Need help figuring out adoption relationships? Schedule a complimentary consultation with Lori Holden, M.A.
passive aggressive relationship

My Son’s Birth Mom Sounds Passive Aggressive. Help?

Question: On social media, I posted a cute photo of my cute son doing a cute thing. My son’s mom commented:

It sucks to only see pix of him here. I wish you’d send me some. Oh, well, at least I get something.

I’m not really sure what to say? We’ve never had an agreement where I text her pics formally. But my relationship with birth mom includes connecting with her on social media so she can look at pix anytime and even screen shot them for herself.

I would love to text her every little moment but I just don’t have time. I understand that she is missing him. But the point of connecting on social media was for her to see him, like everyone else. I get a moment to upload a pic and everyone gets to see it, particularly her.

— Jacquie

relationship with birth mom

This Isn’t Really about the Photos

I can understand why it would be time-consuming to text her directly all the photos you’re already posting, Jacquie. And you’re right that she must be missing him terribly, living for the moments when she gets to see what he’s up to — moments she wishes desperately were hers to witness.

I think her message is more about how she feels than what she sees. She is articulating the symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. Something else is behind her words.

Meeting Her Needs Also Meets Yours

My guess is that because of the special connection you share — your son — she’d like to be reassured once in awhile that she’s in your inner circle, someone who merits a private peek. By giving her occasional reassurance of her special role and status, I bet she’ll get filled up more easily and more often and both your needs will be met.

This is the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Between imposing an agreement from the outside and embracing a relationship from the inside.  This means building a meaningful connection with her and not just a perfunctory one.

Even if you follow an agreement and give pictures on schedule but don’t really build a connection with her, she will never get filled up. If you build a connection by valuing her and treating her as though you value her, she’s more likely to get filled up. How do you show you value her? By actually valuing her (not saying you don’t). Otherwise you will be continually filling a bucket with a hole in the bottom. This is called enlightened self-interest. So often the shortest route to meeting your own needs is to meet the other person’s.

See Also:

About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
  • Readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. Remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to 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.


This post is part of #MicroblogMondays? Whazzat? A post that’s not too long. Head to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

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.

New Posts Delivered to You

23 Responses

  1. Wow. This letter struck a nerve with me with the rational. You can already sense that the wall is up and she’s angry for being called out when she believes she’s meeting the agreement. The thing is, I don’t think Jacquie really has reflected on the emotions behind that comment. And maybe also that she’s not truly setting the stage for when her son starts asking about his other mother and family. Those don’t magically get erased with adoption.

    As hard as it will be, I believe she can use this note as a means of building openness and this needed connection. Like with any relationship, things change over time so I don’t think anything formal is required. But maybe it’s time to start including your son’s other mother. Whether it’s sharing pictures, texting updates, making a point to actually see her or even beginning have her help you as you share with your son his adoption story. There’s ways of including and it can be at a speed that works for all of you.

  2. “How do you show you value her? By actually valuing her. Otherwise you will be continually filling a bucket with a hole in the bottom. ”

    This works on so many levels, and for so many situations! Amazing and compassionate advice, Lori.

    1. ^Yes. Even though I cannot relate to either Jacquie’s or the birth mother’s situation, I could understand this. And realize that I could do better in showing others that I value them.

  3. Lori you nailed it again!! This is a post we will be savoring at the agency forever. My heart goes out to both women. It is a complicated dance requiring high levels of attunement-not only to child but between adults. Well said. ❤️

  4. So wise… I love seeing the difference between what is seen versus what is FELT, and why. You always get to the root of the matter, and the need to explore the cause of a comment and implore people not to knee-jerk reactions. Such a helpful, compassionate post!

  5. How exactly do you show a woman whose baby you walked away with, that you value her? I’m only asking, because there’s only one thing the woman raising my son could do that would show she values my son, my other children, and myself and it doesn’t involve text messages or privately sent photos, and I’m not saying that to be a jerk. I’m just being realistic.

    1. Jenna, I’m guessing that for people who feel someone walked away with their baby, the answer would be different than for people who feel they made the best decision available them at the time. I know both exist because I’ve heard stories of both.

      I’m sorry you feel your son was taken away. That’s awful no matter how you look at it.

  6. Reaching out to her to find out how she would like to feel more in the loop of what is going on with her son would be a good first step in showing her that she is valued.

  7. I think the “like everyone else” element is the key here. I think the birth mom simply wants to be considered as someone who is slightly more important than your third cousin you met once, or those people you didn’t like in high school. And really, does it take that much effort to text a different shot to her, when uploading some photos to Facebook? One that’s for her alone, because she does have a special relationship with the child? Isn’t there a happy medium between every little moment and for everyone to see on Facebook?

    I think there’s more to Jacquie’s feelings on the matter than she’s described in the letter. It appears that she wants the distance that social media brings. (Note: I don’t know that that is true, but that’s how it comes across.)

