An Adoptive Mom Seeks Advice On A Birth Family Dilemma

Yesterday, my girls gleefully opened a box filled with belated Valentine’s Day treats that had arrived from Katie’s birthmother.  Inside, we discovered two festive gift bags – one for Katie, and one for Annie Rose.  Each bag held a card, a small toy and a smattering of candy.  The gift bags were separate but equal, with the biggest difference being that M had written a more involved and emotional greeting in Katie’s card.

As we sat on the kitchen floor munching dark chocolate at 7:30 in the morning, I recalled a dilemma that another adoptive mom, G, has written to me about.  She is seeking help with a problem she is having with the birth family of one of her children.

First, a little background:  G and her husband are the parents of three small children, all through domestic infant adoptions.  Each of the children comes from a different birth family.  The birth family of the oldest child, a four-year-old girl, has had a very difficult time separating from the child.  The birth grandmother, in particular, has not healed from her own grief at losing her granddaughter.  

One of the ways that this birth grandmother copes with her feelings of loss is to send the little girl elaborate gifts.  G’s daughter regularly receives Easter baskets, Christmas presents, birthday presents, etc from her birth family.  G is worried about how her other two adopted children are going to feel about this as they grow older, because their birth families do not send them gifts.  

Will the other two children perceive the lack of gifts from their birth families as additional rejection?  Will they fear that their birth families don’t love them or miss them or think about them?  The gift giving is separate and not equal, creating anxiety and stress for the adoptive parents.

G knows that the gift-giving is more about the emotions of the birth family than it is about her daughter.  If she asks them to stop sending gifts, how will they react?  G has already had a difficult time managing the involvement of this birth family, and she wants to keep the peace.  

Still, she must consider the feelings of all her children and protect each of them equally.  How much does an adoptive family owe a birth family?  There is no legally binding definition of open adoption, and there are no laws that offer guidelines for how to proceed when complications arise.

It is a muddy, ever-evolving territory, and all of us who engage in
open adoptions face dilemmas when one party wants more than the other
wants to give.  As in all human relationships, the more one clings, the
more the other pulls away.  A perfect balance is hard to find, and even
when it is achieved, it often is fleeting.

Usually, it is the birth family that is in the position of wanting more
contact, but not always.  In fact, G wishes the birth family of her
youngest child would acknowledge his existence and take an interest in
his life, but that has not happened.  Again, this is more about the
birth family’s own feelings than about the child himself. 

But G is left wanting more contact with one family and less contact
with another.  Like all parents, she loves her children equally, and
she wants them to feel equally loved.  She has asked me to ask readers
for their advice.  Have any of you encountered a situation like this?  

In our personal open adoption, I do not mind when M sends gifts to
Katie, because I am not balancing Katie’s feelings with those of other
adopted children.  Furthermore, M sends gifts to Anne Rose, too, which
is a lovely gesture.

But I have wondered what it would be like to adopt again and balance
the involvement of another birth family in our lives.  Would M feel
threatened?  Would Katie?  Would this mythical next child envy our
relationship with Katie’s birth family?  Or would we be equally as

The relationship with a birth family is like no other.  It takes work,
as many relationships do, but the unique dynamics involved can leave
people especially vulnerable to feelings of rejection, jealousy,
insecurity and sadness.

If any of you is balancing multiple birth family relationships and has
encountered problems similar to those G is having, please let me know. 
I will pass the info on to her.  Even if you don’t have an answer, it
might be a source of comfort to her not to feel alone in this situation.


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  • I don't have any advice for the other mother. I am sorry she is having such a difficult time. The way I see it is Katie is VERY special and I want her to know that now matter what. I don't want her to feel as though I didn't want to keep her so this is a small way for me to show her my love. As far as Annie Rose goes, well she's a child and it wouldn't be fair for Katie to get something on a special day like that and Annie not get one. In my opinion the birth parents need to think of all the children in the home because they are now part of the adopted child's family. I couldn't imagine ever hurting Annie Rose (or Katie) in that way. They should stop and think about how the adopted child feels when they see their siblings being envious or hurt that they were excluded. To me that is just so heartbreaking. I will keep her in my prayers.

  • I would speak with the grandmother and let her know what the situation is and say something like: I know that child #2 and child #3 are not your biological grandchildren, but I'm afraid it may cause a problem down the line if child #1 is getting gifts and the other children are not. Could you please either send nothing or include the other children, even in some small way? (I don't know if it would make it just as bad if she sent a smaller token than what she sends to child #1. Maybe that would be just as bad). Maybe the grandmother could buy 3 small things instead of one big thing. My Mom's friend had a situation where her daughter died and her son-in-law remarried and had a child with his new wife. My Mom's friend would send gifts to both children as if the second child were her own grand-daughter. I thought that was very odd until my Mom explained that child #2 would feel bad if child #1 got gifts and child #2 didn't. That made sense to me because kids don't get it when someone gets a gift and they get none (except maybe with birthdays). Also, my best friend's sister-in-law would send a birthday present to her niece in January, but then would forget about the other three children by the time their birthdays came along in October and November. My friend had to finally tell the aunt to not send anything if she couldn't remember the other children's birthdays since they didn't understand why their sister always got a birthday present and they got none. (Personally, I was rooting for the kid that got the gifts since she was the middle child, but I know that's not REALLY fair. You know - the middle child seems to get forgotten and all that). Also, I remember a Charlie Brown special about a girl who had cancer and people were always sending her gifts and her younger sisters always felt left out because they never got anything special, so this type of thing happens in many different situations. Please share all of this with G. to let her know that this kind of thing happens all the time (for empathy purposes) and in many different situations. If the grandmother won't change her ways, maybe there is a way that G. can teach her child to share with her siblings without resenting it. Hope this helps!

  • This is possibly a bit out of date to be much use by now, but hopefully not.

    I come from the perspective of being part of the birth family, as my older sister was given up for adoption when my father was a teenager. My sister was the second child that her parents adopted, and while her adoption eventually became an open adoption when she met my father after I was born, her elder brother has never met his birth parents and knows nothing about them. He is not interested in meeting them, and they have never made contact.

    G can make sure that her children feel equally loved by her, but they may not grow to have equally positive relationships with their birth families. If one child has a fantastic relationship with her birth family, that's a good thing, even if the other children don't. As G's daughter grows older, her birth grandmother might become a very important person in her life - and the more loving, supportive adults a child has growing up, the better. As long as the child is comfortable with the level of contact, it shouldn't be a concern to G.

    The worry G has about her other children feeling left out can't be fixed by trying to control or minimise contact between the birth family and the child. They are important people in her life, and as she grows older she may wish to spend more time with them - this is not a rejection of the adopted family, but it is an acknowledgement that the birth family are also part of her family network. (This is assuming that the birth family wants contact but also respects that the adopted parents are the ones raising the child - if there are custody concerns, that's a different issue all together).

    I'm so glad that my sister's adoptive parents opened their lives to my dad and his new family. If they hadn't, we all would have missed out on so much. It might have been difficult for my sister's adoptive parents, but they are wonderful people, and they saw that they shouldn't stand in the way of my sister defining for herself the relationship she wanted with her birth family.

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