their birth family, while others are satisfied with knowing basic health and background history.
Whatever you decide, make sure it’s right for you. Give yourself grace as you navigate this new unknown. Don’t let anyone tell you what kind of contact you “should” have with birth parents. At the end of this day, this is your relationship and your life.