Family connections that don’t continue

This page looks at how sometimes family connections don’t continue after the first meeting, including when one party rejects the other.

Rejection

Expressed rejection

Silence

Rejection after the initial meeting

When it just finishes

Managing conflict

Coping with rejection

Support

Rejection

In some rare cases a relative will write back to you with a clear message that they do not wish to be in contact. This can be heart-breaking, particularly if the relative responds in a hurtful and cold way.  It can be particularly upsetting and difficult to understand if you’re yet to meet them but it may help to think that they may not want to return to painful events from their past.

The relative may not have known about you or may have suppressed their emotions about you.  They may have complex feelings of blame, shame and resentment.  Your request for contact may threaten the life they’ve built – particularly if they’ve hidden the experience from family and friends. They can be literally terrified of the repercussions, even if you have tried to reassure them that you would 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 the family background.   

This is a very difficult situation but their feelings need to be respected, just like you hope that they will respect yours. It is often the situation that the relative is rejecting and not you. 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 as it doesn’t give us a context for why the decision has been made. It prevents you from achieving “closure” with it. In these situations, sadly, we can only speculate as to the reasons. Please remember that often in the cases we do know about where relatives chose not to get in touch it’s often due to fear regarding the effect on their current family or stress regarding the trauma of the initial separation from you as a child.  Parents especially may be managing guilt and shame about their children being taken into care. Their decision to not respond is unlikely to be a judgement on you or even information you chose to provide.

Rejection after the initial meeting

It’s common to believe that if we will be rejected it will occur prior to a physical introduction but in some cases rejection can occur after the initial meeting.  Care leavers and relatives report the full spectrum of emotions following initial meetings – including, sometimes, a sense of distance, confusion or discomfort. In some cases the relative or care leaver may be dealing with complex factors in their personal lives – such as drug or money worries – which make the other person uncomfortable. In some cases you may just not get on. 
If you are the one experiencing these feelings it may be difficult to process after you’ve invested so much time and effort in setting up a reunion.
You should reject any sense that there is a definite way you have to progress. Take your time and reconsider your initial goals. It may be that you have already achieved what you needed, or that the thing you thought you might want isn’t available in this 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 to not 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.

Managing conflict

In rare cases meeting with your relative may lead to conflict.  This conflict may arise out of things that happened to you in childhood, or may be a continuation of difficulties they had then. You may have thought these issues were resolved but find they re-emerge when you meet.  Reading your records may have filled in some gaps in your knowledge about what happened in your birth family, but also raised lots of questions that relatives find difficult to answer to your satisfaction.  While many people report that meeting their relatives helps them to understand the circumstances of their care experience better, this may not be the case.  If conflict does arise it is important to be honest about needing space and support and giving both yourself and your birth relative an opportunity to withdraw.

Coping with rejection

Rejection can be a very painful experience.  It is extremely upsetting and you may feel a range of emotions, such as sad, angry, frustrated, unsatisfied or hurt and all of these responses are valid.
That’s why it is important to think about how you would feel if the contact with your birth family is refused, and how you would manage the range of feelings that may be raised as a result.  It can be helpful to express how you are feeling.  Sharing and talking about how you feel, whether this is through discussion with friends and your support network or your intermediary, can be better than burying them, and leaving your thoughts and feelings unresolved.  Some people find it helpful to speak to others who have had the same experience or seek counselling to help them manage the feelings they are experiencing. 

Some care leavers 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 you want. Many say that, even though they have not achieved their ultimate goal, the journey of the search and contact has still helped them to answer important questions and they are still glad they took the step to search.

Support

If you are among those that are rejected by a relative the support network you identified at the beginning of your search is key here. Your partner, friends or family can often prove an invaluable emotional bedrock during these periods and help you through the sadness and frustration that contact with your relative has caused. 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 your doctor. See our support resources here.

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