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rough times in open adoption

Dam. Open Adoption is Hard.

I’ve had difficulty writing weighty and/or witty posts on this blog for months now (you could arguably say longer — ha!). Ithas finally occurred to me there is a reason for the struggle:

rough times in open adoptionI’ve been actively not writing about something.

It’s a big thing that feels, now that I realize it’s there, like a large and hard-as-concrete dam that’s been holding back everything creative and curious in me.

I’m still not going to write about this emerging narrative. It’s overwhelming, it’s scary, it will be long-lasting, it’s hard, it’s sensitive, it’s not wholly mine, and for all these reasons I can’t process it in this space the way I sometimes do with other issues.

I will say this.

Parenting after you’ve adopted is flippin’ hard.

It’s just hard as children grow into increasingly sentient and emotional beings. You start out thinking you have some measure of control over things, but then you remember your job is to help your children become independent and able to function completely without you. And you see that a sense of control is largely a fallacy anyway — there are so so so so many variables and you influence only a portion of them.

The parenting journey — especially when overlaying it with an adoption component — can be messy, unpredictable, hairy, frustrating, sob-worthy, tear-your-hair-out-because-you-don’t-know-what-to-do, flipppin’, freakin’ hard.

And yet…

Open adoption is not the cause of the problem.

And open adoption is also not the solution in this particular case. Though contact can make things messier (relationships are messy! People have different viewpoints and opinions than I do — go  figure), the trade-off for the added turmoil is knowledge and support and insight and maybe even some other benefits that await discovery as our tale unfolds.

I still believe that openness is preferable to the alternative — being in denial or in the dark or closing my heart to vulnerability and authenticity.  (By “openness” I refer more to the spirit we parent with rather than the type and amount of contact with birth family members, though contact can be a part of it.) The root issue facing our family constellation would exist whether our adoptions were open or closed — and even whether or not there had been an adoption in the first place.

To offer it (yes, a nebulous “it”) up in the abstract, though, I offer you this recent podcast by my friend Rebecca Vahle of  the Parker Adventist Family to Family Adoption Support Program. Rebecca launched this program at a local hospital nine years ago and is now bringing it to hospitals all over the country as they strive to become more adoption-competent. As Rebecca says, this much-needed program is one last opportunity on the path of an adoption placement to ensure that patients and clients make decisions based on knowledge and education — the program does not have a stake in whether or not a woman (and possibly her partner) decides to place.

We all know that knowledge and education are vital to making good decisions for ourselves and for our children. Please Like on Facebook the Adoption Perspectives Radio Show so that you have easy access to more insightful interviews.

It’s hard to have been adopted

In this hour-long soundcast, sponsored by a Christian radio station (enlightening for people of all spiritual traditions, or none), Rebecca interviews Jen Winkelmann, MA, LPC, NCC, an adoption-competent therapist in the Denver area. Rebecca and Jen cover, among other things:

  • How open adoption is not a magic bullet.
  • The 6 risk factors for attachment and relationship challenges, and how they affect a baby’s template.
  • Parents giving the child permission to “go there.”
  • The effect that a “meant-to-be” sentiment can have on an adopted child (such as “God brought you to us” or “you were meant to be in our family” (adoption bloggers have covered before the idea of destiny in adoption).
  • Pre-verbal memories that are formed in utero.
  • How we’re continually learning and figuring this parenting thing out at a deeper level. And we must always remain open to learning and adapting.

Yes, this is a vague post. Though we are going through tough stuff, my family and I — as Rebecca says here, “it’s hard but it’s healing.”

I’ll hang my hat on that for now.

Image courtesy of artur84 /

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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32 Responses

  1. Parenting, adoption, the whole thing is hard. And I think every single one of us goes through the gutter at one phase or another. As always, my thoughts are with you and your wonderful clan! XO

  2. Luz,
    I will say a prayer for you. I am married to an adoptee and raising two boys (one adopted, one biological). The radio broadcast should give me some insight and hopefully make me a more understanding wife and mother.

    Adoption is an intense and complex experience for all involved. Thanks to you and others, the dialogue is opening and kinship among the triad is growing through compassion and education.


  3. Lori, this IS a vague post for you, but your message, as always, is clear. Adoption — and yes, even open adoption! — is hard. But as Coley wrote the other week, it’s good to share the tough stuff. Thanks for sharing it here.

    As I read it, I couldn’t thinking, “if Lori is struggling, what does this mean for the rest of us?!” And then I recalled something else you said not too long ago, about how adoption relationships are part of a continuum rather than fixed in time and I suddenly felt better. Hope you will, too.


    I hope things sort

  4. Geeeeeezzzzzzzee. I said I’m sorry!

    Justin kidding. Sending you love and “it-just-became-very-clear-to-me” energy.

    And, abiding with you.

  5. Vague indeed lady! Still lots to think about even when you’re being cryptic. Thank you for the thought-provoking links. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and hoping you are soon in a safe place to share what’s happening

  6. Also actively not writing about some stuff right now but i will say this yep adoption is hard whether you’re adopted, have adopted, or relinquished. Adoption is hard and it doesn’t get easier it just gets more and more complex and hard in new ways

  7. Oh I could have written this! It IS hard. I am struggling (privately) too.

    I was just thinking of you yesterday. I wanted to call & say: Lori, it is hard to open your heart when you are hurt. It is hard because open = vulnerable and while that seems like a powerful courageous act when things are going well, when you are in pain the last thing you instinctively want to do is show your soft underbelly to the people who hurt you. I think Pema Chodron (you know her?) might be helpful to us both right now…

    Sending you and ALL the members of your family much love and light!

