Openness in adoption is one of the most common fears prospective adoptive families have when entering the adoption process for the first time. What if the birth parents show up unexpectedly? How will I explain this relationship to my child? What if our views on parenting differ? What if my child prefers them over me? These fears are understandable for a family who is new to the process or for those to whom openness is a new concept. However, with more information comes more understanding, and the opportunity for families to embrace openness in adoption despite their initial fears. In order to better understand how to successfully navigate an open relationship with your child’s birth family, here are three things you need to keep in mind about open adoption.
Regardless of any life circumstances that birth family members may be experiencing presently or in the past, or their current level of involvement in your child’s life, their role is and always will be important.
Openness is About Relationships
Openness is about relationships, and what is at the foundation of all relationships? Trust and honesty. Enter into an open relationship with your child’s best interests at heart and with a commitment to trust and honesty. While you may have fears about this relationship, you can be assured that your child’s birth family does, as well. There may be difficult conversations at times, but if you keep those commitments in mind and remind yourself of the reason for this relationship in the first place, you may feel some sense of comfort and reassurance in navigating these relationships. Regardless of any life circumstances that birth family members may be experiencing presently or in the past, or their current level of involvement in your child’s life, their role is and always will be important. An honest acknowledgment of that will contribute to your child’s well-being.
Everyone is vulnerable in this situation and we all share in the possibility and likelihood that nobody is going to get everything right all the time: this rings true for both the adoptive family and birth family. Approach the relationship with that in mind, allowing and planning for hiccups along the way. And, as relationships often do, openness with birth families may change over time. As children grow and schedules on both sides change, you may agree to deviate from the communication agreement you developed together at some point in time. Perhaps you will decide to share photos monthly rather than quarterly or meet in your homes rather than in the community. This is to be expected, and the more preparation you have for the potential for these changes, the more easily you will likely experience them.
Openness is not co-parenting
Your views may differ from the views of your child’s birth mother or birth father. In fact, they most likely will. It would be unreasonable to believe that they will align perfectly in every aspect of parenting. However, your child’s birth parent or parents chose you as the adoptive family for a reason. You do not need to align perfectly on your views, and you should feel comfortable exercising your parental rights to do just that: parent your child. Of course, there may have been matters you agreed upon prior to placement in regards to the way your son or daughter will be raised. In these cases, see my first point regarding trust and honesty in relationships. In instances where your child’s birth family did not select you as the adoptive family, they still chose adoption for a reason. Your child’s birth family entrusted you with the care of their child; trust that they trust you to the make important decisions in his or her life.
Birth families are a resource, not a threat
Actually, they are so much more than just a resource; they are women, men, friends, parents, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, etc., and I encourage you to get to know the roles and identity of the members of your child’s birth family. Birth family members should be valued as individuals, not just for the individuals they brought into the world.
Birth family members should be valued as individuals, not just for the individuals they brought into the world.
The wonderful thing about openness is that you have the opportunity to get to know those other sides! You have access to birth family members for questions, thoughts, insight and advice. When you see your child’s birth family as a threat, you risk missing out on so much as a parent and as an important connection for your child. When you allow yourself to see the birth family relationship for the many benefits it brings and let go of the fear surrounding it, you open the door to a world of possibilities. You will only be able to completely embrace the relationship after you accept the fact that there are areas that your child’s birth mother, birth father or even birth grandparents have expertise in. How fortunate for your daughter to be able to let her know that she shares her love of history with her birth father or for your son to know his aptitude for trivia runs in his birth mother’s family!
Openness in adoption is evolving and become much more common than ever before. Start explaining your child’s adoption story to them, or what you know of it, early and often. Even if an open relationship with the birth family doesn’t begin right away or doesn’t include in-person visits until a later date, it shouldn’t be difficult for a child to understand meeting someone he has heard about for the entirety of his little life. Whether your open relationship involves infrequent emails with one birth mother or in-person visits with an entire birth family full of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, you will experience these relationships much more comfortably if you prepare for them from the beginning and understand the benefits they can bring.
About the Author: Erin Timmers, MSW, LISW, is a Supervisor for our Domestic Adoption and Pregnancy and Birth Parent Services.