The annual letterbox contact letter to your child(ren)’s birth family can be difficult to write. How do you sum up a year in a page or two? How much information do you share, and what do you withhold? And for many, it’s difficult to write cheerily to the people who caused our children so much trauma, especially when you don’t fancy your chances of receiving a reply.
A note before we begin: I’m writing from a UK perspective where most children are adopted via the care system, and am aware that elsewhere (eg open adoptions of relinquished babies in the US) this may not apply in the same way. No offence is intended, but it is important to acknowledge that many birth parents who have had children removed from their care have chaotic lives and are often unable to respond to contact letters. If you’re reading this as a birth parent, you might find this post about letterbox contact from your perspective is more helpful.
The bit I struggle with the most is painting a rosy picture of domestic harmony when the truth is that it is often exceptionally hard and we deal with violent meltdowns from dawn ’til dusk. (You can read a typical day in our family life here.) I don’t want to tell our girls’ birth mum that actually it is horrible to have those weeks/months where I sit and wait for school to phone and ask me to go and retrieve my child because they can’t cope with her violence. I’m fine blogging about it, obviously, so what’s the difference?
I think it’s because I know her perspective is different. She cares about them and wants the best for them, but probably wouldn’t cope well with any negativity. I don’t want her to worry about them. I feel that that’s our job now, and what she needs is just reassurance that all is well and a few appropriate anecdotes. I’d like her to be able to see us as a solution for the children’s problems, and to know that we are coping.
This is the format I use: a list of questions that help when I’m faced with the blank page and that ‘I really must write it this week’ feeling.
- How are they doing at school – what are they enjoying? Do they like their teacher(s)? Is there a nice quote from their school report you can include?
- How is their health? (I keep this positive and gloss over the trip to A&E!)
- What are their current hobbies or clubs? Are they enjoying football or Brownies or art after school? Or do they prefer doing Lego at home?
- Are there any funny stories to tell?
- What books, TV shows or films have they enjoyed? Is there a particular character they like?
- Is there a message from the child, or have they drawn a picture?
- If you send photos, what’s the story behind the picture?
Am example letterbox contact letter
So a typical letter goes something like this:
How are you? I hope you had a good summer.
Joanna and Charlotte are doing really well. They’ve just gone back to school and are enjoying being in their new classes. Joanna especially loves reading and won a prize for her reading at school last term. She has read all the Roald Dahl books – her favourite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlotte is enjoying art – she is always bringing home new pictures. They both go to nature club after school and have been growing vegetables in the school garden.
They’re very healthy and growing so fast! Apart from a few colds and a bit of hayfever they don’t ever seem to get ill, which is great. They still wear glasses and love going to the optician to choose new ones.
Joanna has started recorder club after school. She is excited about playing in the school concert at Christmas. Charlotte likes the Lego club she goes to on Saturdays. She likes building shops, castles, and giant slides for the Lego people to use!
In the summer holidays they had swimming lessons and went to a sports club. They both love swimming and being outside, climbing trees and making dens. We went away for a week at the seaside and they swam in the sea, made sandcastles and flew a kite. They really enjoyed being on the beach and jumping in the waves.
The girls both say hello and have drawn you some pictures of our holiday. As you can see from the photo, they were especially keen on the ice creams – especially the crazy flavours like bubblegum with jelly beans in! They’d love to know what ice cream flavour is your favourite.
Love from Hannah, Pete, Joanna and Charlotte
And then I post it off (sometimes with help from the children so they’re involved, sometimes quietly so they don’t dwell on it for weeks, depending on how settled things are for them at the time). And then I breathe a sigh of relief for another year. It’s done.
Writing your own letter
You can download both the list of questions above and the sample letter as an editable template from my resources page. I hope you find it a helpful starting point for writing about your own child(ren). I also have advice for writing to professionals and a template for writing to your child’s new teacher, in case you need those too.