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Four years and 730 posts ago, my foremother prompted me to bring forth on this blogscape a new space, conceived from nonconception, and dedicated to the proposition that so many ALIs are created fascinating.
On my blogoversary two years ago, I unveiled my Appalachian Trail name, Lavender Luz, and asked you to “tell me if there has been a post that has had a lasting effect on you. Let me know what it was and why you have remembered it. That will be a truly wonderful gift for me, each generating a perfect moment. Thank you!”
Would you indulge me again? Please tell me if there has been a post that has stuck with you and why. I’ll compile your answers and update my Reader Faves page.
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.
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?
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.
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 openadoptions, 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.