A Case for Openness in Adoption

Contemporary research has shown that children benefit from openness in adoption. Improved self esteem, less anger and confusion over their relinquishment as well as closer relations with their adoptive parents are all benefits seen in children whose parents recognize their child’s need to know and be in contact with their birthparents.

More and more today in my practice, I see adoptive parents bravely coming in for information about opening their child’s adoption.  Initially parent’s can experience a sense of dread and fear of having their child meet and know their birth family. What will the experience will be like for them, what impact it will have upon them and will it be too overwhelming of an experience? Many parents fear that it may change the dynamics of their parent–child relationship or that their child will see the birth family as the “real family”.

These fears have a life of their own and grow inside the mind of a parent like a weed grows in the garden; they can spread and can take over.  As these fears become more manageable, it allows parents to focus on the needs of their child. They come to understand that knowing one’s birthparents is in the best interest of their child. It does not make the child any less yours, but rather helps your child feel that you understand their needs. It allows your child to answer deeply felt questions about who they are and open a door for a sense of wholeness and completeness as they see themselves reflected in their biological families.

What An Open Adoption Looks Like

Adoption is a lifelong process. Once a child has begun to have contact with their birth family, they begin to see themselves as part of both families. When birth families are accepted as extended family, children can become freed up to see themselves as part of both worlds that are noncompetitive. Children in these situations do not have to worry about splitting their loyalties, but rather see all members as parts of their family.

As time goes on birthparents, adoptive parents and children become a sort of blended family. Just as parents have room in their hearts to love several children, children have the room in their hearts to love birth and adoptive parents. This new extended family becomes one that is similar to how we take in laws into our families. Often we do not celebrate every holiday together but we create meaningful traditions that celebrate that we are family.

Why Openness Is Important For An Adopted Child

The greatest gift that adoptive parents can give to their children is to embrace their birthparents. Children feel that they are a reflection of their birth families and when you accept the birth family you accept your child too.

In open adoptions, adoptive and birthparents are all in it for the same reason – the love of their child.  I’ll always remember the first time that I spoke to my birthmother on the telephone.  Although it was thirty-five years after I was relinquished, one of her first questions to me was, “how are your parents?” At first I was taken aback by the question, it seemed odd to me, until I realized that all of those years she had carried, in her heart, a relationship with my parents. Despite the fact that they had only had one telephone conversation between them, she had a deep and meaningful relationship with them.

In my clinical experience in working with families in open adoptions, most often I see positive relationships that develop between all of the adults involved. A kinship gets established that makes contact with one another feel alright. Birthmothers and adoptive mothers in particular care about and for one another in a very special way as they take the other into their hearts.

Sometimes adoptive parent believe that their child is not interested in meeting and knowing their birth parents. I hear them ask their child if they would like to search for their birthparents.  But a better question, one that draws for a child’s deeper feelings is, “What would it be like if one day your birthmother wrote you a letter or called you on the phone and wanted to see you?” Most children respond positively to that question because perceived feelings of abandonment leave an adopted child with a sense of vulnerability and it is far less vulnerable to be found and sought out than to risk wanting someone or something that has an unknown outcome.

Once an adoption has been opened, it is up to the adoptive parent to maintain contact for young children.   We all lead busy lives, and sometimes it seems impossible to coordinate schedules and activities. It takes effort and a commitment on the part of the adults to make a reunion work for an adopted child. Birthparents need to make time to be present even when it is emotionally difficult. Adoptive parents need to extend the invitations, and maybe even to “show up” at important events in the lives of birth family members. For some children as they become older and can use the telephone or email they can be responsible to initiate and maintain contact, for others they may still need the help of their parent to make plans to see or talk to their birth family.

Remember that, in open adoption, birthparents and adoptive parents choose each other for a reason. Focusing on your similarities will help you relax, enjoy yourself and have fun with one another. Learning what your differences are and honoring them too allows for the variety in styles of communicating, showing affection and love.