Relationships are an important part of life, and they shape and make our lives rich and fulfilling. Without relationships, life would be empty and lacking depth. Within the world of adoption, relationships are the cornerstone for everything else. They are vital to a successful adoption both at the beginning of the journey and as the adoption evolves over time. If you are part of an open adoption, relationships comprise the very triad that makes an adoption flourish. As a reminder, the “triad” refers to the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee. While each open adoption is different, inspiring to have a healthy relationship within it is critical for all parties involved, especially the adoptee. Adoptees are dependent upon adoptive and biological parents to help them process their stories. They can accomplish this more easily if all parties have a healthier relationship that makes room for understanding and processing their story. 

Open Adoption Reminder

If you are unfamiliar with open adoption, you can better understand what it means if you associate an open adoption with open communication. Open adoption essentially means that after the adoption takes place, there is ongoing communication between the adoptive parents and birth parents. In an effort to use positive adoption language, the adoption community uses the term birth parent only after an adoption takes place. Prior to that time, a birth parent is referred to as an expectant parent. Although this article will not specifically discuss the importance of using positive adoption language, it is important to note because it is so important both within the adoption community and society-wide. As you continue on the path of adoption, make every effort to use and incorporate positive adoption language into your vocabulary. 

Other types of adoption include closed and semi-open adoptions. Closed adoptions are not as common but do still occur. The definition of a closed adoption is exactly what it sounds like; they are closed with no ongoing communication. Semi-open adoptions are a little more difficult to define, but it basically means that there is limited communication between the adoptive and biological families. This may mean communication occurs a few times a year whereas open adoption may include more frequent communication with in-person visits. 

Relationships Within the Triad

The adoption triad is made up of three parties, which include the biological family, the adoptive family, and the adoptee. Although each adoption is different, the triad remains the same. Relationships within the triad are critical to the well-being of everyone involved. The adoptee is the focal point of any adoption, and the healthier the relationship between the biological and adoptive family is, the better off the adoptee will be. Adoptees need the space and freedom to process their story, ask questions and fill in the gaps of their understanding. No adoption is perfect, and even in the most perfect of circumstances, adoptees will inevitably grow to have questions and they will likely grapple with difficult emotions and questions. No family touched by adoption is immune to this fact. Relationships are the catalyst for this process. 

The relationships within the triad should be nurtured and given intentionality at all times. Much like a marriage or other important life relationships, the relationship between everyone in the adoption triad should be intentional. As an adoptive mother, I have to be consistently intentional with my son’s birth parents. I also have to be intentional with the adoption language I use with him. Since adoption has made our family, it is always at the forefront of how we live our lives, but it takes intentionality and nurturing to teach our son the ins and outs of adoption. He is currently a toddler, so this will change as he gets older and his capacity for understanding improves. 

How to Inspire a Healthier Relationship: 

As an adoptive mother myself, I have had a lot of experience in building relationships with expectant parents, especially expectant mothers. My husband and I are the adoptive parents of our toddler son, but prior to adopting him, we experienced six disrupted adoptions. In three of these disrupted adoptions, we built a relationship with the expectant parents. While our journey was incredibly difficult, we were able to gain valuable experience and insight. The experiences and insight carried us into our experience with our son. By the time we adopted our son, we had a far better understanding of adoption in general and how to best serve expectant parents.

The things you can do to inspire a healthier relationship that I am about to discuss are primarily for adoptive parents because that is my experience. However, if you are a birth parent, these things can still apply to you. In my experience, I have been able to inspire a healthier relationship with my son’s birth mother and her extended family by doing several things, which I am listing here:

Remembering It’s Not About You

Although this phrase may seem abrupt, it is full of so much truth. When you accept the fact that adoption is not about you, you better position yourself for the unpredictability that typically characterizes adoption. The relationship we have within our own triad is made up of our consistent efforts to make it all about our son and his relationship with his birth parents. Birth mothers and fathers are the center of the adoption. Everything begins and ends with their sacrificial decision, and building a healthy relationship begins with remembering that.

Relinquishing Control 

When we accepted the fact that we were not in control, and that we would have to take one thing at a time, we were better able to relax and process each thing as it happened on our adoption journey. In terms of healthy relationships, we allow our son’s birth parents to set the pace with our communication. We obviously want what is best for them so by allowing them to set the pace and lessening our control, we can cultivate a healthy give and take. 

Including Birth Parents in Important Life Events

As part of an open adoption or any adoption for that matter, including birth parents in the important life events of an adoptee is an excellent way to foster a healthy relationship. When you initiate this kind of exclusive and intentional openness, it aids the birth parents in feeling included, loved, and thought of beyond what they may expect. 

