Open Adoptions that are Really Open
It’s one thing to talk about open adoption, but it’s something else to be part of open adoptions that are really open.
Really open adoptions take effort and commitment and communication to make them work. Just as the Markle family and the House of Windsor must work at becoming family following the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, birthparents and adoptive parents who become relatives through the adoption of a child both love have to learn to love (and live with) each other, too.
In open adoptions that are really open, the families have cried and laughed together. They’ve shared meals and family secrets and traditions and ideas. They don’t always agree, and they agree that they don’t always have to, because after all, they’re family. They surround their child/ren with love and while they don’t always have all the answers to all the questions the adoptee may have, they always validate the adoptee’s right to ask them.
They may (or may not) call the child they share by the same name. They may (or may not) talk on the phone or text or email often. They may (or may not) like each other’s taste in clothes, or children’s haircuts, or music, or parenting styles. They may (or may not) see each other on a regular schedule. They may (or may not) disagree on things like religion or politics, or they may avoid such discussions all together.
It’s hard to describe the nature of all open adoption relationships, since each varies with the needs of the individuals involved, but all open adoptions that are really open have this in common: trust. And transparency. And tender-hearted affinity for one another.
Another thing that birthparents and adoptive parents who have placed and adopted through Abrazo have in common is that both have survived great loss. The birthparents have weathered the stress of untimely pregnancies and the adoptive parents know the sorrow of infertility. Both share in the joy and the grief that surrounds any voluntary placement, so both have reason to be sensitive to the losses overcome not just by each other but by the adoptee they all love so.
The Cycles of Open Adoption Relationships
In the beginning, when the parents who are placing/have placed and the parents who are adopting/have adopted are just starting out, the relationship is still new to everyone. Everybody’s feeling their way gingerly, adapting to their new roles and responsibilities.
In time, though, the participants in open adoptions that are really open find a rhythm that works for them. They learn how to understand each other, and they come to see each other as relatives, for better or worse.
It was Margaret Mead who suggested that marriage should be a relationship in which the terms get renegotiated every so many years. While we’d still like to believe that every marriage is meant to last for a lifetime, we do understand what she was saying: human relationships need to change and grow over time, and to do so, the participants must be attuned to each other’s needs and honest about their own.
The same is true in open adoption relationships, especially because the commitment to the relationship is a commitment made by and between the adults, all of whom must forever be mindful of and sensitive to the needs of the adoptee. The adoptee may (or may not) choose to participate in the relationship, but it is imperative that all the adults respect his or her wishes (all while honoring their promises to the other.)
If adjustments need to be made to the contact schedule to which all initially agreed, these changes need to be discussed honestly (and whenever possible, in person) prior to changes being made. It’s okay for either party to say “hey, I’m going through something personal and I’m going to need some space for a few weeks/months” but it’s not okay to ghost the other party and just hope they figure it out.
And always remember: the best relationships take work to make them work. If you’re feeling your connection isn’t what you want it to be, then you always have the option of getting some counseling to help you figure out what fine-tuning could be done to help it feel more “right.”
Don’t forget your 50k mile tuneups!
Adoptee and adoption expert Dr. Joyce Pavao recommends that parents and adoptees consider getting counseling periodically, like a 50k mile tuneup, just to check where everybody’s at, how everyone is feeling and what needs are or are not being met. This is an idea that could potentially go a long way towards keeping everyone healthier in the adoption triad. (And even families with the best of communication may benefit from the validation, and from having a neutral party such as a therapist raising the questions that may be harder to talk about.)
It’s a common misconception that adoptions are “done” when a birthcouple signs their surrenders or when a judge pounds the gavel after pronouncing approval of the adoption decree. The truth, though, is that placement and finalization are only the beginning.
Whether any adoption is open or closed, the truth is that the relationship of the adoptee to all his or her parents (by birth and adoption) is an ongoing work in progress, which can be positively or negatively impacted by their relationship with each other (or lack thereof.)
And open adoption is no guarantee that the adoptee will or will not have “issues” along the way, of course. Open adoptions don’t entail less grief, even if it’s shaped differently for the people involved. The inherent losses that come with adoption affect every adopted person (and each parent) differently, at different stages of the lifespan.
With open adoptions that are really open, however, the parents involved can support each other and the adoptee throughout any issues that may arise, and emerge happier and healthier for having continually nurtured these family ties– out of love for the child they all share.