5 Keys To Building Successful Relationships With Birth Parents.

How do you build successful relationships with your kid’s birth parents? There’s rarely a week that goes by where this question doesn’t appear in our email or direct message inbox. We believe healthy birth family relationships are crucial to success on the journey. And, if it’s possible to do, you need to make it a priority.

Unity

We love our children’s birth parents. In all, our children account for 12 birth parents total, and many more extended family members. Even though some of our birth parents have made choices, over the years, that are unwise, we never judge or criticize them. Unfortunately, not every adoptive parent feels the same. We often see it on social media, in discussion forums, or on adoption or foster care websites- a rant, frustration, public lashing, or negative talk toward the very people who gave their children life.

We feel differently. We’ve never held grudges, or bitterness toward our children’s birth parents. We honor them. Sure, we’ve had our moments of frustration and irritations, but they quickly diminish out of one single commitment we made a long time ago. We committed to show respect to our birth parents, and treat them with dignity, in any and all circumstances, as far as it depended on us.

We live in a world that often misunderstands adoption. The default for most people is to assume that, because a child has been adopted (or is soon to be adopted), their birth parents must have really screwed up or made some horrible, dark mistake! We’ve even had people ask bluntly if they were on drugs, in jail, or abusive. I’m just going to say it….harsh! Judgmental! And nobody else’s business but ours!

Our goal has been, and will continue to be, to build solid relationships, as far as it depends on us, with our children’s birth parents. We simply believe this is the best and healthiest way to live life, and raise our children! When our children have asked honest questions, we’ve answered honestly. We never lie. But we work to hold our children’s birth parents in a positive light, even if the situation may be a bit negative.

Here are 5 steps we’ve taken, over the last 15 years, to form successful relationships with our children’s birth parents:

  1. Talk about them in honor. We committed in the very beginning, before our first adoption, to always speak honorably of our children’s birth parents. We believe in showing the utmost respect to each and every one of them. This was one of the biggest take-aways from our first pre-adoptive parent class nearly 13 years ago. The instructor impressed this on each parent. I whole-heartedly agreed. They are human beings, and thus, deserve honor and gratitude.
  2. Never vilify them. As far as it depends on you, do not tarnish your birth parent’s name or cause your children to think of them in a low light. This may be hard depending on the life circumstance of your birth parents, but it’s critical. I know how easy it is, at times, to allow your frustration to get the best of you. This is exponentially greater when you foster-to-adopt. But think of it this way- none of us are perfect either. We each have made poor choices, or have idiosyncrasies that may frustrate others. We wouldn’t want to be vilified either. Simply placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes will give us a different perspective.
  3. Celebrate their heroics. Over the years we have talked about our birth parent’s bravery, their courage, and their heroism. When our children have asked questions such as “Why couldn’t my birth mom keep me?” we’ve responded with, “Your birth mom was so brave and so courageous, and loved you so much, that she choose to place you in a situation that would be better for you.” Even in involuntary termination situations (foster care), we’ve kept our conversation positive and dignified toward a birth parent. There’s no reason to talk poorly about another human being.  
  4. Work to form a solid partnership. Remember, you are both parents to your children. Your birth parent played a vital role in creating your children. As your kids grow and mature, do everything in your power to form a healthy partnership with their birth parents. Consider them friends. I just met up with my youngest son’s birth father last night for dinner, and it was a great experience. Over the past 2 years we have worked hard to form a solid partnership (and friendship) with him. Every time I take my son to meet with him, I walk away encouraged and thankful we met.
  5. Consider them part of your family. This often catches people off-guard. It’s usually because some birth parents are not suitable or healthy, personally, to interact with their family. That’s understandable. If this is the case for you, make sure you protect your family. However, if your relationship with your children’s birth parent(s) is amicable, include them in your family. Consider them a friend. Spend intentional time with them at a park, or the zoo, or a mall, or a restaurant. Even include them in birthday parties, or holidays if you can. Don’t worry about confusing your children. It only becomes confusing when you make it confusing.

If you work hard to make your relationship with your children’s birth parents successful, if you go the extra mile and follow some of the same steps we’ve taken, you will find that it greatly benefits your children, and your entire family.

In some situations, the lack of personal health of a birth parent demands distance, or strong boundaries, and that’s understandable. We’ve been in this situation in the past. Remember, your first responsibility is to protect the children God has given you to raise. This is something you must do, for your children, but also for the protection of your family. You will know when this is the case. But, if this is not the case, remember- your children’s birth parents will always be part of their lives. Why not work to ensure your relationship with them is as healthy as it can be?

