The idea of an open adoption might be intimidating to both sides. However, open adoptions work much better when there is a plan in place early on. There are lots of things to consider when making an open adoption plan. Much of these considerations will involve give and take from both sides. It is important to understand that both sides might have a different idea of what an open adoption should look like. It is important to be realistic and to state what you want upfront. It is better to be honest in the beginning about what you can commit to and what you are willing to accept.
Simply committing to an open adoption is not enough. This is especially true because a birth parent may have a different idea of open adoption than does the adoptive parent. It can be heartbreaking if one side believes that there would be visitation regularly while another side just felt open adoption meant updates about the child and an occasional email. This is why it is so beneficial to have a plan in place and to communicate from the very beginning what your open adoption will look like. This all comes with the understanding that the plan may change as life happens, but it will still provide a bit of security that a framework is in place.
Both birth parents and adoptive parents will have expectations about what open adoption should look like. This is why it is important to establish early on what these expectations are and try to meet somewhere in the middle if necessary. Wherever you fall in the adoption triad, it is important to say what you want upfront. If you are a birth parent who hopes to have a yearly visitation with your child, make sure that is known. If you are an adoptive parent who would like to be able to keep in touch with your child’s birth parents and provide them updates, let that be known. If you are on either side and you feel that open adoption should just be updates, make sure that you state your wishes before placement.
I recently spoke with a friend who is an adoptive parent in an open adoption situation. While they agreed to an open adoption, they did not plan the open adoption out. They did not talk about expectations and did not talk about what it would mean for their child. In this case, the adoptive parents thought that there would be a lot more communication than there is. They thought that there would be more of a chance for their child to get to know their birth parents. However, the birth parents thought that open adoption was more just about receiving updates and following each other on social media. While this arrangement is completely okay, it is not what either side expected. They are in a better place now that they have been able to talk about expectations and where they can meet in the middle. This all could have been avoided, however, by communicating an open adoption plan.
Expectations can be a hopeful and heartbreaking thing. Expectations can be heartbreaking if they are not met. However, much of this can be avoided with an open adoption plan as both sides will hopefully understand what these expectations are and what they mean for each person involved. If the expectations are not agreed upon, both sides can either try to compromise or pursue a different placement. It is not only important, but also ethical to make sure that expectations are not misunderstood on either side.
One consideration to make when making an open adoption plan is the distance between the birth family and the adoptive family. An open adoption plan that includes visitation can be relatively easy if you live close to one another. However, if you are adopting from another state or perhaps a longer distance away, an open adoption plan that involves visits may be more difficult to accommodate. This does not mean that you should not have some sort of visitation plan in place, but that you may have to be more realistic.
If you live in close proximity to each other, it is important that you establish boundaries in your open adoption plan. If you would like to do visitation, don’t just say that you’re going to do visitation. Set a schedule early on so that there is an expectation of what will be allowable or understandable. This can be a touchy subject, but this is one area where each family may have different expectations. It will be up to each side to state what they want in this scenario and be honest about what they are willing to commit to. Take some time to talk about what life will look like living in close proximity and what an open adoption situation would mean for each person. Be specific and make sure that you come to grounds to agree upon. This is not an area that you want to have misunderstanding or miscommunication. It can seem frightening to hash this out, but it may be a lot easier than you think. It is a matter of being clear and taking into consideration the feelings of all of those involved.
For my children, their birth family lives about four and a half hours away. While we cannot commit even to monthly visits, we do try to see their family at least twice a year. That was something that we felt that we could do realistically. We also thought that it might help to be able to video chat with each other once a week. Over the years, if we have been able to do more or have had to do less due to circumstances, we have a mutual understanding. However, we have found that we love to do more when possible and that this is a good set up for us. It avoids disappointment on both sides and allows us to give and take.
If the birth family and the adoptive family live far apart, it may be wise to have an open adoption plan in place that includes some sort of communication that can be done from a distance. Video calls are great, but with social media, it is even easier to keep in contact through multiple avenues. In addition to video calls, you may be able to send pictures even daily if you want. I know some adoptive families who even have a page that is private that is dedicated to posting pictures for their child’s birth family. It is also a great way for them to connect with their child’s extended birth family if they so choose. There are so many ways that we can keep connected when being at a distance with modern technology. Open adoption plans are much easier to navigate with these amenities.
A huge thing to consider when making an open adoption plan is the fact that life will bring you many unknowns. People switch jobs, get divorced, move, and life simply just happens. With this, it is hard to plan for unknowns in an open adoption plan. However, it is important to recognize them. When making an open adoption plan, it is best to take some time to talk about the “What-ifs.” What will happen if one of you move? How will that change the open adoption plan? What are you willing to change or let go of?
There needs to be an understanding that life does happen and that there may be a time where you have to revisit the open adoption plan. This is something that simply must be acknowledged. You may be able to talk through some of the what-ifs, but make sure not to over promise or over commit yourself in these situations. Take some time to talk about probable what-ifs and what the open adoption plan might look like if those things happen. Communicating these what-ifs now will definitely help if they happened down the line.
My husband and I have faced unknowns in our own open adoption plan. There have been times where visitations have been unable to happen due to health reasons and even video visitations have had to hold for various reasons. This has not only affected us but our children. When you understand open adoption, you understand how healthy it can be and that children are not often given enough credit for their ability to understand relational dynamics. Even at young ages, it is not confusing for them: the idea that we are their parents but that they also have birth parents. Their relationship with their birth parents is completely different than their relationship with us, but they love and look forward to their time together. It is important that we maintain expectations and strive to meet expectations for the sake of our children.
One of the hardest parts of creating an open adoption plan is remaining realistic. In the beginning of an adoption journey, both sides are at a place where they want what is best for them, but also want to be considerate of the other side. It is easy as an adoptive parent to over promise. It is easy as a birth parent to not speak up about what you want and also to over promise. It is human nature to want to please each side and to want to agree to everything. However, the goal of this open adoption plan is to make sure that it is an open adoption plan that is realistic.
In order to make it realistic, you have to be honest upfront. If you do not plan to visit with each other more than once a year, don’t promise monthly visits. If you do not think it’s possible to keep up with each other through visitation and updates, figure out an open adoption plan that’s more realistic for all of you. If you live in different states, it’s likely not realistic that you will be able to visit once a month. If your job has you moving a lot, it is important to have your open adoption plan be somewhat open-ended and to be open about what your job entails from the beginning.
Another part of being realistic is also making sure that you are committing to what you are able to handle as a person. If you are a person who does not like to travel and has not ever traveled, don’t commit to traveling for the sake of an open adoption plan. Now is not the time to commit to change your ways. If you are someone who rarely has access to the Internet, don’t commit to email updates. A lot of this will be common sense. Make sure that you keep your open adoption plan in line with how you tend to live your life and the type of relationships you have.
Keep in mind with all of this that this plan that you are creating is not only for the birth parents and the adoptive parents, but also the child involved. As she grows and understands the terms of this open adoption plan, it will highly affect her if the plan is not followed. If you are committing to certain aspects of this plan, understand that you are committing your child to this as well. This is a promise that you are making to him, not only with each other. While open adoption plans are not usually legally enforceable, it is important to remember that it doesn’t just affect you and the other party. This is something that you are doing for your child. An open adoption plan will affect him in ways that you cannot imagine. Make sure to keep in mind that your child is mutually what matters most to everyone involved and the reason that this open adoption plan exists in the first place. This will make it a lot easier for you to create a plan that benefits everyone and benefits your child going forward.
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 Facebook.