Open adoption has become much more popular in recent years. This popularity is no coincidence but rather a result of years of research and a collection of knowledge from adoption journeys. When possible, open adoption has been shown to be a healthier adoption plan than a closed adoption. Much of this is due to the idea that a child’s identity is still found within their birth family long after the adoption has been finalized. Without the mystery surrounding closed adoption, a child can be raised with a much better idea of who they are and where they came from. This also helps preserve the relationships that are broken through adoption in the cases of a closed adoption. Preserving these relationships help both the birth family as well as the child who was adopted. So, of course, you want to know how to prepare for a happy and successful open adoption.
Though open adoption has been shown to be the healthier option that does not always mean it is easy. Sometimes it might even feel impossible. There are many factors that go into an open adoption and sometimes these factors are very hard to cope with. There are a lot of relational guidelines that need to be established well before the adoption takes place. There are also many unknowns that come with an open adoption or even adoption in general. It is quite impossible to discuss every single event that might occur in a child’s life or a family’s life. However, it is preparing for that unknown that will help make for a happy and successful open adoption. That flexibility will be key to achieving success and making sure that the child is placed at the forefront.
The most common type of adoption in the United States is domestic infant adoption. This type of adoption involves the adoption of an infant, typically as a newborn. With this, the adoptive and birth family both have the unique opportunity to discuss adoption plans before the child is born. One of the keys to a happy and successful open adoption will be starting well. By focusing on the relationship and building that relationship between the birth and adoptive family, each family can help to strengthen their bond before the child is born. Both of these families will hopefully have a lifetime of interactions. In an open adoption situation, the more that these families trust each other and the more their relationship has been strengthened from the beginning, the more likely they are willing to grow together and work together in situations that may be difficult. Even though everyone has differences, families can find common ground in their love for their child. It is vital for the sake of the child to grow this relationship before the child is even born and to attempt to build a strong foundation for a successful open adoption relationship.
Starting well may look different for each type of adoption situation. However, starting well basically means that each family sits down with one another and sets a tone for the relationship. While it is important that they get to know one another and build that bond, it will be more important to discuss what an open adoption situation would look like for all involved. I cannot count how many times I have heard an adoptive or first family say that open adoption is not what they thought it would be. It may be a birth family who thought that they would have more visits. It may be an adoptive family who thought that they were just committing to email updates. The fact of the matter is that there are so many different types of open adoption and people will have various ranges of expectations. Know what those expectations are for both yourself and for the other family involved. Lay these on the table. If these are not known by both sides, agreeing to an open adoption can mean drastically different things to each person. When the open adoption means two drastically different things to each family, it sets the tone for disaster. No family wants to find out that they were misled due to their own belief of what they thought open adoption entailed. Set the standard and start well by defining what open adoption means to you and what you feel that it would look like for the other family and for the child involved.
A large part of starting well in an open adoption will be to discuss what an open adoption will look like for both you and the birth family. With this, it is very easy to promise the world. Both sides want each other to get along, the relationship is very new, and it is very easy to over-promise. This is one of the biggest deal breakers I see in open adoption. This can also be one of the things that tears apart relationships. It is also heartbreaking and unethical for all involved, especially the child.
Over-promising is also one of the most common factors that give adoptive parents a bad name. It is not that these people are evil. It is not that these people are liars. However, they realize that everything they promised is not necessarily realistic for everyday life. It’s really easy to promise visits in a certain span of time, but then realize that you’re not able to hold those up in real life. It’s really easy to promise a certain amount of contact and then not be able to do that. It is also easy for one side to assume that a certain amount of contact will happen but never actually schedule that and then get their feelings hurt when the other side had a different idea. For this reason, it’s incredibly important that both the adoptive and birth family thoroughly discuss what their open adoption will look like. When they do that, each side has to ask themselves what they really are capable of doing.
