5 Practical Ways To Better Relate To Birth Parents

It’s a common question adoptive and foster parents ask. “How do I handle having a relationship with my child’s birth parent?” In-spite of the fear, confusion, and sometimes awkward situations that come from birth family relationships, we’ve discovered some practical ways to have a healthy relationship.

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There’s a verse in the Bible that often echoes in my mind. It’s found in Romans chapter 8 and it says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Powerful words, right? After all, peace is something we’re all chasing. It’s something we all want. For me, this brief sentence is a model for life. I want to live at peace with every person on the planet. Including my children’s birth parents.

Can I be honest? I don’t understand not wanting to live at peace with them.

We love our children’s birth parents. Even though some have made poor choices over the years, we never judge or criticize them. As far as it depends on us, we want to live at peace with them. Unfortunately, not every adoptive parent feels the same. I see it plastered on social media, discussion forums, and adoption websites often- a rant, a frustration, a public lashing, or an angst toward the very people who gave their children life.

We feel differently. We don’t hold grudges, or bitterness toward our children’s birth parents. We hold them in honor. Have we had our moments of frustration and downright anger over their choices? Absolutely. Have we been frank with them when it comes to boundaries? You bet! But this is always overshadowed by our commitment to show respect to them, and teach our children to show respect as well. After all, they gave us the most precious gift- our children.

That’s why 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 standard to live life by, and raise our children by! Honestly, it’s not always been the easiest thing to do depending on circumstances, but over the last 12 years we’ve discovered a few key ways to better relate to them.

  1. We Talk With Respect. 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 14 years ago. The trainer impressed this on each parent and I agreed. They are human beings. So, they deserve respect.
  2. We Never Vilify. Regardless of circumstances we’ve worked hard to never cause our children to think of their birth parent in a low light. We’ve always been honest with our children if they ask honest questions, but never have we vilified them. We believe it’s critical that we, as adults, never cross this line. Believe me- I know how easy it is to let your frustration get the best of you. I’ve had moments. But the reality is that I’m not perfect either. When I place myself in birth parent’s shoes for just a moment, my perspective changes.
  3. We Honor 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 an exhortation of them- “You’re 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!” Again, we’ve been honest when our children have asked honest questions. The reality is that some birth parents had their rights terminated because they failed to follow the steps outlined by a judge and we’ve been honest about that. But, to the best of our ability, we honor them for their choice to give their child a better life.
  4. We Work To Form A Partnership. Remember, your children will forever have two sets of parents. Your child’s 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 them. Consider them friends if you can. Over the years, Kristin and I have spent significant time with our children’s birth parents. We’ve even had some of them over to our house for dinner. There have been times where circumstances prevented this but we continue to work hard to form a good partnership.
  5. We Count Them As Extended 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 the children you’ve been charged with raising first and foremost. However, if your relationship with your children’s birth parent(s) is amicable, include them in your family. Spend time with them at a park, or the zoo, or a mall, or a restaurant. 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, you will find that it greatly benefits your children, and your entire family in the long run. In some situations, the lack of personal health of a birth parent demands distance, 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?

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

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  • Allisonm

    I agree with everything you said, but would add that you should set your boundaries with birth relatives with your children’s best interests in mind and ignore the expressed interests of the birth relatives when making those decisions. It is easy to be manipulated into trying to satisfy birth relatives in ways that end up harming your children and damaging their trust in your ability to protect them. Inability of birth relatives to put their wants second to the children’s needs often forms the heart of the reason(s) their parental rights were severed or they were not chosen as permanent placements for the children. Though our children’s birth parents had not had contact with our children for years before they were placed with us, other relatives had, but had been deemed unsuitable as permanent placement. Some of those relatives started off being nice, but became progressively more demanding and ultimately abusive when they didn’t get everything they wanted. It wasn’t until after we finalized that the children felt safe enough to tell us that they wanted no contact with those relatives and explained their very good reasons for their constant fear of being kidnapped. Had we been less determined to maintain enough of a boundary up front to enable us to reasonably ensure our children’s safety from being located, we might never have gained our children’s trust.

    Giving information to birth family members is a bell that cannot be easily unrung–especially in this Internet age. It is wise to think about that when being pressured by birth family members, case workers, or judges to go beyond what you think is best for your children and prudent for your family. Trust has to be earned and it may take a long time for your children to trust you enough to be able to tell you what their security needs are. It may also take a long time before you feel that you know birth family members well enough to lower the boundaries you have set–and that is okay! I wish things were different for us and that it were safe for our kids to have contact with birth relatives. I didn’t envision the road we have had to take. But I’m glad we were careful up front and took it slow. That ended up preventing what would have been a huge mistake for our children’s welfare.

    • Allison, thanks for your comment. Boundaries are so important! Happy New Year. 🙂