Tag Archives: open adoption advice

Denying Adoption vs Dwelling on It: When to Tell

Question: We already have an open adoption. My son is 4 years old and I keep wondering: when is a good time to tell him that he was adopted?

I still think its too early right now, but when do other parents start to open up about this? I just don’t want to make it a huge thing in his life, but he does have other half-brothers and sisters out there and I do want him to reach out to them if he ever decides that’s what he wants.

~~ Mary
open adoption advice

When to Tell a Child S/He Was Adopted

Dear Mary: I’m a little confused because I can’t figure out how you have an open adoption without your son knowing he was adopted. Maybe you’re meaning you have an open adoption around a different child?

In any case, let’s address when to tell. Adam Pertman, President of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, tells of his social worker friend who once advised that you should tell, “On the way home [from the hospital].” This is because it’s arguably more about you becoming comfortable with delivering the story as it is about your child being able to receive it.

Trust is a fundamental part of your relationship with your son, upon which everything else rests. So you must tell, and soon. If you have a series of little talks, you won’t have to have The Big Talk. The more you can normalize the way you yourself think about it, the more matter-of-factly your son will be able to take it in and incorporate it into his identity. He will take many of his cues from you, so it’s wise if you first see if you have any sensitive spots in talking about it — much like having the Birds & Bees talk.

Denying vs Dwelling

I can understand your not wanting to make adoption bigger than necessary. But by waiting to tell, you run that risk. Why? Because avoiding the discussion may mean that the subject carries an emotional a charge for you. And by not dealing with it, that emotional charge does not get resolved and may even intensify.

As adoptive parents, we want to find the sweet spot between dwelling on adoption and denying its effects. Somewhere in between is a healthy place to be.

I find that bedtime is a good time to have focused and relaxed conversations. My children loved Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, and I’ve also heard wonderful things about Gayle Swift’s ABC, Adoption & Me. To find others that fit your situation, check out the collection at Tapestry Books.

See also: check out the comments on this post about giving an adopted person ALL of their story.

Dear Readers, what say you?

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About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own open adoption question. I’ll either offer an answer or find someone who can address your issue.

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Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

How to Explain to Children Differing Levels of Openness in Adoption

Question:    How do we explain different levels of openness to our children? We have a very close relationship with our son’s birth mother and his biological brother and grandparents but because of our daughter’s birth mother’s lifestyle our relationship with her and her other children is limited.

Our children are only 2 and 3 right now but I know soon enough they will start to question this.    ~~ Jamie

open adoption advice

Take Away the Adoption Charge

Dear Jamie:   First let’s look at HOW you decide what to say. To get yourself into a clear mindset (e.g., you’re not freaking out about the adoption part), let’s reframe things in a way that neutralizes the adoption charge. Here’s one way to do that:

Imagine that 10 years down the line one of your children qualifies for an advanced math class and the other doesn’t. Or one makes the team and the other doesn’t. How would you approach such a situation of imbalance with each child?

My guess is that you’d aim to meet both your children where they are. You probably wouldn’t aim for absolute fairness — reducing the benefits available to one in order to make things equal for the other. Nor would it be in your power to elevate the child who is experiencing lack to the level of the child who is experiencing bounty.

You would probably help each understand, gently and age appropriately, why things are the way they are, and you’d abide with them if/when they feel sadness. You can’t protect them from all sadnessnor should you — but you CAN help them develop resilience as they process sadness and disappointment.

We Don’t Always Get to Deal with the Ideal

As parents we must help our children to live in their world as it is. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, and our choice is to either change it (if possible) or accept it (if change is not possible). It’s great that you’re asking about how to explain so that you can do exactly this.

Words I might use would be:

I wonder how you feel about your birth mom not being around the way Brother’s is.

(Pause so Daughter can express herself…and listen.)

I’m sad about that, too. Right now, she’s not in a place where she’s able to be in our lives, but we are open to that one day happening.

