Mother’s Day Complications in Open Adoption

Dawn Davenport


Open Adoption and Mother's Day and Birth Mother's Day

Balancing and fairness are sometimes hard in open adoption. How should you celebrate Mother’s Day?

We adopted our wonderful daughter who is now 9 months old in an open adoption, and we couldn’t be happier.

Before we adopted I read your blogs about the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule for open adoption. It was easier to imagine how I’d react and implement it than it has been to actually implement it. LOL. I am a huge fan of your blog and show, and hope you can help me with a difficult situation.

My daughter’s birth mother (“Anna”) lives in the same city. At first we got together pretty frequently, and now it`s about every 6 weeks or so. She has a history of being a little pushy, but nothing we haven’t been able to work out.

We have already scheduled a visit for the Saturday before Mother’s Day, which happens to be Birthmother’s Day.  Anna texted me last week and said she wanted to spend some time with our daughter on Sunday, Mother’s Day.  I told her that was an already full day with our families and that we’d be seeing her for a nice long visit the day before. Yesterday I got another text from her saying she really wanted to see our daughter on Mother`s Day, even if it wasn’t for a long visit.

I don’t know whether I’m being selfish, but I want to have Mother’s Day for me and my husband, and my mom and mother-in-law. I’d like to know how you’d apply the Slightly Annoying Grandmother rule to this situation. [Altered to delete any identifying information]

The Devil is In the Details

Everything is easier in theory isn’t it? That’s why armchair quarterbacking (and parenting) is so popular. The Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule is really about attitude.

For those who are new to My #1 Rule for Open Adoptions, it works like this. When faced with a potentially difficult situation with your child’s birth mother, imagine how you would handle it if she were your loved, but slightly annoying grandmother.  You love her and you value what she can offer you and your children, so you want to treat her with respect and have both sides leave the situation with the relationship and their dignity intact.

It all sounds good in theory, but implementation is always harder.

The Relationship Tightrope

All relationships are a balancing act, and no place more so than in open adoption. You want to value and respect your child’s first mom, but you also want to value and respect yourself and your family. You probably also want to set a comfortable precedent to take into the future. You are the parent and you are in charge, but you should carry this power lightly for the sake of your child’s first mom and ultimately because that is what is best for your child.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

There is more than one way to apply the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule and strike the balance with open adoption relationships.

Clearly seeing her daughter on Mother’s Day is important to Anna (the birthmom), so I’d be inclined to try to make it work, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to change my family and extended family plans.  There are so many factors to consider:

  • How large is your extended family, and how many mothers/grandmothers do you need to see?
  • How easy is it to schedule a quick visit with the first mother?
  • How busy are you?
  • Does your family have a long held Mother’s Day tradition?
  • Do you have or do you want to establish a special tradition for your new family?
  • Do you have the afternoon free?
  • How able is the birth mother to respect boundaries?

Flexibility is absolutely a requirement in navigating all family relationships. This need for flexibility usually comes to a head with marriage. Most families I know have some variations on when they celebrate Christmas with their families. Some celebrate on Christmas Eve with the husband’s family and Christmas Day with the wife’s. Some rotate each year celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving. As the great philosopher Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want.”

“You Might Just Get What You Need”

I don’t have any magic to offer, but the first thing I would do is text Anna that you would like to talk via phone or, better yet, at a coffee shop. Texting is not the best for delicate or in depth conversations, and I think that it is important to use this first Mother’s Day to have a real conversation rather than make a unilateral decision or sweep the difficulty under the rug.

I would want to say some variation of the following.

I can tell that it is important to you to see Suzy on Mother’s Day and as her other mother I can totally understand that. That’s why we scheduled Saturday to visit so we could truly celebrate with you the day without all of our other obligations interfering.

If it is really important for you to see her on Sunday, we can try to make that work. Mother’s Day is always busy with our families, but we could visit for a short time between lunch with my family, Suzy’s nap, and dinner with my husband’s mom. I want to work with you, so you choose between celebrating at our scheduled Saturday morning visit or a shorter visit on Sunday afternoon. I’m glad we’re talking about this because there are a lot of holidays in the year, plus her birthday. Celebrating on the actual day won’t always be possible, so I need to know which are most important to you.

Should You Celebrate Birth Mother`s Day

You can decide whether to mention that the Saturday before Mother’s Day is Birth Mother`s Day. Some birth mothers embrace this day as a way to honor their unique form of motherhood and their role in their children’s lives. Other first moms feel it is dismissive and not necessary since they are mothers and should be honored on the traditional Mother’s Day.

