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Openness in international adoptions: Part 3

What can be done to help internationally adopted kids?

This is the question Laura Dennis posed to me recently.

While I can talk all day long about theories of openness (and remember that openness doesn’t necessarily mean contact ), I brought in Judy Miller for wise counsel about the practicalities of applying those theories in families created through international adoption. Laura published Part 1 of our roundtable on Thursday, and Judy offered Part 2 yesterday. I present to you the conclusion of our series.

adoption authors and books, Adopted Reality, Parenting Adopted Tweens, Open-Hearted Way to Adoption


Connecting with Culture

Laura Dennis, authorLaura: I understand child safety issues, and when contact is not an option or cost prohibitive. But what about Skype? Or staying in contact with the child’s orphanage or foster parents — so she can see where she lived before being adopted? To have some connection to her past culture, see what her homeland looks like?

Parents might balk that it’s too painful a reminder of a difficult past. What are your thoughts?

Lori: I can’t speak to this directly, but I do hear adult adoptees say that they don’t want or need to be protected from their truth, from their whole story.

In fact, I hear from many that it’s the gaps in the story that are the source of trouble, not the knowing of certain parts, even painful parts. It goes back to the issue of integrating one’s identity. My book’s premise is that adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and his biology, and openness is an effective way to heal that split. I suppose you could also say that filling in all the gaps in a person’s story, so that he knows the truth of what happened on Day 1, on Day 28, on Day 57, on Day 263, on each and every day until the time he found himself in your arms, goes a long way in helping a son integrate all the parts of himself – biology, biography, and the story in between.

Adoption writer Judy M MillerJudy: It’s the child’s story. Parents don’t have the right to make things up (lie), sugarcoat the difficult truths (encourage fantasy) or omit them. Honesty is best. Personally, prior to adopting my oldest daughter I was concerned about talking to her about the one child policy and infant/child abandonment in China. However my husband and I began to tackle it very early on and honestly, without judgment. Before initiating these talks, I was nervous, filled with sadness and judgment. I realized I risked filtering her story through my (Western) lens, and I had no right to do so or to color hers. We presented the facts. My daughter is very matter of fact about her story, and frames it within the wealth of known Chinese historical and cultural facts.

Openness in international adoption, and searches and reunions, is occurring, even in countries that were so closed/secretive, like China. Parents should be prepared and ready to support their child if he/she decides to search for or seek reunion with birth family members, and they should inform their child of this support.

Raising savvy children in a social media era underscores how important openness (and safety) is. Many adopted children and adults are finding birth family members on social media. Parents, do you have a safety plan in place?

It’s important for internationally adopted children to have connections to their culture of origin—past, present and future. Some children are more interested than others (true among my kiddos), and some don’t become interested until they are older.

Parents should try to to honor the wishes of the child—if travel is feasible and safe, tossing out occasional pebbles to the child who doesn’t want to visit, yet. Visiting and experiencing their birth country, culture of origin, and known places the child was, i.e. welfare institute, can help a lot of the missing pieces drop into the puzzle. I can tell my girls what Guangzhou smelled and sounded like in the wee dark hours of the morning as shopkeepers opened their businesses and I can share with my son how astounding it was to look out over the lush jungle canopy from La Danta at El Mirador in Tikal, but to take it in with their senses? Priceless and healing.

Infusing the Spirit of Openness

Laura: Can you talk a little about ways in which a spirit of open adoption could be applied to international adoption?

Lori: It’s important to understand that contact is not the same as openness . The adoption grid adds a dimension to what we’ve always thought of as a spectrum. While we may not have much control over the amount and type of contact in our adoption relationships, we have total control over how open-heartedly we parent.

Parenting with the spirit of openness comes down to one of the original posts Laura and I exchanged called Half-Breed, which was about embracing a Both/And heartset rather than an Either/Or mindset. Especially with international adoption, parents can affect whether or not the child will end up with two halves of himself, each independently developed (the North American half and the genetic heritage half) — or an unfractured wholeness about himself (“Yes, I am Korean, and I have been exposed to what it means to be Korean, to look Korean, maybe to speak Korean, and yes, I am American and I know all that, too). It’s a very subtle difference, and maybe Judy can address this, as well.

