An open adoption dilemma

What do you do when you receive an unexpected request for contact with your child?

April 30, 2019

Consider this: A biological, paternal grandmother learns about the child after the adoption is finalized. The birth father never told his mother about the child, and the birth parents are no longer together. The birth father has declined all contact, and the adoptive family’s open relationship to this point is only with the birthmother. But now, the biological grandmother has asked to meet the child.

Most expectant parents meet the adoptive parents they choose for their child before the child is born. The level of openness for each family may include texting, exchanging cards, letters and photos, or in-person visits. We encourage adoptive parents to build trust with the birth parent(s) slowly over time, as they work toward a strong relationship.

What to do when you receive an unexpected request for contact with your child

We recommend you first call your agency for help confirming that everyone is who they say they are. Our privacy policy prevents us from sharing any information with the grandmother unless the birth father signed an information release that included his mother.

You may be inclined to explore this new avenue of family contact but worry: Will this damage our relationship with the birth mother?

If your primary relationship has been only with your child’s birth mother, it’s often best to honor her wishes. Because if she no longer has a positive relationship with the child’s biological father, she may not want that grandmother in her life either.

It’s hard when you get caught in the middle of someone else’s difficult family dynamics. Do your best to communicate clearly. In the end, it’s your place to do what you feel is best for your child.

A real scenario of extended family contact

In a similar, real scenario, a biological, maternal grandmother sent a letter of inquiry to Bethany. Her daughter – the child’s birth mother – signed a release. We then contacted the adoptive parents who agreed to accept the grandmother’s letter. At that point, it was up to them to decide whether to pursue additional contact.

They decided to meet the grandmother first in a neutral location, sharing only photos at first. Over time, as the relationship grew, they allowed the grandmother to meet their child in person.

Additional tips:

  • Honor the birth parent’s wishes when you can, but your priority is your child’s best interest.
  • You don’t need the birth parent’s permission to allow contact with an extended family member, but it’s nice to have their blessing.
  • Have a conversation about why you feel this contact would be beneficial for your child’s identity development.
  • Have ongoing conversations about your openness agreement, face-to-face if possible, about how things are going and what adjustments would strengthen the relationship.
  • Contact Bethany for assistance. Your adoption specialist can help you develop and sustain the best relationship possible.

If you receive unexpected contact from someone in your child’s birth family, you’re welcome to ask us for assistance. Your adoption specialist can help you develop and sustain the best relationship possible.

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