Today’s The Blog post come from Kat, whom you’ll find more about on our Contributors page.

The locked doorWhen our children came home, we always said, there’ll be no secrets in this house. If they ask a question they’ll be given an (age-appropriate) answer. Our daughter has memories of her life pre-adoption and she’s been very matter-of-fact about it and we talk openly and honestly. Our son, removed at birth, has very different experiences, but since he came home at 7.5 months, if our daughter has been looking at her Life Story Book, we’ll get his out too and we’ll compare pictures, talk about their birth family and who fits in where; she tells him all about it and he ignores her and tries to eat the book – it’s all very ‘normal’ in our house, so hopefully it will become just another part of his life too in time.


Doesn’t all this openness sound simply fabby?

There is however, a rather large elephant in the room and it’s called Letterbox.

We haven’t told her that we write to members of her birth family or to her brother’s birth parents. She has the vocabulary to express how she feels about anything and everything, but not necessarily the understanding.

She has just come out of a phase of being absolutely afraid that her birth family will find her, so the fact that we are in contact at all will completely freak her out. We just don’t feel she could cope with knowing at the moment.

At the same time, I feel very hypocritical. I am proud that we are open, that nothing is off limits but at the same time we are hiding the fact that we correspond with members of their birth family (although it’s one way traffic at the moment). A Twitter friend suggests that next year when Letterbox comes round again I could ask her how she would feel if I wrote to them and gauge it from there and I think that’s a good plan to have in mind.

If I’m totally honest, I fear for her answer. I fear she’ll feel angry, afraid, betrayed and not trust me when she finds out I’ve written at all.

In the past, she has said that she wants certain birth family members to say sorry to her. She also says that she doesn’t want to see them ever as she has (in her words) ‘a happy time now’. I know this will probably change, but I doubt her desire for privacy ever will.

Our daughter kind of instinctively ‘knows’ what she can talk about outside of the home, whilst inside the home anything goes. I don’t know if it’s something to do with her absolute watchfulness that barely slips, or whether her nature is that she separates the different areas of her life. Maybe we’ll never know.

Since the age of 3, she has said, “People are always talking about me. I want them to stop. I don’t like it at all,” And yes, that’s all she’s ever known since Social Services became involved when she was 6 months old; whispers, talking, medicals, more whispers. So how will she feel when she discovers I’ve been writing about her to the family she was removed from?

All of this is a little bit raw since I have literally just posted the last letter for this year. Maybe it will get easier. Maybe it won’t.

Either way, one day I’m going to have to bite the bullet when I feel she’s ready, put my feelings aside and tell her.

What are your thoughts on Letterbox? Do your children know you write or like Kat, is it something you’ve refrained from sharing with them?

6 thoughts on “Secrets

  1. Lindsay

    It’s an interesting position to be in… I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer, but more what you feel is best for your family and in her best interest. Time changes so much, how she feels now may not be how she feels next year or in 5 years and if you’ve been open and honest with her that trust will surely shine through if down the road she learns you’ve been corresponding.

    We will soon be in a similar position with being able to contact Jonathan’s birth parents through letters. He knows he is adopted but doesn’t understand what the means. I’m not even sure how I feel about it so I’m not sure when and if I’ll be able to explain it to him when he does start to show an understanding….

    Thanks for bringing this up, I’m curious to see others responses and suggestions:)

  2. Suddenly Mummy

    Your post illustrates my whole problem with letterbox – it is contact maintained with birth family on the child’s behalf without the child’s permission or agreement. Certainly this is the case when the child is very young as mine is. Personally I think it’s taking a liberty to do this on behalf of children who, when they are able to understand, might be vehemently against the idea. At that point, adoptive parents may respond to their child’s wishes and stop the letters, but they can’t unsend the letters that were sent before their child was in a position to consent. For this reason, I personally believe that letterbox contact is less about the child’s needs and more about the birth family’s needs and this bothers me as the child is meant to be at the heart of the process. I know the argument about ‘keeping our side of the bargain’ but if the bargain was never struck then there would be no side to keep! I’m about to write my first letterbox next month and I’m not looking forward to it. I believed at the time I signed the contract, and still believe now, that letterbox should be made available as an option to pick up at such as time as the adopted child is able to understand and consent, but that it should be an opt-in, led by the child’s needs and wishes. I daresay there’s loads of research showing what a great thing letterbox is but still, it just feels wrong to me, especially as my son came into foster care (with me) at only 18 weeks old and has no memories of birth family whatsoever. Ah well – it’s unavoidable so I’ll just have to suck it up! But thanks for posting on the subject – reassuring that I’m not the only one who isn’t sure how to broach the subject when the time comes.

