Question: We are hoping to not only build a wonderful relationship with our birthparents but also extended members of the birth family. What are some ideas adoptive parents have used to include the extended family into their lives?
Answer: It’s great that you want to include other members of the birth family in your life. First of all, your child cannot have too many people who love him or her!! In open adoption you expand your extended family, similar to enlarging your family through marriage. Birth family members are relatives because they are related to your child. Ongoing contact with them acknowledges this reality.
Some adoptive parents invite birth family members to their home for holiday events or birthday celebrations. Other possibilities include getting together for an annual summer picnic, inviting family members to attend your child’s sporting events, etc. Many families keep birth relatives in the loop with their activities through Facebook. In this way, they can easily see photos of your child over the years, as well as hear about the funny and interesting things that he or she does—such as a photo of your child in his or her Halloween costume or the first day of Kindergarten.
It’s also common for adopted children to be the flower girl or ring bearer at their birthmother’s wedding in subsequent years. This is always very special for all of you, as well as an opportunity to meet additional family members and form relationships with them
Grandparents play a special role in children’s lives. It’s wonderful that your child has the opportunity to have an extra set of grandparents. In fact, today with blended families, in addition to open adoption, it’s more and more common for children to have multiple sets of grandparents.
One birth grandmother I know loves to have her birth granddaughter visit at her house for special occasions, such as holiday time and holiday gift giving. As is typical in these situations, this birth grandmother considers both children in the adoptive family (her birth granddaughter and her sibling) to be her grandchildren. She always gives gifts or other treats to both children in the family. If you have additional children in your family (now or in the future) be sure to mention to the birth grandparents that you want them to be grandparents to all of your children.
Another birth grandmother told me recently that she treasures the annual visits she has with her Grandson Jack. She said “I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of Jack’s life. If my daughter had done a closed adoption, I wouldn’t have known Jack”. In my opinion, Jack is lucky, too, because he gets to know first hand the love of his birth family.
Most adopted children call their birth grandparents “Grandma Jane” or a mutually agreed upon name, such as “Grammy”. First, your parents and your spouse or partner’s parents decide what names they want to be called; afterward you can consider names for the birth grandparents. This is something you should discuss with the birth grandparents and come to a mutual agreement about what they will be called.
As we have discussed previously, children fare better with concrete information, rather than abstracts. Ongoing contact makes adoption concrete for children because the birthparents, birth grandparents and other family members are a concrete reality in their life. As a result, it’s much easier for him or her to understand adoption than it is for children with closed adoptions. Of course, as you discuss adoption with your child, be sure to explain that “Grandma Jane” is the mother of his or her birthmother.
Again, children cannot have too many people in their lives who love them!
Kathleen Silber, MSW, ACSW, is the IAC’s Associate Executive Director and Clinical Director. She is a nationally regarded expert, has written numerous groundbreaking books including “Dear Birthmother” and “Children of Open Adoption” and has advocated extensively for open adoption. Ms. Silber provides the IAC with clinical supervision.