Have you ever pulled a “divide and conquer” with your partner and you took one child while they took another? Or maybe you believe in having date nights with your kids so your child gets undivided attention. It’s during these times when the closest bonds are formed and two people can interact with one another outside of the pressures of dealing with other people. Sometimes, adding people to the mix (even if they’re adults) make things harder and not easier; children are often more focused and in-tune when there’s only one point of authority to interact with. This is why it’s important for us to let our children have a little space during visits so they can have quality time with their birth parents.
Each family’s story is different, so here’s where I’m coming from. We have two domestic infant open adoptions, and both of my children were born in Texas. We live about 11 hours away, and though one birth mom has moved around a bit, we’ve always lived pretty far away from all birth parents. We promised birth family before both of our kids’ births that we would make it a priority to come and visit them at least once a year, and we have always over-delivered on that. We believe that it’s beneficial for our children to have quality contact with their birth families. Because of this, we make these visits a priority, and we try to plan time into each visit where our children can get that space and time to enjoy one-on-one time with their birth parents.
I would be lying if I said seeing my child grow so close to his/her birth parents wasn’t sometimes a blow to my ego, but I have had to learn how to quickly snap myself out of that, because my children have an unlimited capacity to love and be loved, so their closeness with birth family in no way negates their closeness with me.
Because our children are young, and because we live out of town, this one-on-one time looks a little different to us than it might to another family. We have many friends whose birth moms live close and are able to come and babysit, or can take their birth child to the zoo or another outing. Because that isn’t our dynamic, and because our kids are young, we have to get creative with how to give that breathing room. Here are a few examples of what it looks like in our relationship and, depending on what your relationships look like, maybe some of these opportunities may work great for you:
If we go to a park, I try to focus on playing with our other child or one of the birth siblings we love so much. I may pop in for a second to re-engage my child with his/her birth parent (implementing a game like peek-a-boo or tag, depending on the child’s interests), but I give space for the most part. I try to stay out of sight most of the time to avoid anxiety, but that intermittent check-in assures my child that I haven’t gone anywhere.
At meals, when we go out to eat, I sit beside my child at the first meal of the visit, and let his/her birth parent sit on the other side. At the next meals, I try to sit on the same side, a few people away. This keeps me close so I can wave if my child begins to feel insecure, but I can give them the freedom to bond and have fun with their birth parents without clinging to me. Their birth parents help feed them and take care of them during this time, strengthening their bond.
When we’ve gone to amusement parks or arcades, I’ve encouraged my kids’ birth parents to be the one who partners with them. Whether it’s riding an amusement park ride or playing an arcade game together, they’re bonding through camaraderie. They don’t need me hovering over them as they have fun together; they need me to give them the space to make memories together.
No matter what we do on these visits, there are always unique opportunities for me to step back a little and allow some extra space for bonding. I would be lying if I said seeing my child grow so close to his/her birth parents wasn’t sometimes a blow to my ego, but I have had to learn how to quickly snap myself out of that, because my children have an unlimited capacity to love and be loved, so their closeness with birth family in no way negates their closeness with me. Sometimes seeing them alone with their birth families acts as a reminder that I haven’t always been their mother, but again, I have to quickly snap myself out of that and think, rather, how fortunate they are to be loved so genuinely by so many people.
Alone time is important because my kids’ birth parents get a true taste of who their children really are, and my children have a chance to be themselves and interact with their families without the added stress of being in a large group.
One of the things I always keep in mind, too, is that it’s important that I build up my sense of security now, while they are young, because they will begin to notice more and more as they grow older what my insecurities are. I want them to see that they owe me no allegiance, and that I can trust fully in their love for me, because that means they can also trust fully in my love for them.
Giving them space shows my children that I have every confidence that they are capable of loving without limits, which is exactly how their entire family—birth and adoptive—loves them.