As discussed in the above-mentioned post, you don’t want the Adoptee Math to be ½ + ½ = 1 but rather 1+1 = 1. I’m told it’s easier to integrate one’s identity that way.

So what’s called for from adoptive parents is a spirit of openness. Not just to their child’s birth family, birth culture and heritage, but even more so to the child herself. Being open to her wonderings, open to giving space for the emotions she’ll move through — even grief for her losses. What’s called for is a spirit of openness to the process of raising a child via adoption. There will be bumps in the road – that’s life. Rather than steeling ourselves against these bumps, however, we see if we can open ourselves to the insights, lessons, joys, heartaches, the divine experiences that we’ll encounter along our life’s path. In this sense, parenting in international adoption is no different than parenting in any other kind of adoption.

Judy: Children who are adopted have dual identities, in our family’s case, Chinese and American, and Guatemalan and American. To acknowledge and embrace both identities of the adopted child —birth and adopted — honors the whole child.

It’s important that parents foster exploration and acceptance of both identities and help their children along the occasional bumpy process of integrating both into one identity (more of the 1+1=1). Lori said it so well, but I do want to add that without being open parents can’t help their children be all they can be. No one grows, and no one is fulfilled.

Parents, it’s not about you; it’s all about your children. How are you going to help your children straddle that chasm of ambiguity?


What are your thoughts on parenting with openness in an international adoption?


Laura Dennis was born and adopted in New Jersey and raised in Maryland, but she learned how to be a (sane) person in California, where she lost her mind and found it again in 2001. She is a former professional modern dancer and medical device sales director. Laura currently lives in Belgrade, Serbia with her young family. She is the author of Adopted Reality, a Memoir and blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. Connect with Laura on Facebook and @LauraDennisCA.

Judy M. Miller, MA, CGE is the author of the internationally selling What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween and creator and teacher of Tweens, Teens & Beyond. When not parenting her crew of four, she provides education for and support to parents and families created or grown throughout and outside of the U.S. Judy is a member of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), the American Adoption Congress (AAC), and the National Association of Professional Women, who elected her as one of their 2012 Women of the Year. You can follow her @MamaMiller.

Book giveaway and other stuff

Have you been wanting to read The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption but can’t cough up $85 for it (what the…!?)? I don’t know why someone would charge that when Amazon is selling the hardback for just over $26 and the Kindle edition for just over $16.

Lori Holden's book on open adoptionBut this is even better. The winner of the Open Adoption Bloggers giveaway received two copies inadvertently and is willing to give her second copy to a lucky commenter here. To enter, just leave a sentence from an Amazon review in a comment below (and a real comment if you’d like). A winner will be chosen randomly in 7 days.


(Many thanks to those of you who have already read our book and left a review on Amazon and on GoodReads. ♥♥♥ If you haven’t yet, would you?)

Lori Holden on The Huffington Post=======================================

I had a Mother’s Day article published on The Huffington Post. I’m alerting you to it now, just in time for Father’s Day. Because I’m on top of things like that.


blogherI have a current post on BlogHer about my top 12 blogging pet peeves.

What are yours?


Wishing you all a happy weekend, full of whatever brings you joy. Any plans?


Random.org selected #16, so Kathy J is the winner of the book giveaway. Thanks to each of you for entering!

Conflict online | When to talk and when to walk

Liz at PoemFish asks, “Does it do any good to fight? Does HOW we fight matter? I’m wondering this because two items online this morning have me pulling on my boxing gloves.”


I was involved in one of those online kerfuffles. I am host of a Google Plus group called Open Adoption Advocates.  Our About statement reads We believe that openness in adoption can bring benefits to all involved, and we’ll do what we can to evolve the closed-adoption mindset. This is a place to learn about the effects of both openness and closed-ness in adoption. This is not a place to seek an adoption match.

I am the gatekeeper for membership, and I have never not approved anyone who has requested to join. I did, however, add the last sentence to the About blurb a few months ago when a couple’s first few posts seemed like they were soliciting a match — and that took care of that. Besides adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents, in our group we also have waiting couples, a magazine, a homestudy provider and a few agencies, as well as people for whom I’m not sure what their interest is.

