Category Archives: Adoptive parenting

What are the Benefits & Difficulties of Open Adoption?

Why are adoption agencies suggesting or requiring open adoptions? What are the pluses and minuses of open adoptions? What might be the long-term effects of living in one?

Rachel Garlinghouse, author of the new children’s book Black Girls Can, recently interviewed me on Adoption.net in anticipation of National Adoption Awareness Month. She asked some great questions and here I share Part 1 of our interview with you (part 2 is at MileHighMamas ).

adoption q & a

Rachel: Open adoption has become an increasingly popular choice among adoptive and birth parents, as well as an option that more agencies seem to be suggesting, even requiring. Why is this?

Lori: Because any social construct steeped in shame and secrecy is neither healthy nor sustainable. Hiding something takes a lot of energy, and in some cases, can cause lie upon lie upon lie to cover up. Take birth certificates that are not actually records of birth, for example.

Wait. That’s MY reason, not necessarily the reason agencies are giving. I think many agencies (with innovative exceptions) are following — not leading — the parade. The leaders of the openness movement tended to be groups of people for whom secrecy and shame didn’t work — like birth parents and adoptees from the Baby Scoop Era. Organizations such as Concerned United Birthparents (and others) influenced innovators such as social worker Jim Gritter (and others) to help move toward adoption reform, which means moving from closedness to openness. The Internet has enabled such groups to join voices together to effect change, to create better ways of handling adoptions that value truth, openness, and integration.

  • For adoptees: Openness allows for more opportunity to integrate that which was separated at the time of placement: one’s biology and one’s biography.
  • For birth parents: First parents get the chance to integrate something that did actually happen into the fabric of their lives, rather than attempting to shut the door on a Really Big Event and pretend it never occurred. They can also know and witness how things are going with their child rather than just wonder.
  • For adoptive parents: We get a stretching. We get to deal with our own stuff — our insecurities and fears — to make sure our stuff doesn’t become our child’s stuff. We get to help our children become who they are and encourage them to incorporate all their pieces. We get to connect with others who love our child in the same way we do, who share in joys and challenges alongside us. We get contact with the people who can fill in the gaps on the occasions when we are mystified. We get access to the living history of our child’s tribe. We get to watch our children get filled up in a way we may not be able to provide. We get to model for our children how to navigate relationships and comport ourselves respectfully.

What are some of the potential downfalls of open adoption for triad members?

Well, relationships are hard! What makes adoption relationships difficult is that we tend to come from an either/or mindset: either YOU are the parents or THEY are. If we stay in this Either/Or mindset, we run the risk of “splitting the baby.” We must evolve toward a Both/And heartset (the how of this is in our book).

It can be hard for adoptive and birth parents to communicate, to set boundaries, to be mindful and deliberate in the words and actions they exchange with each other. There can be huge power imbalances. Prior to relinquishment, the birth parents have all the power and the adopting parents feel the fear of powerlessness. After finalization, the adoptive parents have all the power and the birth parents may be left with their sense of powerlessness. Power imbalances make relationships tricky, so it’s in the best interest of adoptive parents to make birth parents feel empowered and partnered in the loving of the child (and no, this is not co-parenting).

The child/teen/adult, can also experience some downsides. At the same time he is learning to navigate school friendships, he is also dealing with the complexity of added parental relationships. Add in birth siblings, birth grandparents and other extended birth family members, and that’s a lot for a kid to deal with. The child/teen/adult can see the grass on the other side of the fence — and maybe even see his siblings playing there — but he does not live there. He may be affected by saying good-bye over and over to birth family members. Openness can be challenging for the child/teen/adult at the center. It is not a cure-all, but openness in adoption is better than its closed, shame-based alternative.

What do you think the long-term effects of open adoption may be for adoptees, adoptive parents, and biological parents?

My expectation and hope is that with openness (meaning not just contact, but the way we open ourselves up to each other), all parties will stretch and grow and know and connect and eventually become whole and aware and loving and loved. I would call that a life well lived.

Click over to Part 2 of this interview on MileHighMamas, where Rachel and I address open adoption agreements, what adopting parents need to consider,  when do adoptees take over their open adoptions, and how social media is changing open adoptions.

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transracial adoptionThanks, Rachel, for inviting me to talk about open adoption with you.

Rachel  Garlinghouse blogs at White Sugar, Brown Sugar and is the author Come Rain or Come Shine.  She has just released her new book, written with her daughters, titled Black Girls Can.

This interview originally appeared on Adoption.net.

 

3 Buttons Your Child Will Push

For such small beings, children are incredibly adept at pushing their parents’ buttons.  Many of us come to adoptive parenting with extra buttons exposed, practically begging small and grimy fingers to give them a fresh press. Or two or three.

Why do children push buttons? Because they feel powerless against giants. And when children can’t get what they want through non-manipulative means, they will resort to whatever tools they have available.

Enter our buttons. Here are three I’ve observed in myself and in talking with other adoptive parents:

parenting buttons your child will push

The “Real” Button.

