Building a meaningful and safe relationship with your child’s birth parents can be a complicated experience. Your child may face broken promises, hurt feelings, and many questions about their birth parents’ behaviors. These challenges create complex feelings and further questions for you and your child. When navigating sticky situations with your child’s birth parents, keeping the child’s best interests at the core of your intentions is crucial.

5 Tips for Navigating Sticky Situations with Birth Parents

Whether you would characterize this as an open adoption or not, you will likely encounter obstacles to clear communication or peaceful interactions with your child’s birth parents. Every relationship has its bumps and bungles. This relationship with these birth parents is no different. These tips can help you navigate sticky situations with birth parents.

1. Set connection and openness as your priority.

Your child’s birth parents are in their DNA. They are part of this child’s origin story and are likely in their thoughts, even if your child can’t vocalize that to you. Your child can benefit from having some relationship with them. However, it’s not always as straightforward as regular visits or phone calls, right?

Your priority is establishing a consistent, safe connection with your child and a willingness to be open and talk with them about their birth family. When you allow space for your child to wonder and ask questions about their story, you honor them as a person. You are setting the foundational message that you are present with them for joy, sadness, confusion, disappointment, and other BIG feelings.

Your presence and safety will help them integrate their story’s pieces into their identity. You can further support them by co-regulating and teaching self-regulation skills to help them cope and make sense of the process.

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2. Process your feelings about the birth parents.

You may have your own BIG feelings about your child’s birth family – and that’s okay. Develop a habit of examining your feelings when they arise. Identify and analyze your anger, frustration, jealousy, or sense of superiority. Consider how your unresolved feelings could impact your decisions about the relationship between your child and their birth parents. Be careful not to use your feelings about their behaviors as an excuse to deny your child any relationship with their birth family.

We hear from many adoptive parents that they find it easier to accomplish when participating in a support group, educating themselves, and surrounding themselves with other experienced members of the adoption community.

3. Set healthy boundaries.

Of course, your child’s safety is your priority. However, there is likely still room for some contact, even if their birth parents are facing difficulties like substance abuse disorder. Your key to safe, healthy boundaries to protect your child and yet allow connection will be to control what you can and let go of what you cannot. 

Please think of the relationship between your child and their birth family like this: you are a screen door. Your job is to allow in those things you want while leaving out other issues that won’t serve your child well. You can protect your child by having safeguards for contact, for example. Establish the times, locations, duration, and conditions of your child’s contact with their birth parents and hold to them consistently. You may need to listen during parent visits and phone calls if conversations have been unsafe or unrealistic promises are being made.

Consider a private conversation with your child’s birth parents about how their actions impact your child. Empower them to improve the relationship by enlisting their help to develop creative solutions to challenges in this relationship. Finally, consider how to prepare for disappointments and always have a Plan B for your child when things go awry.

4. Welcome your child’s birth parents.

Sometimes, your child’s birth family doesn’t want in-person contact. Be understanding of their feelings and try to leave the option open for them. In the meantime, please help your child accept this is how it is for now. Let them know that it might not always be like this, and you will hope with them for a change in the future.

When you are in contact with your child’s birth parents, show them respect, compassion, and empathy. Be understanding of their challenges and complicated feelings around contact with your family. If nothing else, you are showing your child that everyone is worthy of love and forgiveness, even when they make mistakes. 

Even without regular, direct contact, please help your child understand that the relationship with their birth parents still exists and is valued. You can support this by making space to be curious together and talking with your child about them. For example, “I wonder if your birth dad also likes chocolate ice cream,” or “You have your birth mother’s beautiful thick hair.”

5. Consider seeking help from an adoption-competent therapist.

Open adoption often involves complex relationships and BIG feelings – for all of you. An adoption-competent therapist can add another layer of support for your child. They can give your child space to process their feelings and experiences with their birth parents in age-appropriate ways. Therapy can also be a safe space for kids to discuss their questions and identity formation without worrying about hurting your feelings. Finally, an adoption-competent therapist can offer you tools and resources to help you continue to support your child through this relationship with the birth parents.

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Relationships Take Grace, Intention, and Practice

Navigating difficult situations and relationships is part of parenting. You’ve got some added layers to manage when raising an adopted child in an open adoption – regardless of the level of openness. It requires excellent emotional intelligence, deep commitment to your child, and sometimes extreme compassion for all involved. Be sure to take care of yourself and practice self-compassion too. Offer yourself, your child, and their birth parents your best intentions and plenty of grace while working through the hurdles of open adoption.

How have you navigated relationships with your child’s birth parents? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Image Credits: Keira Burton; Ron Lach; Stack Exchange