I would then be silent and let Daughter do the talking so I could discover where she is. Offer the space for her to share her thoughts with you, if she chooses. She may not choose to at this point — she may have a lot going on and be unable to make sense of her own emotions — but making space for her to do so helps her know she can open up to you in the future if she is grappling with an issue.

This is more on this in my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, in Chapter 5, “Openness and the Adoptee.” Just keep in mind that adoption relationships – like all relationships – have an ebb and flow. Things may change for either your son or your daughter in terms of birth parent contact. While you can’t always control WHAT happens, you can support your children in how they RESPOND to what happens.

Dear Readers, what say you?

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About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own question for possible inclusion. Subscribe so you don’t miss anything.

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Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

I Tried to Communicate. She Got Hurt. Things Closed Down.

Last week’s question was from an adoptive mom wanting to open herself up for her daughter’s sake in spite of past hurts. This week we have a birth family member who wonders how to pry open a relationship with the adoptive family in light of a perceived hurt.

open adoption advice

Dear Lori: I am an adoptive mother and have recently become part of a birth family. My niece and three nephews have been living with a foster family who are now in the process of adopting them. We have been very supportive of the adoption as their birth parents are not in a place to take care of the children.

Here is the problem. On the day of relinquishment the foster mom said on Facebook that “one family’s loss is another family’s gain.”  I reached out to her and told her that her statement was very hurtful.  Her response was to claim we are not supportive and in response they are pushing out my entire family, especially my mom and myself. How do I facilitate openness with the adoptive family when they seem very resistant? ~~ Anna

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Brooke RandolphOpen Adoption Advice

Guest advising today is Brooke Randolph, LMHC. Brooke is a parent, therapist, and adoption professional with 25 years of experience working with children, families, and individuals.

Brooke’s response: This isn’t an easy situation, Anna. There are so many factors to consider.

Please understand that in what I’m about to say, I am not blaming you or placing fault for what you said or how you said it. I ask you to trust that the fix — what is within your power to do — may lie in you being willing to offer an apology anyway. Keep reading.

In expressing your hurt and asking for the foster mom to relate to you differently, you unintentionally hurt the relationship with her. She therefore incorrectly perceives you as being unsupportive of the adoption moving forward.

While the advice to offer an apology may surprise or even appall you, I see it as the most direct route to relationship repair. As I’ve stated before, “An apology is absolutely necessary to repair, restore, and continue a relationship after a hurt… An effective apology can not only restore a relationship, it can help it to grow. An effective apology communicates that the relationship is important and the person’s feelings are important. An ineffective apology or no apology at all can communicate to the other that you do not truly value the relationship.”

In your apology, make sure to use all five components of an effective apology. If you need help coming up with how to integrate some of them, a neutral third party or trusted counselor may be helpful.

If your apology is accepted, great. You can move forward together. But if the apology is not met with the spirit intended (which is a key ingredient but not always a deciding factor, result-wise), you may need to gracefully allow her to choose to hang on to hurt. If this happens you could ask if the adopting family would be comfortable with you sending letters to her children. Go the extra mile and identify the children as hers rather than “your niece and nephews.” I know this may be difficult or even painful, but your ultimate goal is an open relationship for the children more than it is about introducing your wants and needs.

If you try to share information with her about open adoption, you risk appearing to be a know-it-all or holier-than-thou. As parents, we all get it wrong sometimes, but perceived mom-shaming rarely brings about true change and it almost always harms relationships. Because you are further along the journey of adoptive parenting, she may take unsolicited information or advice as belittling her. Is there anyone else who might be an ally for you and the children from whom she might welcome input?

Don’t give up if the apology doesn’t bring healing right away. Do you remember, Anna, how much anxiety you experienced during your adoption process? If the adopting mom is like I was, she probably doesn’t even realize how unsurefooted she is. Time can bring changes and new information and new needs. Remain open, remain positive, remain loving. Avoid negativity, gossip, spite, etc. Remember that your ultimate goal is an open relationship with your niece and nephews for their benefit. They need the opportunity to attach to their adoptive mother. They need less drama in their lives. They need you to have an open heart, ready and waiting to give, and always loving.

