Adoption. It’s a small word with big implications. To a biological parent it means letting go in every way possible. Letting go of the child, trusting that someone else will raise them well, letting go of wondering how the child is doing, growing, learning and feeling. To the adoptive family that word means “blessing”. It’s the ability to grow their family, to provide care, to fulfill a need. Often the child is young enough to not be aware of their adoptive circumstances until later in life. At that point, the adoptive family may present a letter from the biological family to the child. Alternately, the child may be in an open adoption situation where letters are frequent and expected. Regardless of the situation, there are some things you should avoid when penning an adoption letter.
Here are five things to watch out for:
1. Discussing your other at-home children: If you are in an open adoption and writing regularly to your adopted child, he or she may be wondering why you are caring for other children but gave him or her up. The “don’t talk about your other children” issue isn’t absolute; but first make sure your child understand the circumstances of their adoption. If you were too young, your financial or home situation was not ideal, or there was abuse in the home, find a way to properly discuss this with your child face to face. If they are understanding and supportive of your decision, you may feel comfortable talking about your other children. However, avoid comparing your children to the adoptive child, bragging about their accomplishments or making the child feel in any way that they did not deserve your love the way the other children do. If they are not in a position to understand or accept your past, avoid talking about other children in your care.
2. Talking down about the child’s father/mother: Whether the father/mother was a deadbeat, abusive, married or simply too young to be a proper parent, avoid talking down your child’s other biological parent. Your child is now in a stable home environment and the circumstances of his or her birth were completely out of their control. Even if you are still smarting or angry about the treatment, lack of funds, or abuse the other birth parent subjected you to, taking out your frustrations by penning your feelings about it to your child is inappropriate. Save that kind of talk for a therapist or support group.
3.Talking down about the adoptive family: Do not try to “win” your child’s approval by questioning the parenting or love of the adoptive family. Unless there is clear evidence of abuse or neglect (at which point, contact the proper authorities) allow the adoptive family to operate as a cohesive unit. You may not agree with some of their parenting style, but don’t use the child as a go-between or give him or her the opportunity to say, “My real mom would let me do this or have that.” That is very disruptive to the family unit and wholly inappropriate.
4. Shaming the birth mother: In an open adoption, letters can go both ways. The birth parent can write to the child, the child can write to the birth parents and the adoptive parents can write to the child. If you are the adopted child or adoptive parents, avoid slipping shameful phrases into your letters, such as “It’s too bad you were so messed up on drugs you missed the best years of my life,” or “Teen pregnancy is a sin and you should feel grateful that we took care your child for you.” The option to share letters is to support the best interest of child, not for any party to work out their beliefs or cause emotional punishment about the situation.
5. Failing to send letters: In an open adoption, the ability to have communication between the birth and adoptive family can have a huge impact on the child. If you agreed to an open adoption, the birth parent(s) and the child may be longing for some form of contact. Failing to send letters or sending them sporadically will make special times such as birthdays and Christmas pure agony as the parent(s)/child wait to see if this is the day they will get another letter. If you are in an open adoption, be consistent with your letter writing.
Adoption is a wonderful process that greatly benefits all parties involved. The ability to send letters between the families can strengthen the bonds of both family units. Remember, the words you write will have a lasting impact. Avoid these five mistakes and seal each letter with a kiss and lots of love.
This article was written by Helen Philips an adoption specialist, who counsels and educates both couples and adopted children.