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