Help! My Child’s Birth Mom Dropped By Unannounced

Dawn Davenport

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Birth mother dropping by unexpectedly

How would you feel if your adopted child’s birth mother dropped by your house every one evening without first calling you in advance? Here’s what happened to one of the Creating a Family Support Group community.

The child was adopted at birth and was now 3. They have an open adoption–meaning that the adopted mom and birth mom exchange emails and texts and visit once or twice a year. They had a scheduled visit the week before, and early on evening the following week, the birth mother dropped by unexpectedly. She just stayed for a few minutes and wanted to hug and kiss her daughter. The visit threw the adopted mom for a loop.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about the unannounced visit. She wasn’t sure how her daughter felt since she seemed upset by being hugged and kissed by this visitor. Bottom line: the adopted mom was coming to the realization that adoptive parenting added complexities that bio parents don’t face. She wants to do what is right for her child’s first mom and for her child, while at the same time honoring her own feelings. No easy feat!

My #1 Rule for Analyzing All Birth Parent Issues

When faced with any question about how to handle a situation with birth mothers or fathers or assessing our feelings I rely on the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule.

How would I feel or handle the situation if the person involved was my slightly annoying relative, who I love (more or less), or at least know that I’m suppose to value the relationship.

In the discussion that followed in the support group another adoptive parents questioned the relevance of the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule to relationships with birth family. She said that birthmother and birthfather relationships could not be compared to relationship with our biological relatives because our biological relatives don’t carry the same emotional baggage and complexities. She clearly has never met my Aunt Frances.

I loved Aunt Frances, or at least I knew that I was supposed to love her. More to the point, she was family and I valued her relationship because she was family. But boy oh boy, she didn’t make it easy. She had an opinion about everything and a sense of superiority that as far as I could tell was not based on any discernible evidence in real life. Nonetheless, I tried to handle all situations with her with the goal of letting us continue to have a working, if not super comfortable, relationship in the future because, after all, she was family.

I have never met a family that doesn’t have an Aunt Frances.

Yes, there are some differences in the family dynamics of birth family and bio family, but I think the analogy still works. If I look at my bio family as a whole, there are many people that I easily relate to and there are a few where the relationship is challenging. There can be lots of different reasons why that relationship might be “uncomfortable”–lack of anything in common, personalities (theirs and mine), history between us or our extended families, etc.. But they are family and I do my best to maintain the relationship.

I think it is helpful to view birth parents as family because it affects how we value the relationship. Most often with bio family we don’t lightly cut them out of our lives because we perceive that the relationship has value and is worth some degree of investment. Relationships with birth parents are worth the same investment. If not for our sake or their sake, then for the sake of our kids.

Applying My #1 Rule

I actually had a similar situation of the unannounced visits happen with biological relatives—not Aunt Frances, but another Aunt and Uncle that lived far away. I really liked this aunt and uncle, but for reasons that I’ve never understood, they would travel half way across the US in their RV and just show up on our doorstep for a visit with no more than a few hours warning—or none at all. It drove me NUTS.

I cared about my aunt and uncle, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or injure the relationship, but I also wanted more advanced warning of their visits. Partly it was because of the disruption in our schedule, but also partly because as the mom of a large family I needed to follow a schedule in order to feel like I had some degree of control over my life. Flexibility felt like a luxury that I couldn’t afford.

At the end of one visit I explained that as much as I enjoyed seeing them, they really needed to plan the visit in advance. I didn’t focus on the fact that their arrival threw my schedule for the week completely out of whack forcing me to do a lot more work changing plans, shopping for new meals, cooking, etc. Rather, I talked about how much we enjoyed seeing them, and in order to fully appreciate their visit we needed to know in advance so that we could adjust our plans to spend more time with them.

I can’t say that I got a lot of advanced warning after that conversation, but they did make a point of letting us know a week in advance of their visits from then on. I would have preferred a couple of months, but decided that I could live with a week because I knew they were trying to work with me.

There is no one way to apply the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule. The key is to handle the situation in a way that shows respect to the other side and seek a resolution that keeps the relationship in tact. An adult adoptee chimed in with a good application of this rule to the original question.

My suggestion is to speak to your child’s birth mom [“Sarah”] and relay your daughter’s [“Betty”] uncomfortable feelings and then have a genuine discussion about the best approach forward. Don’t make Sarah feel guilty. Perhaps you could say something like: “It was difficult when you came the other night because Betty wasn’t prepared for the visit – I usually make she is aware that you are coming so she is prepared. I do that with all my relatives. However, I know that you love her just as much as I do and just want to love on her like I do, and I can understand you wanting to see her. So perhaps we can talk about how we can make things better for Betty. I do think a call beforehand is best just because Betty in general doesn’t do well with spur of the moment visits so perhaps if you could call me first? Perhaps we could talk about other ways to make our open adoption even better?” Then you could just have a general discussion. I’m not really into strict twice a year visits where everyone “knows there place” – I actually think children do better when things are more natural and more flexible.

