Within the adoptive triad, there is so much discussion about the important relationship between the birth mother, adoptee(s), and adoptive family. It seems as though much of the focus is on the birth mother, but birth fathers are just as important. Much of what adoption training includes is centered on how to navigate a birth mother relationship while providing space for adoptees to process their stories. Although the involvement and procedures for birth fathers vary within every adoption, this article will seek to address how to teach adoptees about birth fathers.
What makes a Birth Father?
Just like birth mothers, birth fathers have a choice when the mother of their child becomes pregnant. If a birth father contributes to the adoption plan of the child, he is known as a birth father. There are different laws pertaining to birth fathers in each state, and each adoption is different when it comes to birth fathers. For example, some expectant fathers who know they do not want to parent may sign adoption agreement paperwork before the child is born. This article will not discuss these details at length, but for further information, be sure you obtain information that is relevant to your state.
The Importance of Birth Fathers
The importance of a birth father is no different for an adoptive child than it is for any other child. Father figures are a critical component to any child’s upbringing. Their presence in the life of a child contributes heavily to the child’s overall well-being. I would argue that the presence, or even knowledge, of a birth father is more urgent for an adopted child than a non-adopted child. Adopted children should have access to as much information about and interaction with their birth father as possible. Ideally, an adopted child will have the invitation from their adoptive family to learn, explore and establish a relationship with their birth father. This process allows children who are adopted to piece together their biological connections and understand their uniquely personal adoption story. Birth fathers not only hold valuable information for the adoptee, but they can be a source of tremendous connection for the adoptee. Although every adoption is different, the importance of birth fathers does not change.
How a Birth Father Contributes to the Triad
As mentioned previously, every adoption circumstance is different, with varying levels of participation, knowledge, and information. For example, one adoption may consist of an expectant mother making a potential adoption plan by herself without knowing who the expectant father is. Another adoption may consist of an expectant mother and father making a potential adoption plan together as a typical married couple.
As a result, the contributions of birth fathers to the adoptive triad vary. When the birth father is involved in the adoption plan, he is better positioned to maintain openness with the child he is placing for adoption. We all know that birth fathers are typically less likely to be involved in an adoption plan, so it is important to evaluate your unique adoption story, whether you are an adoptive parent, adoptee, or another member of the adoption community. If the birth father is not known or involved in an adoption plan, this obviously changes the game. While this is unfortunate for the adoptee, it does not have to mean that all hope for connections or emotional health and understanding is lost.
An Adoptive Mother’s Perspective on a Birth Father
In an effort to provide insight into how complex the role of a birth father may be, I am going to share a little bit about my son’s birth father. I am an adoptive mother of a toddler son who my husband and I adopted domestically at birth. While our own adoption journey was difficult and long, which included six disrupted adoptions, we would not trade the trials we endured for anything because we believe they all led us to our son. Our son’s birth father is a loving man who was involved in the adoption plan until it was finalized. Then, through a series of specific events, his path changed. As a result, his effort in pursuing open adoption and maintaining contact with us changed. At our son’s birth, he was passionate about maintaining an open adoption. This was reassuring for my husband and me because, as adoptive parents who believe that open adoption is what is best for an adoptee, we were reassured that this was for our son’s benefit.
However, our son’s birth father has not been interested in maintaining contact, and when he is interested, his life choices and circumstances prevent his follow-through. I am thankful that we know who our son’s birth father is, and that we have met him several times personally, but it is still heartbreaking to not have the openness we initially wanted. We are still hopeful that this will change. As an adoptive mother, I believe it’s my job to be the one who leaves the door open, so my son’s birth father always knows he is welcome and wanted within our triad.
I share this part of our adoption journey not to highlight our son’s birth father’s shortcomings, because we all make mistakes, but rather to demonstrate how important it is to stick with the birth father (if he is known) and continue to advocate for him despite the effort not being reciprocated. Simply keep the door open and always advocate for your adoptee’s relationship with their biological father. Do everything you can to ensure that a relationship can bloom when it is ready and willing.
