O Solo Mama says,
I’m beginning to think of successful open adoptions as kind of like the Quakers—the word that came to me while I was drifting off to sleep. In the sense that Quakers are the people who acknowledge that keeping peace is neither simple nor easy but they do it anyway…
Which I consider a compliment.
O Solo Mama, a mom via international adoption, has some questions about open adoption. She calls them “ignorant” in her post (tongue in cheek-y, I believe), but I think it’s good to ask them and air out some answers because, as she says, I have a feeling a bunch of people are getting into this and don’t know where they’re headed.
Here is my answer to the first of O Solo Mama’s questions (no long available online). For more of the questions and my answers, see part 2.
1. If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honouring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not “doing this thing” correctly or playing the “for the sake of the child” card?
First of all, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the question, that so many people suck at open adoption. I think each of us evaluating the mosaic that is adoption comes to the table with a very limited view — often what we’ve experienced personally, what a friend has experienced, what we’ve read about on blogs or boards, what we’ve heard about in the media.
My anecdotal evidence is different from O Solo Mama’s in that I see lots of people making open adoption work, and, more surprisingly, that struggle is not a required ingredient. I mean, parenting is sometimes a struggle but we we get through the tough episodes and would not necessarily call parenting, overall, a struggle. Though my family has had struggles in our open adoptions, I would not say that open adoption is, overall, a struggle.
I do not know, objectively, what percent of adoptions begin open and eventually close. And from that number, I do not know how many of them are closed by adoptive parents and how many are closed by first parents. And I do not know how many move back toward openness over time.
I agree, and I counsel people (pre-adoptive parents and adoptive parents), that it is imperative to honor commitments made. Promise only what you fully intend to fulfill. And if something causes you to consider breaking your agreement, you must first examine your own motives.
In my mind, the only excusable reasons for adoptive parents to close an adoption are safety and stability (by this I mean things like physical harm to anyone in the family, emotional harm to the child, repeated poor judgment regarding the child’s safety). First parents who made the conscious decision to place without coercion and with full information about their options have put their children”s well-being before their own and are thus less likely to become “scary” birth parents who cause the child stress with either their presence or their absence. This is why it’s in the enlightened self-interest of adoptive and pre-adoptive parents to care as much about ethics (specifically toward expectant parents) as birth parents themselves do.
Adoptive parents must become and stay honest with themselves. To them I say ask yourself: Is it YOU who is insecure? Might you be using your child’s well-being to mask your own fears about not being the only set of parents in his/her life? Instead of closing the adoption, why not just resolve your insecurities? Those are boogiemen-fears, anyway, which evaporate largely through simple acknowledgment.
Cutting contact with birth parents merely deals with the symptom — that you are sad/scared you are not the Only. But cutting contact does not address the root problem, that deep down in yourself you don’t feel like a “real” parent. Guess what? That feeling will still be there even when first parents are banished. And you run the risk that your child will one day resent you for not being able to put his/her well-being ahead of your own.
When you examine and resolve fears, you model how to do so for your children.
“That which we resist persists.” I spoke about this in my post on embracing open adoption. Parents via adoption cannot change the fact that their child has the biology of one couple and the biography of another. In order to help the child heal the split created by the act of adoption, parents must — and CAN — resolve their own fears to they can foster and honor openness whenever possible.
It can be done. It can be done. It can be done. And really, it’s not even that hard.
For more of Jessica’s questions and my answers, see part 2.