28 June 2014

Six Tips for Meeting Your Birth Family for the First Time

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Seattle and Portland for my cousin's daughter's baptism. It was a great weekend crammed with doing lots of fantastic things and seeing lots of fantastic people. I'll do a post about that trip later, but this post is about meeting one person in particular - my birth father :)

Last weekend I met my birth father for the first time. I've been waiting for this for as long as I can remember (I could do an entire separate post about my search). Our meeting was so many things: awkward, surreal, weird, fantastic...there were a lot of things running through my mind. I felt sick I was so nervous! It ended up being a really, really positive experience, one I'm so glad I had. So, having come off my first meeting I wanted to share the tips I felt made it a success.

#1) Don't idealize them
I think it's very easy as a child to idealize a parent who isn't there, "My birth parent wouldn't do this," or "they would be so much better at that".  They haven't been around to show all their perfectly human flaws and so it can be easy to forget they will have them. It's important to go into a first meeting with the same expectations you would have for any other human being, expect them to be polite, but don't expect to be sitting down with a perfect person. Don't expect any more than you would from a pleasant stranger. Every one of us has personality flaws that can make us unpleasant at one time or another. It can be disappointing to have even the most unrealistic expectation shattered.

#2) Don't vilify them either
While it's easy to idealize someone you don't know, it can be just as easy to vilify them. When you have so little information to go on the smallest sliver of negative information can easily take over and become your entire image of this person you don't really know. Everyone screws up, everyone is guilty of treating someone poorly, what is important is where they are in their life now. Give them the opportunity to show you where they are as a person now. Give them, and yourself the opportunity to clear up any negative impressions you may have about what you've heard (or just told yourself).

#3) Have specific questions prepared
I knew I would be a mess of stressed nerves so I prepared ahead of time. I thought about all I had ever wanted to know and tried to articulate it into a few key questions. These were the main bullet points I kept in my mind, the things I knew I would regret leaving that meeting without an answer to. Think about what sticks in your mind when wondering about your birth family. Is it something small like "hey, do you have this (insert odd feature) too?" or something heavier like "why didn't I know you growing up?"  Do you want to know your medical history? Whatever it is, know what is important to you before meeting your birth family. Preparing ahead of time will help you leave meeting them hopefully feeling more peaceful, more complete. What was previously a blank line in your mind will now be full of text.

#4) Keep it short and sweet
Meeting your birth family can be so stressful on both sides. Think of this kind of like a first date; you want time to get to know each other, but a super long time together can get very overwhelming.

#5) Remember that you're strangers, get to know each other
My birth father and I have been in contact sporadically for a little over 7 years now. Even so, we didn't really know each other. Aside from both the heavier and more trivial things I wanted to know, I just wanted to know him. I wanted to know who I came from. I wanted to see if I could see parts of me in his appearance, his mannerisms. While it's important to learn the things you've always wondered about, it can be just as healing to simply soak the person in and learn about even the most banal aspects of their daily life.

#6) Understand that other birth family members may not be involved
It's important to understand that birth parents often don't tell other family members about a child they don't parent. There may not be a single person beyond your birth parents who even knows you exist. Any other family involvement is really up to birth parents and then the family members they choose to tell. Some extended family members may choose not to meet you or be involved because it's simply too much to handle at the time. Be understanding and don't take it personally. I went into our meeting not knowing if any of my three half-siblings knew about my existence (one of my questions), and prepared that if they did know about me they may not want to know me personally.

Bonus: ask yourself "why"
Try to understand your reasons for wanting to meet them at all, and why now. Do you simply want to see where you came from? Are you looking for closure? An explanation? An apology? What is driving your desire to meet them? Trying to understand the why of wanting to meet them can help temper expectations and strengthen your resolve to make the meeting happen.

I'm SO happy I met my birth father. Meeting him brought peace, closure and healing I wasn't expecting. I didn't think I felt like anything was missing before but I definitely feel more complete now. There was a piece of my life missing that I now have. :) 

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