For my own open adoption, we try our very best to have at least one visit every six months. If we can visit more than that, wonderful. If we can’t do that then we both realize that we just have that open communication and set something for as soon as possible. Being realistic is simply realizing that these are human beings and human things happen. Life is unpredictable. You have to recognize that one or both families might move at some point. There also has to be a recognition that the child grows and gets into various activities and has thoughts of their own on this open adoption. Keep in mind that those relationships might dramatically change. There are just so many unknowns. For this reason, it is very important to create a sort of structure but to understand that this structure may change and will most likely change multiple times throughout the life of the child. It is also important to recognize and honor the child’s wants and the child’s needs as they grow older. You should let them take the lead when they’re able to do so.
It is also vital that an adoptive family not promise anything to a birth family in order to ensure that the first family will relinquish their rights. While that sounds awful, I have heard time and time again of adoptive parents saying that they are scared if they don’t agree to certain terms that the birth family will place their child with someone else. If you are unable to agree to a birth family’s terms and they pick someone else, then that was the best thing to happen. It is completely the right of the birth family to choose a family who is able to uphold their idea of open adoption. It is also not fair and incredibly unethical to agree to something you have no intention of following through on. At the end of the day, while failed adoptions or failed placements are incredibly painful, it would be much more painful and much more awful to agree to something you never intended to do. To promise someone something so important as contact and visits with their child and then to take that away is truly despicable. Keep these things in mind while preparing for a successful open adoption.
Once the child has been placed with the adoptive family, the most important factor in maintaining a happy and successful open adoption for both the birth and adoptive families will be communication. Keeping that communication open will be key and will provide for a steady and ongoing relationship for both sides. If there are communication issues, they have the capacity to place the whole adoption relationship at risk. When one or both sides quit communicating, there are many reasons that this lack of communication can cause turmoil or pain. It would be hard for adoptive parents to see their child in pain if the birth family quits communicating. It would also hard for the birth family if the adoptive family quit communicating.
There are also issues with a lack of communication when struggles with relationship arise. If there is something happening within the relationship that one or both sides are uncomfortable with, it is best to swiftly address these issues head-on before they escalate to something larger than they need to be. It is great to establish a relationship that is open and honest and allows for this pure honesty. It is great to begin the relationship by letting each side know that they are open to discuss changes that need to happen and also keep the perspective that the child is the most important member of this triad. The needs of the child and the focus of the child should always be the reasoning for any changes that occur. It is incredibly easy to let pride get in the way. This happens for both adoptive and birth parents. However, pride simply cannot be a factor. Everything needs to be at about the child and keeping communication open is for the sake of the child. Healthy communication between all parties involved is absolutely imperative.
Going along with the theme of holding up realistic expectations, there will be a point in the child’s life where both sides will have to adapt to a new normal. The open adoption will absolutely not stay the same throughout the child’s life. As mentioned before, it will be constantly changing. At any given point, there will be events that occur and factors introduced that may cause turmoil for all involved. Change is just a fact of life. We have to be able to adapt to any relationship. Just like with a marriage relationship or a relationship with a partner, any type of relationship needs to change and we have to grow together. If we fail to grow together, the relationship will end. Both sides need to learn how to adapt to new situations as they grow.
One thing that will happen is the makeup of each family may change. More children may be added. Divorce can happen. So many relationships will change. It is important to try to discuss the what-ifs when you’re starting out, though there’s really no way to know what those what-ifs will be. The foundation built in the beginning will go a long way to helping navigate these sudden changes in the life of each family. While the structure may change, a firm foundation can set the tone and allow the families to grow together. If both sides go into this open adoption situation knowing that no matter what happens the child is put first, there’s a much better chance for a happy and successful open adoption.
Ultimately, the success and happiness of an open adoption experience will largely depend on the investment that each family makes into the adoption relationship. It will also depend on the investment that they make in the health of their child and the needs of their child. Both families coming together for the sake of the child will be everything for an open adoption experience. Keeping the child in perspective and at the forefront will be absolutely key to maintaining the success and happiness of open adoption. Keeping the lines of communication open will also be key. Having honest and realistic expectations of both sides will set a tone for the relationship in general. That honesty and openness will mean everything moving forward as life changes and events happen in the child’s life. Setting pride aside and putting the child first in all decisions can allow families to grow in a healthy way. While two separate families are involved, these families become one when it comes to the connection their child provides.
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/.