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.