Most adoptions that occur are either open or semi-open. Very few closed adoptions still take place.
But, is open adoption good?
Everyone will have their own opinions on this topic, but in my opinion, I think open adoption is much better than closed adoption. In an open adoption, the adoptee is able to know and understand the circumstances surrounding his or her adoption. The adoptee does not have to struggle with unknown reasons for their adoption and feel like there are many unknowns in their lives.
In some open adoptions, the adoptee is even allowed to form a relationship with their birth parents, which may include written communication, phone calls, or even visits with each other.
When an adoptee is able to have a relationship with his or her birth family and able to see where their roots came from, it can help them to grow up feeling more secure. They are able to see where they inherited their physical features from and have that bond they may otherwise miss without even realizing what it is they are missing.
Sometimes, parents worry about having an open relationship with the birth family of their child. They worry that their child will prefer the birth parent, or that they will end up sharing parenting duties if the adoption is open.
To be sure, most children will indeed love their birth parents when they are allowed to form a relationship. However, that does not have anything to do with how much they will love the parents who adopted them. If you truly think about it, kids have many family members that they love in addition to their parents. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc., are all people that your child may love in addition to you. Adding in the additional family members of their birth family or birth relatives does not mean that anyone is loved any less. Love has room to grow. Love is not like pie, where if you take some, there is less left for others.
Having an open relationship is not the same as co-parenting a child, either. In a co-parenting relationship, each adult has legal rights to parent the child. In an adoptive situation, the birth parents have given up their rights to parent, and therefore, no longer have any rights when it comes to decision-making.
It may be true that if you have an open relationship, and you choose to discuss parenting decisions with the child’s birth parents, you may open topics to discuss. However, this does not mean that the opinion of the birth parents needs to be followed. For instance, if you are thinking about enrolling your child in a private school rather than public school, and discuss this with your child’s birth family, they may give you their thoughts on the subject. However, you are not required to discuss your educational decisions with them, and regardless of what their opinions are, the decision is yours to make.
Similarly, you do not have to seek permission or give them any notice of any medical procedures that may be needed for your child. However, if you have a close relationship, you can do so if you wish.
There may be times when you feel as though a birth family member is overstepping. However, this happens in any family, not just in families who adopt. I know when my daughter was young, I often felt her grandparents overstepped in giving unsolicited advice. So, it is best to handle this as you would with any family member, regardless of how the relationship is formed, by simply letting them know that you appreciate their concern, but you will do what you feel is best.
Boundaries are important in all relationships, not just those that include adoption.
One benefit of open adoption is that if your child has any medical issues, you are able to ask for a more detailed medical history than you may have had at the time of adoption.
For instance, I recently found out that my son is missing some adult teeth at a recent dental visit. I was able to find out that he has a birth relative that was also missing some adult teeth. I am also able to speak with his birth family regarding his digestive issues, possible allergies, and other health issues as they come up.
Meanwhile, with my other son, whose adoption is not as open based on some safety concerns, I cannot just contact his birth family when I have medical concerns. I have limited medical information from when he was adopted. Many forms were not completed. Because we no longer have contact with his birth family, there are many unknowns.
Sometimes, adoptive parents feel intimidated by the relationship a child may have with their birth family, and therefore, feel hesitant to pursue open adoption. It is quite normal to have fears and insecurities. However, allowing your personal fears and insecurities to hinder relationships that may be valuable to your child is unfair to them.
Human nature allows us to love more than one person. If you are a parent to more than one child, you know that you love all of your children. As kids growing up, we were able to love more than one parent, both mother and father. If your child is an adoptee, they are able to love all of their parents as well. This doesn’t take away from their love for you. In fact, allowing your child to know all of their family, both biological and adoptive, will help them feel more secure. You will be leading that example of security in your role as a parent, by making the decision to participate in an open adoption.
Open adoption is helpful when it comes to a child wondering about their birth story too. When they have questions, they can ask. With open adoption, there isn’t the unknown that there is in closed adoption. An adoptee will know and understand why they were placed for adoption. They will understand the decision was one based on love and their best interests. There will be no need for them to create a story in their heads about what happened, as they will grow up knowing and understanding their birth story. In open adoption, adoption is always a part of who they are, and therefore, it never feels taboo or secretive.