It is not fair to pre-judge how all birth mothers in general, or your child’s first mom in specific, will feel. Given that this is her first Mother’s Day she may not know about Birth Mother’s Day, so you might mention it as a possibility, then follow her lead.

The key with resolving all issues in open adoption is non-judgmental communication, which I know is easier said than done. But when in doubt, remember what Mick says: “If you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need”

How would you implement the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule on Mother’s Day in an open adoption?


Image credit: Cookieater2009

06/05/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 20 Comments

20 Responses to Mother’s Day Complications in Open Adoption

  1. Avatar Anon AP says:

    This was shared on a FB group I’m a member of.

    The divisions between adoptive mother and birth mother that we draw as APs sometimes are not necessarily going to be reflected by how our children feel. Just maybe something to read and keep in mind for future years as our children grow.

  2. Avatar Greg says:

    “No mother (birth, adopted, or otherwise)who claimed to have her child’s best interests at heart would behave in such a manipulative way that preyed on her child’s already tumultuous teenage emotions and sought to make their adoptive parents the bad guys just for wanting to be with THEIR children alone on Mother’s Day. ”

    Anonymous, I agree. In a true open adoption that was an open relationship, I doubt the birth/first mother would ever disclose something like that if it happened. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to lose by disclosing something like that to the child. Open Adoptions do not sound easy and like with any family relationship will have their issues. The important thing for the adults involved to always keep the child out of it. Similar the way many divorced or separated couples should keep their children out of their disagreements (though in most cases they never do).

  3. Avatar marilynn says:

    Anonymous – not saying it’s pretty but I am saying it’s likely. Even the nicest sweetest most respectful bio parent is operating at a distinct disadvantage they have a proximity deficit they were not there for lots of the milestones and daily grind and they may or others in the family may tell them about either their parent or other family efforts to see them or send them presents or call them or whatever and how their efforts were thwarted by the adoptive family. There will be an amount of gratitude and gratitude has that flip side to it where people feel bad or seek to make themselves not feel so beholding. I’m just saying the potential for the kid hearing about it later on is good and even if it was said super nicely, it won’t look good.
    Always best to not do a thing if you think it’s going to take a lot of explaining about how your motives were well intention ed later on. The Aparents could tell the kid all day long how they’d agreed to meet the day before and everyone was just so busy on mother’s day and the kid will nod and smile but feel badly for their bio mom, so just keep the radar up and have the long view. With this and with everything. Not just adoption just play it out in your head and then make a decision.

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Marilynn-the scenario you describe in #6 is one that gives true open adoption a bad name. No mother (birth, adopted, or otherwise)who claimed to have her child’s best interests at heart would behave in such a manipulative way that preyed on her child’s already tumultuous teenage emotions and sought to make their adoptive parents the bad guys just for wanting to be with THEIR children alone on Mother’s Day. That scenario sounds like a recipe for disaster, and I would hope that the bmom would have enough emotional maturity and interest in her child’s emotional well being that she would not resort to such childish disregard for boundaries, rather than holding the AP’s and their mutually shared offspring hostage to her selfish wants. And Robyn-I agree 100% with your comment on #14-if you make time for the child(ren) to see their bmom’s on the Saturday before, you should be able to enjoy the Sunday set aside for MD without feeling like you owe anyone anything. Respect for them + respect for yourself=a healthy open adoption. To put it in another context-if your spouse had an ex-partner that you were still friends with, you might go out to dinner with them on an ordinary evening ,but you would not be selfish if you insisted on going out just the two of you on your WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, would it? Even if the ex swore that he/she would be heartbroken if you left them out of that occasion? Boundaries need to be respectful and flexible, but they need to be there. And I am relieved to see that AP’s having a sense of respect for the families that they have created through adoption is an idea that is being upheld, even in open adoption.

  5. Avatar marilynn says:

    Greg absolutely beautifully said. “I also agree with you on birthmothers day. They are mothers and should be treated as such. There isn’t step mothers or adoptive mothers day. There shouldn’t be birthmothers day. If you want a day to celebrate them do it on mothers day. In a true open adoption both mothers are part of the child’s family and should be celebrated together.”

    Also, a lot of great advice going on here.

  6. Avatar Greg says:


    To me both Mothers and Fathers Day are marketing holidays. It’s sad to me that we need designated days to show appreciation for our parents. People should appreciate their parents everyday not just certain days.

    I also agree with you on birthmothers day. They are mothers and should be treated as such. There isn’t step mothers or adoptive mothers day. There shouldn’t be birthmothers day. If you want a day to celebrate them do it on mothers day. In a true open adoption both mothers are part of the child’s family and should be celebrated together.

