Should I contact a half-brother I’ve never met?

Tell Me About It: I worry that I would overstep the mark and cause havoc in their family

PROBLEM: I’m in my 30s, married and have two children. I have a fantastic family and love my parents very deeply. I’m very blessed with how my life has been.

I am also adopted and met my biological mother about eight years ago. I found her as I was interested in my medical history and wanted to know if there was anything I should be aware of health wise. The meeting was lovely and we stayed in contact for a few months. She called me one day to say my biological father had died and as I was his only child (he never married or had a partner) and said I should look into getting his estate. I was not interested in any of this and did not want any part of it.

She did not contact me again and did not return any calls or texts after this. I got over it and moved on.

However, I know she has a son who would be my half-brother. I’m not bothered about my relationship with her but I do think about him a lot. Would it be reasonable to make contact with him or should I leave it all alone?

I would like to contact him and see if a relationship could be formed but worry that I would overstep the mark and cause havoc in their family.

ADVICE: In relation to your question, you have behaved admirably towards your birth family to date, so in seeking contact with your brother I would feel assured that you would behave in a dignified and respectful manner. You do not fully explain the circumstances of your last contact with your birth mother but it would seem that she was harsh in her response to your decision not to make a claim on your birth father’s inheritance.

Most adoptees seek mothers first when trying to find out their heritage, and it seems that this was the case for you, but I wonder at your lack of interest in your birth father’s life and death. You sought out your biological mother to uncover your medical history but your biological father’s story – particularly the mental health aspect – might also have relevance to your life. Your own children may eventually have questions about their unknown grandfather and I wonder that you are so interested on one side of your biological family and not in the other. It might be worth teasing this out with someone close and connected to you – so you are self-aware and clear in your intentions before developing deeper connections with one side of your birth family.

Your adoptive family might be helpful in this discussion as they may even have some extra knowledge for you to take into account. We often do not speak to our good and loyal adoptive families for fear of causing them upset but perhaps including them is the more respectful and loving path.

That you tried to stay in contact with your birth mother is a credit to you but it seems that you were rejected – something that many adopted people are very sensitive to, due to the circumstances of their early lives. The risk is that this will happen again, but letting fear guide your decisions is something that you do not want to foster. Contacting your brother is a risk but it is one worth taking as the possibilities it offers outweigh the hazards. Questions worth asking yourself are whether you can handle the pain that rejection might cause, whether you might take this personally or what impact this might have on your own family.

If your own children had an unknown sibling, you would probably wish for them to have the chance to connect and indeed your children may benefit from having a new uncle. However, introducing a new and close relative into your family may cause ripples and so this process needs to be negotiated with care.

Some discussion with your wife and children about what you are about to do would offer them both a voice in your decision and an opportunity to be consulted about their own concerns. If this is a difficult conversation to have, or you feel that your family might withhold their own worries for fear of upsetting you, then a family therapist might be very useful to help negotiate such territory.

You and your half-brother share the same birth mother and if a relationship is established there is no doubt you will have to talk about her and your attitude to her could come under scrutiny. Perhaps it is best if you come to a place of understanding how you feel (through talking, journaling or counselling) before letting this huge issue surface in your fledgling new connection with your brother.

This quest to associate with your brother will offer you possibilities to self-reflect, open up the family story and traditions and create new discussions within your own family.