The topic of open adoption always brings up questions for prospective and new adoptive parents. It can feel overwhelming or threatening to consider open adoption with your child’s birth family when you are new to adoption. We get it. CreatingaFamily.org has numerous resources on open adoption to help you think through many of the scenarios and relationship dynamics that can come up for you, your child, or the child’s birth family.
However, some time ago, we got a question from a reader that was a different scenario than we had tackled before. Our reader wants some insight into handling her family’s open adoption on Mother’s Day. We’re looking forward to your thoughts in the comments!
Here’s the Dilemma
We adopted our wonderful daughter in an open adoption, and we couldn’t be happier. Before adoption, I read your article about the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule for open adoption. Honestly, it was easier to imagine how I’d react at the moment than it is to implement it in real life. I am a huge fan of your articles and podcast. I hope you can help me with a difficult situation.
Our daughter’s birth mother lives in the same city we do. In the beginning, we got together pretty frequently. Now, it’s about every six weeks or so. In the past, she has been a little pushier than we anticipated. But we’ve been able to work it out so far.
We have a previously scheduled visit planned for the Saturday before Mother’s Day, which also happens to be Birth Mother’s Day. Birth Mom texted me last week to say that she would prefer to spend time with our daughter on Sunday, Mother’s Day. I texted back that the day was already full, as we had time planned with our mothers. I added that we were looking forward to a lovely day together on that Saturday. But then I got another text from her saying that she “really” wanted to see our daughter on Mother’s Day, even if it was just a short visit.
I don’t know if I’m being selfish, but I want to spend Mother’s Day with my husband, daughter, and both our mothers. What should I say? How would you apply the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule to this situation?
(Story edited for clarity and to remove identifiers)
What IS the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule?
The Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule works like this for those new to this “rule” for open adoption.
You are facing a potentially tricky situation with your child’s birth mother. Now think about how you handle sticky moments with your much-loved but slightly annoying grandmother. You love your grandmother and would never intentionally hurt or disrespect her. You value what she brings to your life. So, you listen to her unsolicited advice (or stories or critiques). However, you have learned how to release yourself from the obligation to follow her counsel and keep your relationship and love intact.
Think about your child’s birth mother again. You value what she brings to your life and your children. So, you overlook some of the frustrations or annoyances. You treat her with respect and find a way through these sticky situations to walk away with your relationship intact and her dignity maintained.
We know. Everything is easier in theory. It all sounds good, but implementation is always harder.
That’s why armchair quarterbacking (for the big game and in parenting) is so popular. The Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule of open adoption is ultimately about your attitude – going into challenging scenarios specifically and your relationship with Birth Mom generally.
There’s a Relationship Tightrope to Walk in Open Adoption
All relationships are a balancing act, and open adoption is no exception. You desire to value and respect your child’s first mom. You also want to be true to yourself and respect your family’s boundaries and traditions. You might also be looking at this scenario as an opportunity to set a comfortable precedent for future interactions with your child’s birth mom.
Those are fair expectations, but it’s also reasonable to feel the tension of this relational tightrope. You have to balance your commitment to this open adoption, your relationship with your child’s birth mother, and what is ultimately best for your child. You are the parent, and you are responsible for your family. However, remember to carry your power lightly as you walk the tightrope.
Hear from the adoptees: What’s it Like Being Raised in an Open Adoption?
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
There is more than one way to apply the Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule and strike a balance in this open adoption. Recognize that you won’t always get what you want each time you apply the rule. Still, the overall balance of your relationship will benefit from your flexibility and respect. Striking a balance in this particular scenario might mean that you work to get some of what you want and offer some of what your child’s mother wants.
To be more specific, it’s evident that spending time with your daughter on Mother’s Day is important to her birth mother. Is there a way to make it work without changing plans with your mother and mother-in-law? Of course, there are many factors to consider before you change your family plans or traditions, including questions like these:
- How many mothers, grandmothers, or great-grandmothers do you need to see?
- How dear does your extended family hold the Mother’s Day tradition?
- How many calendars will it impact if you request this change?
- How conveniently can you fit in a quick visit with Birth Mom?
- Do you have or do you want to establish a particular tradition for your new family?
- How has Birth Mom respected boundaries before this? Do you have reason to believe that will change if you change plans?
Your flexibility is absolutely a requirement in navigating all family relationships. This need for flexibility usually comes to a head when you get married. For example, most families have to engage in some compromise and communication about when they celebrate Christmas with their families. Some celebrate Christmas Eve with the husband’s family and Christmas Day with the wife’s parents. Other families rotate family celebrations between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The great philosopher Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want.”
Have a Conversation With Birth Mom
There is no one correct way to walk this tightrope. Could you first consider inviting your child’s birth mom to meet for coffee or lunch? These delicate discussions don’t lend themselves well to texting, where you cannot see body language or facial expressions. If this is the first time you must have this type of conversation, it’s best to set a precedent to talk face-to-face. You don’t want to allow yourself or Birth Mom to sweep this under the rug, nor do you want her to feel like you are controlling the relationship.
Remember that you chose open adoption for your child’s best interests. Even if it feels sticky, a real conversation will help you stay focused on what is best for all of you together moving forward.
You can start with your own variation on the following script:
I can tell that it is important to you to see Baby on Mother’s Day. As her other mother, I can totally understand that. That’s why we scheduled Saturday for our visit. We wanted the day to truly celebrate with you and not let our other obligations with family interfere.
If you must see her on Sunday, we can try to make that work. Mother’s Day is always a full, busy day between church and celebrating with our families. We have lunch with my parents, so we could visit for a short time once Baby gets her nap. We will have about an hour before we need to leave for dinner at my mother-in-law’s.
I want to work this out, so I’ll let you choose between our scheduled Saturday morning visit or a shorter visit on Sunday afternoon. I’m glad we’re talking about this now. There are a lot of holidays in the year, plus her birthday. Celebrating all of them on the actual day won’t always be possible. I’d like to hear which are most important to you.
A Note About Birth Mother’s Day
Try not to pre-judge how all birth mothers, or your child’s first mom specifically, will feel about Birth Mother’s Day. Some birth mothers embrace the day to honor their unique form of motherhood and their role in their children’s lives. Other first moms feel it is dismissive and unnecessary since they are mothers and should be honored on the traditional Mother’s Day. You can decide whether to ask if she knows that the Saturday before Mother’s Day is Birth Mother’s Day or if she wants to celebrate it. Following her lead on the issue might help you communicate your respect and commitment to her as your child’s first mom.
“You Might Just Get What You Need”
The key to resolving all these issues in open adoption is your non-judgmental communication. We know it’s easier said than done. When in doubt, remember what Mick said: “if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.”
Tell us in the comments: how would you handle this dilemma?
Originally published in 2014; Updated for 2022
Image Credits: judy dean; Francesco; Kenneth Lu