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Ignorant questions & answers about open adoption, part 2

Earlier this month, Jessica from O Solo Mama asked seven questions about open adoption. Jessica is a mom via international adoption, and her wonderings have stirred many open adoption bloggers to respond insightfully. Seriously, click over and read some of the posts — they have helped me deepen my own understanding of open adoption.

A few weeks ago I answered Jessica’s first question, If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? That post got to be very long, so I promised to address remaining questions in another post.

And here it is.

2. From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?

First of all, I think we must be careful in believing that placement requires ongoing suffering. Like most things in adoption, the amount (if it could be measured) and duration of suffering probably spans the spectrum. I’ve read of first mothers who have an unhealable hole in their hearts and I’ve read of those who move forward without regret, content with their decision even years later. Grief and mourning are likely part of the placement process, but enduring suffering does not seem to occur in every open adoption.

Does openness prolong suffering? None of my children’s four birth parents think so. For one of them, the adoption is still difficult (the person says “tender”), but the openness helps soothe the loss rather than exacerbate it.

Who helps the first parent? My husband and I do what we can by keeping in touch with and including our children’s first parents in family events. If I thought any of the birth parents were in need of additional help, I would get them in touch with the agency we all met through and press for post-placement counseling. I’ve done so before.

3. I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.

We don’t give kids enough credit. Our children know or can figure out their multiple places in our family constellations. It helps when parents do what they can to normalize open adoption.

4. Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?”

I’ll surprise you, perhaps, by saying once in awhile.

But not in the way you might think.

On occasions when my child and I clash and rub each other the wrong way — when one of us wants to run away and the other wants to help pack — I wonder if I just don’t have the right temperament and synched personality to deal with my child, and if my child would be better off with another mother.

It is very difficult, at times like this, to separate parenting issues from adoption issues. It’s impossible to know what the ratio is in any given situation.

But if you’re asking if I think the adoption was a mistake, the answer is no. Furthermore, the other mother believes the same.

5. How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept? When they see their natural parents having more kids, what do they think? Who helps the child in this situation? Both sets of parents?

All four of my children’s birth parents have at least one parented child. One of the birth siblings is older and four are younger than my children.

This is a question better asked of adoptees, for any answer I give is pure conjecture. I can say that we try to keep a dialog open about how my children feel about anything adoption-related. And I know I could ask the involved first parent to enter the discussion if that would be helpful to our children. It’s up to the adults, I suppose, to help the kids work through (rather than merely cope) any emotions that arise from seeing their birth parents parenting other children. So far I am not aware that it has been an issue.

6. Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?

Adoption is not as simple as open or closed — there are infinite points in between the two extremes.

I advocate for choice — we should not take choices away from placing mothers. But because openness is helpful for the child in healing the split between biology and biography, I think that openness should be the default setting and that agencies should provide child-centered evidence of its benefits as well as support in creating open situations.

However, the people involved in an open adoption should be free to co-create what works best for them. And, like a marriage, such co-creating is an ongoing process. To think that you’re ever “there” is folly. All that exists in any relationship is the journey.

7. Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behaviours) to close an adoption totally?

Yes. We closed ours once.

Well, not totally.

When people ask this question, they are usually taking the viewpoint of either the adoptive parents (how awful would the birth parents have to be for us to shut down?) or birth parents (not parenting was too painful so I had to walk away).

Rarely do we ask this question from the adoptee’s perspective.

If one of my children needed some space to work out an issue (as actually happened), I would comply with his/her wishes. Giving the child a measure of control over the birth parent relationship is critical.

Such closure doesn’t last forever, though. Until my children are grown, I am merely the caretaker of their birth parent relationships. My responsibilities include maintaining contact  and being a  good steward until they are able to manage the relationships on their own. Sometimes this may mean nudging the child through any issues that arise, much as I do when the kid has a fight with a best friend.

Other than an issue that arises for the child, I cannot think of a reason to close an open adoption. I suspect that any move I would make in that direction would backfire on me eventually, and I do not want that.

Search and reunion after a lengthy separation would be very difficult to navigate — not just the relationship, but the feelings that go with establishing it. If I can prevent my children from having to go through search and reunion, I will.


Thanks to Jessica at O Solo Mama for opening this discussion. I’m glad she voiced these questions because people entering into open adoptions need to know what they are getting into in order for those involved to reap the benefits, which are considerable.

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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12 Responses

  1. As always, your answers are thoughtful and eye-opening. I love that you expand our reading of the questions, and that you open your heart fully with your words.

  2. I feel the same way as Mel. I don’t know adoption but you open my eyes and fill my heart with the feelings and emotions that go into all facets of it.
    Thank you for sharing and educating. It does so much for me to be able to understand this from an outside looking in place.

  3. you are so brilliant, you know that. such wonderful and thoughtful answers (eloquent and concise, unlike mine!).

    I love how you capture the dynamic nature of the relationships in open adoption. “…such co-creating is an ongoing process… All that exists in any relationship is the journey.” so true!

  4. I still think it takes a pretty amazing person to successfully navigate an open adoption…

    Guess you know what I think of you! 🙂

  5. I love coming here and having you teach me the ways!!!

    BTW, you won a bloggy award. Check out my blog. I’m new at this award stuff, but wanted to recognize you. 😉

  6. Your writing is brilliant. This post gives such great insights into Open Adoption…and parenting in general.

    I liked your line, “I wonder if I just don’t have the right temperament and synched personality to deal with my child, and if my child would be better off with another mother.”

    As a biological mother, I sometimes feel like this! My oldest is a lot like his father…and sometimes we see things the same, but most often we see things differently. It’s a lesson of love (and patience on both of our parts) each time it happens.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

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