I don’t do a lot of vetting. If anyone wants to listen in on our conversations about ethics in adoption, about building and sustaining child-centered adoptions, about listening to varied viewpoints within the adoption constellation, about healing the split caused by adoption, I’m all for that.

I’m not for trolling. But I’m careful to label the behavior and not the entity.

Last week an adoption facilitator (not an agency) asked to join. Upon being accepted, it made its first post that included a link to its website. Members checked it out. Laura found that this facilitator provides gold star travel and housing services to “birth mothers,” relocating them to chi-chi areas around Los Angeles for the duration of their pregnancies. I suggested to the facilitator that perhaps it should take a look at our About statement, and that “expectant mom” was the more accurate term prior to placement. I also pointed out that much of their counseling about open adoption (which was lame and one-sided) sounds more like placating fearful pre-adopting parents than helping clients build a child-centered extended family. Other members followed with their own comments, some with jaws on the floor at the facilitator’s audacity and erroneousness. Anger began seeping into the discussion — a discussion the facilitator was not acknowledging.

I called for a moment for everyone to step back and breathe, tagging the facilitator so it would come back and read.

Whether [Facilitator] came here to sell us or learn from us, we can be more welcoming. [Facilitator] may very well discover that this is not a group that fits it well and may decide to leave and spend its energy elsewhere (because no one here is buying).

On the other hand,it is possible that [Facilitator] has not considered some of the points we are raising and is willing to listen and learn, but only if we ourselves model openness.

[Facilitator], you have a place here if you are open to learning about a different and more functional view of adoption than the one depicted by your website, which has some obvious triggers.

Why did I not just ban this facilitator?


Choose: win or changeBecause I would be a fraud if I extended openness only when it is easy and convenient to do so.

Because it’s one thing to preach to one’s choir. It’s another to encourage someone whose views are antithetical to your own to take a new look at their old viewpoint. Are we able to use the principles of openness to deal with people who disagree with us? I think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr and the ways they changed the wrongs of the world — by getting the oppressors to see an old thing in a new way.

Because attacking and defending leads to more attacking and defending and it rarely leads to real, self-directed change. If the problem is ignorance, then the solution is to educate. You can’t educate someone who leaves your group, someone you’ve shamed in the process (which, by the way, didn’t happen in our group). They leave and feel more dug into their position. And instead of having a small chance to turn someone around, you make them even more of what they were in the first place.

Because I was thinking about the situation in terms of shame. Once we begin trying to effect change with shame, we have lost. At the same time this situation was erupting, there was another online fuss highlighted by Jezebel in which one blogger (whom I’m not linking to) used shame as a strategy against another blogger to combat, yes, shaming.

Because just as in a marriage you must sometimes choose between being right and being happy, in conflict you must sometimes choose between winning the argument and being the change.


Back to the original kerfuffle (such a whimsical term for something so unpleasant).

Without acknowledging any of the fallout from its first post, two days later the facilitator made a new post in our group. This time a statement that extolled how well it supported “birth mothers” and an image with the caption: “One Year Guarantee | Adopting Parents.”

Members were not amused. Nor was I. The facilitator had proven not reachable, not teachable. It wanted only one-way communication in which it tried to sell, but it was clear no one would be buying.

The boundary I’d set earlier had been crossed, and removing the facilitator from the group was now an option. One that I executed without further hesitation.

I am removing you from this group as we are obviously at cross-purposes and you are clearly a talker and not a listener.
I left an open door:
Should you have a change of heart about how you treat expectant mothers (what you call “birth mothers”) and so many other things, please contact me directly.


Liz closes her post with these questions, which I now ask you: “[Is there a] way that I can hold onto my passion for justice while also being effective, engaging without fighting…How do you advocate online? What works?”

Laura Dennis: what adoption reunion can teach us about openness

One of the best things to come from the Adoption Blogger Interview Project is that each year I run across new-to-me bloggers who help me see adoption from a new perspective, who make me ponder yet another facet of it.

