A major reason I chose to place my son was his birth father. He was in and out of jail, he was unreliable, he was on drugs, and I honestly can’t recall a conversation we had in which he was sober. While I understand that I could have “made it work,” this was not an example of a father I wanted my son to be constantly exposed to. I was concerned about weekend visits to his dad, holidays and moments when I wouldn’t be with him to make sure he was being a good father.

Something I am grateful for: The birth father not only understood what I was thinking, but he agreed. He was the one who recommended adoption; in fact, it wasn’t until after I heard about adoption from him that I began to look into it. Neither of us could provide the life our child deserved, and we both knew it.

Some of the best advice I ever received about my son’s birth father was, “If you speak disrespectfully about a parent to a child—the child will believe there is something inherently wrong with himself.” Because I truly believe this, I try to do a few things to ensure that I speak respectfully about my birth son’s father:

Concentrate on the good. 

When it comes to concentrating on the good in my situation, I try to focus on who the birth father has become. I’ll tell the adoptive parents, with my birth son near, that the birth father is stable. He has a job, he’s finished school, he’s becoming a responsible person. He is kind and cares about other people. There is a time and a place to discuss vices that I’m concerned about. This is not it.

Address concerns privately. 

When I’m around my birth son, there is never a slight insult that exists in my mouth about his birth father. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns about him. If you, like me, have concerns, speak to the adoptive parents without your birth child present. If you have legitimate concerns, they should be communicated.

I felt abandoned after I found out I was pregnant. The birth father showed up when it worked for him and in between jail time. When the adoptive couple moved back to the state I was living in, the birth father showed interest in being involved in my birth son’s life. I was terrified. I had images of him showing up at birthday parties and Christmas celebrations where I was present with my husband. I certainly didn’t want to see him and I couldn’t predict how my husband would react to something like that.

I talked to the adoptive couple, via email, about my concerns. I could not believe how understanding they were! The emotions that seeing him triggered for me were frightening, and I asked for their help. While he was a “good guy” now, I could not fully forget what he had done to me. They understood and have worked so hard to keep both relationships positive but separate. I cannot thank them enough.

Remember your child is genetically half of the birth father. 

Try to remember that the child will always hold part of the birth father, genetically, which will bring him or her a sense of heritage. That heritage could either be a source of comfort or a source of distress. Hearing that the person whose genes comprise one half of yours is irresponsible, lazy, unreliable, or so on and so forth translates into hearing that you’re irresponsible, lazy, and unreliable. Remember, the person who may have hurt you, or who is struggling with trials that you might not understand, has his blood running through the veins of that child. You can think whatever you want, you can feel however you want, but saying whatever you want can bring an identity struggle to the child you bore.

Be honest, but kind. 

Simply rephrasing can make a world of difference. While keeping it age appropriate, you can communicate some more difficult topics. When the birth father is at a less-than-stellar place in his life, you can tell the child that his birth father is making some bad choices right now, but he is a good person who loves him. Remind your child that his birth father allowed him to be adopted by people who love him very much and could raise him in a happy home.