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how to talk to birth mom

We’re OK Letting Birth Mom In But Birth Dad is Scary

Question from Kate: I’m close to my son’s birth mother and a few of her family members. But his birth father is incarcerated and is a violent man.

I have some things I’d like to send to my son’s birth mom and her family but I’m concerned about disclosing our address because I don’t want it to get back to the birth father. I’m uncomfortable discussing it with his birth mom because it makes it seem like I don’t trust her with the information. I don’t know what to expect long-term with her and her relationship with my son’s birth father. Suggestions?              ~~ Kate

how to communicate with a birth parent

How to Have Contact with Birth Mom & Privacy with Birth Dad

Dear Kate: Would it be possible to get a box at a nearby mailbox rental store? UPS and the US Postal Service offer them, as do other packing and shipping places (non-USPS ones look like street addresses). For an annual fee you may be able to keep in contact AND maintain some privacy, until the time you feel more comfortable.

How To Communicate with a Birth Parent

While an offsite mailbox may solve the surface issue, it doesn’t address the deeper issue of communicating clearly with your son’s birth mom. Perhaps the reason that it sounds like you don’t trust her with the information is because you don’t trust her with the information.

Would it be possible to take the very brave step of talking this over with her? Of telling her your concerns in a way you’d like to hear them if the roles were reversed?

Try Something Like This:

I’m looking for ways to keep you in the loop, Gina, without exposing us to Rick. Because of all you’ve told us about him, I am sure you can understand why we’re not ready to give him access to us. One day we might be ready, but for now, we feel it’s best that he not have our contact information.

What are your thoughts on that? (pause to listen.) Are you in touch with him, or do you plan to be? (pause to listen.) Where do you think the line should be drawn on what information he has about us? (pause to listen.)

Tune In

Listen to what she says and attune to her. Do you sense that she is able to maintain a wall of privacy for the sake of the son you both love? If she doesn’t perceive Birth Dad as dangerous as you do, why might that be? Do you get the sense that she is trustworthy on this subject?

Simply having this conversation has the potential to take you more deeply into a trusting relationship with your son’s birth mom, which will serve your son well in the coming years. If you end up still feeling unsettled about the safety of your son and your family, you can still fall back on the offsite mailbox solution.

See Also:

Dear Readers, what say you?


About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
  • I encourage readers to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. Remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and we aim to bring light rather than heat. People do the best they can with what they have to work with, so let’s give folks more to work with.

Send in your own open adoption question. I’ll either offer an answer or find someone who can address your issue.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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4 Responses

  1. Good advice. You don’t want to assume things but at the same time, you want to emphasize the need for safety. By giving her the space to describe and delineate her present connection to the father, you get the info you need and set your own boundaries too. It’s two adults working it out.

  2. I think this is sound advice. The safety and well-being of the child is the main concern for all. It sounds as though they’ve already constructed relationship built on openness – I think the proposed dialogue is a great way to lean on that openness and use it to resolve this difficult issue. Incarceration isn’t necessarily a reason to forego openness; but the violence part is. It must be a delicate line to walk in this situation, but I give both women a lot of credit for pursuing openness.

  3. Oh boy can I ever relate to this!!! You have given very sound advice, no surprise here.

    I think one of the things to consider is to continue to ask questions and to be OK with, and listen to, that unsettled feeling about the birth father, in order to keep the boundary until they, or their older child, is ready to remove it. (If the situation grants itself that) And that takes time, patience and risk. All scary parts for a parent, but one that you can walk through with your child when they are also ready to pursue something deeper with the birth parent in question.

    I’ve done much the same in my situation, and continue to keep things private because of some trust concerns. Allegations are sometimes serious enough to warrant some time for processing on how to proceed.

    The fact that Mom is asking questions and reflecting about the situation is perfect. This is part of what open adoption is all about. Continue to ask questions, reflect, dig deeper when needed and move forward…always with the child’s best interest at heart.

    “Open” in some cases doesn’t always have to mean “Contact”. I hears those wise words somewhere. 😉 But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that “Contact” is completely off the table forever. Every adoption situation is different.

    Great advice, Lori.

  4. As I read this I saw quite a bit about my own relationship with my son’s parents reflected in this. My son’s birth father is complex, I won’t go into it here but there are a lot of concerns with him having a relationship with my son. But I have had a relationship with my son and his parents since birth and that includes visits and information about where they live. And I also do see his birth father on occasion and although its not regularly , my son’s parents are aware I do have this contact.

    Here is my reaction to the above (and I totally realize my situation could be completely different so please don’t see this as judgement of anyone’s decisions). The first time I met my son’s parents (before I even gave birth) they gave me a business card telling me where one of them worked and phone number and email to reach him. This wasn’t common at my agency and I remember my social worker mentioning that, but it helped me trust them with my child – to know they weren’t afraid of me and trusted me at least enough to not create a email address just for me. Within four months of my son being born I received a card in the mail from them (this is after we had several in person visits), that card with their return address meant so much to me, it meant I could finally send my son a letter in the mail, it meant I knew a little more about his life, it meant they couldn’t just disappear on our relationship we were building. It made me really start to trust our relationship.

    It was a good two years of very regular contact until I didn’t feel fear on sending an email that I would never hear back. There was no reason for me to not trust our relationship, my son’s parents never did anything to make me not trust them, but I had heard too many horror stories of adoptive parents backing out of openness and I worried about it for a long time. Every time they trusted me with more of their life, the first time I got their address, the first time I was invited to their house, the first time I was invited to the house of some of their other family members, the first time I was included in a holiday, each time they trusted me, they cemented me being able to trust them, trust in the relationship they were offering.

    I get there are concerns about safety and I understand that is really important to maintain a safe environment. I also understand that might mean not having any relationship with the birth father, but what I don’t think is often talked about is that as much as its important to learn to trust your child’s birth parents (in this case the mother) it is just as important for them to trust you (or more specifically for them to trust the relationship with you is real and will last). I think for any open adoption to get to a good place both sets of adults need to learn to trust each other, and I can say for me it would have taken a lot more for me to trust my son’s parents if they communicated to me through a PO box or a third party.

    I recognize this doesn’t address the fears that a birth mother may divulge information to someone unsafe. In my case, I have shared small pieces of information about my son to his birth father, I told him my son’s name, showed him pictures at different points and told him a general area of the city where my son lived. But I never shared information about my son’s parents, gave specific locations, or gave him copies of pictures (electronic or otherwise). I wanted him to know something about his son but definitely had boundaries of what I felt okay sharing. I have always tried to protect my son and keep him safe, its part of the reason I relinquished. Its important to me that the love I have for my son and my want to keep him safe is something that his parents never question. Them trusting me to create boundaries is part of that. I realize this isn’t always true in all adoptions, there are instances where birth parents have shown their priority is not their child’s safety. But my having some contact with my son’s birth father doesn’t mean I don’t care about my son’s safety, it doesn’t mean I don’t have boundaries and it doesn’t mean I can’t be trusted to keep information about my son private.

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