Open adoption looks different for every family. The relationship between an adoptive family and birth family is a special relationship, in which you are connected by the child. Each adoptive family and birth family is unique and therefore, the relationships are unique. There are a few things that adoptive parents should keep in mind when thinking about what makes a healthy open adoption, regardless of what your particular relationship looks like.
- Establish Boundaries
It is important to make sure you establish a plan for openness and contact with your child’s birth family early in the relationship. If possible, you should do this before the child is even born. This will help to avoid hurtful situations in the future. You should both feel comfortable with the established plan and you should always keep your word in what you agree to, as long as it is best for the child.
Even with a solid plan, it is essential to remember that children grow up and people change. There are times where contact with birth family may ebb and flow. There may be times that you or the birth parents feel that they need a bit of time to step back from the current level of contact. This should never be viewed as a permanent change in the relationship and it is good to keep the lines of communication open so that the relationship can reopen later in the child’s life. As your child grows, you will need to take their desires into consideration and both parties should continue to respect the child’s wishes.
- Remember your role as the parent and embrace it
Regardless of what level of openness you have with your child’s birth family, you should always feel confident and comfortable in your role as the child’s parent. You are the person responsible for making decisions for them and ensuring their well-being. Do not let your insecurities get the best of you. This can be damaging to a relationship with your birth family.
- Don’t create a power struggle
The dynamics between an adoptive and birth family can seem to create an invisible “power struggle.” Before your child is born, it can often feel like the birth mother holds the power. Once the child is placed, that power tends to shift and the adoptive family holds more of the power. This can be a negative burden placed on the relationship and you should always strive to ensure that no side feels powerless in this. Remember to never hold this power over your child’s birth family and to always keep your relationship respectful.
- Have acceptance of and grace for individuals different from yourself
Often times an adoptive family is coming from a different background than the birth family in terms of socioeconomic status, race, location, and other factors. Adoptive families should have grace and acceptance for people of different backgrounds than themselves. This is your child’s history and that should be embraced if they are to feel accepted in your home.
This can become especially important if you have adopted a child of a different race or ethnicity than yourself. As an adoptive family, you should be intentional about having individuals in your family’s life that are diverse, whether this be the church you attend, the doctor or dentist your child sees or the friends that are welcomed into your home. This can help your child feel more comfortable in their own skin. Find ways of celebrating the differences you may have with your child and allow them to see that you love their culture and embrace other people who look like them.
- Love your child’s birth family
Families need to have love and compassion for their child’s birth family. The birth family you have a relationship with will look different for every child. For some families this may only be the birth mother, others may include the birth father, and still others may include the extended family of the child. Whether this includes siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. you should always strive to love your child’s birth family and to nurture that love and connection within your child.
The child’s birth family will become like an extended part of your own family. You may have differences in opinions, but you will always have a special bond because of your child. When differences arise, one way that you can think about this dynamic is the “Slightly Annoying Grandmother Rule” (Davenport, 2017). This means that when your child’s birth family does something that you don’t understand or may not agree with, you try to think of them as you would a grandmother that did something you do not like. You may feel frustrated, but it is important to treat them with respect and not say anything that would hurt feelings and damage relationships.
These are just a few suggestions for maintaining a healthy open relationship with your child’s birth family. There are many resources that can help you to better understand open adoption. The more you understand this concept, the easier it will be for you to decide what would be most comfortable for you. I recommend reading more about open adoption on our website HERE. I would also recommend reading The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden.
Davenport, D. (2017, September 2). My #1 Secret Tip for a Successful Open Adoption. Retrieved from https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/1-secret-tip-successful-open-adoption/
Top Ten Tips for a Successful Open Adoption. (2019, June 3). Retrieved from https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/top-ten-tips-successful-open-adoption/
Jordan, L. (n.d.). How Do I Establish Healthy Boundaries in My Open Adoption? Retrieved from https://adoption.org/establish-healthy-boundaries-open-adoption
written by Rebecca Tolson | | International Program Assistant & Inquiry Specialist