Contacting relatives you've not yet met

Following initial contact

After the initial contact has been made and your relative has agreed to being in touch, it is important that you decide which is the best and most comfortable way for you both to go forward. There are a range of options and here we tell you more about these.

The “Letterbox” approach

Telephone Calls

Meeting Face to Face

Nerves and the first meeting

Negative Feelings

Expectations and outcomes

What next?

The “Letterbox” Approach

Once contact has been made and you are both keen to get to know each other, then one way to do this is for you to exchange letters. This option gives you the chance to find out a bit more about each other without having face-to-face contact. The use of an intermediary allows you to exchange these letters without revealing your addresses if this is what you want.

Letters can allow you to take things more slowly and give you time to let contents sink in.
It can also allow you to send items such as photographs in advance, which can let you know what each other looks like and also ease the anxiety of meeting in person for the first time.

In the modern world letters might seem a bit old fashioned but emails can be associated with swift responses and this can leave people feeling under pressure.  

Telephone Calls

Some people don’t like letter writing and would prefer to speak on the phone in the first instance or some prefer to start with letter exchange and go on to having contact via the phone. Hearing each other speak and having a telephone conversation is another way of establishing familiarity before a face to face meeting takes place. As already said, the decision about how contact should proceed and what form of communication is preferred should be discussed so that you can come to a decision that you both feel comfortable with. Once again, this is something you can talk about with your intermediary who can advise and support you with your decision.

Meeting Face to Face

Sometimes people just want to meet face to face rather than exchanging letters or speaking on the phone. Once again, this should only take place when both parties are comfortable – It is not uncommon for people to want to meet as soon as possible and if is what they both want to do then that is ok. There is no one way of proceeding.

If you make the decision to meet then you can arrange to do so either via your intermediary or directly between yourselves. Whatever happens it helps to meet on neutral ground such as a café, pub or hotel. Your intermediary may also be able to provide a room or even attend your reunion meeting if you feel this would help. Try to pick somewhere that won’t be too noisy or crowded and gives you somewhere to speak. Arrange to meet just for a few hours to begin with as first meetings can be emotionally draining. You can always extend this later or arrange to meet again if this is what you both want to do.   

Some people like to have a partner or friend with them – particularly if they are feeling nervous and need some support either for part of the first meeting or all of it. However you may also need some private time to yourselves. It’s important to talk about the type of arrangement that works for you both.

Some people don’t want to meet face to face and it could take months or several years before they feel ready to do so. That’s fine too. Everybody is different and there’s no correct way to go about meeting.

Nerves and the first meeting

Regardless of how much preparation you do through letters or telephone calls in advance, the initial meeting is likely to be a nerve wracking experience. Symptoms such as sweaty and shaking hands, dry mouths and thumping heartbeats are completely normal, and indeed are to be expected.
No matter how long your search actually took this is likely to be the culmination of a lifetime’s wondering and this is an experience life gives us few other reference points for – the meeting of two people who are strangers yet related can be a life changing event.  If photos have not been exchanged beforehand then many people can be totally unprepared for the physical resemblance and mannerisms you may share with your parent or relative.

Negative Feelings

You may experience some negative feelings when meeting your relatives including anger, resentment and confusion.  You may have read things about them and the decisions they made when you were a child that are difficult to understand or accept.  You may have been taken into care because of their behaviour or because of traumatic events associated with them. Part of your desire to make contact may be to find out more and discuss these issues.  Doing so could have therapeutic benefits for both you and your relative. However, you should be prepared to be patient and take your time in talking about complicated feelings and difficult experiences. This may be challenging for both of you, and support may be needed. Counselling may help you to work through overwhelming and hurtful emotions.

Expectations and outcomes

It’s important for you to be clear and honest about your hopes and expectations, and encourage your relative to do the same. Let each other know if you’re not comfortable with anything that’s suggested, and to ensure you don’t make commitments you might regret later

In the “Getting Started – Things to consider” section we advised that you set clear goals about what you expect to get out of the reunion process, and consider what you most need to know should this be the only meeting you are ever to have. Ensuring you have a clear idea of what you need to know is a good safeguard in the event of the meeting not being repeated.

However, be sensitive as the questions you ask your birth parent may be difficult and distressing to answer and they may feel uncomfortable if they are bombarded by questions – This is the stage where that consideration comes into play.

The heightened emotions around this first meeting can be emotionally exhausting and it’s not unusual for some people to have difficulty recalling exactly what was said during the meeting. Even when a first meeting has gone extremely well, it is not uncommon for people to say that their emotions were all over the place during the first few days or to go from feeling absolutely elated to feeling rather ‘flat’.

What next?

There are many potential outcomes following reunions with relatives, ranging from a deep ongoing relationship, through to just keeping in contact with an occasional card or letter a few times a year.  It’s hard to know what the long- term outcome may be for you following the first meeting. We consider some possibilities   in our sections “Continuing Family Connections” and “Family Connections that don’t continue”

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