Family connections that don’t continue

This page looks at how sometimes Family Relationships don’t continue after the first meeting, including when they don’t continue into something long lasting. 

Rejection

Expressed rejection

Silence

Rejection after the initial meeting

When it just finishes

Coping with rejection

Support

Rejection

As we have stated before outright rejection is uncommon in those seeking to make connect with birth relatives and the majority of birth relatives approached by an intermediary or an adopted person continue with the reunion process. It’s also fairly rare for contact to end after a single meeting.

However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, and if this should happen to you it can be devastating. This section explores why this can happen and how to cope with it if it does.

Expressed rejection

In some rare cases a birth relative will write back to the intermediary or the person making contact (which may be the adopted person) with a clear message that they do not wish to respond to contact. This can be difficult information to hear for the adopted person – particularly when you feel that the birth relative responds in a hurtful and cold way. It can be particularly upsetting and difficult to understand why they have not wondered about you over the years and want contact too, but it’s important to remember that there may be many reasons for this decision.

For some birth parents, the period around your birth and adoption may represent a difficult and traumatic period in their life, which they would prefer not to remember.  Your birth parent may have also got used to suppressing their feelings about your birth and adoption and your request for contact may prompt difficult emotions and threaten the life they’ve built since then – particularly if they’ve hidden the adoption from family and friends. They may be frightened about the repercussions, even if you have tried to reassure them that you do not want to cause any upset or have any contact with the rest of the family, and have emphasised that you just want to know more about your family background.

This is a very difficult situation for the adopted person who receives such a response, but it is important to remember that it is the situation that they are rejecting and not you. Even though it can be hard to accept, the adopted person may be able to reach some understanding of their birth relative’s perspective, in the same way that you hope that they can understand your perspective too.

Equally, as difficult as it is, their feelings of not wishing to be contacted needs to be respected, just like you hope that they will respect yours.  Once again, the support network you identified in “Getting Started- Things to consider” can be enormously valuable here, as can the support offered by professionals and support groups.

Silence

In many ways getting no response can be even more difficult and frustrating as it doesn’t give the adopted person a context of why this might be and can prevent them from achieving “closure”. In these situations, sadly, we can only speculate as to the reasons why the birth parent or other relative has not responded– which can include all of the reasons we covered in “expressed rejection” above. It could also be that the birth parent is in poor health, or is suffering from a form of dementia and is not capable of responding. If you are faced with a situation where there is no response at all, then do try to speak with an adoption advisor or who may be able to offer some suggestions about how this may be resolved.

Rejection after the initial meeting

Sometimes a rejection may occur after the first meeting or later on in the reunion relationship. Adopted people and birth parents alike report the full spectrum of emotions following initial meetings – including, sometimes, a sense of distance, confusion or discomfort – or the sense that you have nothing in common.  

In some cases, the birth relative or the adopted person may be dealing with complex factors in their personal lives – such as drug and alcohol issues or money worries – which may make the other party feel uncomfortable.

It can be difficult to process this, particularly when the adopted person has invested so much time and effort in trying to find their birth relative, only to find that the outcome is not what they hoped it would be. They may be left with feelings of disappointment and sadness. Don’t forget it can be really helpful to talk to your adoption advisor or another adopted person who has experienced this too. Online forums may also offer a chance to hear the stories of people in a similar situation.

When it just finishes

As with any other relationship sometimes they just peter out over time without a definite end point. It might be that both parties don’t wish to be impolite but are happy not to pursue further contact. This is absolutely fine – you are under no obligation to continue to meet if neither of you wishes to pursue doing so.

Coping with rejection

Rejection can be a very painful experience. It can be extremely upsetting for the adopted person and if this happens they may experience a range of emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, dissatisfaction, or hurt.

That’s why it is important to think in advance about how you would feel if the contact with your birth family is refused, ends suddenly or just peters out, and how you would manage the range of feelings that may be raised as a result.

Afterwards it can be helpful to share and talk about how this experience has made you feel. This can be through dialogue with friends and your support network, other adopted people who have had the same experience, or your adoption advisor and intermediary.

Some adopted people find it helpful to seek professional counselling to help them manage and resolve the feelings they have been left with as trying to bury the feelings and thoughts may leave you with unresolved emotions. Trying to understand and make sense of the reason rejection may have taken place can be a useful way of helping you move on. Your birth parent or other relative may have explained the reason why they do not want contact, which can help provide some understanding of their response, but some may not, which can be very frustrating for the adopted person. 

Some adopted people who have experienced rejection say it’s important to look at the positive aspects of the search and contact, even when it has not gone the way they wanted. Many say that, even though they have not achieved their ultimate goal, the journey of the search and contact has helped them to answer important questions and they are still glad they took the step to search. Your birth parent or other relative may have explained the reason why they do not want contact, which can help provide some understanding of their response, but some may not, which can be very frustrating for the adopted person.  

Support

If you are among those who have experienced a rejection by a birth relative, the support network you identified at the beginning of your search can be key here. Your partner, friends and family can often prove an invaluable emotional bedrock during this time and may help you through the sadness and frustration that you may feel as a result of your experience.
As already mentioned, you can also consider support groups or online forums where people share their stories about what happened to them. The adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” is useful to consider here. The knowledge that somebody else has experienced a similar situation can help us to reflect on our own.

Finally, if you find the situation overwhelming or feel you need to talk about the situation in depth you may wish to seek out counselling services – either privately or through an adoption support agency.

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