What Is Open Adoption?
Those of us living in open adoptions have a hard time defining exactly what an open adoption can be. The simplest way to define open adoption is that the biological parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) have a relationship after the birth and relinquishment of the child, for the benefit of that child. This relationship can entail letters, phone calls, emails, visits, or a combination of those. People entering into an agreement to continue the relationship do not have to commit to all forms of contact. There is flexibility depending on the comfort levels of the people involved. In my own adoption situation, we committed to update letters sent through the agency 4 times a year and visits at a neutral location a few times a year. We communicate more than that now and most adoption situations that have started with less openness have become more open as the relationship evolves.
Some pros in open adoption include:
• The “birth mom” is not scary because she is known. People tend to have fears in adoption because nothing but basic information is known about the child’s family of origin. There are fears that the child’s birth mom will come and steal the child, which are proven unfounded if an actual relationship exists.
• The adoptive parents having access to more than the child’s history of diseases means that the parents have a greater knowledge and greater ability to predict what behaviors the child might develop. A parent raising a biological child is able to predict possible behaviors because they know their child’s biological family. Adoptive parents don’t have the capability of prediction or behavioral recognition without consistent contact with the child’s birth family. My daughter’s mother has said on many occasions that both she and my daughter’s father love having a relationship with their daughter’s birthfather and me because they can see where their daughter gets her “quirks.”
• Because the child knows both sets of his parents, he or she doesn’t feel like it’s a betrayal of his parents when he or she develops natural curiosity about his or her roots. The inherent curiosity about more than just his or her biological history of disease has been reflected in many adoptees, whether from open or closed adoption situations.
There are no “cons” in open adoption, per se. Since the entire idea behind open adoption is to benefit the adopted child, which it does, it’s hard to see negatives in the situation. However there have been some arguments against open adoption.
I heard a story of a hopeful adoptive parent that told a birth mother panel she was attending that she wanted a closed adoption so she wouldn’t have to “deal” with the birth family. Unfortunately what this hopeful parent was denying is the fact that she’ll always have to deal with the birth family in the form of that child whether the adoptive family has any direct contact with the birth family or not. Biology cannot be erased by a legal transfer of parenting duties from the birth family to the adoptive family.
It can be hard to trust, which is essential to the building of any relationship, most especially an open adoption relationship. A mother who is considering adoption experiences the difficulty of trust. She has to pick a set of parents to whom she will entrust her child. That is a great sacrifice and requires a large amount of trust that the parents she’s chosen will treat her child better than she feels she can treat him or her. A mother relinquishing to adoption can easily understand the fear of building a relationship with someone you barely know as we do that when we entrust you with our children to raise as your own. An adoptive parent has to trust that not only will the new birth parent not destroy the relationship we’ve created but we will continue to verify that same relationship with our words and actions. When a birth parent relinquishes and has chosen the person or people she feels will do the best job raising her baby, she doesn’t want to break up that relationship. I know that we’ve all heard the nightmare stories of birth parents working to destroy a family. However, all of the birth mothers I know would never even think of taking their child from his or her parents. It doesn’t make sense to us. We relinquish for the benefit of our children, not for our benefit. We choose our child’s parents because they can provide things that are important to us for our child to have. When our child gets those things, we’re not going to try to take those things away.
There is an argument that a child growing up in an open adoption won’t know his or her parents. My daughter knows who her parents are. She calls them Mom and Dad, and she calls her birth father and I by our first names. She knows that Mom & Dad provide her food, comfort, a place to sleep, and lots of love. She knows that her birth parents are people that love her and visit occasionally. When she gets older she will know that she came from us. But that won’t change her love for her parents, nor will it cause her confusion. I’ve never heard it said that more information about anything causes confusion, and an open adoption situation gives the child and his or her parents more information.
There are more arguments against an open adoption which I hope to address at a later date. But I also hope that this might give you a different point of view on the possibility of having an open adoption when you adopt.