Question from a reader asking for open adoption advice
Dear Lavvie: We want an open adoption to avoid a future search for birth parents by our daughter one day, and we don’t want her to have to walk this path alone or to feel like she has to do it behind our backs or without our support.
Your book pushed us to think about our triggers and boundaries. We had a failed adoptive placement prior to adopting our daughter in which we returned a child after 2½ months with us. It was highly traumatic.
We went on to adopt our daughter, now 5, and we are working through our issues. We would like to have a more open adoption someday that includes contact with her birth family. We talk openly and positively with our daughter about adoption and her birth family, and are figuring out how to make the move from Box 3 (low contact + high openness) to Box 4 (high contact + high openness).
How can we navigate our triggers and form appropriate boundaries, in light of the trauma we experienced and the issues we’ve had with a birth parent?
(One example of an issue is that we do not post photos online of our children, but our daughter’s birth parent is posting photos on an unsecured homepage. We were furious because we’d asked please not post photos.)
My response: It’s understandable that you would have triggers from a failed placement. And it’s commendable that you’re willing to do your part to heal that trauma. Two things will come of that.
First, healing! Find a trauma-informed therapist in your area (see this excellent state-by-state guide to adoption-competent therapists compiled by Adoption Today magazine) and have that person help you process and release. As I’ve heard said, “what we can feel, we can heal” — which means you’re already primed for healing simply by acknowledging your pain and being willing to release it (sometimes holding on to pain seems like a good idea but really it’s not).
In addition, you’re already doing well in knowing that this past trauma may be affecting your ability to open up. You’re mindful of what may be influencing your openness-in-adoption decisions, which is a strong step forward. [see also Kellie’s comment below, her first point.]
The second benefit that will come is knowing that healing comes. This means that if/when your daughter is faced with her own grieving and healing one day, you’ll be in position to help her understand that healing can come, will come. You’ll be able to uphold that for her from your own profound experience.
At this time, I would say don’t push Box 4 (but also, don’t push it away). Focus first on cultivating openness within your home, your heart, your relationship with your daughter. This will give you space and time to heal from your wounds and deal with your triggers. As you attune to her long-term needs for her roots, her story, her identity, this very opening to her is what will transform your fear of contact into a desire for contact –the shift into Box 4 that you want to want to make (<== that’s not a typo, wanting to genuinely want something.).
The focus on open-heartedness, on being cautiously vulnerable, will also help make boundary-setting easier. When boundaries are set from a place of love for your daughter rather than fear of hurting your own tender spots, they are more likely to be more functional, effective, appropriate.
Regarding the photos, that sounds like a conversation that needs to be had [please see Kellie’s comment, her second point, below]. You can say to the birth parent (let’s pretend we’re dealing with a mother named Kayla) the same thing you might say to a sister-in-law or aunt who posts pictures after you’ve expressly asked them not to. Firmly yet gently, I would say something like,
Kayla, do you realize that even after we asked you not to, you posted photos of our daughter online? We have reasons why we don’t want pictures made public, and we’re happy to tell you why we think it’s in Daughter’s best interest to have this policy. When you go against our reasonable wishes, it harms our relationship. I’m guessing that you WANT to have a trusting relationships with us, with our daughter, so that we can more fully include you in our lives. When you break our trust, it makes us want to hold back and not even give you the pictures because we think they’ll be misused. Isn’t that the opposite of what you want?
Sometimes I take the tone I would use with a loved one (say, my son or daughter) and use it with the birth parent [please see Kellie’s and Amy’s comments below]. By this I mean even if I’m furious, my goal is not to discharge my anger but to help them find their own reason to change their behavior. To teach them how to treat me instead of to punish them for not doing so.
Dear Readers, what say you?
See also: How to Set Adoption Boundaries
About this Open Adoption Advice Column
- Rather than tell people what they should do, instead I say what *I* might do were I in the asker’s position.
- I reserve the right to call on others to help with answers from time to time, to tap into group wisdom.
- Please understand I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.