In an open adoption, it’s common for birth moms or dads to give gifts to their birth child. It’s also common for adoptive parents to give gifts to the birth family. At first, it can be confusing as to what is appropriate, but over time, I’ve discovered that treating biological families like any other family member is the best approach. What would a cool aunt want? What would a parent want from their child? Usually, nothing expensive is necessary. Giving genuine gifts made or bought with love is what works best. Keep it simple!
Is it the thought that counts? Yes! Birth families always feel good when they are remembered, even if it’s simply a framed copy of your child’s artwork you send to them. One time I sent our child’s birth mom a scrapbook from Michaels with a bunch of his fun preschool artwork in it (and made copies for myself). Photos work great too. Get a nice canvas print made from Costco, for example. They can hang that in their home. Sometimes a canvas print can be about the same price as a nice frame, anyway. Another cute photo idea would be something like Chatbooks, where you can send a bunch of photos of your child in a little album to the birth family. There are several services out there like that.
One thing to consider in open adoption is to know who is expecting a gift. At first, we solely thought about our son’s birth mom because that’s who we had contact with. When we started meeting her family and becoming closer with each of them over time, we felt like considering them too. We still have his birth mom as our main priority, but we try to remember them as well. For example, we will give her a scrapbook of art or big photo and then we will send wallet-sized photos in a simple envelope to the rest of the individuals in her family. It would be hard to afford larger gifts for everybody, and they just want to be thought of. As adoptive parents, we do not get gifts from them and we don’t expect to. I suppose some open adoptions do have that element, but it just doesn’t seem to be the way ours goes. Plus, we don’t want his birth mom spending money on us when she should be saving for school or her bills. Birth families commonly give gifts to the child, like toys, but not to the adoptive parents (in our case anyway).
Another thing to note is how many times do you plan on giving gifts throughout the year? That may be something to discuss with your child’s birth mom. Just have a casual conversation about whether you want to do birthday gifts only or also Christmas, Valentine’s, Halloween, etc.? This gives a boundary and realistic expectation not only for your budgets but for your child. As they get older, they may wonder if they should expect a gift from their birth mom or birth family. If they notice they usually get a Christmas gift, they may expect one each year and be disappointed if there isn’t one. Not that they need spoiling, but they may feel like they weren’t remembered. In case a birth mom gets in a position where she cannot afford a gift or simply is in a season where she prefers less contact, I would advise talking to the child about how to manage those feelings. You can explain that maybe in your open adoption, gifts are not expected, but a very welcome surprise when they do come. Explain that she will send a gift when she can, but sometimes she cannot and that is okay—she still loves you. Tell your child that physical gifts are not the most important thing—her love is always enough.
On the flip side, as adoptive parents, you should always under promise and over deliver, in my opinion. Even if we only do birthday and Christmas presents for our child’s birth mom, I occasionally want to send her other stuff just because we love her. I frequently send our son’s outgrown clothing and shoes to her because she has a new baby. There is obviously no amount of money or gift that could compare to what she did for our family, but I like to give her meaningful things. Once I had a quilt made from our son’s old onesies and other clothes I had that I sent to her. It was warm and meaningful. I found the quiltmaker on Etsy—just search and you’ll find several options on that site. It was kind of expensive, but a good one-time gift. As far as money goes, I’d just use your best judgment. If you want to give just money to the birth mom, make sure it’s for an intended purpose. For example, you don’t want to get in the habit of just sending money all the time because it’s impersonal and may become expected. It’s alright though, in my opinion, to give occasionally and with intention. One time we gave our son’s birth mom a check for a few hundred dollars for Christmas and gave it to her in person saying it was specifically to pay for her college books. Another thing adoptive parents could do if they live far away from the birth mom is to send money on Venmo and write, “Here’s $50 so you can replace that favorite hat you said you lost.” I think money is okay when it has thought behind it. That is just a personal preference, though, so don’t feel like you ever have to send money.
A sweet thing you can do for people in the birth family as a “gift” is make a video for them. I’d say this is more like a card than a physical gift—but unlike a card, it’s got the child’s voice, not just writing. I promise you, I get the best thank you’s and reactions when I make a video of my son and simply text it to birth family members. If you are not on a texting basis you could email or post it as a private video on Facebook they can view. This last Thanksgiving morning, which is not a normal holiday for presents, I wanted to do a little something more special than a “Happy Thanksgiving” text. I just told my son, “Okay, let’s record a message for Grandma ___.” Then I texted the video of him to one of his birth grandmas. His little video was unprompted and he just said, “I love you! I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!” It was super sweet. I got back a text saying we had completely made her day and to give him a big hug from her. It was a quick exchange that made everyone feel good. Technology can make communication so easy these days in open adoption.