There’s a verse in the book of Romans, chapter 12, verse 18, that says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” I love these words because they basically put the power in your hands. As far as it depends on you. You have the power to build a peaceful, healthy relationship. But, these words also give you direction if you’ve exhausted every means to creating a positive relationship, and need to establish guidelines. If you’ve exhausted every means to be at peace (as far as it depends on you), and there’s no option of a positive, healthy relationship, the next step is distance.

But your goal should first, be peace. Remember, they are human beings just like you and me. They deserve love and grace, just like you and me. If the tables were turned, you and I would want the same treatment.

Question: Are you an adoptive parent working to achieve a good relationship with your children’s birth parents? What have you discovered? What else would you add to this list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Allisonm

    We are unfortunate to fit squarely within the category of adoptive parents who must protect their children. While I like the idea of open adoption, the practical reality is that when your children are at serious risk of harm, a responsible parent has to put long-term physical safety ahead of the dream of being that open-adoption family with great relationships all around. This means being very careful about disclosing information to birth family that would cause us to have to uproot our family and move out of state if things were to become too dangerous for our children. It is a bell that can’t really be unrung.

    It is also important that my children don’t see me having the type of relationship with those who abused and traumatized them so severely that leads my children to fear that I will take their abuser’s word over that of my child or to pressure my children to spend time in the presence of those who have directly and repeatedly assaulted them. Post-adoption contact is for my children’s benefit, not their bio-parents’ benefit. My children had had no parental contact in several years by the time they were placed with us for adoption. Currently, my children would feel betrayed were we to try to contact their birth family in any way. If I tried to portray their birth parents as heros, my children would think I had lost my mind. Nonetheless, we do point out that their birth parents must have had some great qualities because our kids inherited all of their parents’ good parts and our kids have a lot of really great good parts.

    • Allison, I totally understand this. I have an extended family member who adopted and found themselves in the exact same position that you and your family are in. Protecting your children (especially from an abusive situation) is top priority. It stinks when you cannot have a good relationship but that’s reality. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Kym Faulkner

      Just read your comments, Allison, and are there with you. Safety is often a huge concern for these kids – our two older ones didn’t disclose things to us for a couple of months after ADOPTION. Our third child didn’t disclose his horrendous abuse for 5 years after ADOPTION. We been straight shooters with our kids. We’ve told our kids that their bio-parents made poor choices that got them in trouble with the law. Each one was old enough to remember most things, but also needed explained about healthy living conditions and how many times CYFD attempted to help them, but they were unwilling to follow through. We make these life lessons for our kids. At 19, our eldest is going down the same path as her bio-mom. She has a lower learning capacity (just above DD), but I still wonder why she would return her lifestyle to what she knew before age 10 and pray she’ll turn around. The very ones we protected her from (her brother who sexually abused her along with her bio-parents) are who she ran to. Yet her 18 yo brother doesn’t want anything to do with their bio-family. Our youngest never speaks of his bio-parents but speaks of what a great parent he’s going to be. I’m looking forward to that!

  • Nora Matthews

    I am not an adoptive parent, but as a foster parent I have had a couple different experiences with biological parents, ranging from zero contact, to contact only after the placement was complete, to supervising their nightly phone calls with the child. Like a lot of this journey, there’s no manual and every relationship is an improvisation around what can be an awkward and strange ally-ship. I am still learning (maybe I will always be) how to navigate my relationships with biological parents of children in my care. It is not quite a professional relationship, but it requires certain boundaries that may vary from situation to situation. I have had a lot of different feelings towards these people, and my feelings change at different stages of each placement. But at base I know that these children are extraordinary gifts to my life, for however long they reside with me, so there is a gut sense of gratefulness and honor that I feel towards their parents most of the time and try to share when appropriate. Sometimes their agenda does not match mine, or at the least, they do not think it does and act accordingly. But I agree with your strategies for a consistent and honoring approach in addressing children about their parents and find it very wise.

    • Nora, you are right. Our children are definitely amazing gifts! We so appreciate your perspective!

  • BlessedMom

    We have recently adopted children that we fostered for a very long time. I am blessed to have a great relationship with their mother and an ok relationship with their father. It’s an opportunity for me to ask questions, to know them, to be able to better judge what is and isn’t safe or appropriate for my children. It gives me the chance to help them grow as people so that they are more capable of having a positive relationship with my children in the future. It gives me an avenue to find answers when I sit at an appointment with a health care worker who obviously doesn’t know I’m not a birth parent and asks questions like, “Where there any complications during birth? Did they ever have chicken pox? What reaction did they have to…this thing they are allergic to?” It also gives me a chance to ask questions that come from my kids, “Did I have hair when I was born? Was I baptized when I was a baby? Have I ever traveled to…?” My children aren’t ready emotionally to have that relationship now, but I pray that they’ll get here and I that I’ll be prepared to foster the rebuilding of their relationship when the time comes. I know that when they are ready, my children can come to me for support in this process, rather than doing it as rebellious, emotionally unstable teenagers without my knowledge.

