Adoptive parents and children alike can have a mixture of feelings, fears, and sometimes fantasies about birth families.
Often, parents have strong concerns about ongoing contact with their child's birth mother or father. Common fears include:
- Child will be confused.
- Child will be endangered.
- Child will be kidnapped.
- Child will state a preference to be with birth parent(s).
- Birth parent(s) will inform the child they didn't want the adoption.
The best way you can reassure yourself and put some of your fears to rest is simply by remembering that your adoption is final. The birth family may or may not wish that things have changed permanently, but they have.
Don't forget that children can be easily confused about many things in life. They often need facts and stories repeated several times before they really "get it." If, from the beginning, you explain your child's adoption story and the role that her birth family plays in it, she will not be confused. Many children who must deal with divorce or difficult family circumstances do so without being unnecessarily confused. The key factor is your steady parenting and loving reassurance.
If you stay with your child during visits and stay involved with other contact, your child will be more secure. Of course, you do not have to allow visits with any family members who may pose a threat to your child. Anyone with a criminal record or history of mental illness should be excluded from, or at least carefully monitored, during visitation.
Your child indeed may state a preference for his birth family — especially when he's mad at you! Keep a sense of humor and save your reaction for his real concerns. Your child knows who his parents are. He knows that you love him. He also needs to know that he has a birth family that is a part of him. If his questions are answered, he will be satisfied and know that his birth family, whatever relationship they have, is made up of more individuals who care about him.
People are unpredictable. A birth parent may say something unkind or damaging. If this happens, talk it through with your child. Listen well, assuring her of the truth of the situation and of your commitment to her. As well, make it clear to the birth parent that you cannot allow contact if your child is at risk for emotional harm.
Of course, many children who were adopted fantasize about their birth family if they know few facts about them. Without solid information, a child is left to fill that lack of information with fantasies about how wonderful they are. A child may even create imaginary friends who play a role in this fantasy adoption story. Common fantasies include:
- Birth family will return someday to "rescue" them.
- Birth mother is a princess, singer, or famous actress.
- Birth family didn't want them.
Beginning with the truth minimizes the opportunity for a child to fantasize. If they know the truth, or at least the basic facts, any fantasy may be closer to the truth. This is one of the reasons it is vital to begin sharing your child's adoption story from the very beginning. If a child knows their story, there simply isn't the need to fantasize about it.
Since fantasy is also a natural part of childhood, providing the reality alongside the fantasy will ensure that fantasy isn't taken into adulthood as fact.
Adults who were adopted as children who did not know their birth families may need to have face-to-face contact with their birth family to put to rest their inner fantasies.