Monday, August 22, 2016

Navigating Openness

Openness in adoption is something many adoptive parents worry about. After learning the basics of open adoption and that there are many myths out there that simply aren’t true, couples still need to figure out how to navigate an open relationship with their child’s birth family. (Note that I will often make reference to birth mothers here but you can easily insert birth family or birth father as well since birth fathers also share an important  role in the adoption triad.)

There are now long-term studies showing the benefits of sharing an open relationship for everyone in the adoption triad: the adoptee, the birth family, and the adoptive parents. But often how the openness is handled is more important than if openness is a part of the adoption triad at all.

Today starts a three-part series on the blog talking about openness in adoption. Particularly, some of the messy, hard parts of openness like making promises in adoption and what to do when there's silence on the other side. But what about when the birth family is in a hard spot in their lives and you're not sure if you should allow openness when they are unhealthy? We'll tackle that common concern today.

I often hear this statement made by adoptive parents: We will agree to an open relationship, but only if the birth mother is in a healthy space in her life. On the surface, this seems like a completely reasonable and even wise position for parents to take. Admittedly I used to hold this same belief. But then I realized this caveat fails to take the value of openness in adoption and more importantly the value of people (particularly the birth family and adoptee) into consideration.

Think of it this way: I have a completely different standard for someone who will be my nanny vs. an extended family member that we only see occasionally at family gatherings. For a person who will care for my children, I will obtain references, background checks, and complete several interviews. But a family member who maybe struggles with a drinking problem or is dating someone I’m not a fan of? I’ll still go to the family gathering, but I’ll be sure my child is always safe. My child would never be out of my care and I would put boundaries in place if needed to steer clear of unhealthy conversations, etc.

It’s the same with an open adoption relationship. In my years of adoption experience with both adoptive and birth families, I’ve actually never known a birth mother to ever show up to a visit drunk, make inappropriate comments to the child, or request to “take the child back” (even though this is not a possibility when a legal adoption has been finalized). In fact, I’ve seen the exact opposite unfold. Even if they are in an unhealthy season of their lives, most birth mothers would love the chance and are able to meet up with you for a trip to the zoo or picnic at a park. A birth mother that is able to see how her child is doing, how loved they are, and know first hand that they are being cared for is reaffirmed constantly that she made the best possible decision to make an adoption plan.

That’s not to say there are guarantees that openness will be easy and there won’t be setbacks and hard times. And of course your child's emotional and physical safety are always a priority. But it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture in this: as the adoptive family you are looking to honor the woman that selflessly chose adoption for her child and chose you to provide a life she felt she couldn’t. Choosing to maintain a relationship with her not only gives the opportunity to continue to give her insight into how loved her child is, but also gives your child first-hand knowledge of their value and identity from the very beginning. Open adoption has tremendous benefits for the adoptee as well. As parents we have an obligation to always put their interests ahead of ours, even when it's hard and uncomfortable. The relationships in our lives that are often the messiest are the ones we value the most and the relationships that are worth it to work through the hard times.

For more information on open adoption, click these helpful links:

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