One of the challenges of open adoption these days is maintaining real relationships in a digital age.

Because of our agency’s infertility requirement, Abrazo couples usually have undergone fertility treatment for years before adopting. Thus, Abrazo’s adoptive parents tend to be in their thirties or forties when they’re adopting. They’re old enough to remember a time before smartphones, when communication meant talking by phone, corresponding by mail or meeting in person.

The average birthparent, however, is in their twenties. They have grown up in a world distracted by texts, social media and maybe email. Millennials, however, do not like phone calls. (Getting a phone call typically implies someone is in trouble with someone.) Hanging out is “chilling” and an informal get-together is now called a kick back. Keeping in touch daily with someone on Snapchat is called a streak.

This marked contrast in communication styles is wreaking havoc for adoption professionals. Trying to help clients form genuine open adoption relationships with staying power is still the goal. Yet technology is seemingly moving all the goal posts.

Real Open Adoptions Need Real Connections

In order for open adoption to really work to an adoptee’s benefit, there must be real relationships between their birthparents and adoptive parents. They don’t necessarily have to be best friends. But there does have to be a genuine rapport, mutual respect and concern, and shared expectations regarding contact and access.

David & Nadine have adopted twice. Their relationship with their daughter’s birthmom is very involved, while their son’s birthparents prefer less-frequent communication. They see their daughter’s birthmom and her parents several times a year. Their son’s birthparents, however, only want them to email pictures and text on his birthday and on Christmas. The adoptive parents wish their son’s birthparents were up for visits, too. Yet they respect that different birthparents are going to have different needs, just as adoptees do. David & Nadine’s son is in his teens, and hasn’t questioned why his sister’s birthfamily is around and his is not. The couple worries, though, that he may one day want more contact and feel rejected.

If you were to ask David & Nadine’s son’s birthparents why they’re not more involved, they’d likely tell you they chose adoption so they could go on with their own lives. His sister’s birthfamily, however, would tell you she always wanted an adoption as open as it is now. This illustrates why it is so important that adoptive parents and birthparents in each open adoption be able to communicate effectively, to truly care about each other and to understand each others’ needs.

Digitizing Relationships: the Dilemma

Nowadays, it is possible to sign up with an adoption agency online. You can crowdfund an adoption through digital donations from people you’ve never even met. Adoptive families and
placing parents can get matched solely through online profiles. You can get acquainted with someone entirely via texting or social media. That means adopting parents and placing parents can put off actually meeting until both are at the hospital, or not at all, if an adoption agency is handling the placement.

But this is no way to do an open adoption– because adoptees eventually need assurance their birthparents didn’t just hand them off to strangers.

At Abrazo, we try to be respectful of our clients’ personal boundaries, but we do expect placing parents and adopting parents to speak by phone and to meet in personal prior to placement. We want birthparents and adoptive parents to maintain genuine personal relationships long after each adoption, as well.

Adoptive parents from out-of-state need to prepare for at least annual visits back to Texas in the years following an open adoption here. Birthparents should be committed, as well, to talking with and seeing the adoptive family after an open adoption is done. Skyping and FaceTime can help fill in the gaps for some? But technology does not take the place of in-person visits during which true memories are made.

Putting the “Real” in “Real”ationships

Building real relationships in the digital age means investing real face time in getting to know each other. It means making genuine investments in staying connected after placement, too. The true benefit of open adoption is for adoptees to grow up knowing their birthfamilies and adoptive families, and to know they truly care about each other.

As Abrazo has repeated so often: open adoption isn’t a strategy. Open adoption is a lifestyle. All human relationships change over time. Open adoption relationships do also. It takes real effort to keep these relationships healthy. Yet we get out of them what we put into them, so it must be a true partnership centered around the adoptee.

Use social media for creating private groups that enable you to share quick pics and updates between forever family members, sure. Text periodically to share lighthearted exchanges. But don’t let these features replace personal communication.

Maintaining real relationships in the digital age means using digital technology for instantaneous access. But still nurture real-time communication and personal connections, for the lifetime benefit of all real relationships in the digital age.

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