By Josh Redfern, LCSW // Utah Director of Social Work
When you start working with an expectant parent and adoptive parent(s) on how they will communicate post-placement, it often seems like a pretty hard task to nail down EXACTLY what that openness will look like. It’s really hard to predict the future. Expectant parents don’t always know exactly what they will need/want after placement. No one knows what a child may need/want as they grow older. Adoptive parents may not know how exactly what works for them and what doesn’t.
So, I try to help expectant and adoptive parents set out some basic expectations or maybe some baseline things that everyone feels confident they will be able to do, but what I really want to get to is PROCESS. “HOW will we talk about our open adoption?”
Here’s a story from my own life and a process that you can use in similar situations:
When one of my children was very young, we were about to visit his birth mother. We were all very excited and she asked if she could take him to a few friends’ homes to show him off. We had already had some discussions with our son’s birth mom about different things and had decided that we would not answer right away if we weren’t sure, discuss it, and get back to her.
So we told her we would discuss it and then we ACTUALLY discussed it. My wife and I gave each other our initial thoughts (She did not think it was a good idea; I was okay with it.) We then discussed the reasons behind our feelings. My wife said at that point (remember, he was very young), she wouldn’t even want her siblings to do that. I on, the other hand, just wasn’t thinking clearly about what it would really entail (childcare issues, length of time, etc). Interestingly, none of our worries were about her being alone with him. We then talked about if our reasons were really valid (we decided that it was “just weird/new to us”–not necessarily a valid reason in open adoption, BTW) and we felt that they were.
So then we were all kinds of worried that we are going to hurt her feelings or damage the relationship. We love her so much and want to give her the kind of relationship she deserves. We worried that telling her “no” would damage trust. We worried she would feel that we weren’t living up to how much we said we cared for her. We decided to try to understand what she was trying to accomplish and find an alternative. We decided that the most important part of the request may be that she wanted her friends to see our son. A perfectly understandable request. So we decided to propose that we just let all of her friends know when we would be visiting her place and make time for them all to come over.
We were nervous to tell her this, but we were relieved when she simply said “Oh, that works, too!” I can’t know for sure if she was really hurt that we didn’t let her drive him around, but she never gave any indication otherwise. I think what I learned from this is that I don’t need to worry that a specific request, exactly as requested, is a “make or break” request. Our relationship had already developed to a level where we could trust each other enough to say “No, but how about . . . ” We just didn’t know it yet.
In conclusion, in some situations, this can be your process:
- Receive request/issue.
- Don’t answer right away if there is any doubt.
- Discuss the request/issue with your spouse or someone you care about.
- Ask yourself if your response is reasonable or if it is based in fear or other emotions.
- If it is a request that you are not comfortable with, seek an alternative that helps meet the needs/desires of the request
- Share your response with honesty and caring.
If you have a process or pattern in your open adoption, you can make good decisions and communicate effectively, which will help build trust. It’s often harder in the beginning, but as you work through some situations, it can become easier and easier, to the point where you simply have a relationship similar to any other good relationship.