5 Tips on Listening to Birthparents
by Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.
Founder & CEO of Lifetime Adoption
Listening is very important in any relationship, and especially when first meeting a birth parent. Often we’re so nervous that we chatter on and on, never really getting to know the woman on the other end of the phone or sitting across from us.
The average person thinks four to five times faster than they can speak. We have the ability to think about numerous things at one time and often most of us are doing just that. This can become a real problem if we do this while speaking with a prospective birth mother. Many of us find it is natural when someone is speaking to us to be planning what we will say next or thinking about something unrelated, or maybe deciding whether we agree or not with what the other person is saying.
We selectively listen for the information we want to hear in order to make our point. If you are concentrating on what you need to say next to control the conversation, then you are not focused on the birth mother and her needs.
Failing to recognize this can affect a birth mother’s decision and desires and could cost you the opportunity to adopt her child. I have seen more than one prospective adoptive couple lose the opportunity in their first interview by talking too much about themselves or drilling the birth mother by asking too many poignant questions at one time. The conversation is often disheartening to the birth mother who was attracted to a family’s profile online, then when she finally spoke to them on the phone or in person, they were not what she expected and often were so nervous they scared the poor girl away.
Many birth mothers have shared with me they would be more comfortable speaking with the adoptive mother before speaking to the adoptive father. Other women don’t seem to mind with who they speak with first.
Here’s my advice for adoptive parents: Don’t put your phone on speakerphone mode for your first conversation. This is a “no, no” for most first conversations; wait to get to know each other and always ask her permission before putting her on a speakerphone. Another “no, no” is to have your spouse on the extension phone listening in without the birth mother’s knowledge. Both of these have turned birth mothers off to a family and can be seen as insensitive of the adoptive family.
To be a good listener, try these 5 simple steps:
1. LOOK at the birth mother when she is talking. Stay focused on her; don’t let your eyes wander around the room. When conversing on the phone, don’t check your e-mail or clean the kitchen while speaking to a birth mother, let her know she is important enough to take this time just to get to know her.
2. LISTEN, and don’t interrupt her. Let her finish the sentence before jumping in. If you are on the phone and you think you might forget to ask her something, try jotting yourself a note and wait until she is finished.
3. ASK questions about her and her life, be interested in her and her life, but don’t ever judge her, drill or preach to her. Ask if she would like to know more about you, and then proceed.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE, nod or say something to show her you understand and hear what she is saying.
5. MIRROR or repeat what you heard her saying in her own words, this way she knows you got it.Remember, building a good relationship with a birth mother isn’t a chess game. Planning your next move or modifying your strategy while she is talking is counterproductive and can make the difference in a match or not.
Practice these listening tips today with the people around you, coworkers, your boss, and other family members. It may seem strange and uncomfortable at first, but you will find people will start responding favorably to you and when the chance comes to meeting a birth mother, you will have some experience at listening.
An adoptive mother herself, Mardie is the Founder and CEO of Lifetime Adoption
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