Reader: We are going to be meeting our son’s birth family for the first time since he was born 3 years ago. We have kept in contact via e-mail. Any suggestions for us?
Thank you for your question! What an exciting time for your family! Certainly, you are feeling a range of emotions. I applaud you for your openness toward your son’s birth family.
First, I would suggest preparing your son for the visit. Many kids thrive on routine and predictability, and your son may very well sense that something is going on (via your demeanor and perhaps overhearing a conversation about an upcoming visit). To prepare for the visit, you can show him photos of his birth family and share their names, talk to him about where you are going for the meeting, and how fun it will be. You may also let your son draw a picture to give to them. You may also choose to read to him a few children’s books about adoption, if you haven’t begun doing so already. Keep your discussions simple and upbeat. Some kids find a countdown calendar helpful, particularly children who like to know what’s coming up next.
You also need to prepare yourself for the visit. Many adoptive parents are quite nervous, even skeptical or reserved, when they are preparing to meet their child’s birth family. Keep in mind that the birth family is probably quite nervous as well. Remember that you and the birth family likely have a common goal: to have some openness in your relationship for the sake of the child. It’s normal for you to have feelings of jealousy, frustration, and even experience emotions based on what led you to adoption (be it infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, a disease, etc.). If you see a professional counselor, it would be wise to set up an appointment prior to the visit.
Because of your son’s age, the ideal meeting place would be set up for activity, such as a park. This gives your son’s birth family the chance to interact with him and for your son to get his energy out. Don’t schedule the visit at naptime or too close to mealtime. Of course, pack a snack and bring along your son’s favorite toys. And don’t forget to pack a camera to get plenty of photographs of the meeting.
You also need to determine how long you want the visit to last. You may wish to agree to a one-hour visit, and if things are going well, stay past the one hour mark. But it’s a good idea to set a time frame up front so that there isn’t disappointment or surprise when you and your family pack up to leave.
You also need to decide if you will have your adoption professional present or not. It can be helpful to have the professional there to guide the conversation, if necessary, or answer any questions or concerns anyone has. You and the birth family also need to decide who can come to the meeting. Is 'it just parents? What about siblings or grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Since this is the first meeting in three years, I would suggest keeping it casual and keep the number of visitors at a minimum. Remember, the goal is that the visit benefit the child, not appease the needs of extended family members.
Depending on your personality, your son’s, and those of the birth family members, the conversation can be awkward. I suggest making a mental list of questions you may wish to ask the birth family. This is not to interrogate them (please don’t!), but rather to gather information that may be of interest to your son in the future and to get to know the birth family more. You may note that your son, for example, is athletically inclined. Are any of the birth family members athletic? You might ask about birth family traditions so that you may incorporate those into your own family. There are endless questions to be asked! You may also ask the birth family what questions they have for you.
It’s a good idea to touch base about communication going forward. Is an e-mail relationship satisfying to them? Would they like more visits? What would you like to see change? Make sure that in the moment, you do not promise anything you may regret later. It’s perfectly fine to have a discussion now, agreeing to consider the level and frequency of communication, and re-visit the topic again soon.
During our birth family visits, I’ve tended to take a step back and encourage my child to engage with his or her birth family
as much as possible (within reason, of course). I liked taking a “back seat” and watching the child play and talk with his or her birth family members. And of course, I snapped dozens of photos.
I hope that the visit goes exceedingly well and that all parties leave feeling happy and excited for future contact.