The “unknown” birth father

Many have asked me how to approach the topic of not knowing who their child’s birth father is with their adopted child. Well-meaning adoptive parents wonder how to tip toe around this topic or how to dance the perfect dance when this child reaches the age of curiosity about their roots.

Like many topics within parenting, there is not a one size fits all conversation around the unknown birth father. Honesty, though, is always the best policy. Using only positive language about this unknown man that holds a strong bond and tie to the child is also advised. Whether the birth father was simply unaware of the pregnancy, and therefore, absent, or whether he deliberately vanished once learning of the pregnancy, whether the birth mother didn’t want to share his identity, or if the child was orphaned, the possible scenarios are endless. Most of these situations have a negative connotation and likely the child will have internalized this aspect of their story in a subconscious way. It’s important to find the positives within the child’s story – even when the details are sparse, or the story seems bleak. There is positive in every story and it’s up to the parent to find those morsels of good. Attaching the child’s positive attributes and traits to this unknown birth father is a good strategy.

It’s also important to really listen and interpret the question the child is really asking. Are they literally asking “Why couldn’t my birth parents stay together?” Or, are they asking a larger question about abandonment? Are they projecting their own thoughts and fears into that question? Is it possible that hidden inside their question is, “What did I do to deserve to be abandoned by both my birth dad and my birth mom?” or “Are you going to abandon me, too?”

A statement like “None of my friends are adopted, and therefore, they know why they are good at sports and music,” is an open door for a conversation about that child’s specific traits and an opportunity to wonder along with your child about their birthfather, saying something like “You are so great at the guitar! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone within your birthfamily was a guitarist, too!”

The fact that you, as the adoptive parents do not know all of the answers can be a great way to develop and establish trust with your child. The way in which you answer these tough questions – with grace, love and a genuine curiosity will help to answer the question that the child isn’t asking – “Do you love me enough to be confident in having these conversations?” The way that you answer these questions will help the child to have confidence in their own story. The ability to be curious right alongside the child will aid in their security in knowing that you honor their story even though you may not know all of the details.

Personally, I felt a huge sense of validation after meeting my birth mother and my birth father for the first time (in my adulthood) as my parents were equally as curious about them and their story as I was. I felt less isolated and alone traveling across the country to meet these strangers knowing that my parents were sitting next to me on the airplane just as anxious as I was.