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Relationships with Birth Grandparents

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In my own life, I only have the privilege of enjoying a relationship with one set of my grandparents. The profound impact this relationship had on the formation of my values, personal goals, and identity in many respects rivals the contributions to my life that I received from my own parents. There is a special magic and almost spiritual dimension to the relationship between a child and his grandparents.

In many adoptions, especially the adoptions of older children where the biological grandparents have been instrumental in either raising the child or maintaining contact with the child and protecting him as he weaves his way through the foster care system, that bond between the child and grandparent has not only taken on the magical dimension of a normal relationship of this type, but the grandparents may have also filled the role of the surrogate parents of the child

Unfortunately, when excited. overly possessive adoptive parents start establishing their “claim” to this child, they often ask the question: “what do I need to do to cut of the rights of the grandparents to my new child?”

Although I understand that at this key time in the adoption process, the adoptive parents are struggling with the issues of their own “entitlement” to the child. It is therefore understandable that this concern of entitlement can progress into a very strong “possessary” and “exclusionary” attitude when it comes to anyone that was involved with the child prior to its adoption by them. However, if we focus back on the primary concern in any adoption matter, which is to do what is “in the best interest of the child”, perhaps this exclusion and “cutting off” of the rights and contact with biological grandparents is not a wise practice.


Certainly, if the biological grandparents are a profoundly negative influence on the child, then the best interest of the child would dictate that the relationship be curtailed or monitored very closely. If, however, this relationship has been positive and supportive, then the evaluation must move to a different level.

I must admit that with all the involvement that I have had in both parenting and the adoption process, I am yet to see a situation where a child was severely damaged by having too many people in its life to love it. Love has a way of healing rather than hurting. If that is true, which I sincerely believe that it is, than how does it hurt a child if its supporting and loving biological grandparents are allowed to continue to have contact with the child and play a supportive role in its development and self esteem building period.

Just because the biological grandparents are allowed to have a supportive and on-going relationship with the child does not mean that this needs to include an on-going relationship with any member of the biological family of the child whose actions are not uplifting for the child. Rather than destroying this potentially beneficial relationship for the child, the answer really lies in setting appropriate boundaries with the biological grandparents. I am yet to find a set of biological grandparents that were not willing to wholeheartedly support the implementation of reasonable boundaries with respect to their ongoing relationship with their grandchild.

This relationship with biological grandparents can be especially helpful in situations where an adoptive child does not have an extensive presence of extended family within its new adoptive family.

Quite often the comment is made by adoptive parents that their new child does not need to have a relationship with its biological grandparents because it now has “new grandparents”. The proper response to this is to go back to our fundamental premise that we should do whatever is in “the best interest” of the child, and not allow ourselves to give into the temptation of doing what is comfortable for the adults, or limiting a positive relationship for a child because of what may be interpreted as competitive issues between the biological grandparents and the adoptive grandparents. There certainly is room enough in the life of a child for an emotionally healthy relationship with as many grandparents as it can possibly have that can love and support it. Adoptive parents may also find that when it comes time for their child to go to college, contributions form several sets of grandparents may be far more advantageous than what might otherwise result from a restrictive relationship in the area of grand parenting.

Adoptive parents will also find that there are times in their lives when it is essential for their own emotional and marital well being for them to have time away from their children to recharge emotionally and to work on developing a stronger relationship with each other as a couple and as parents. It is at times like this that adoptive parents come to a strong realization of the benefits to them personally of maintaining a strong and supportive relationship between their child and its biological grandparents.

Some of the greatest memories that I have from my early childhood are those that involve times that I was allowed to stay with my grandparents for extended periods of time while my parents were tending to important family business that required their whole attention, without the necessary distractions that are provided by children. I still remember sitting on the stool sitting next to the old stove in my grandmother’s kitchen, which by the way was the only warm place in the house on those cold winter mornings, while I bathed in the delicious aromas of cooking bacon, hot chocolate and toasted homemade bread. If I could revisit a time in my earlier life, this would be very high on my list of favorites. Even though my parents may not have realized that it, even though they were doing what was in their own best interest at the time, by allowing me the privilege to spend time with my loving and supporting grandparents, they were also giving me a gift, which was clearly in my own “best interest”.

So I would highly recommend that whenever an opportunity arises to make a significant decision with respect to what kind of relationship to allow between an adoptive child and members of its biological family, that we all look back to our original and all-important focus, which is to do what is in “the best interest of the child”, even though at first it may be somewhat uncomfortable for the adults that are involved. As adoptive parents choose to let this decision be controlled by an “abundance mentality”, rather than by a “scarcity mentality”, they will soon come to realize that their initial fears and apprehensions about the biological grandparents are totally unjustified. A child can never have too many people that love it.

Often parents tell us that they want to adopt a second child so that the only child that they now have can have a sibling with whom it can associate and make the social adjustments that are so essential to the proper development of the child. I think that there is little doubt that we would all agree that it is better for a child to make these kinds of social adjustments in its life, like learning to share, to take turns, and to be sensitive to the rights and feelings of others, before it is forced to learn these lessons by a crash course in kindergarten. By the same token, if we could enrich the lives of our children by adopting a set of loving and supporting grandparents, rather than just a sibling, would we not be making a just as a significant contribution to the well being of our children as we would if we adopted a sibling for that child.

Credits: Child Welfare Information Gateway (http://www.childwelfare.gov)

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