In an ideal world, every adopted child will have full access to their birth family and personal history. Research has shown how beneficial this information and birth family contact is.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Many times, adoptees and adoptive parents have one birth parent contact — a birth mother — from who they can learn about the adoptee’s history.
There are lots of complicated topics to talk to a birth mother about but, for this article, we’re going to focus on one in particular: the birth father.
Whether a child’s birth father is absent, unknown or uninvolved in their life, he’s still an important figure. But how can you get answers to your child’s questions without invading a birth mother’s privacy?
We’ve got a few tips for you below. However, remember that your best source about your child’s adoption story will be your adoption professional. When in doubt, reach out to them for help.
A note: Even though this article will focus on talking to a birth mother about a birth father, these tips can apply to any tricky conversations about birth family history.
Let her lead the conversation.
Adoptive parents should never initiate a conversation about a birth father. The last thing you want to do is catch a birth mother off guard or talk about something she’s not ready to.
When you develop a genuine relationship with your child’s birth mother, she’ll often bring up the birth father on her own. That will be your opening. Be gentle and follow her lead; ask questions about him only if she seems open to talking.
You may or may not know much about their relationship, and you don’t want to say the wrong thing. Patience will serve you well in getting the answers you want.
Identify appropriate questions.
When asking about your child’s birth father, use open-ended questions. Refrain from any accusatory or invasive questions (more on those below) that can you put your child’s birth mother on guard.
Simple questions like these are great:
- What was/is my child’s birth father like?
- What do you want your child to know about their birth father?
These questions allow a birth mother to share what she is comfortable with, without feeling judged for any past relationships and challenges.
Explore your other options.
If a birth mother can’t provide the information your child wants, remember that you’re not at a dead end. There are more options than ever to help your child understand their history.
When your child is ready, you can help them sign up for DNA and ancestry registries. These services can help them learn more about their racial and ethnic history, as well as connect them to other birth relatives they may not know about.
Reach out to your adoption professional.
Sometimes, the questions you have are a little too tricky to ask a birth mother. What can you do if your child wants to know some details the birth mother doesn’t want to share?
This is an extremely common situation for adoptive parents. Your adoption professional has seen it all before, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help. They can provide more suggestions for broaching this subject, as well as advice for answering your child’s questions. In some cases, they may even approach your child’s birth mother on your behalf.
Bombard her with questions.
Birth fathers are sensitive topics. The last thing you should do is make a birth mother feel uncomfortable. Take care not to ask the same questions over and over again as your child grows up; write down any important info to refer back to later. Give a birth mother the space and time she needs to share details in her own way.
You should also avoid insensitive, probing questions like:
- What happened to the birth father? Do you know where he is now?
- Have you spoken to him recently?
- Why wasn’t he involved in the adoption?
- Why doesn’t he want a relationship with his birth child?
Speak negatively about other birth family members.
On your journey to adopt, you may have discovered background information from medical documents, your foster care caseworker, or your adoption specialist. A birth mother may not know you have this information. It may surprise her to learn you know so much about her personal history — and it may cause her to shut down, rather than share more helpful information with you.
No matter how much information you have about your child’s background, remember that you may not have the whole story. Badmouthing other birth family members can quickly backfire, especially if a birth mother has a complicated relationship with or has made up with those individuals.
Refrain from speaking negatively about birth family in front of your adopted child, too. They are still important members of your child’s family. Your child deserves to form their own opinion of their birth family in their own time.
Every adoption situation is unique, and so is every birth parent. A birth mother has the right to feel however she wants about the baby’s birth father and his involvement in the adoption. Don’t assume that she shares the same views as you — and don’t assume that she wants to talk about him, even if you think it’s best for your child.
At the same time, don’t make assumptions about your child’s birth family. There’s only so much you can learn from social and medical history sheets; that doesn’t tell the whole story about who your child’s birth father is. Remember that people can change over time. Who your child’s birth father was at the time of their adoption may not be who they are today.
You owe it to your child and your child’s birth mother to always be open-minded and accepting during these conversations.
Talking to a birth mother about a birth father can be difficult but, with proper preparation, it can be done. Be realistic about your expectations and put yourself in your child’s birth mother’s shoes. As always, if you’re struggling with this topic, talk to your adoption professional or an adoption-competent therapist.