    From the outside, I would have expected my children to hate their birth parents. My kids were there. They remember very clearly what happened! They saw it. They felt it. They know more than I do. They don’t hate their birth parents. They love them. I don’t think they even fear them. They miss them. They have hidden what anger they do have so deep it’s hard to even address it to process it. Just like in so many hallmark movies (like the parent trap), they long to fix life’s problems and get their family back to the fantasy they want it to be. They have a vague awareness that I have contact with their parents. If anything, they are jealous that I talk to them and they don’t. They are starting to learn that they can ask me to ask them things or tell them things. From time to time they ask me to send them a particular photo or share a specific accomplishment.

    The hardest part for me is how angry and upset other people in my life are at my kids’ birth parents without knowing the story, without knowing what happened, and expecting me to share the details. Yes, sometimes I am angry how hurt my children have been, but I am the one managing behaviors, and appointments and hurts too big for any child to bare alone, not them. Why are they so angry? I’m grateful I don’t have to carry the regret of having “let it happen” or having been the one that hurt them. All I can do is work toward healing. Fostering anger doesn’t help, and sometimes really surprises me when it comes from others. I’m never sure how to respond.

    Thanks for your blog and for the love you give to all of your kids,

    • You are most welcome. So great to hear that your children look at their birth parents with love. Unfortunately most people have a strong misunderstanding of birth parents and the adoption process. Hang in there. Thanks for your comment!

  • I am an unofficial adoptive parent to two stepsons who were abandoned by their biological mother. But I do understand the complexities of step-parenting, biological parenting and having two sets of parents as an adopted person.

    For my daughter’s sake, I’ve maintained that I would, to my hurt, have a positive relationship with her dad and stepmother. After much hurt and some years, dad and stepmother put down their defensiveness. I feel somewhat responsible for their son also. I think of it as a ministry…something that won’t be returned to me but doing it out of obedience to God.

    With my boys’ mother, it just breaks my heart. I’m thankful that I got her blessing before she stepped out of their life. Although, I feel she hurt them deeply, I purpose to parent in her place to the best of my human ability knowing she would love to be the one doing it. I just simply grasp the fact that I “get to” be the parent and know that the birth mother would want to do it if she could. I talk about her with redemptive words and hope. That’s all that is in my power to do. God will take care of the rest.

    With my own birth mother, I didn’t feel torn at all. I did feel sad when I recognized the limits of our relationship after 23 years apart. I realized that my adoptive parents held the largest chunk of my identity in shared memories and knowledge of my preferences. It was through meeting my biological mother that I understood how much I valued my adoptive parents.

    There is a veil of fear of addition loss for most people. Even if I do get hurt in the process, I’m holding out in faith that my sons will come to terms with what we mean to each other. Love multiplies. If we act on it alone, we will realize we have an abundance of it to share with mankind and not just our biological brood.

    Props to you, Pastor Mike for bringing this topic to attention. It is unwise to skirt the issue. I think it applies to custodial and non-custodial parents of divorce as well. Blessings~

    • Meredith, you are most welcome. Glad the post resinated. This is never easy, whether you form a successful partnership with birth parents or not. My prayers are with you on this journey!

  • Hey Sarah, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately that is the reality with foster-to-adopt. We have slightly dealt with that but not fully as it sounds like you have. So sorry you have gone through that. You are absolutely right- we need the healing power of Jesus!

  • Sharon Vandivere

    I am a huge advocate of open adoption, but I must disagree with #3 (hail them as heroes). How often have people said to you: “Oh, your children are so lucky! You are an angel! You must be a saint! I could NEVER do what you do.” But adoptive parents aren’t heroes, and neither are birth parents. I do feel that parents who voluntarily relinquish are probably engaging in something that Jayne Schooler (https://asthehorseturns.wordpress.com/tag/jayne-schooler/) would describe as voluntary redemptive suffering. They volunteered to do it, their action results in suffering for them, and they took this action in order to “redeem” the child–to give the child what they hope will be a better life. Such people aren’t heroes, but they are selfless, and the well-being of their child is the guide for their decisions. I have no problem considering such folks as part of my family.

    I’d bet that virtually all birth parents do suffer for their loss. No doubt. But for many, their relinquishment was not voluntary. Many parents with involuntary relinquishments loved their child, but caused severe–and in some cases irreparable–harm to their child. Even so, the harm a parent may have caused her child likely has no correlation with the amount of suffering the parent experiences as a result of that child’s loss. And anyone who suffers a loss, no matter whose fault the loss was, deserves empathy, because loss means suffering and pain. This is what some of us adoptive parents struggle with. (That is, we struggle with empathy for someone who harmed our child.)

