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 ).
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.
This interview originally appeared on Adoption.net.