Open adoptions are complicated to say the least. Ideally, everyone would always get along and be one big happy family. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. One of the things that can make open adoptions tough is the element of extended birth family. Sometimes your relationships with them can get complicated or cause drama. If this is the case, here are a few tips to help you cope.
1. Remember who you are
It’s easy to get overwhelmed as an adoptive parent because not only are you trying to maintain relationships with your family and the birth parents, you also have their extended family on top of it. It can feel like you’re trying (and failing) to please everyone. That’s not your job. It’s your job to be the best parent you can be to the child you placed with. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.” You can love and appreciate your child’s extended birth family without compromising what you feel to be right.
2. Set Firm Boundaries
As soon as possible, talk with the extended birth family about guidelines for your relationship. It might seem harsh to impose rules on the family who has already sacrificed so much, but sometimes it’s for the best. For example, a good rule of thumb is that your parenting decisions are not up for discussion. Adoption is not co-parenting, ESPECIALLY with members of the birth family that are not the birth parents. It’s okay to make it clear that you are not willing to discuss your parenting style with them.
Another common issue is that of visitation. As with birth parents, promise the minimum you feel you can offer. If sometimes you can do more than that, great. But over promising visitation to extended family can cause a lot of stress and hurt feelings.
In my life I have found that the solution to most conflict is listening. Is your child’s birth aunt calling you repeatedly and getting upset when you can’t pick up? Maybe the real issue isn’t the phone call, but her concerns that she might be forgotten. Sitting down with the family member, truly listening to his or her concerns, and reassuring him or her might be all it takes.
4. Don’t be afraid to take a step back
You have feelings and limits, too. If there are very frequent issues with extended birth family, you will exhaust yourself trying to solve them. Remember, it is first and foremost your duty to be a parent. If issues with the birth family are affecting your ability to enjoy your parenthood, it’s okay to take a step back. You could say something like, “I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and I need to focus on my child. I will be taking a step back for awhile. I don’t hate you, and this isn’t permanent, but I do need some space. Thank you for your patience.”
You don’t need to feel guilty for ending the conversation there. You can love and appreciate your child’s extended birth family without always being available for contact.
5. Remember the birth parents
The birth parents are the most important people you have made promises of openness to. It is important to respect them and how they might feel about your interaction with their families. In many cases, it is best for your communication with the extended family to go directly through the birth parents. This shows that you respect them and that you aren’t going behind their backs, as well as being simpler for you.
Relationships with extended birth family can be very complex. If conflict is handled in a loving, supportive way, you can come away with a great solution. You and your child can have loving, rewarding relationships with birth family members that will enrich the lives of all involved. All it takes is patience, understanding, and some good guidelines.