Is Birth Parent Contact What’s Best for the Kids?

It's a tough question that every family has to answer.

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The hardest decision my husband and I have had to make in the seven years since we got our kids is whether to allow contact between them and their birth parents. We first fostered then adopted a sibling group (ages 8, 5, and 16 months) who were taken away from their birth parents for substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness.

For the first two foster care years, the  birth mother had one visit with my daughter and no visits with either son. The birth father had a handful of visits with all three kids as a group, but he missed many more than he kept.

By the time the kids were freed for adoption, the birth parents had lied to them, stood them up for visits, and promised presents that never arrived. When we adopted the kids, the social workers told us it was our decision whether to continue any contact.

For almost a year, we agonized over the decision and were very honest with the kids about it. We told them that we wanted them to have relationships with their birth parents, but only if they could be healthy. We told the kids that we didn’t want their hearts broken again. I believe the kids appreciated that we took it so seriously and were struggling to do what was best for them.

We went back and forth trying to decide whether contact with drug addicts would harm our children more than forcing them to break off contact. Especially with our oldest son, then 10, who had talked about his birth parents every day for the first two years.

In the end, we decided that the most important thing for our children was to have a strong family bond with us and that forcing them to cut off contact with their birth parents would hurt that bond. We decided that even if the kids got hurt again, it was better to let them have a chance at healing those relationships with their birth parents.

So we opened the doors to contact: called the birth dad on the phone and wrote the birth mom letters (the parents were divorced by then). The phone conversation was wonderful for all three kids although I will never forget the birth dad saying to me during that call, “I won’t lie to you, Donna, I was a good father.” He said good-bye with all kinds of promises to keep in touch. We never heard from him again.

We never heard from the birth mom in response to the letters. When my daughter turned 9, she begged for a visit with her birth mom. I called the mom and arranged for us all to meet at a park. My daughter followed her birth mom around desperately all afternoon until the birth mom told her, “You sure like to be the center of attention.”

My daughter wrote a few letters to her birth mom after that but never got a response. My oldest son asked for a card and a stamp a few years ago on Mother’s Day to send to his birth mom because he said he felt sorry for her. He never heard back from her, either.

It has been four years since then, and I know we made the right decision. It might not be the right decision for other families in our same situation, but it has worked out well for us. Our kids trust us more, knowing that we didn’t try to come between them and their birth parents. We have been there to comfort the kids when they sent their hopeful letters and received nothing in response.

We eliminated a whole area of potential trouble where our kids could have fantasized about how wonderful life would be if only they could be with their birth parents. We have a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old now, and we don’t need any extra drama. No matter how mad they get at us, it’s never, “I wish I were with my birth parents.”

It has also been a very valuable, if painful, life lesson for my kids. We don’t always get what we want out of life. People let us down and disappoint us sometimes, even parents. It’s a humbling and sad truth, but it has helped me teach my kids compassion and forgiveness for themselves and others.

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