This week, as we begin to celebrate being family and being thankful for life’s blessings, some of you may have questions about how to handle the holidays during or after an adoption. One expert shares her wisdom and offers answers for those difficult questions when it comes to what to do:
From Thanksgiving to the end of the year, everyone’s focus is on family. Even TV commercials show happy families celebrating the holidays together. As a result, this season can be painful for birthparents, especially if their contact with their children is minimal. And parents in open adoptions deliberate over what and how much to share with them. Will detailed information be painful—or reassuring—to the birthmother?
What you should keep in mind is that your son’s birthmother is a relative. You don’t have to love her, and she doesn’t have to be your best friend (as with some of your other relatives!)—but you should think of her as an extended family member. This is what open adoption is about. Knowing that he’s happy will help your son’s birthmother continue to feel good about the difficult decision she made eight years ago. And the holiday season is an especially important time to let her know you are thinking about her.
What to share
How can you let your son’s birthmother know she’s in your thoughts? The type of contact will depend on the relationship you have maintained over the years. If you have been in regular contact, whether by mail, phone, or visits with the family, your son’s birthmother will expect a detailed update or a get-together. If your contact has been more limited, I’m sure she’ll appreciate a letter and a photo.
Your son’s birthmother will enjoy hearing the details about his life—who he is at eight years old—his personality, his interests, his accomplishments. Parents might worry that details would be painful or would make the birthmother regret that she placed her child for adoption.
The reality is that the adoption plan was made out of love. She chose not to parent him, but she will always love him. So go ahead and tell her about the wonderful things your child does—that your son won the spelling bee at his school last year, for example, or that he’s learning to play the guitar.
You might ask your son what he’d like to share in a holiday letter to his birthmother. At his age, many children write their own letters to be enclosed in the holiday cards sent to the birth family. Or your son may want to draw a picture to send with your letter. By including him in this project, you gain an opportunity to talk with him again about his adoption story. You can remind him of the permanence of your family, as well as the love of his birthmother.
A 10-year-old I know, David, doesn’t visit with his birthmother, but he enjoys writing his own letter to her at holiday time. This year he talked about his accomplishments on the soccer field, and he asked her what her favorite sport is.
Many families also exchange gifts with their children’s birthparents at holiday time—as they do with other family members. If you have a close relationship with the birth family, consider a gift exchange. To children your son’s age, a gift from a birthparent is concrete evidence of her love; it attests to the fact that she thinks of him often.
Katie, an eight-year-old child I know, loves the teddy bear her birthmother gave her last Christmas. The bear sits on Katie’s bookshelf, and she tells visitors that it is from her birthmother, Susie. If you wanted to send a gift to your son’s birthmother, she’d surely cherish a framed photograph of him.
Whatever level of communication you have with your son’s birthmother, the holidays provide a wonderful opportunity to talk with your child about family and about all the people in his life who love him.
Kathleen Silber is the associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and coauthor of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (Corona).