How would you handle your child’s birth family dropping by unexpectedly? 

Image credit: Ninian Reid

24/08/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 10 Comments



10 Responses to Help! My Child’s Birth Mom Dropped By Unannounced

  1. Anonymous IF says:

    Dawn-please feel free to delete this comment if it seems inappropriate-I do not want to stir up controversy, but I feel compelled to call out the “elephant in the room”
    I like the image of the “slightly annoying grandmother” when it comes to dealing with your child’s birthparents in an open adoption, but what happens when your child’s birthparents behave less like a slightly annoying grandmother and more like a “crazy” ex girlfriend or ex wife. Before anyone jumps down my throat, I am not suggesting that birthparents become “ex parents”, but just by becoming birth parents, there is an expectation that their relationship to their child is going to be different than if they raised them themselves. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I have been disturbed by some of the birthmother blogs out there where the women behind them express views that make them seem like the image I am putting forward. Maybe these women have healthy off line relationships with their children and their families through adoption that I am not privy to, but many of them claim to have had their adoption closed on them (without warning in most cases), but considering the views they so freely put forward concerning adoption and those who become parents through it, I can easily guess why the adoption might have closed.

    • Anonymous IF says:

      My question is this: If a real life birthparent expressed some of the views within his/her own child’s adoption that I have seen on some of these blogs, would the adoptive parent be expected to tolerate such abuse in the name of keeping the relationship together for the sake of their child? Would an adoptive parent be forgiven for setting boundaries that would be conditional on how much respect the birthparent(s) showed for this new chosen relationship that the AP’s have with their child. I know that a lot of these birthparent bloggers have hurt feelings-but so do former partners who must watch their former spouses and lovers move forward into relationship with other people. Their hurt does not entitle them to dismiss this new relationship and claim that it is not as “real” as the one that he/she shared with the former partner. If he/ she is going to be part of this new relationship formation in any friendly way,, she/he has to be respectful of the new relationship that exists between their beloved partner and this other person. Such a standard should be held for birthparents as well especially in an open adoption that seeks to be healthy for the child at the centre of it. Respect for the people involved, respect for the new relationships that have been formed through adoption-are necessary and essential ingredients. Because how would these birthparents feel if their child stumbled across one of their blogs, where they call all AP’s derogatory names and condemn adoption as a negative force in the world, and their child developed negative feelings towards their birth parents because of their behaviour. Who would be at fault then? Just something to consider……Thanks

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Anonymous IF, I don’t think in the case that I was writing about that the birth mother in any way showed a lack of respect for the (adoptive) parent relationship. Nor do I think her dropping by unannounced was an attempt to downgrade or undervalue the relationship with her child’s parents.

  2. Anon AP says:

    Hmmm…I tend to agree that comparing a birth parent to a slightly annoying grandparent might not be the best comparison, but not for the same reason as the other commenter. For me it’s more about the role that the birth parent played and might play in my child’s future. It’s a big deal. Honestly I worry less about emotional concerns for the birth parent for the simple reason that my focus has to be on my kid, and she shouldn’t have to take on any responsibility for managing any adult’s “emotional baggage or complexities”. That doesn’t negate the importance or validity of those emotions, but they are adult emotions to be managed by the grown ups in our child’s life and not placed on a minor’s shoulders if possible.

    All that said, I have to wonder why having the birth mom pop by would be that distressing if there were an open adoption. I know it can get aggravating to have people appear in an RV to stay, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We have friends and neighbors who stop by and hang out, and that’s no big deal. If family came by for a quick visit, we’d invite them in, and this person is family. The obligation here was no more than an “I was in the neighborhood and wanted to say Hi”, and that’s not that a big deal on the face of it, right? So, if my kid were OK with it, I think I’d be OK with it. I’d rather not get into the weird power struggle that can happen when APs dictate the terms of all interactions with the BPs in an open adoption. Now, if my kid were distressed by it, then we’d have to talk. It wouldn’t be an easy talk, but I’d approach it as a collaboration if possible. “Hey, I loved seeing you last week, and really am glad you stopped by. S was a bit off afterwards though. I think she was kind of confused since it’s the first time you’ve come by without her knowing you were coming. So, I think we have two options in the future, but maybe you have other suggestions. The first is that you stop by more often so that it becomes more common for you to pop by. The second is that you don’t come over without giving us a heads up so we can let S know and she can be ready. She thinks the world of you, so I think we just need to come up with a way to help set up her expectations. What do you think?”

    There’s a cultural element here too. If the birth mom is from a culture where stopping by is totally acceptable, then I think the adoptive parents need to be a bit flexible and talk to the kid about it.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Anon AP, I’m really glad you brought up the cultural aspect–be it ethnic culture, regional culture or family culture. For some “cultures” just dropping by is totally acceptable and even expected. I also think we have to consider individual personalities and temperaments. Some people don’t like to, or just plain aren’t good at, planning, so they are more comfortable with popping in at the spur of the moment when they see they have time or are more accepting of other people doing that. Those of us who are planners have our evening planned, and are thrown off by an unexpected drop by visit.

