Today is the second in our series exploring some of the hard questions in open adoption. Earlier this week we chatted about how to navigate openness, specifically when the birth family is in an unhealthy space in their life. We also noted that studies are now showing tremendous benefits for the entire adoption triad (the birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee) when an open relationship shared in adoption.
In light of this, it’s important to identify what kind of openness you feel like you can offer in an adoption relationship near the beginning of your adoption journey. I say “offer” as opposed to “agree to” since in many states, openness agreements are not legally binding. And moving forward, thinking of your openness more as a relationship you share rather than a contract to hold to will cultivate a more organic and genuine relationship.
It’s critical that the openness you agreed to doesn’t change based on geography, time availability, or health of the birth family. Of course this is all within reason. Did you used to live in the same town and have now moved across the country? Figure out a way that works for both of you to still connect (over Skype or visits less often). Is having a newborn keeping you busier that you thought it would so the monthly photos you promised to send are harder to make space for? Work to continue to make it a priority. And of course if something might impact the physical or emotional safety of your child, do what you need to to create healthy boundaries and contact an adoption professional who can help you work through it with the birth family.
When you step into adoption, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re stepping into an ongoing life-long relationship not just with your adopted child, but with their extended family as well. Of course what this looks like varies greatly, but it’s no less a reality. Many people wouldn’t think of not ensuring there are times for visits, phone calls, or updates with some of their extended family. Setting it in this framework will be helpful as you prioritize your time and resources.
Understandably, many adoptive parents think of openness from their perspective. In the beginning when you are looking to match with an expectant mother, that woman holds he power of decision-making: who she chooses as an adoptive family and what kind of openness she wants to share. It can be unnerving and anxiety-producing for the adoptive couple.
But think of openness through the perspective of a birth mother. Once her nine months are over carrying her child and she hands that baby to a couple to raise, she no longer holds any of the power. She not only has to trust a couple who are often strangers to care for her baby, but also to keep in touch with her so she can be assured she made the right choice and know how her child is doing through the years. There is an incredible power differential when a birth mother is asked to trust an adoptive family to raise her child but that same family won’t trust her to share simple updates or visits.
A healthy relationship is one where both parties share power mutually. They can work together to create a plan to ensure their child is personally aware of all of the parents in their life that love them and want what’s best for them. Of course the adoptive couple act solely as mom and dad and make all of the parenting decisions for their child. But making decisions with your child’s birth mother about openness actually gives her power as her important role as a birth mother. Sharing pictures of her first hair cut, a video of him crawling for the first time, and inviting her out to dinner empowers her as a mother and reminds her of the value she has in your family.
The bottom line: never over-promise in adoption. Making promises with caveats only leads to hurt, disappointment, and broken promises for all sides. Keeping the promises you made builds trust, communicates value, and shares the honor you have for your child’s birth family.
For more information on open adoption, click these helpful links: