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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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