Laura Dennis, authorI was happy, then, to “meet” Laura Dennis last month, despite the fact that she lives in Serbia. Laura is a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. She grew up in Maryland, went to graduate school in Southern California and expatriated to Belgrade, where she wrote her memoir, Adopted Reality.

I read it — in just three sittings. I gave it a bunch of stars. I’ll have a future Q&A post with Laura about her book, so pick it up yourself if you want to follow along at that time.

For today, though, Laura and I are swapping blog posts. She offers here a post about the lessons of reunion that can be applied to open adoption relationships.

For Openness as well as Reunions, Be Flexible But Tenacious

Reconnecting with my first mother was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Knowing her filled a hole in my sense-of-self that I hadn’t quite realized was there.

I have so much to say about my reunion, I could write a book about it. Oh wait, that’s right, I already did. Adopted Reality, A Memoir, is about my adoption and reunion, and brief bout with insanity. However, it doesn’t address the topic of maintaining a long-term first family relationship.

The Adoptee-First Family Reunion
As the Baby Scoop Era enters the Open Adoption Era, those participating in each can benefit from learning from the others’ experiences.

Each first family reunion is unique. It’s a family relationship like any other that needs work, time and nurturing to grow and develop.

I met my first mom when I was 23, and during the first few months, she and I constantly felt we were playing catch up. Truly we were … we had 23 years-worth of separate lives to rediscover!

loving hands

I missed the shared experiences of my first family — vacations, holidays, inside jokes. Not only that, but I’d had my own, in my adopted family.

Merging these families is something akin to what happens when a couple gets married. Who do you visit for Christmas? Who do you spend vacations with? The questions extend beyond logistics. … What happens when the shiny reunion glow begins to wear off? How is a “real” relationship built after the honeymoon period?

Creating a Lasting Relationship
I’m not exactly sure when this began to happen, but over time, my first mom became just another family member. I stopped trying to play catch up.

Just like my adoptive family, my first mom and my biological extended family are now just … my family.

When that happens, we should all be happy. It means those who felt such a deep loss over so many years are letting go of their hurt.

Figuring out what that connection is won’t be all fluffy kittens and prancing through the park. It may involve disagreements and misunderstandings. But that’s okay. In a family, we don’t reject one another. We may be hurt, but we get over it, we forgive, we let go.

Because that’s what family does.

Why should anyone care about adoptee reunions?
Here’s the thing about closed adoptions. First mothers and adult adoptees are coming out and saying, Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do things.

Maybe cutting off all contact between the birth mom and the baby isn’t for the best. Maybe the adoptive parents are open-minded enough to see the birth mom not as a source of emotional competition, but someone who also loves the baby.

Open adoptions are so new; we don’t have a “crop” of adult open-adoptees who can talk about their experiences … yet. One of the problems, though, is that many open adoptions are closing after a few years. Fewer letters and phone calls, eventually no more face-to-face meetings.

Worse, there is generally nothing in place that legally or contractually binds the families to remain in contact for the sake of the child. There are adoptive parents who mislead the agency, stating they wanted an open adoption … just to get the baby, intending to cut-off communication once the ink dries. There are also first moms drifting off with their contact, finding it too hard to watch someone else raise their child.

What can these open adoptions learn from closed adoptees in reunion? My advice would be:

  • Try to keep in mind: kids grow up. I, too, have this problem. My (biological) kids won’t always be two and four. No doubt, they will hold me accountable for the mothering I do now. Adopted children become adopted adults. Adoptedness doesn’t just “go away.”
  • Take your child’s interests and desires into account as he or she grows.
  • Be flexible. We’re all human, imperfect, with good days and bad days.
  • But be tenacious. Don’t give up. Please don’t let an open adoption become a closed one.

When the relationship settles into that normal, day-to-day phase? When the original mom to your child is “just” another family member, and vice versa? That’s a good thing.

Just keep at it.


East Coast US native Laura Dennis lives with her husband and two crazy kids in Belgrade Serbia, where she blogs about expat (adopted) mommy life. Her memoir, Adopted Reality, is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Photo credit: tungphoto via freedigitalphotos.net