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May 2004Vol. 5, No. 4Factors Influencing Outcomes of Contact With Birth Relatives

A recent article published in Adoption Quarterly reported on a study of 90 adopted adults who initiated a search for and met their birth mothers. The authors explored a number of hypotheses regarding factors that may influence adopted persons' contact experiences and subsequent relationships with birth mothers and siblings. The findings may have implications for counseling adults who are searching for birth relatives.

Similar to findings of previous studies, the majority of participants (67 percent) reported establishing a satisfactory relationship with their birth mothers. Reasons cited for satisfaction with the relationship included good relationships with their birth mothers and similarities between themselves and their birth mothers. Those dissatisfied with the experience cited a lack of interest on the part of the birth mother, discrepancies in lifestyle and values, and secrecy (about the adoption itself or the birth father) as reasons.

The closeness established between the participant and the birth mother was found to predict the general evaluation of the contact experience. Researchers determined that participants who established a mother-child relationship (about 17 percent of participants) felt closer to their birth mothers than participants who established a friendship (about 40 percent of participants). The type of relationship participants developed with their birth mothers was highly correlated with:

  • The frequency of contact
  • The adopted person's evaluation of the importance of the relationship
  • The adopted person's satisfaction with the relationship
  • The adopted person's satisfaction with the contact experience

Contrary to the researchers' hypothesis, the closeness of the relationship with (or attachment to) the adoptive mother while growing up was not found to significantly influence the relationship established with the birth mother. Other factors that did not correlate with closeness of the relationship with the birth mother included:

  • Feelings about adoption while a teenager
  • Resentment toward the birth mother
  • The adoptive mother's supportiveness of the search

The closeness of the relationship established with the birth mother was found to be positively related to feeling uncomfortable talking about adoption with the adoptive mother while a teenager.

Participants (55) who also contacted birth siblings were generally more satisfied with their relationship with siblings than with their birth mothers. Relationships with siblings became closer over time than relationships with birth mothers. The authors suggest it may be easier for adults who were adopted to integrate another sibling into the family than to integrate another parent.

The authors note that the study results should be interpreted cautiously, because the sample was composed of volunteers from an adoption search organization who may be biased toward contact. However, the data suggest that continuation of contact between participants and birth mothers may depend on the ability and willingness to revise expectations and negotiate a mutually satisfactory relationship.

The article, “Adults Who Were Adopted Contacting Their Birthmothers: What Are the Outcomes, and What Factors Influence These Outcomes?," is in Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 7(1). Ordering information can be found online at