      I certainly know that when my kids were younger, and even now to a certain extent, I had our evening planned so that we could eat a decent dinner as a family (or not) and get all the kids bathed, read to, prepped for the next day, and in bed at a decent time–preferable an early enough time to allow me to have some unwind time before I collapsed into bed. I really wasn’t all that flexible to drop by visitors. I think it would be hard for me to distinguish between my kids discomfort and my own in this situation, especially because my kids might have picked up on my own frustration.

      Now truthfully, someone dropping by for 5 minutes wouldn’t have been a big deal even in my most stressed out times. It might have even been a nice break, if I had the proper attitude.

      To me the real key to the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule is that I see some adoptive families have two sets of standards for what they will put up with and how they will react: one of bio family and a different one for birth family. What might annoy them with biological family will make them want to terminate the relationship with birth family. My point is to think through how you would handle the situation if it was a relationship that you knew has some inherent value, such as with your biological family.

      • Anon says:

        It could also be an introvert/extrovert thing. I know as a very introverted person that my home is like my sanctuary and I wouldn’t handle being visited unexpectedly with grace. I’m not saying that I would be intentionally rude, but it would throw me for a loop and that would probably show. I don’t normally entertain at home. I go out to socialize. It’s not that I don’t like my friends or love my extended family, but I need my “home time”. Of course, I apply that to everyone, though. My closest family members don’t visit me unexpectedly unless there’s a family emergency. If they did that regularly to me, I would be quite irate at them.

        • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

          Anon, exactly! I’m certainly not saying that having someone drop by unexpectedly is OK for everyone. Like you, it would be hard for me, but I hope I would try to figure out a solution that would maintain the dignity of both sides.

        • Anon AP says:

          I can see that. I’m an introvert myself, but while my home is a sanctuary, that means that I set the terms for interactions more than I avoid them. I remember reading assorted ancient Greek tales where a visitor was welcomed for three days before it wouldn’t be considered rude to even ask a name, and I love that in theory. I don’t carry it that far, but I have a thing about guests and hospitality. Friends are welcome, family is welcome, friends of friends are welcome. Our home is a warm space we can share with others, and I see that as a huge privilege for us. What a joy to be able to welcome someone in from the cold or wet or heat or whatever and share what we have. It happens rarely enough that I don’t feel it as a violation even as an introverted soul, but more of “a how nice of them to think of us when in the neighborhood and to stop by to say hello” thing. So, yeah, I certainly have a different approach than others, and I recognize that.

          I think the big thing, and this is where the “slightly annoying granny” perspective comes in, is that when we are talking about AP and BP relationships, there’s an inherent differential in who controls the interaction. APs dictate what is best for the child, and BPs have to go along with it. Every time we get persnickety about setting the terms of an interaction for something as minor as a quick pop by to say Hi, we are exerting our power. It has the potential to put a damper on any other BP-initiated interaction, and that would stink. So, it might make us uncomfortable, it might not be our usual way of doing things, but we have an obligation to support the relationship between our child and his or her BPs. Parenthood and adoptive parenthood push our comfortable boundaries all the time, but what do our kids lose if we aren’t willing to do that?

      • Anon says:

        There is also a slight issue with the grandmother rule in the level of familiarity one has before the unexpected visit. You usually have a prior established history with Granny by the time she starts popping by your house unannounced. You’ve grown up around her and you’ve grown used to her “belovedly eccentric” ways. I propose that the issue here may lie in the relationship being new. Yes, Bmom and Bdad are family, but you don’t know them well. You didn’t grow up around them. You aren’t used to their ways. They aren’t like Granny so much as they are like a second cousin once removed that you saw maybe twice before in your whole life at a couple of momentous family occasions before they showed up on your doorstep unannounced. It’s not that they aren’t family, it’s that they aren’t well known family. The familiarity that comes with a well established relationship isn’t there yet. It hasn’t had time to grow and flourish yet. Of course, this relationship differs from a second cousin once removed because a child shares you both and you are both immensely important to her, but that doesn’t make you well known to one another nor can it easily negate years of social training in how to handle close vs not close relationships and what is acceptable at each level of familiarity. Faking it until you’ve made it might indeed be the order of the day for this truly unique type of relationship, but it’s not really covered by the Granny situation. It’s whole unto its own. It needs its own rules- a set that has been worked through and talked about and grown by both parties.

        • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

          Anon, I think you’ve said it very very well. The key to me to using this analogy of an annoying bio relative is that is emphasized that we assign inherent value to these bio relationships and don’t quickly throw in the towel. We are usually willing to spend the time to work through the issues because we start from the assumption that we do not want to ever have to sever ties. This assumption is often lacking with birth family relationships; hence why I think the analogy is important and useful.

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