This button becomes obvious to your child around age 7 and gets triggered  in parents by the likes of:

These exclamations are usually said when a child is angry or frustrated, when reason is out the window. And when these words are received, your reason goes out the window. Your child senses that these sentiments are inflammatory, and she hopes to escalate a situation and gain power.

So what should you do when your child plays the “real” card? Want to know the secret response that will reduce the odds that your “real” button keeps getting pushed?

You do nothing to your child. You work on yourself. You deactivate this button through your own reasoning.

Thinking it through: What does it mean to be a ”real mom” anyway? Are you fake? Did you really get up all those nights? Change all those diapers? Arrange all those play dates? Then you are real. You did real things. You were there, you have always been there. Nothing fake about you. You are legit. This button clearly can be neutralized in your own mind. Just because you’re not the only doesn’t mean you’re not real.

The Wondering Button.

This one is more of a trigger — a button your child doesn’t intend to push but may impact you just the same.

When you notice your child is wondering about his “what ifs,” his roads not taken, it can hurt. You may feel as if he thinks you’re not doing a good job, that you’re not enough, that you’ve failed to establish your legitimacy. Sometimes your child will wonder about his birth parents privately and, if you’re lucky, he may sometimes allow you into his innermost thoughts and wonder aloud with you. He may wonder who his first parents are or what it would be like to live with them. If there is a lack of information available, the wondering may turn to fantasy. Who can compare with fantasy? Give the information you have, age appropriately, to help ground the wondering.

If you have a child who is prone to wondering, such wondering will happen whether you are privy to it or not. Again, neutralize this button using your own reason so that you can be there for your child as he wonders, supporting him and giving space to integrate his two identities — that of biology and that of biography.

Thinking it through: Your child wondering about his genetic roots doesn’t take away anything from you. We fully expect that a parent can love more than one child. Can you also embrace the notion that your child may have feelings for more than one set of parents? Can you understand that such wondering about his biological parents do not cancel out his love and devotion to you? In fact, such thoughts probably have nothing at all to do with you.

Adoptive parenting at its best is about addition, not subtraction.

The Running Away Button.

This button is not unique to adoptive families, but it can sting when there is another parent (or two) “out there” who also has a claim on your child. After all, your child may actually have another parent-type to run away to! My daughter, then 9, once set out with her pink hat, trailing her pink suitcase stuffed with her pink bear, to somehow plead her case with Crystal, her birth mom, who would surely allow her to watch The Wizards of Waverly Place before doing homework. (Wrong!).

Thinking it through: Again, we remove the button’s charge within us by realizing that our child is feeling stuck and has no other options at her disposal. If we remember to breathe and also remind our child to breathe, we are in position to re-engage our reasoning faculties and make space for other, more appropriate responses.

Redeeming Qualities of Having Your Buttons Pushed

While maddening, having your buttons pushed by pint-sized tyrants isn’t completely without merit. If you’ve spent any time at all in this space, you know that two of my most frequent topics are (1) adoptive parenting, and (2) how to live mindfully. Over the years I have been manifesting a connection between these two seemingly separate subjects.

Adoptive parenting — if I choose to do it in a way that doesn’t sap my sanity — requires that I become more mindful within myself, that I not parent on auto-pilot. In stressful moments when I want to contract and breathe quickly and shallowly (such as when one of my darlings has brought me to my knees by laying on one my triggers), I am instead cultivating the habit of becoming expansive and breathing deeply. In addition to scanning my environment for what/who out there needs to change, I also scan within to see what I may need to address.  I wonder if I would be so drawn to mindfulness if I didn’t frequently need to center and ground myself due to having my buttons pushed.

I can think of one more way that button drama has a silver lining.  Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my kids have begun with their attempts to push my buttons. From a place of rawness we find genuine connection devoid of artifice. We get real and we grow together.

What are you own parenting hot buttons? What have you done to deal with them?

Image courtesy Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This article is adapted from one that appeared on EmpoweringParents.com.

How to Set Boundaries in Open Adoption

Want to know more about how to set healthy boundaries in an open adoption? Haven’t read my book yet but are curious about it? Check out this book excerpt in Carrie Goldman’s Portrait of an Adoption Column on Chicago Now.

Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt Carrie is sharing on Portrait of an Adoption’s Facebook page:

If you find yourself thinking in terms of what you will “grant” birth parents, what you will “give up” to them, then it’s possible that, instead of seeing your relationship as mutually beneficial and having a valid place in your child’s life, you view them as an imposition. At times like this, it would be helpful to ascertain what fears lurk behind those thoughts. Of course, if you have real fears for your family’s safety, then your relationship may end up being somewhat adversarial. But if your fears are your personal demons—like a fear of not being the “real” parent—then the work to be done is is on yourself.

I have two more elsewheres to report this week:

  • Adoptimist quotes this blog in a graphic it has created, which you can see here. This is the second in a series of quotes.
  • AllParenting asks adoptive moms to share their adoption love stories. Read several of them here.

Denver family portraitThe Lavender Luz family a few years back.

That’s my flurry of news. How is your summer going?