Open adoption has many benefits…
It is in complete opposition to closed adoption’s secrecy, shame, mystery and fantasy. It brings all adults in the child’s life together to build a relationship in the child’s interest. It helps children normalize the fact of their adoption because it’s not this big secret that’s too horrible to discuss. Still, there are challenges because it involves human beings who may have conflicting needs and may idealize relationships that take intention, work and honest commitment to resolve issues that may come up. It’s so vastly superior to closed adoption and past practices that it’s worth the effort, especially from the child’s perspective. We typically set up an open adoption with a schedule of updates that are transmitted from the AF to the BF and one-two get together’s a year.
A few practical tips:
Time of year permitting, meet outside in a beautiful park, then playground, then community or city area that is photogenic. Children are much happier running around outside and adults are usually calmer too. Take lots of pictures that document these important events that can be shown to children over the years. You may want to keep an album of the picture and write about the visit.
In the first few visits, the baby’s progress and development can be easy relaxed focus for everyone involved. Babies will naturally turn to those who are taking care of them. This process of attaching is extremely important for the baby’s future health and well being. It can be painful though for a parent to see the baby turn to her adoptive mother for comfort. This will continue for years. Children don’t fully understand birth and adoption until they are approximately 8 years old and they are cognitively aware: I was born to one family and adopted by another. This dialectic will be central for the life of the adoptee. The first year, babies are generally happy to be held by anyone. As they begin to distinguish the adults in their lives from others, they become anxious around strangers. This can be hard for birth parents to see. During a get together with two year old twins who had been placed at one year, as the children ran to their new parents for food and comfort, Jane said aloud: I know this is really good that they are so attached to their new parents. It’s really painful that they don’t seem to recognize or remember me. But I want them to feel safe and secure with their new family.
Children grow and change. Children will benefit from knowing who they are seeing. We are going to see your birth mother, Sarah. Also, birth parents may have children who they will be introducing. We are going to the park with your brother Sam who lives with his adoptive parents. Children are remarkably adept at sorting out who is who in their lives and they will take their cues from you. Your respectful, friendly and matter of fact introductions and discussion will reassure them that all is right in their worlds.
For some birth parents, these are the years that the meetings can become more challenging. The child’s life is unfolding and a history is developing that does not include them. One adopted child got into the habit of talking about the events of the past year when she got together with her birth mother as if to bring her up to the present time and fill her in.
Many children begin to get busy with weekend sports and other school and neighborhood activities. During this time they fully understand adoption. It can be somewhat embarrassing to them because it’s a difference and children at this age want to be just like everyone else. Also, adults are beginning to bore them as they start to seek out their peers. A meeting once or twice a year with a relative is not necessarily something they are anxious to do. Some children though will be very curious and excited about the meeting. One child pointed out to her birth mother while they were eating: are you being extra nice to me because I am your birth child? Children may also be rude and impatient and the adoptive parent will be mortified. Birth parents may want to minimize their expectations.
TEEN AND BEYOND
While it may be harder to schedule meetings during these years, the child is moving into adulthood when they can begin to have direct contact with their birthparents and develop their own relationship, without their adoptive parents, as all children develop independent relationships.
The major benefit of open adoption is the culmination of all the meetings: the regular and normal nature of these get together’s will be a stable platform of experience for the child to build on. They will not have to move past idealizing & fantasizing about their birth parents because they have real people to relate to. The young adult and her birth parents have the opportunity to build on their knowledge of each other and develop their own unique time and experience together.
Birth parents may expect to feel anxious and happy as they lead up to the get together and sad and disappointed when it’s over. That’s typical of many important events we look forward to. Participating in a support group with others who are going through life with this very momentous decision and its aftermath can be very helpful and relieve some of the mixed feelings.