Here are some ideas on specific adoption-related gifts. Etsy, Amazon, and Adoptiongifts.com are great places to shop and personalize things:
1. This ring:
It says, “Adoption is another word for love.” This will lift her spirits when she looks down at it. Because of the width of this particular ring, I believe it could work for a birth dad too if he’s in the picture.
2. Christmas ornament:
Send her a Christmas ornament for her tree. It’s a reminder that she is loved during the holidays. Holidays can be very emotional since it’s a time of year centered around family and she may be missing her birth child, especially if there isn’t a visit planned. This ornament reminds her of your bond in open adoption and how it’s never broken.
3. Adoption triad necklace:
The three hearts represent the adoption triad which is composed of the birth family, adoptive family, and child. The birth mother can wear it or keep it somewhere safe as a keepsake. Some birth moms keep memory boxes filled with things about the child and adoption. Adoptive moms or a female adopted child will love this necklace too.
4. A baby memory book that you make and then photocopy for the birth parents:
Baby books that record “firsts” are a special project for all new moms—first steps, first words, etc. When you complete yours, photocopy all the pages and send it as a gift to your child’s birth mother. This way they’ll have all of the baby’s important dates and milestones. Of course, you could email the pages as well, but it’s nice to have something tangible to hold in hand. If you have not shared addresses, stick with email or send it to the agency and she can pick it up at the agency.
5. A photo of your baby wearing this custom onesie:
Dress your child in this onesie that you customize to say something like, “I love my birth mom,” and take a picture to send to her.
6. Birth statistic necklace:
This necklace, featuring the baby’s birth stats like weight and time could be a gift for an adoptive or birth mama.
7. Birth mama strength T-shirt:
“Birth mom strong” is a popular phrase in the adoption community. I’d make sure your child’s birth mom is someone who isn’t afraid to tell her story and is open about it on social media before buying this shirt. Some birth moms do not tell their story and fear judgment, which is totally normal, so they may not want to wear a shirt like this out in public. If she is a birth mom who has shared her story then she may like it.
8. Growing Grace:
Growing Grace is an adoption book I’d highly recommend. This could be a gift from birth mother to child or from adoptive parent to child. This book explains to children why sometimes their birth moms can’t raise them and it makes sure to point out the birth mom’s emotions, sadness, and careful consideration. Sometimes other adoption books just gloss over the birth mother’s experience, so I like that this one does not.
9. Big sister long-sleeved T-shirt:
Don’t forget siblings! This would be a sweet shirt to give a hopeful big sister. It is important, however, with gifts like this, that we explain to our children that adoption is not guaranteed and they need to be prepared should it not go through. This is why some parents simply don’t tell other children in the family until the adoption relinquishment papers are signed. It is a quick surprise for the sibling, but it ensures they won’t have disappointment in an adoption disruption.
10. Honorable mention- this shirt could be cute to give to a waiting family, hoping-to-be adoptive mama:
This shirt can show the soon-to-be adoptive mama’s excitement over being chosen and being in a waiting family. Many hopeful mamas would wear this; however, some may not. Having so much excitement built up only to have a potential adoption disruption is sometimes just too much to handle. Some hopeful adoptive moms keep things quieter prior to adoption—just simply ask if she’d be into having something like this.
Gifts in open adoption overall should be simple, thoughtful, and expected (or not expected) depending on what everyone in the triad is comfortable with. You can stick with just the birth mother, or if you decide to branch out and exchange gifts with the birth family members you have a relationship with, just don’t leave anybody out. That will lead to hurt feelings. It’s also important to know that things may change over time—just go with the flow. What you did when the child was an infant may not be the way things are done when the child is 5 years old. Changes in relationships and how you interact or exchange gifts is expected in open adoption. Finances may change in either family or people may move towns or states. Change will happen all the time and it’s okay. The real gift is the relationships, after all.
Kristin Anderson is an adoptive mother who lives with her son, husband, and two crazy dogs. She loves open adoption and is always looking for ways to help in the adoption community. You can find her blog at www.lookingforlittleone.wordpress.com