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Because OSoloMama called me a Quaker

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.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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19 Responses

  1. Hi, Lori. This is timely for me because my children have a closed adoption by choice of their birthmom and my last post was about how I would LOVE to have her in our lives. I can’t even picture what that would be like, but I do know what it’s like to not know her. I guess for me, more than anything, it is important that she knows her kids are well. Maybe some day…

  2. you just write with such an open heart and a rational that I find refreshing and engaging. This answer was not only infromative to those of us who are NOT adoptive parents but it was also such a wonderful way to connect with those who are, to call them out on their “Stuff” and see how doing things for our children is always the best thing. TO have their best interest at the center of our decisions.

  3. I really appreciate this post, Lori.

    Honestly, I am scared. Scared because of my history of loss. I don’t want another baby taken from me…it’s that simple. So I need to be informed, comforted, and reminded that openness can work. I agree, we need to be honest with our boundaries and what makes us comfortable. To change the ‘game plan’ after the fact, is not only unethical, but is doing a HUGE dis-service to your child.

    Thank you for this.

  4. I would be curious to know why people close adoptions – I would hope that they would do the introspection necessary to settle the insecurities before choosing an open adoption. I know my personality is not suited to that sort of thing (not that I’m considering it, but I find the subject fascinating), because I am a control freak who is excessively accommodating to other people – inherent conflict guaranteed! I suppose there are some people who will agree to almost anything to be able to get the much-longed-for child in their lives.

  5. Beautiful, as always. I’m a Mama through International Adoption and have often wished open adoption had been possible for us. Posts like this always remind me that every adoption story is like every human being – unique. It’s so hard to say that what is “right” or works for one person would be the same for another. I hope these discussions foster a broader acceptance of what parenting means in our world today and embraces it in ALL its beautiful forms!

  6. I am a birthmother with an open adoption. My circumstances are quite different than they were when I placed my birthdaughter. I have been happily married for 5 years and I have my Masters degree. However, I wouldn’t change the adoption.

    I am impressed by the person my 11 year old birthdaughter is. I know that I could not have done a better parenting job than her parents did. When I was younger I used to receive a lot of life and career advice from them. I consider them part of my family.

    I don’t think most people would consider them saints or even Quakers. My birthdaughter’s parents are pretty outspoken. My birthdaughter’s mom told me about how when my birthdaughter gets angry she threatens to run away to my house. Her mom told her that at least they would know where to come pick her up.

    I knew that they were special before that, but I think knowing that she said that and they still allow me to see her really impressed me. I am glad that she has such dedicated parents. Her adopted brother is awesome too. They are a wonderful family and I am happy to be related to them.

  7. i love how honest you are–finding your page was refreshing! i am a birthmom and always looking for others who are positve about open adoption–thanks!

  8. When to close or keep an open-adoption?

    We have or had a very open adoption, but the birth mom is treating me very badly. Coming into my home and not saying 1 word to me. She did this because she is upset with me about anything and everything. She told me to shut the f up in one of many text to me. She has called me horrible names in text. All this drama is stressing me out and my kids can sense my stress. Should I close it completely with the birth mom, birth dad & birth grandma, etc. I say all those other people because they criticize my parenting and suggest how they would have done it differently. The birth uncle came over one time and handed my child to the birth dad and said, “Here go to daddy.” I would feel so guilty if I were to close the adoption…but the way they me feel horrible as a person and a mom. I usually let these things go, but my kids are effected by my stress and that’s where I draw the line.

    If you think I should close it, please give me suggestions on how I should go about that. However, if you think I should keep it open, leave suggestions on how I can deal with all this drama and how horrible they make me feel.

    1. Hello, Amanda. I’ll answer you privately, but I also want to respond here.

      First of all, I commend you for wanting to do what’s best for your kids. You’re right, they can feel your stress and are directly affected by it.

      I can’t tell you whether to close your adoption or to keep it open, nor can I tell you how to do either. But I can ask you to look at the situation with a different variable.

      If the person who told you to ST.FU were, instead, your mother-in-law (maybe not via text, lol) how would you handle that? How would you assertively (not aggressively) show her your boundaries and how would you teach her how you wish to be treated? It’s somewhat similar in that you are joined to her because you both love the same person.

      You are joined with your child’s birth family in a similar way. This does not mean, however, that they can treat you so shabbily. I think you are well within your rights to let them know that they are welcome in your home and your lives as long as they treat you with respect. This means no swearing; it means to deal with things directly (if birth mom is upset about something, she tells you and works it out with you); it means they must lower the drama level on your interactions.

      When they meet those conditions, they are welcome with open arms. If they cannot or will not meet those conditions, you will wait until they are willing and able to.

      I would not make a big deal about titles. Mainly because you can’t win that. And because your kids will know what’s what. My suspicion is that birth uncle says “Go to daddy” because the birth family hasn’t really come to terms with their place in your constellation. And maybe a little passive-aggression.

      You might also add in the condition that birth mom (and anyone else who doesn’t respect your boundaries) get counseling on her loss and her grief, and help in finding how she can now best support the child she placed (check with the agency she placed through and insist that they offer this as part of the placement fees you paid, if, in fact, your situation went down this way).

      You can let me know by email if you want to discuss this further. Of course, I wish you and your family well.

  9. I am amazed at the amount of denial there is, you can never ever squash or change DNA and expecting a natural parent to pretend they are not a parent because of a piece of legal paper is crazy, it’s true the barren womb is never satisfied, I can not believe the power trip going on here, Nature will always trump, I also say you need to educate yourselves on the life long grief that adoption causes, it is not up to you to judge, you got what you so coveted, you need to love the mother as well and the child and respect the that innate relationship and stop pretending.

  10. Hurray for those who stand firm and make open adoption work! As in any human relationship, there are going to be highs and lows…but hopefully most of it will be comfortable, fertile, middle ground.

    I don’t personally know of anyone who has closed a previously open adoption, but I have read in the blog-o-sphere of many adoptions that close. Sometimes the first parents close the door; other times it is the adoptive parents. However, I’ve never even heard of an adoptee closing that all-important door. And that speaks volumes to me.

    First of all, I think that adoptees do not close open adoptions because adoptees are powerless and voiceless within their adoptions. Adoptions are created by adults. Adoptees, especially the younger ones, must simply endure whatever situation the adults impose upon them. That places a huge responsibility upon the adults to make good decisions, faithful promises, and show steadfast stamina. Decisions should be made with the adoptee’s best interests in mind. Promises, although ostensibly between the adults, are also inherently promises to the child. Stamina includes enough endurance to withstand short-term set backs when judiciously weighed against long-term benefits. Parents who close adoptions are actually closing the door on the adoptee, not on the other set of parents.

    Next, I have never known an adoptee who did not want to know his/her own truth, history, story. It is simply ridiculous to believe that biology doesn’t play a part in determining who each of us is and eventually becomes. It is equally ridiculous to believe that a lifetime of experience doesn’t play a part as well. The oft overlooked answer to the nature-versus-nurture debate is not which is more important, but rather how the two combine to make each of us who we really are. Adoptees need all the parts of their life to build a complete self. Expecting an adoptee to build a whole self without all the necessary parts is frankly to expect the impossible. I have observed that adoptees forced into that impossible situation often compartmentalize their lives: which means there will eventually be a huge part of the adoptee’s self shut-off from you (whoever you might be). Allowing adoptees access to all the parts, all the people, and all the knowledge/answers is the generous and loving manner to support healthy sense of self.

    Adoptees don’t close adoptions because at first, they can’t. And later, they don’t close adoption because they don’t want to. To the adoptee mind, it makes perfect sense that there are four parents.

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