    1. Exactly what “a” just said: ” But the point of connecting on social media was for her to see him, LIKE EVERYONE ELSE”.
      Your son’s birthmother is not, nor should she be treated as such. The more you honour her special status, the more your son will respect you for it when he’s old enough to understand. Do the right thing.

  8. I really like what you said about “her special role and status.” What I got from what the birth mother said is that she feels like there’s two categories: The adoptive mother and everybody else and she’s been thrown into the latter. I think there should be a special category somewhere in between for her.

  9. I think your advice is spot-on. I didn’t get the sense that it was about the pictures but more that she was one person in a sea of people looking at the same photos. And she would like to be part of that inner chain that knows the day-to-day more than the random school friend or the work acquaintance.

  10. The key line in your post for me were: “I think her message is more about how she feels than what she sees. She is articulating the symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. Something else is behind her words.”

    I believe this is at the heart of many/all (mis-) communications. It is usually not the presenting issue that is the real issue. I like your insights, encouraging us to dig deeper. Another important point might be to not become defensive by the other person’s words…which is so easy to do. Listen to the words and tune into the feeling first to help move toward resolution.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  11. I’ve heard many adoptive mom’s note that there child’s other mother is who they love to text with about their child, send pictures of their child to, because no one else is as invested in their child…

    Something to consider…may end up being your best support you didn’t know you had there the whole time…

  12. How fabulous for the adoptive parents when all control of someone else’s child is regulated to them and only them. Make no mistake, control is exactly what this is about.

    Pictures. G*d damn pictures and updates. What is the big deal? Is is that much of a sacrifice to honor your promises to someone who basically sacrificed her life for that of her child, by believing at one time she was doing the right thing (many times adoption turns out NOT to be the right thing). I can’t stomach this bogus nonsense anymore, truly. Just sickening.

  13. I hear you Sam. It is sickening.

    Even though I was forced to surrender, I went sometime later to the agency HOPING and asked if it would be possible to have a picture. Just —-one—- picture of my son. The reply was, “the adoptive mother said yes, the adoptive father said NO.” One picture of my heart. Wasn’t EVEN allowed that. But then it was what they called a closed adoption.

    I told an older friend a few years ago about that request and answer and she drove the dagger in deeper by saying, “Maybe they were trying to protect him.” I looked at her shocked and stunned, trying to hold myself together and upright, and said, “protecting him from *What*? me?

    Now that I think about it I’m sure that was not the case. They were protecting themselves from -the mother. Protecting themselves from any other woman saying, “this is my beloved son.”

    Adoption hurts.

    All I can tell myself is that they have and had no idea what they were doing to a mother. a woman. a human being.

    1. Cindy, I hear you. It sounds like none of those you mention here — the agency, the adoptive parents, your older friend — treated you respectfully or with empathy.

  14. I do agree with Lori that this is no doubt more a symptom of a bigger problem. Just as there is grief to process when a couple is unable to conceive, there is also a grieving process for a birthparent (more than likely a birthmother). And of course there is no right way to grieve. It’s a very personal process.

    I am a birthmother and honestly, I thank God that social media was not a thing when I placed my son more than 25 years ago. Social media is so BIG and SO MUCH sometimes that it can often feel contrived or phony.

    I have to wonder if maybe the birthmother feels as though she will be forgotten – as if she’ll be just a biological factor in her chid’s life. It may not be realistic, but it may be how she’s feeling. I know I had unresolved grief for years following my son’s placement – and my situation had literally no negativity or stress. I had an almost unbelievably good situation and relationship with my son and his family. So if my situation was “good” by every definition – and I had stress and grief and insecurities – I can’t imagine the feelings a birthmother from a different situation would experience.

    Jenna, I am so sorry if you feel like someone “walked away with your child.” I can’t imagine what that must be like. I know there are many so-called adoption agencies that are unethical and deceptive in their practices. I truly hope that was not your circumstance.

    I think the key to making an open adoption work is to put the child at the center of every decision and to be willing to be open, in whatever way both parties decide is best.

    In this case, my suggestion is for the adoptive mom to have a conversation with the birthmother – either in person or on the phone (email, text, social media are all too impersonal – too easy to get mixed messages) – to find out what she will need to feel more secure and more at peace with their family dynamics. It sounds as though the birthmother is dealing with emotions beyond feeling lumped in with everyone else when it comes to pictures and updates of her child. Just knowing that the adoptive mom is thinking of the birthmother and is willing to keep her in close contact may make the relationship less “passive aggressive” and more authentic.

  15. Love this Lori! I had never thought too deeply about it, but it makes perfect sense. I’m friends with my kids birth mother on social media, but I also like to make sure she gets some special photos and notes that no one else gets. The honest truth is that it’s not that difficult, and the rewards are so worth it.

  16. How do you so simply figure all of this out, Lori?

    One thing I know after reading this, is I would do well to learn more about enlightened self-interest.

    While I’ve never deeply considered how meeting another’s need could be the shortest route to meeting my needs, it sums up my parenting experience nicely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New Posts Delivered to You

Be the first to know about each new post. 

(Just a few each month.)