I recently heard a story about a man who was contacted for the first time by his adult daughter, completely out of the blue. He hadn’t seen her in 35 years, when all of a sudden, there was a knock on his door.  (Okay, not literally.  But close.)  In any event, this situation was awkward on many levels, and it affected a lot of different relationships: father/daughter, husband/wife, daughter/stepmother, daughter/mother, etc. Figuring out who’s who would take a while, and getting to know one another could take a lot longer. That is, if everybody is on board.

What if the man didn’t want to be contacted? What if the biological mother didn’t want the daughter to get in touch with her biological father? In this day and age of DNA testing and genetic queries, how do we navigate these complicated situations?

If I was hired as a Family Mediator to facilitate a meeting between strangers who are biologically connected, I’d suggest to the participants, in advance, that they put their B.E.S.T. foot forward.

  1.  is for BOUNDARIES.  It’s important to establish some boundaries for your first meeting.  To be clear, I mean boundaries for yourself.  Understand what you are willing to share and what you are willing to hear beforehand, and make sure you stick to them.  A simple, “I’m not comfortable with talking/hearing about this” is sufficient.
  2.  is for EXPECTATIONS.  It’s probably time for a reality check.  We’re simply talking about the first meeting, not whether this long-lost family member will take care of your kids while you go on vacation, or whether you’d be willing to donate a kidney.  (Click here for some other thoughts about managing expectations.)
  3.  is for SUPPORT.  Bring someone with you to this first meeting, someone with whom you can exchange a wink or an eye-roll from time to time.  You don’t have to do this alone.
  4.  is for TEST DRIVE.  Consider this first meeting the way you would when test driving a potential new car.  It can be a major investment, and you’re going to need to think about whether and how this newly-discovered family member may fit into your life.

To belabor the theme, I’d also suggest that the B.E.S.T. case scenario would be that you’d want to see each other again.  Therefore, the B.E.S.T. insurance for some sort of a continuing relationship would be to save the deeper questions for a future get-together.  This is not the time to ask your biological mother how she felt giving you up, or to ask your biological son if he loves you.  Instead, focus on getting to know this new person today.  What does she do for a living?  What does he do for fun?  Remember this is a first meeting, and whether it’s exciting or devastating, you, and you alone, have the absolute power to choose what happens next.

If you’ve been in this situation personally, or know of someone who has, please comment.  I’d love to hear more.