  7. Avatar Robyn C says:

    ” If it was your grandmother asking to see you on Mother’s Day, what would you do?”
    We do see my grandmother on Mother’s Day. But my grandmother is my grandmother, not either of my children’s other mother. (I think that’s grammatically correct.)
    You know that 99% of the time, I’m for birth parents and adoptive parents coming together and making one big relatively happy family. This is part of that 1% of the time where I understand needing to differentiate – needing to be *the* mom for just one day. You can call it entitlement or claiming or denying, or whatever you want. It doesn’t change the fact that a lot of adoptive moms spend years trying to become moms, that society does, in fact, treat us differently, and that the very first Mother’s Day brings up many complicated, conflicting emotions. Once you pass the first Mother’s Day, somehow motherhood seems more real. At least, it did for me. After that first year of adoption, life becomes more “normal” and you see that there really isn’t the need for lines. But that first Mother’s Day, that’s different.

  8. Avatar Von says:

    The first is special and it has to be remembered that the baby will not remember! These days are solely for the mothers and how easily feelings can be hurt and the sense of entitlement injured. I still find the concept of a birthmothers’ day offensive and understand why it was created. It is never going to keep everyone happy.

  9. Avatar Anon AP says:

    I can see it being tough, but it’s also got the potential for a really nice story for your child as they grow up: “Your/our first Mother’s Day became a Mothers’ Day and we both celebrated the joy we experience having you in our lives”. Who knows, you might like it so much that lunch with both mothers (or whatever) becomes a tradition as well, and if not, then you still have a nice story and some pictures that reflect how much regard you have for all of your child’s family connections. You have lots and lots of snuggles and mommy-times ahead, and this day will be special for you even if you share it with your child’s birthmother.

  10. Avatar Karen says:

    We are a bi-coastal family, so its not as much of an issue, we generally try to use facetime on one of the two days. Last year she participated in a museum exhibit about birthmothers/firstmothers on Birthmother’s day, so we texted throughout the day and then face timed the next day (Mother’s Day) . This year, we will be at an amusement park all day on Mother’s day, so we will probably face time on Saturday.. Its all about teamwork and communication.

  11. Jody, I love the gift idea!

  12. Avatar marilynn says:

    Add to the slightly annoying grandmother rule – this rule…
    How’s this going to sound to my rebellious 13 year old in an open adoption? “It was my first mothers day, you were only 9 months old and I wanted more than anything to see you just for a few minutes on Mother’s day proper, but they would not let me and I cried for you all day long.”

    Take an hour and do it and avoid looking like a heel later on. If you’d care about that sort of thing.

  13. Avatar Jody says:

    This year I’m giving her a framed print of Forget-Me-Nots. Her favorite flower. I took the photo in NC.

  14. Avatar Jody says:

    Dawn Davenport we’ll visit based on my older son’s ball schedule and my school schedule. I akways do something for Birthmothers Day. Flowers usually.

  15. Avatar Robyn C says:

    The first Mother’s Day is particularly special. I know I wouldn’t be inclined to share that specific day with my children’s birthmothers. Subsequent Mother’s Days, sure, but the first one? Not likely. And yes, I realize that it’s special to a child’s birthmother too. But you can’t split the baby in two and have each one spend Mother’s Day with the baby.
    Whether or not the OP calls attention to the day before Mother’s Day as Birthmother’s Day or not, the fact is, they’re still visiting that day. There’s no reason they can’t celebrate Mother’s Day for the birthmother on Saturday and for the adoptive mother on Sunday. Plenty of families have to share children and have to celebrate holidays on days that aren’t actually the holiday.
    So, if this were me, I’d just stick to the original plan. Although yes, I would talk to the birthmother about it, not just text.

    • Robyn, you’re right about the first of everything being special, and also right about it being special to both mothers. Because of this, I would be more inclined to try to make it work, unless it requires heroic efforts. You can in fact both spend time with the baby on Mother’s Day–not necessarily an equal amount of time, but depending on your schedule for the day, it is highly likely that you could work in a visit with the birth mother. The question is more whether you are you willing to work it in? If it was your grandmother asking to see you on Mother’s Day, what would you do?

  16. Jody, will you visit over Mother’s Day or the Saturday before? Do you make a big deal out of Birth Mother’s Day?

  17. Avatar Jody says:

    Headed that way soon. Looking forward to a nice time with the birth family but a little nervous, as always. I get pretty emotional. Can’t help it.

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