If there’s one thing that people need to know coming into the process it’s surely this: open adoption is not magic.
Open adoption is a kinder way to plan out the future for a child who must be adopted.
It is a gentler approach for all the parents involved, so they can build a connection with each other that can potentially put all their minds at ease.
This method of placement can honor and sustain relationships between birthsiblings and adoptees.
Most importantly, it empowers those who must become adoptees to know the truth of their origins and hopefully enjoy a lifelong relationship with their birthrelatives.
Yet open adoption is not magic. And it should never be offered as a magical fix-all spell.
It won’t fix everything forever.
Despite all its benefits, open adoption has its limitations. It still cannot heal all the wounds, losses and trauma that may occur when birthparents are unable to raise all their children themselves under one roof to adulthood– for whatever reason. Open adoption doesn’t just cancel out grief; sometimes, it might even extend it. Why? Because the privileges of continuing direct contact deny birthparents the ability to wallow in denial and pretend the adoption never happened.
No matter how beautifully a placement was handled and no matter how dearly birthparents and adoptive parents care for each other, the transfer of a child from one family to another means a child involuntarily forfeited their life with their birthfamily to gain a future with the adoptive one.
For some adopted persons, that is simply a life fact with which they’ve made peace. However, for others, it becomes a daunting truth that causes them lasting pain. Some adoptees grow up feeling an innate sense of belonging in the family that became their through adoptions. Others, however, struggle with a feeling of having never fit in. (And sometimes, adoptees of both perceptions can grow up in the same home.) Sometimes, adoptees who grew up in fully-open adoption arrangements can still feel they don’t belong in either family, which can leave everyone feeling inadequate.
But here’s the thing: open or closed, adoption is an imperfect solution applied to imperfect circumstances. All the love in the world doesn’t change what was– it only has the power to help us reshape our understanding of what is, and what may be.
Open Adoption or Not, Growing Up is Hard
Childhood isn’t always easy, but adolescence can be downright brutal. Sometimes the most loving parents can sometimes be unaware of the pain their children may be in. (And that’s even before one factors in adoption issues and a global pandemic that has shut down schools, disrupted academic progress and compromised social interactions.)
The question of whether adopted kids are more susceptible to mental health problems has long been researched, with varying results. Parents who have adopted tend to be hypervigilant about getting their child/ren the best of psychiatric and therapeutic care, which may account for the higher numbers of adoptees getting psychological services. However, post-adoption support is often hard to find. This results in many adoptive parents lacking adequate peer support, which further isolates families facing challenges after placement.
The reality is that mental health issues can impact anyone’s kid/s, whether adopted or not, and there are no lucky charms to ward this off. Even the best of Abrazo’s families may encounter adolescent mental health issues that may or may not be rooted in environmental, hereditary or adoption-related causes. (And while we don’t have all the answers, Abrazo is always here to listen, and to offer referrals for adoption-competent clinicians nationwide. There’s no shame in saying “hey, we need some help over here!” We’re still here to help.)
So What Does Open Adoption Do?
The beauty of open adoption is that it eliminates secrecy and ignorance– provided the placing parents and the adopting parents are both fully committed to truth and transparency from the start.
At Abrazo, our adopting parents sign placement agreements in which they commit to tell their child the true adoption story from Day One. They vow to raise the child with accurate and honest information about their birthparents and with ongoing access as agreed in the open adoption agreement. (Even though Texas law does not yet consider open adoption contracts legally-enforceable, our agency still asks all parents to document their agreements in writing so everyone is clear as to their promises.)
Open adoption enables adoptees to know their own truth, to have access to their birthfamily, and to grow up with vital information about their heredity. It makes genetic mirroring available, and enhances cultural integration. Adoptee identity formation can be enhanced by openness, and medical care and treatment can be more effective when adoptees have lifelong access to birthfamily health updates.
Moreover, open adoption practices have the potential to make adoption better for everyone involved, if permanent placement is the only optimal option. Parent-child bonding can be strengthened when authentic relationships between placing and adopting parents enable lasting familial attachments. Adoptive parents tend to be more empathic towards their child’s sense of adoption loss when they themselves have borne witness to the birthparents’ sacrificial love. Birthsiblings and adoptees can also enjoy lifelong open adoption connections that help override the limitations of legal proceedings that terminated parental rights.
Open adoption is not magic, yet it can grow a family tree and enable adoptees (and all their parents) to grow and flourish in seemingly magical ways, sometimes.