It’s Time to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone -10 Ways to Encourage Bonding with Birth Families
I remember feeling a bit nervous about interacting with birth families early on in our foster care journey. I had preconceived stereotypes that they were all dangerous or “bad people”. I had heard of other foster families who completely refused to interact or have any contact with birth families at all. I wondered if we should choose that “safer” option. As we contemplated what to do it wasn’t a hard choice. We knew that as Christians we were called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and we weren’t going to give in to fear.
I found that stepping out of my comfort zone opened my eyes and heart to a world that I had never experienced. It wasn’t as black and white as I expected it to be. The people we encountered were dealing with difficult circumstances and sometimes bad choices, but they were no less worthy of love and second chances. Once we got to know them, we were able to encourage them, show love, and ultimately cultivate a strong bond. The drive these parents exhibited to overcome impossible circumstances proved to be incredible. It has impacted and inspired me in a way that words cannot describe.
Certainly there are instances where it is dangerous or damaging for a child to interact with their birth family, and in those cases contact should be very limited or not permitted. However, there are many instances where it can be extremely beneficial for a child and their parents to grow and maintain a healthy bond.
If you have a foster child working toward reunification, or if you’re an adoptive parent wanting to continue a relationship with your child’s birth family, there are many easy ways to foster a bonding environment. I know it can feel quite intimidating at first, but I want to assure you that it’s not hard to do, and the benefits for your foster or adoptive child will be immeasurable.
So if your first thought is that you want to shy away from interacting with birth families, I want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, consult your case worker to ensure interaction is appropriate, and start working your way through these 10 steps today.
Let’s get started….
Step 1: Speak positively, be respectful and show kindness in your interactions not only with the birth family, but in your interactions with your child about their birth family. I can’t encourage this one enough. Find positive things to say about the child’s birth family and speak them often. Talk about the fun things they did at their visits, or how they share the same great laugh or curly hair as their mom or dad. This instills a strong sense of pride between the child and their parent, and dispels competition between foster/adoptive parent and birth parent.
Step 2: Use a journal to talk with each other. This can be sent back and forth at visits, and it’s a great way to open the lines of communication. You can ask questions, share milestones, find out preferences, cultural traditions, and even discuss important dates. It’s also a great way to find out how their visit went and the fun things they did, which provide you with more opportunities to practice Step 1.
Step 3: Provide encouragement and support to the birth family. These families are dealing with challenging situations that are not easily fixed. Become their greatest supporter. Not everyone has a family member or friend to turn to, and many times it may feel like everyone is against him or her. If you show them that you believe in them, and encourage them to keep pushing toward their goal, you’re providing fuel for success.
For those in the foster care system, if they see you’re committed to helping them succeed in getting their children back, communication and bonding comes more easily.
For adoptive parents, your support of the birth family shows your child that you’re committed to their past, present and future. You demonstrate to your kids they can be proud of where they came from no matter what the circumstances.
Step 4: Place a photo book or framed picture of their birth family in your child’s room, or other common place in the home. Let them beam as they show off their birth mother, father, grandparents etc.
Step 5: Share special items such as school photos, drawings or projects with the birth family. Have your child pick out their favorite, frame it and give it as a gift at visits.
Step 6: Speaking of gifts, don’t forget those special days such as birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Help your child pick out special gifts for their birth family for these special occasions.
Step 7: When you catch those sweet moments on your phone, share them! Sharing videos and photos via email or text allows the birth family to stay connected to those special day-to-day moments. Apps like Google Voice allow you to send photos via text from an alternate phone number. It also keeps an email record of all text interactions.
Step 8: Be inclusive. If permissible, offer an invitation to school assemblies, parent teacher conferences, class parties, field trips, sporting events, recitals, birthday parties, etc. These opportunities provide lasting memories for your child with their family through play and positive interaction.
Step 9: Offer to set up a scheduled time for phone calls between your child and their birth family to supplement additional time together. There are many ways to do this safely by using a TracFone, blocking your number using *67, or using an app like Google Voice, which provides an alternate phone number if you’re not comfortable sharing yours.
Step 10: If allowed, supervise additional visits at fun places like the beach, zoo or park. Playing together disarms fear and encourages bonding, so what better way to encourage bonding than by sharing a fun experience together! This step has proven to be the most beneficial in my personal experience. I will never forget one particular birth mother who was extremely thankful after my husband and I supervised a visit at the beach with her daughters on Mother’s Day. She told me later, with tears in her eyes, that it was then that she felt reconnected to her girls, the bond was back, and she had a renewed drive to continue doing everything she could to get them back home with her. When you take some extra time to do these fun visits, it can go a very long way toward fueling a strong bond.
As a foster or adoptive parent you have a unique and challenging job to nurture and care for children from hard places. However, when you are willing to step a little further out of your comfort zone and develop a relationship with your child’s birth family, you can help provide a life long benefit for your child, their birth family, and even yourself in ways that are immeasurable. So what are you waiting for? I encourage you to take that first step today.