No Mom is an Island
Somehow, adoption arrangements often seem to fall to women, but the truth is that no mom is an island, and that’s why we all need more men to participate in open adoptions– before and after.
We were reminded of that when a devoted adoptive mom stopped by our office to visit. She loves her kids and her husband, of course, and her children’s birthfamilies, too. Still, she has been the glue holding all their open adoption relationships together for several years now, and she’s admittedly burned out, because everyone expects her to keep it going, but nobody seems to feel any need to pitch in or even say thanks?
And she’s not doing it for accolades, of course– she’s doing it for her kids. That’s just the kind of mom she is.
Yet it’s still a thankless task, and nobody can always do it all.
So why don’t more husbands and dads seem more invested in the open adoption process? Why does so much of the planning and preparing and post-adoptioning seem to fall in the womens’ laps?
Well, for one thing, it’s awkward, sometimes. So much of pregnancy and childbirth has to do with “ladyparts,” it’s understandable that guys feel more at ease standing out in the hallway, literally and figuratively.
Yet every adoption plan ever made was in some way necessitated by a male’s involvement, so it stands to reason that men should have a important part to play in open adoption, too.
Open adoption is wonderful, but it isn’t easy. Maintaining what are often complex relationships amidst the other strains and stressors of a career and a household is anything but simple. It can be exhausting to feel that you are holding things together for everyone for months and years on end, even for the strongest woman with the best possible support system (and especially, without.)
So whether you are a birthfather, an adoptive father or a father-to-be, there are plenty of things you can do to participate and contribute, both before and after placement.
What’s a Guy to Do?
Glad you asked, big guy! Here’s just a short sample of the things males can do to take part in open adoptions…
You can fill out paperwork, because there’s plenty of it to be done. From the birthparent profile or the adoptive parents’ application to the relinquishment and placement paperwork and the post-adoption reports that follow, there is an ample amount of paperwork and there’s no reason men can’t do it just as well as women. (And nope, bad handwriting is not an excuse to sit this one out.)
You can participate in phone calls and emails and texts. Birthmoms often really enjoy getting to hear from and talk with the adoptive dads. Adoptive moms welcome opportunities to communicate with birthfathers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking women only like to talk with other women; some women are much more at ease talking with men.
You too can schedule and attend meetings and visits. Even if social planning seems to fall to the womenfolk, it’s important for males to suggest get-togethers, too, and to be there to participate. Whether it’s going to the prenatal visits or reuniting for dinner after placement, men should be welcome and eager to attend, because children need to know their birthdads and adoptive fathers considered these things a priority, too.
You can advocate for the women in your life. Part of being a great dad (whether you’re a birthfather or adoptive dad or grandpa or birthgrandfather) is standing up for your partner and/or your child, and there are plenty of ways to do that in an open adoption. You can speak up in the hospital when the nurses seem to be talking over your baby’s mother’s wishes. You can bring/send flowers to your partner when she seems emotionally exhausted by it all. You can intercede with friends and family when it seems they’re disregarding your babymama’s need for privacy. You can make her day just be simply saying “hey, honey, if I haven’t told you recently, thank you for all you do.”
And yes, you too can step in to help with the details of life after relinquishment/placement that sometimes can seem overwhelming. Whether this means stepping up to bathe the kid/s or helping with the laundry or taking over kitchen duty so your woman gets a little extra sleep or some time for a much-needed pedicure, please remember that what you do is just as important as what you say.
A Word for Weary Moms
Finally, we have a few things to say to our mommas out there… please remember to take care of yourselves, and of the other mother. You both deserve support, you know. In many open adoption relationships, it’s not unusual for one mom to be more of a “planner” or “keep-in-toucher.” This means the bulk of the burden for keeping the open adoption relationship alive and active too often seems to rest on one set of shoulders, which can get utterly exhausting.
So if that’s you who’s making mosst of the effort, please delegate responsibility, and ask for help, if needed. You may have to get really brave and “use your I-statements” to tell others (whether it’s your partner or your child’s other family) what you need from them, and how it feels to be you when you go to great lengths to make plans that don’t seem appreciated, but your feelings matter, too, especially when it’s for the benefit of the child you share.
And if you’re the mom who benefits from your child’s other mom’s efforts to keep in contact most of the time, please take the time to thank her, and to let her know you appreciate her. You may think she should already know it, but she probably doesn’t, so make sure she does, okay?
No mom is an island, so please don’t leave her to keep everything and everyone afloat on her own.