Setting Boundaries But Allowing Them to Evolvent

When an adoption takes place, levels of openness and communication guidelines are naturally put in place. However, adoptive parents and birth parents can allow their own adoption to evolve. So, in an effort to cultivate a healthy relationship, allow your boundaries or guidelines to evolve. For example, my son’s birth mother and I discussed what we would call her and what made her most comfortable. In addition, we eventually moved past pictures and letters into in-person visits after she expressed her desire to do so. While this may not work for everyone, it works for us and you have to do what is best for your family. 

I could say so much more about open adoption, and I understand it is difficult for most people to understand, however, there is something incredibly significant about seeing a birth mother or father with the child they placed for adoption. Adoption involves loss and brokenness but offering an open adoption can bring healing and more love for the adoptee to experience. My son’s birth mother and I have great respect for each other and we both understand that if we push through the difficulty, our son will be better for it. Having access to his birth mother provides him with a source of information that we would never be able to provide him on our own. By seeing his adoptive parents be willing to give him that access, he will feel respected and valued as an individual adoptee. 

Embrace Difficult Things

If there is one thing in life I have learned, it is that difficult things are part of life. If you embrace the difficult things, you will row from your situation, and no matter the outcome of the difficulty, it will shape your life. Adoption is a difficult thing. Inspiring a healthier relationship can be difficult, but it is so worth it. Making an effort to embrace the difficulty of adoption will better position you for what will naturally evolve and make your own adoption journey. There have been many times when my son’s birth mother and myself have confided in each other that it is challenging but we are learning together. There is freedom in that open acknowledgment, which contributes to our bonding and inspires a healthier relationship.  

Benefits of a Healthier Relationship

As I have mentioned before, any adoption journey is about the adoptee. All of the difficulty and effort that goes into facilitating a healthy relationship between the adoptee’s biological and adoptive parents is worth it when the adoptee experiences the benefits of the healthy relationship. Although my son is still too young to comprehend, I look forward to the day when he realizes that he has two families who love him immensely. I look forward to the day that he can hear from his birth mother and father and understand their decision and understand their love for him. 

Adoptees must grapple with their own stories and ask their own questions. The more people they have available to them who actually know the answers, the better. It is my job as the adoptive parent to help facilitate that and let my son know he has the freedom and right to ask questions and get answers. Healthy relationships can also be a source of great joy in our lives. 

Relationship Pitfalls

No relationship is perfect, and potential relational pitfalls can occur. This is not to scare you away, but rather to make you aware that they can occur. Pitfalls can be avoided or addressed as needed. It is difficult to predict how biological parents will react or handle an adoptive parent’s attempt to inspire a healthier relationship. Potential relational pitfalls may include being too forceful with communication attempts, too intrusive, or too careless with maintaining boundaries

As you begin to inspire a healthier relationship, be mindful that relational pitfalls can occur. For example, if communication is not being well-received, take a step back and evaluate how the message was given. Also, don’t assume silence from the other party is negative. Sometimes people have to process, and you should be willing to provide that space for the other person. Don’t run from the pitfalls but face them and acknowledge them while seeking a solution. The benefits of conquering relationship pitfalls outweigh the mistakes.

A Final Word on Healthy Relationhsips 

Inspiring a healthier relationship takes work, but even if the relationship between the members of the adoption triad you are part of is not ideal, your desire for a healthier relationship speaks volumes. Unfortunately, there are many adoptions that are not healthy or compassionate to the birth parents and adoptee. While this is unfortunate, the adoption community has made tremendous strides in recent years to establish best practices that prevent adoptions from being this way. 

There is value in your persistence in striving for a healthier relationship among your triad members. More often than not, persistence pays off. When expectant parents place their child for adoption, the term “place” is another example of positive adoption language, their emotional journey of healing is complex. Ideally, birth parents would participate in some type of post-placement counseling. However, this is not always the case. It is important for adoptive parents to know that birth parents have unique journeys of healing. Only they can truly know what type of relationship works for them. Give and show them grace and keep your door open and allow them to come to you at their pace. On the other hand, if you are the birth parent, be clear with your desire for a healthier relationship and be willing to start small and build upon your existing relationship.

Sarah Beth is an adoptive mother through infant domestic adoption. She and her husband experienced six disrupted adoptions before meeting their son. Sarah Beth has experience walking alongside numerous expectant mothers and birth families. As an adoption advocate, she enjoys sharing her experiences in hopes of advocating for both birth and adoptive families and impacting the adoption community. When she is not with her family, she is busy as a middle school Assistant Principal. Sarah Beth enjoys reading, coffee, documentaries, and all things adoption-related