How to Handle Contention with Birth Parents

No one has ever regretted being respectful.

Handling contention with birth parents is often emotionally driven and difficult. Handling contentious people on a daily basis can make anyone anxious. Adoption brings people together from different backgrounds, on a journey most have never traveled before.

The number one rule, in my book of four adoptions, is to keep perspective. Have compassion, knowing this will not last forever. While in the midst of an adoption, adoptive parents, as well as birth parents emotions, are on high alert.

Our goal as adoptive parents during placement is to help diffuse our birth parents and birth grandparents through this emotional, trying, and testing time.

To become compassionate, not just feel the sting of frustration, we need to think about the reasons our birth parents might be having such a difficult time:

  1. Birth father may have abandoned them.
  2. Their own parents may not support this pregnancy or adoption plan.
  3. They are completely alone.
  4. Unhealthy
  5. Maybe having addiction withdrawal
  6. They may want to parent, but they are unable to because of their situation
  7. Limited education, to help better their situation
  8. Homeless
  9. Sleep deprived
  10. Have other children, and are overwhelmed
  11. Hungry
  12. Not making ends meet

A piece of advice given to me during our first adoption was to think of yourself (adoptive family) as a pier. Solid, steady, immovable. The biological family as the waves of the ocean—tossing, turning, having a tumultuous time.

With compassion in mind, and in your heart, establish boundaries. During waiting and placement phases, never promise anything you cannot follow through with. Even if this may disrupt your placement and adoption. If you cannot follow through on promises later on, it contributes to more contention. Early on in your relationship establish expectations quickly. As soon as you are matched, ask as many questions as possible so that there are as little surprises as possible for both parties.

Keep perspective—and repeat. The high energy and intensity adoption brings is such a short piece of time, compared to forever.

If your birth parents are contentious, establish boundaries both parties can agree on. Do it before placement.

If by chance this is done post placement, work with them to establish bounds you both agree on. Such as:

  1. Phone call once a week on a certain day, at a certain time. It gives you both something to look forward to and you can both count on.
  2. Letters and pictures once a month for the first year, or first five years, or forever.
  3. Access to a Facebook account, as long as there is a mutual respect online.
  4. Share emails once a week.
  5. A CD with pictures and videos once a year.

If needs be, revisit boundaries after six months or a year based on how the relationship changes. As the emotional rollercoaster of placement comes to end, agreeable terms usually become easier.

Have a plan, be brave, and stick to it.