  8. I notice that rather obviously, things change as the kids grow up. They are at their most oblivious (at least verbally) when they are young and seem to adore us (their day-to-day parents), and in our case despite my son KNOWING both his birthfamilies on both sides all the way up to gparents, slightly uninterested in his roots. But with each passing day, pennies drop… and I am SO aware (and yet not) that one day, the entire bank is going to drop and we’re going to have to deal with it somehow…

    Still agree with you that to KNOW is better than to NOT KNOW.

    ((vague unhelpdul comment))

  9. Understand you completely.. dealing with related issues within our family. Adoption is a commitment to a special type of parenting. The moment you, as an adoptive parent, forget this.. you find yourself reminded. Often a very loud and painful reminder.
    Love Jen Winkelmann.. our family worked with her for a period of time – she is fantastic.

  10. Our “open” adoption is different than most – but then none are the same…

    But yes, it adds another layer to parenting 🙂

    had one of my kiddos tell me he wished she had picked a different family….I told him I was glad she picked ours, and he was STILL going to bed early….

    yeah – he said he was sorry later….

  11. Hey, Lori. Your post is timely for me because I have received two emails in the last week from people who are thinking about adoption and asking for some “wisdom.” And over the last eight years my “one” piece of advice has changed and evolved. Lately I’ve been thinking that the one thing I want especially prospective infant adoptive parents to know is this: don’t let anyone tell you that the moment you walk into your home with your new baby is the great equalizer. I have heard so many people say that the only difference between an adopted child and a biological child is how they came to you. That after you bring them home, you are just a parent like everyone else. And you are in many, many ways. But in many, many others, you are not and those are all related to adoption. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish prospective adoptive parents would come to adoption with their eyes wide open, not thinking that once they are home with their baby they are “just” like biological parents. I don’t know if that makes sense as I want it to make sense!

  12. Gaby,
    You make sense. I agree. Adoptive mothers have so much more to think about. I am a biological mother and an adoptive mother to two sons. I love them the same, of course, and they adore each other. But, the experiences of pregnancy and adoption are profoundly different. Every time I look at my bio son, I see my family, my husband, and me. Every time I look at my adopted son, I see his birth parents. Not a bad thing. I love and respect them. But different and sometimes hard.

  13. Oh Lori…everything you said. Yes. My first husband and I adopted our wonderful son (32-years old now) through a closed adoption process; that was the only option available to us back then. I’m sending you positive light, energy, and strength to navigate what you’re going through. Peace, Marci

  14. Wow! This soundcast is wonderful! And I wanted to say to Gaby, that I can totally, totally relate to your comment as well…

    Hope all becomes clear and more simple Lori! Thank you for posting this. Good timing…


  15. Sending you love, Lori. Vague as this post is, there’s a lot that it says that doesn’t need to be written. Holding you and your family in my heart. I’ve missed you, friend. And I’m sorry I’ve been absent.

  16. Lori,
    I don’t know what you are going through but it sounds like its challenging. My brother’s younger brother was adopted and is well-loved but always wondered about his birth mother. Well he met his birth mother a few years back. I think it wasn’t that great an experience for him, because of her situation (financially insolvent, and emotionally needy with another child living with her-his step brother). Perhaps if he’d known her all those years it would have been easier.

  17. It has taken me way too long to find the time to catch up on my blog reading. There is a lot contained in this post, vague as you might think it is.

    What struck me and I do not mean for this to sound trite or in any way cliche, but parenting, hard as it is (and it IS hard), it is not the only thing that will shape who are kids become. So, yes, we all strive to make the best possible decisions and, yes, sometimes we fall short, but our children are completely contained individuals who will receive input from a variety of sources their entire lives. I try to cut myself some slack and find solace in knowing that I am doing the best that I know how and sometimes just imparting that to my kids has to be enough. Being there, consistently and constantly, is often more important than any one or string of parenting decisions.

    (as an adult adoptee who is now a mother to a biological and a non-genetic child, I have to say that I do have trouble cutting my mother as much slack as I hope my kids cut me).

  18. I’m sorry to hear this. If I lived nearby, I would bring a bottle of the good stuff over so we could talk.

    Please ping me if you need anything. I miss the spirit of curiousity your writing always inspires in me.

    Sending love and light.

  19. Pingback: Adopting Dexter
  20. Abiding with you, but you knew that. And this commenter above said your words perfectly: “adoption relationships are part of a continuum rather than fixed in time.” Love that.

  21. Yes! It is just so stinkin’ hard and it seems few people can relate. I remember reading, in preparation for adopting our children, and thinking that it was more complicated than raising a birth child, but if I just do a, b, and c it will all work out like in the storybooks.

    Well, that was humbling! Every interaction is just so much more complex because adoption is part of our story. Our family is beautiful. We love each other, but our relationships can be quite exhausting for all of us (due to the complexity, NOT lack of love).

    I’m so thankful for Rebecca’s radio show and have learned from every single show I’ve taken the time to listen to. She is such a gifted host!

    Thank you for writing this, Lori!

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