Using Technology to Connect with Birth Family

When I became an adoptive parent, I remember hearing about the importance of understanding and celebrating your child’s culture, heritage and birth family. I learned that ideally, children will be connected to their roots and their current family structure, and that we can bridge the great divide between birth culture and adoptive culture through cultural events, camps and language immersion programs.

Another way families connect is through open adoption, connecting directly with their child’s birth family through visits, phone calls or letters — thus allowing the direct transmission of both family culture and larger cultural understanding.

I am a PRO open adoption and as much birth family contact as is possible, there are many ways to make it possible. However, for some, in-person cultural experiences as well as tangible contact with birth family is limited, either because of safety issues or distance.

In my time parenting and now as an adoption professional, I have learned that technology can be our greatest tool in facilitating connection, no matter the adoptive family constellation or how it was formed — international, domestic, foster care — voluntary, involuntary or somewhere in between. In fact, there are many, many big and small ways our screens can bring us closer to each other and to the world at large.

To connect with distant family members, there are many free contact options through email, a private blog, and a Shutterfly share site, Skype or Facebook. Each of these can be used as a venue for sharing photos, funny stories and updates along the way.

Our Shutterfly site was a main source of communication with relatives living farther away. It enabled me to share photos and videos and see if they had been seen by the family members. It was nice to know they had gotten the update even if they didn’t respond.

If safety is a barrier, you can still use all the options above. If this is your situation, I recommend creating a separate, non-identifying Facebook and email account for yourself that you use ONLY to communicate with birth family.

One adoptive family I spoke with did just this, “I have a separate Facebook account that is connected to my children’s birth families. Right now the birth families are still hurting, so my posts are only frequent enough to let them know the kids are well cared for and happy. I have found that communicating too much pushes them away.

On birthdays, I usually check in. Sometimes I get a response and sometimes I don’t. I’m respectful of where they are in their journey.  Using this open, yet confidential method, adoptive parents can choose how much to share, while still leaving the door open for future communication, such as in person visits or phone calls, if birth families’ circumstances change.

And for all families, including those whose child’s birth family is unknown or for whom direct contact is not possible, in circumstances of international adoption, you can always connect with your child’s culture or country of origin online.

Starting with the simple search line, type in your child’s country of origin, language or cultural background and start exploring. If my child was from India, I could type, “India” “History of India,” “Current events India,” and so on and so on. From there you will be connected to current news events, videos, images and links to various websites that you can visit to learn more. As I did this for my situation, I was amazed at the wealth of information that poured from my screen.

You could also consider using your computer and iphone to help learn your child’s language with them.  There are many new and always improving language learning sites and apps, including: Duolingo, Livemocha and Babbel.

I’ve always loved this quote,

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

Learning your child’s “heart” language will help your child connect and will also increase your chances of open communication with members of his or her birth community as he or she grows.

Another tool is watching documentaries about your child’s birth country or culture, many of which provide a window into history and provide your entire family with a framework in which to place birth family connections. 

Steven Spielberg said, “I think documentaries are the greatest way to educate an entire generation that doesn’t often look back to learn anything about the history that provided a safe haven for so many of us today.”  Starting with google, search for documentaries on your child’s birth country — “Documentary about India,” for example.  Be intentional about watching these together as a family after you have previewed them, then setting aside a time to discuss what you’ve seen.

And while the history of your child’s country and culture is significant, remember to keep up with current events as well. These can be found through online newspapers by searching “newspapers in India” and/or setting Google alerts. Either option offers a wonderful window into the day-to-day happenings in the country or culture that you designate.

As an adoptive family, we have regular visits with local birth family and are involved in a diverse church, attend culture camps and cultural events whenever possible. However, I still rely on technology to make sure those connections remain strong and that both my daughter and I continue to grow in our knowledge of her birth family and culture.

I challenge you to explore these options and how they apply to your own situation. Then decide which ones fit best for your family and the dynamics of your relationship, so your daily world can be one step closer to that of your child’s birth family and culture through the thoughtful use of technology in your everyday life.

*Originally posted as “Birth Family Connections Through Technology” in AdoptionToday, March 2016

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Published by Alisa Matheson, Attempting Agape

I’m Alisa Matheson. Previously a foster parent, an educator, recruiter for teens aging out of the foster care system. I became a full-time contractor and photographer in 2019. I love coffee, deep conversations, snuggles with my kid and justice on the street. I welcome you to share in my journey.

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