I found your site via your fantastic article on HuffPo. Our daughter is about to turn 3, she was adopted at birth, and we have an open adoption (we see her birthmom anywhere from once to four times a month depending on everyone’s schedules; her birthdad lives much further away but is in email contact regularly and flies back twice a year to spend time with her). She has a book with her adoption story, and requests the story several times a week; we have photos on the walls of her birthparents along with the rest of our family – so adoption is definitely discussed and a part of daily life for her. Our daughter`s birthmom has always tended to ignore her during visits (when she was an infant, held her, but didn`t look at her face or read her cues), and now actively ignores her attempts to engage and talk; doesn’t thank her for drawings or pictures, doesn’t comment on them, just tucks them away. We assumed that as our daughter got older and more verbally interactive, interactions would be easier for her birthmom, but were wrong. So visits tend to be a few hours of our daughter trying so hard to connect, that by the end of the visit, she’s physically vibrating, very loud, flapping her hands when she talks. After visits, she’s clingy, irritable and sleeps poorly for a couple of nights. We’re absolutely committed to openness and contact for our daughter’s long-term emotional health, but it’s taking a hell of a toll visit to visit now that she’s old enough to try to connect.

My question: we’re contemplating moving our family a day’s drive away, in part, to alter our daughter’s experience of openness…ie, she’ll have phone, email, skype contact, but not regular face-to-face ignoring. Is this reasonable or potentially more damaging than staying? I don’t think we can alter the ignoring behavior (birthmom was severely emotionally abused as a child, has a borderline IQ, and seems unable to read cues or socialize typically). I just don’t want to move her away from her birthmom, to have her later feel we separated her from her first family.

Thanks so much for your question. It sounds like you are doing a really mindful job of keeping your daughter’s birthmom and dad close to you and also paying close attention to what your daughter is experiencing. Knowing them and including them in family photos, reading your daughter’s adoption story at her request and your commitment to openness are essential in helping your daughter begin to connect the dots of her story. Your daughter will no doubt appreciate this long term.
However given the description of what is happening during visits NOW, I can see why you might be contemplating literal or even figurative distance between your daughter and her birthmom. The visits sound quite disruptive/traumatic for your daughter. At age three her brain is going through some intricate development. Given the initial trauma of relinquishment at birth, coupled with what sounds like trauma of further “rejection” by her birthmom during visits, it may be in her best interest emotionally, to limit contact until a later time. You don’t have to decide when that time will be right now. As you continue to attune to your daughter’s experience, you will know when to resume closer contact again.

A book you may find useful is: “Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It’s a great resource in getting to know your child’s brain and helping her integrate some of her experiences.

I hope this is helpful.