  3. Dr Spouse

    I’m not sure you can really do anything for very young children with their consent, though. I can introduce Baby Spouse to his very mad granny who drives me bananas, and if she behaves to him when he’s older like she has sometimes behaved to me, he’ll be within his rights to say “no thank you I don’t want to see Granny”. But not seeing her now will mean that choice can never be made one way or the other in the future. I can send his photos to my friends who he doesn’t know, but who are charmed to see them, and he can’t consent to that.

    I have to do what I think is best for him (which I think is keeping lines of communication open with birth family, it is not entirely one way but more from us to them). I don’t think you can cut off communication with all friends and family until your child is old enough to consent, if the contact is not safe now, then we shouldn’t do it, if it’s safe now but they might decide against it when they are older, well that decision is one for the future.

  4. Meggy

    It is so hard to give advice in this situation, and I think you have some difficult choices to make.
    Our situation is much simpler. We write to the birth mother of our two sons twice a year, and she usually writes back. Our boys know, but they are frankly not interested in her, although they are keen to meet a younger sibling she is still seeing.
    Do I think it is valuable? Yes, her letters to them will tell them a lot about the sort of person she is and help them understand her as they get older. I think they will help the boys not to see her as an ideal fantasy figure. And they are very loving letters, which I feel is a real positive, so the boys know she cares about them. In the past they have been keen to send her photographs, but that is about as far as they go. I don’t always show the boys her letters. Often they don’t want to see them.
    Would I keep writing if she didn’t reply? Probably, but less regularly.
    Would I stop writing if the boys asked me to? Probably, but I’d explain to her. It would be most difficult if one of my sons wanted me to stop contact and the other didn’t. However we’d work it out. My sons are 7 and 10, so old enough to understand the situation fairly well. If they’d asked me to stop when they were younger I might have kept the contact up but cut it to very basic details on the lines of “they are well and happy” just to keep lines of communication open.
    Why do we do it? for my sons sake. but also for hers. She matters. She is hurting through the loss of her kids. My boys are my priority, but I owe this woman, and I will always be grateful to her for the gift of my sons. In an odd way I care about her. I want the best for her. Want my boys to see that I feel she is important. I would be sad if we broke off contact.
    I do agree that the child’s needs are central, but I cannot forget the needs of other people. I can put my needs on hold, by letting this other woman have a little corner of our lives, even when at times I find it hard (eg when she writes of herself as their mum, when I’m their mum!) But even though a little bit of me resents that, I cannot deny the situation. And I cannot deny that she has needs. It is easier for us because they have no experience of living with her. If the situation was more like yours where there were bad memories, that would be hard.
    In the end we have found that being honest with our boys pays off.
    We none of us have any idea how our kids will react to our decisions when they are older. What they resent now they may be grateful for when they are adults. We can only do what we feel is best for our own families at the time.

  5. tasocial Post author

    I never ‘minded’ writing letterbox, it’s always been a good chance to reflect on the last 6 months and really think about Mini. I didn’t mind sharing a little bit of Mini’s life with his birth mother, but we were always told to keep the letters positive which made me question whose benefit they were for. I wasn’t allowed to write the negative stuff…even though there is much of it. I felt that gave an unbalanced and unrealistic view of Mini and his life. But we carried on, believing it was in his best interest to keep lines of communication open.

    I’ve never kept it a secret from Mini that we wrote to his BM. He’s – from a very early age – asked after her, he cared about her, even though he had no memories of her, so to reassure him I let him know we wrote. He also asked us if she cared about him – I was able to tell him that yes she cared, and he knew I was letting her know that he was OK – that mattered lots to him. Then he hit 5 and decided that we are his family, we are his only family, and he went into denial about ever having had a family before, and he demanded we stop writing to ‘that woman’. We talked to him, we made sure he understood what he was asking and he was resolute.

    SS tried to dissuade us, they suggested I carry on in secret without telling Mini (yeah cause that wouldn’t damage our relationship when he eventually found out would it?!) and I had to rewrite final letters 3 times because I was ‘too honest’ and it was thought that BM would be upset. To be honest, that said everything to me about who those letters really were for.

    Somedays I regret stopping. Somedays I regret having told Mini. But I do feel that at 5 he knew what he wanted and I have to respect that. If I can show him now that I respect him and his thoughts, then trust will grow and I think that’s a good basis for us to build our relationship on.

    Only you know if your daughter is ready to hear that you write. If it’s going to make her feel unsafe then don’t do it. I think it’s a great idea to sound her out next time without letting on – see how it goes.


  6. Kat

    Thank you all. Glad I’m not the only one feeling like this. Since writing this, we’ve had no replies to our letters, although one has been sent (by someone who isn’t on ‘the list’ to write, bizarrely), but SS ordered a re-write as it was so inappropriate.
    That hasn’t happened.
    we wait and see xx


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