"Remember, what birthparents relinquish is not their connection to the child. That can never be relinquished. It just is. There is no why. It just is. But what they do relinquish are the rights and responsibilities of parenting."
From A Letter to Adoptive Parents on Open Adoption by Randolph W. Severson, Ph.D
Our family has been involved in open adoption experiences for five years. When I first heard the words "open adoption," I thought what most of you think - "You have got to be kidding me." We have a lot of adoption in my family. Yet, my dad opened his adoption the good, old fashioned way - when he was 50!
Then, I became educated on open adoption, and it all changed. I had been around and familiar with adoption my whole life, but I still had no clue as to the tremendous benefits and need for open adoption. Crazy, isn't it, that I didn't know it all? I was shocked, myself. I was also greatly humbled that I would make assumptions on something so important to a child, without really taking time to understand it.
If you are considering a closed or semi-closed arrangement because you are uncomfortable with the idea of openness, then I challenge you to stop and not move along in the process until you do the following:
**Read at least 3-5 books on open adoption.
**Talk openly with at least five families in open adoptions.
Don't do it because you want to (um ... because you DON'T want to), but because you can't know now, everything your child will need for a lifetime. Realize that your child will benefit from the truth, even if it is painful and ugly and uncomfortable for the adults.
Third verse, same as the first.
Your child will benefit from the truth, even if it is painful and ugly and uncomfortable for the adults.
I have two children that entered our home by birth, and three that have entered (or are entering) our home by adoption. All three adopted children have access to their entire extended birth families - their first families. Some of those connections are easy and sweet and fun. Some are messy and complicated and have boundaries in place. Some involve visits and phone calls. Some of them just exist through old photos and a few fleeting bits of information. Some choose not to have contact. All of them are vital to my children. It is their story. It is their history. It is their access to answers and relationship. They get to take it and use it as needed, throughout their life, as they grow and change and love and hurt and grieve and celebrate.
Not all birth family members are loving. Not all are consistent. Sometimes our children want contact and it is denied. Sometimes birth family initiates and one of my kids pull back. They have that right. We all work through it together, and seek counseling if we're not exactly sure how to navigate something.
Studies on open adoption are still unfolding (although, it's nothing new). Some interesting findings:
Children of open adoptions have a more positive image of their birth mother. (Dr. Ruth McRoy, University of Texas in Austin)
Adoptive parents with fully open adoptions are less fearful of the stability of their adoption, and more comfortable talking about adoption, than closed adoption parents. (Dr. McRoy)
Children of open adoptions are reported to have fewer behavioral problems than children of closed adoptions. (Dr. Marianne Berry, California Longitudinal Study on Adoption)
From the Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project:
* Parties in open (fully disclosed) adoptions are not confused about their parenting rights and responsibilities.
* Birth mothers do not attempt to "reclaim" their children.
* Children in open (fully disclosed) adoptions are not confused about who their parents are. They do understand the different roles of adoptive and birth parents in their lives.
* Differences in adolescent adoptive identity or degree of preoccupation with adoption are not related to the level of openness in the adoption.
* Adoptive openness does not appear to influence an adoptee's self-esteem in any negative way.
* Adoptive parents in open adoptions do NOT feel less in control and, indeed, have a greater sense of permanence in their relationship with their child.
* Open adoption does not interfere with adoptive parents' sense of entitlement or sense that they have the right to parent their adopted child.
* Birth mothers in open and ongoing mediated adoptions do NOT have more problems with grief resolution; indeed, they show better grief resolution than those in closed adoptions. Researchers did find that birth mothers in time-limited mediated adoptions (where contact stopped) had more difficulty resolving grief at the first interview of the study (when the children were between 4 and 12 years old).
I have discussed open adoption at length before. Here are some of my posts that explain our experience, training and education on open adoption:
What Open Adoption is NOT
Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 1
Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 2
Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 3
Open Adoption Isn't For Everyone - Or Is It? Part 4
Open adoption allows you to really know and understand the adoption process. You know the birth family. You know the circumstances intimately. You know if the professionals are acting ethically. Your questions get living, breathing answers.
Open adoption does not take away grief. It involves relationship, so it is not perfect. I do not write about the sticky parts of open adoption in our home. That information belongs to my children. They accept it or reject it or talk about it or hide it, based on where they are and what their heart needs at the time. We are here to love them unconditionally, and give them a safe place to enjoy or grieve their connection to their first family.
Their stories have twists and turns and involve lots and lots of people - our extended family. And we are so crazy blessed to be a part of it, even when it's hard.
Especially when it's hard.
National Adoption Month - Definitely, Maybe!
National Adoption Month - Kids From the Hard Places
(photo by Lize Rixt)