    A wise woman (my mom) once told me: “Focus on what the birth mom did for her child, given her limitations.” And this is what should be conveyed to the child. Even some small detail may be meaningful. I think a positive thing about open adoption is that, over time–in their adulthood, probably–children will gain a realistic understanding of why they were adopted. Not a Pollyanna vision in which they see heroes, and not a villainous one, but a realistic one.

    P.S. I also feel that children’s birth parents are only their children’s birth parents, not their adoptive parents’ birth parents. That previous sentence was probably totally unintelligible, so in sum: I chafe against hearing adoptive parents refer to their child’s birth parents as “our” birth parents.

    • Sharon, thanks for your words here. I guess our point is that we want our children’s birth parents to be held in a place of honor (unless they’ve done something to not deserve that), so we do talk openly about their bravery and courage to place their children for adoption. You are right that some did not willingly place their children,but rather lost their right, and that is also something we are honest about. I so appreciate your perspective on this. Thanks!

      • Sharon Vandivere

        That implies that some of your kids’ birth parents are held in a place of honor, and others are not. That seems problematic (and judgmental) to me. I think you can find ways to talk about all birth parents with honor, or at least with respect. (You may have to work harder to find the honorable characteristics or actions of some birth parents than for others.) I think if you speak about the birth parents respectfully, never vilify them, and–if possible*–work to form a partnership that is focused on the best interests of the child, then you’ll be good.

        * Working to form a solid partnership depends on BOTH parties being willing to do that work (i.e., birth family and adoptive parents), and that isn’t always the case. You can only control your own attitude and behaviors, not the attitudes and behaviors of others.

  • Rebecca, this is quite a story. Wow! Thanks for sharing it openly here. So great to hear how close you’ve grown with your daughter’s grandparents. We have a similar situation in our family. Thanks again for joining the conversation.

  • Hillary Alexander

    I am in the process of adopting my step son. We have always been open about his birth mother, not all family has agreed, but we felt it was better to be honest. He has no real memory of her, but has some of the abuse, neglect, and that she walked away. He has asked more than once about her. We have always tried to paint her in the best light possible. After all, he is half of her.
    From the beginning we always told him “Your Michelle (how he has referred to her since he was 4) loves you so much and she knew she couldn’t take care of you the way you deserve. So she decided to love you even more and to give you to me to be your new mom.”
    He started calling me mom at 4 and switched her to her first name on his own, he was delayed in talking so his first words were mama at 3.5 yrs. but it didn’t have any meaning until around 4 when he would look at me and say it.

  • Always nice to see ethical adopters put their children first, even when it isn’t easy! The world needs MORE of this mentality, bravo!

  • Chris Ridgeway

    My daughter has been adopted by a loving family that can provide the things my wife and I couldn’t afford. I want to stay in her life and be a good father, even though I know I’m not going to be the normal definition of a parent since I created her, but she now has an adoptive father. She’s less than 2 years old. I can’t find any self help books with advice about my situation. Google gives me the point of view of BEING the adoptive parent, or being a kid looking for thier birth parents. I’m neither, I’m the biological dad! Any book recommendations or advice?

    Edit: it’s open adoption btw

    • Chris, we need more books that help people in your situation. Agreed.

  • clsimps68

    I fostered to adopt my daughter. Her birth mother is my second cousin, so I really feel the need to have a positive relationship with her. However, her life choices have me cautious about letting her see and spend time with my daughter. I do let her have photos and do communicate with her, but I am not really sure that my daughter would benefit from knowing her at this stage. My daughter is 3 and my plans are to be honest with her when questions begin. Her birth mom did what she thought was best for her when she could no longer care for her. And I will let my daughter know that.

    • Very good that you keep it positive. You have to do what you do with boundaries. Totally understandable.

  • Billie Hall

    My situation is unique in that I adopted one of my sisters boys and am in the process of adopting another. They are technically closed adoptions but being that she is my sister she is still off and on in their lives. At this point we are not allowing her “access” to the youngest because I believe it is not healthy for him to see her at this point. He is trying to make the adjustment into our family and I think it is too confusing. She has made some negative life choices and is unfortunately very self-focused and is simply not capable of raising children. I try very hard to not talk badly about her or let the boys overhear me vent to my parents about the situation. Fostering a relationship with her is tricky and sticky!

    • Good move to keep healthy boundaries in place. Sometimes you have to do this.

  • Murray Coulter

    We have adopted two boys. They came to us at one day old and nine weeks old, both foster to adopt. We see our youngest son’s birth mother a couple of times a year. We exchange emails with her. He doesn’t really understand the relationship due to his developmental stage. On the other hand, we have never met our older son’s birth mother. He has lots of questions that we can’t answer.