You have made the selfless choice to place your child for adoption and now you are wondering what your future involving them will look like. You are not sure what is stepping over the bounds of an open adoption. What will seem intrusive? Will they like what I sent? Will they read something into it that I did not mean?  Ideally, you have discussed things already with the adoptive parents. You have hashed out the first birthday party and exchanged texts on little outfits you would love to send. You have written out a tentative schedule on when you will visit and when you will email or skype. I hope that if those are not things you have in place, you are able to arrange them. 

Does Everyone Agree on the Gifts I Send My Child?

It is safest and easiest for all parties to have an initial plan and stick to it until all parties discuss and agree on changes. What seems like an easy “yes” to you may be an “it depends” to the adoptive family. A good example of this happened the other day with my six-year-old girls. They have a friend who has a cell phone. Let me reiterate. They are six years old. They are now asking for the latest iPhone despite not really having any idea of what an iPhone is. They want to have what their friend has. If someone gave them an iPhone, even if it were a person who loved them very much, whom I knew very well, and I knew did not have shady intentions there is still absolutely no way my daughters would ever have access to that phone. This is not the time to set yourself up as the “fun mom” even though the opportunity could be tempting. It may cause conflict for your son and his adoptive parents, and it may cause the adoptive parents to resent you and perhaps restrict the contact you have. 

To help illustrate this, let me give you some insight into my own life. My kids are adopted through foster care so of course, the situation is quite different. However, the kids had weekly visitations with mom and dad up until adoption day happened. Each week the kids would come home with new toys that would break in seconds and we would need to replace or repair. Either that or they would spend the whole visit playing video games on mom and dad’s phone. We do not allow our kids to use our phones (though we do play video games together) so this caused conflict for us. The kids would have fits daily for a long time after a visit because I was in no way willing to hand over my phone to a kid who would as likely drop it and lose it as they play a game on it. Not to mention that I needed that phone should a caseworker or counselor call and need to get ahold of me. So, there were weekly fits for almost a year until I brought it up to the caseworker who put an end to it very swiftly. 

Are the Gifts I Send to My Child Appropriate?

There are certain games we consider still too violent for our 15-year-old that he was playing at eight years old. While you might think we are overprotective, as his primary caregiver that gives us the authority within reason to make those decisions. Food that we tried to avoid or limit was given in abundance at visits. The boys would regale us with tales of how they were each given a whole pound of M&Ms to eat. Then they would vomit and complain of headaches for the next few days. The boys were also lied to with worrying frequency. “You’re coming home tomorrow, pack your stuff” was a favorite one. The parents knew full well the kids would not be coming back to them until they had a place to live but the kids had to face the disappointment so many times. It was so unfair. Do not do that.

To make matters worse, the boys would later tell us that while they were in the care of their parents, they never got any of the things they got at visits. They were denied basic things like food and clothing for much of their lives. The parents wanted to look good in front of the caseworkers (a good goal to have) and leveraged their kids’ astonishment over being given toys and candy to make it seem as if that was the norm and they were good parents. I am not going to say unequivocally they were not, or that they had only bad intentions or anything of the sort. That is not my point. I can see where it would be incredibly easy, as a birth mother to want to win your child’s love with gifts. I think that it is natural to want to shower them with presents if you cannot physically be there with them.  And I am not saying that gift-giving cannot be a really great way to keep in touch with and please your child. I am saying that it would be best to discuss with the adoptive parents beforehand to make sure they feel it is an appropriate gift. 

Obviously, if you are in an open adoption this is not the kind of relationship you are looking to have with the adoptive parents. We understood the parents’ need for control, to feel like the fun parents, and to make their kids happy to see them. We did not make it a competition for the kids’ attention and affection but they often did.

Are the Gifts I Send to My Child Offensive?