Teaching Adoptees about Birth Fathers
One of the things my husband and I tell people who approach us with questions or concerns about adopting is that it does not come with an instruction manual. We can simply do our best to be educated and informed about adoption and then implement best practices that have been researched or competently recommended by professionals. In my opinion, one of the most important things we can teach adoptees about is that birth fathers are just as important as birth mothers. Although their involvement and participation may vary wildly from birth mothers, they still have an important biological connection with their children. A healthy adoptee will likely want to know any and all information surrounding their birth father. So, begin by teaching him or her everything you know about their birth father. Use discretion with what you share at certain ages. For example, as a toddler, my son will not understand everything about his birth father. He does, however, know that his first mommy and daddy love him very much.
If your adoptee is of age and wants to know more than you can provide, try to communicate your child’s desire to know more to their birth mother and allow her to help facilitate that process and answer questions if possible. Again, this will depend on the relationships that have been developed between you and your child’s birth mother. If you are thinking that this does not sound concrete and that there are a lot of “ifs,” then you are correct. Adoption is complex and difficult. There are layers upon layers. It is not your job to be the fixer of everything. Rather, you must be the one who consistently communicates and validates feelings, emotions, and questions. Give your adoptee the space, time, and freedom to come to their own conclusions.
If an adoptee’s birth father is totally unknown, then the adoptee will be unintentionally forced to accept another layer of who he or she is biologically. It is important to teach adoptees that there is no known knowledge of who they are, but that if and when they want to pursue that information, they have the freedom to do so with professional help and modern technology. Again, communicating that you do not know is still important even though you are not sharing a lot of information. By being open and honest, you are giving the adoptee the freedom and space to navigate their own journey at their own pace and curiosity. Adoptions are different, but so are adoptees. It may be that your adoptee has no interest in learning their birth father’s identity. If that is the case, their decision should be validated and respected.
Identity versus Knowledge
Establishing the connection between an adoptee and their birth father plays a role in their identity. Even if adoptees do not want to learn who their birth fathers are, their adoptive fathers and other father figures in their lives play a role in their identities. Ensure you are doing what you can to help establish their identities. If you are a person of faith, then your family’s faith will likely shape their identity also. As an adoptive mother, I never want my son’s identity to be totally comprised of being adopted. We have extended family members who will innocently say, “this is her adopted son.” When this occurs, we politely say, “He is our son, not our adopted son.” This may seem like an insignificant example, but it is a consistent way to reiterate our son’s identity.
We are fortunate to have an open adoption with our son’s birth mother and when there are visits, we make a point to explain to our son that she too is his mother and that he is blessed with people who love him dearly. Adoptees will soak up what you teach them about adoption, their story, their biological parents, and all the things that make them uniquely special. Be sure to reiterate to them that their identity does not have to be solely a result of their birth father, but a result of several people who love them and made a plan for them to be taken care of. The saying “knowledge is power” is relevant here because the knowledge that you can offer your adoptees will assist them in evolving their identities. Be open and transparent, and remember that it is okay to not know everything. However, it is not okay to not address things and allow your adoptee to navigate their journey alone.
Open Adoption Wisdom
While this article does not directly pertain to open adoption, I do want to offer some wisdom into open adoption, in case teaching your adoptee about his or her birth father opens doors for your adoption relationship to evolve into a more fluid open adoption. As the adoptive parent, you cannot set the pace for your open adoption. Allow the birth parents to set the pace and modify your actions based on what they desire. Always remember that your adoption journey is not about you; it is about the adoptee. Do not approach your adoption as a quick fix remedy for your desire to have a child. Adoption is a lifelong commitment, and I would argue that it makes parenting even more difficult, so do not take the burden lightly. Remember that you cannot control everything, so it is critical that you allow things to evolve while making every effort to nurture the relationships within your triad.
The landscape of adoption has changed immensely in recent years. I am hopeful that the trajectory of adoption continues to change for the better. Advocating for and teaching about birth fathers is a critical part of that change. Now more than ever, open adoptions are evolving and there is education provided for adoptive parents to better serve their adoptees.
If you are considering adoption or trying to improve your open adoption, seek out the resources you need. Be part of the process of changing adoption for the good. Be an advocate for expectant parents, birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents. Even though no member of the triad has it easy, everyone should work toward meeting the needs of the adoptee.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.