My youngest son has an open adoption, as I stated earlier. Recently, he asked a few questions. It was wonderful to be able to be honest and know the answers. In his situation, his birth mother has a mental illness. On occasions when we see her, it is on her “good days.” There have been times that we planned visits with her, and she doesn’t come. She knows that on her “bad days” she doesn’t want him to see her. It is a bit challenging to explain to him that she has an illness that prevents her from being able to parent him when we only see her on the days she is doing well. However, he is able to understand that she has an illness that gives her good and bad days and that she would be unable to care for him daily. He expresses that he is happy that she decided to let me be his mom since she is unable to be safe with him. He loves her, too. And for that, I am glad. He also loves me. I am forever grateful for his ability to love us both.
I know that having this open relationship also helps her heal. Some days, it is a bit overwhelming for her to have placed this sweet boy in our home. She misses him. On those days, she can call, or she can look at photos. She knows how he is doing. She doesn’t have to wonder what happened. She is still a part of his story.
I think open adoption helps prevent or at least alleviates depression in birth parents. Making the decision to place a child is not easy. When you are able to continue being a part of that child’s life, in a way that allows a relationship without the parenting responsibility, you may feel less of an emotional burden.
When you are participating in an open adoption, your family grows not only with the addition of the child, but with the addition of their birth family as well. Having more people to add love to a family is a good thing. A child should not be denied the relationships, when appropriate, of those who love them. Wrapping a child in love is important for their well-being. The more love, the better.
When your child has access to both birth family as well as adoptive family, they have more trusted individuals to be advocates for them and to be part of their support system. This does not mean they have more parents to parent them. Only their (adoptive) parents are responsible for parenting decisions. However, having a larger support group can help a child when they want to confide in someone other than their parents. In a non-adoptive situation, this may be similar to confiding in an aunt or grandparent. In an adoptive situation that is open, the child is able to choose from many more trusted adults. They have a large family tree with roots that are also there to help them grow.
Open adoption is not always easy. There will be days that you feel overwhelmed with the relationship. This is completely normal. This overwhelmed feeling is natural in any relationship. When it comes to the more complicated relationships such as adoption relationships, if you never felt overwhelmed, it would be a miracle! The important thing to remember when feeling overwhelmed is that it happens to everybody. And, that it is not unique to relationships of any kind. If you can take a moment to reflect and realize that all relationships experience difficult days, you may be more able to work through whatever is bothering you.
When we add the word “adoption” into any conversation, it seems that it takes on a life of its own. But adoption relationships still have the same basic needs that any relationship has. There need to be boundaries. There needs to be forgiveness and understanding. The relationship requires mutual respect and courtesy, along with good communication and honesty. This is true of all relationships, including adoption relationships.
Open adoption relationships do not have to be scary or intimidating. If you start the relationship with clear expectations, clear boundaries, and open communication, you are likely to have a successful open adoption.
It is more difficult when boundaries are unclear, and when honest communication is not used. It can be difficult to be honest, especially in these relationships. Nobody wants to hurt any feelings. However, honesty is a necessary part of any relationship.
If you feel as though a boundary is being crossed, address the situation as honestly, but as respectfully, as possible.
For instance, I have asked that my son’s birth family not discuss his adoption when I am not part of the conversation. I prefer to be part of the discussions that revolve around his adoption so that questions can be asked and answered by all of us. For my relationship, this is a clear expectation.
When considering your open adoption plan, consider what expectations you might have regarding your relationship. And be prepared to change your expectations, as the relationship may grow and change. However, it is imperative to a healthy relationship that as expectations grow and change, they are communicated respectfully to each other. Nobody within the relationship should be expected to know a boundary or expectation. By being clear about these things, the relationship will be less stressful for all involved.
In parenting, whether adoptees or biological children, the goal is always to do what is in the child’s best interest. Often, open adoption is in the best interest of the child. And while you may not realize it as an adoptive parent at first, it will likely be in your best interest as well.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.