When you send gifts to your child, remember that maybe what you think of as fun may come off as offensive. I will use myself as an example. I think fart jokes, whoopie cushions, and potty humor are hysterical. I think there is a time and a place, but it delights me when my six-year-old giggles loudly at a well-placed fart sound. I am aware this makes me immature and a little gross. Just ask my mother and husband who think my potty humor isn’t funny and instead comes off as rude. Neither of them finds these things amusing and my husband barely tolerates me reading Captain Underpants to them since he finds it disrespectful. My point is that sometimes what one person thinks is hilarious another may find revolting. It is, unfortunately, just how people are. 

Do the Gifts I send My Child Follow These Rules?

On the other hand, you also want to make sure your child will get the gift if you are sending it. It would be natural for an adoptive parent to feel a little and not want to send the child a gift from you if it was unexpected. It would be a shame for you to spend money on a nice gift only to find out the child never received it. I hope this does not happen to you. I cannot imagine how that would feel. 

So, to answer the question “Can I send gifts to my child post-placement?” The answer is: yes. But only if it meets the following criteria:

  • Gifting has been discussed beforehand with the adoptive parent.
  • It is given with no strings attached.
  • It is age-appropriate. Please do not give Call of Duty to a three-year-old.
  • If it is clean
  • If it is safe
  • If the adoptive parents have no moral or ethical reason to not want it in their home 
  • If it is something the child will like and have fond feelings about when they think about it 
  • If it is something you can bear knowing may not get used or played with 

I am sure there are other guidelines you can follow as well that you have probably outlined in the adoption plan. Also be aware that while it may be stated that gifts are ok, the adoptive parents may have control over when and how the gift is given. I would say unless your relationship is rather close it would be a bad idea to just show up at the door with a new gaming system or an expensive new toy. 

What Will the Gifts I Send My Child Mean to Them?

I think it is also important to be considerate of what the gift might say or do to the child, intentionally or unintentionally. To some kids, a gift means something more than just that gift. My girls each have a blanket that was given to them at adoption. They also have blankets that were given to them when they were placed in foster care. They have no idea who their first foster parents were, but those blankets hold a great deal of emotional baggage. The adoption day blankets are the ones they want to drag out to watch movies with everyone. The foster care blankets are the ones they snuggle with when they are feeling insecure. They are the same way with some of their toys. 

In one instance, one of my daughters destroyed her doll with a permanent marker. when I asked why she said she felt angry when she looked at it. Just be aware that children think things differently than adults and what may be no big deal to you may be a big deal to them. Alternatively, if you spent hours handcrafting something special, they may not appreciate it at the moment because kids can be very self-focused. It is not that they would want to hurt your feelings, it just might not mean the same to them that it did to you while you made it. I say that having just found a handmade costume I labored on for hours shoved in a box in the back of the laundry room. Cards from grandparents may be shoved under pillows and notes from their lunchbox that I wrote on napkins may be stowed away in their backpacks for all time, but a handmade stuffed animal that took hours? That got given to the puppy to tear up. I also just cleaned up pieces of a creativity kit I made for one of my daughters that was simply dumped out so she could use the container for something else. Even though I meticulously put in the time to make something I knew she would enjoy, I failed to factor in her lack of impulse control. I hope this does not discourage you from giving gifts that you think your child will enjoy. I just hope you can learn from my mistakes and not allow your emotions to get too entangled in the gift itself. 

I have had my feelings hurt because my girls did not love something the way I did. Dolls that I kept from my childhood got left in the rain. It is not their fault that I had expectations that they failed to meet. One of my daughters was gifted a Raggedy Ann doll from her biological grandmother. My girl hates that doll. Not because of who gave it to her, just because she thinks the face is creepy. I compromised and told her we would keep it until she was older and could decide for herself if she wanted it or wanted to give it away. I will not be telling her grandmother that, however. 

Think About Your Relationship

Adoption can be complicated. Open adoption can be such a gift to a child and your presence will be so important to them in the span of their lives. Do not do anything that will make it so that there is a rift in your relationship with their primary caregivers or you may have to wait a long time to give them anything again. Also, do not let your emotions get in the way of your better judgment. It can be easy to be emotional when your kids are involved. 

I hope you can send gifts to your child and have precious memories with them and their adoptive family.

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.