Brooke Randolph is a private practice counselor in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was a founding member of MLJ Adoptions, Inc. She is a Young Professionals Advisory Board member for The Villages, Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency. Brooke adopted an older child internationally as a single woman, which she considers one of the most difficult and most rewarding things she has ever done. She is a contributing author to the book Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues (2014).

Lori Holden, adoption authorMy 2 cents: Often we want to make the other person change. We don’t actually have that power, though. We have two other powers: we can help that person WANT to change, and we can determine if we need to change something in ourselves.

The former requires that first we be in relationship with the other person. The second requires an honest assessment of our role in the conflict and a pragmatic approach to doing what’s within our power to do.

Brooke’s approach utilizes both of these powers. An apology — “I’m sorry my words hurt you; I didn’t mean to and I respect what you’re doing with these children” — is within Anna’s power to do, AND it has potential to repair the hurt in the relationship.

Anna, I want to acknowledge your own hurt and fear, and your original desire to support these children’s adoptive mom. I’m sorry that your true message — not to split the babies between their two families — got lost in her hurt.

This brings me to one last point.  The trigger for all this hurt was when the adopting mother said, “one family’s loss is another family’s gain.” This is evidence of the too-prevalent and potentially harmful Either/Or mindset. The adopting mom may hold this only because she doesn’t know there is an alternative. Adoptive parents in varying degrees of surefootedness can easily envision and embrace a Both/And heartset once they know that it exists.

Dear Readers, what say you?

See also: The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, aimed to help both adoptive and birth family members navigate contact and openness.

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About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • Rather than tell people what they should do, instead I say what *I* might do were I in the asker’s position.
  • I may occasionally call on others to help with answers, to tap into group wisdom.
  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own question for possible inclusion. Subscribe so you don’t miss anything.

How Can We Open Up Our Adoption When We’ve Been Hurt So?

Question  from a reader asking for open adoption advice

Dear Lavvie: We want an open adoption to avoid a future search for birth parents by our daughter one day, and we don’t want her to have to walk this path alone or to feel like she has to do it behind our backs or without our support.

Your book pushed us to think about our triggers and boundaries. We had a failed adoptive placement prior to adopting our daughter in which we returned a child after 2½ months with us. It was highly traumatic.

We went on to adopt our daughter, now 5, and we are working through our issues. We would like to have a more open adoption someday that includes contact with her birth family. We talk openly and positively with our daughter about adoption and her birth family, and are figuring out how to make the move from Box 3 (low contact + high openness) to Box 4 (high contact + high openness).

How can we navigate our triggers and form appropriate boundaries, in light of the trauma we experienced and the issues we’ve had with a birth parent?

(One example of an issue is that we do not post photos online of our children, but our daughter’s birth parent is posting photos on an unsecured homepage. We were furious because we’d asked please not post photos.)
open adoption adviceMy response: It’s understandable that you would have triggers from a failed placement. And it’s commendable that you’re willing to do your part to heal that trauma. Two things will come of that.

First, healing! Find a trauma-informed therapist in your area (see this excellent state-by-state guide to adoption-competent therapists compiled by Adoption Today magazine) and have that person help you process and release. As I’ve heard said, “what we can feel, we can heal” — which means you’re already primed for healing simply by acknowledging your pain and being willing to release it (sometimes holding on to pain seems like a good idea but really it’s not).

In addition, you’re already doing well in knowing that this past trauma may be affecting your ability to open up. You’re mindful of what may be influencing your openness-in-adoption decisions, which is a strong step forward. [see also Kellie’s comment below, her first point.]

The second benefit  that will come is knowing that healing comes. This means that if/when your daughter is faced with her own grieving and healing one day, you’ll be in position to help her understand that healing can come, will come. You’ll be able to uphold that for her from your own profound experience.

At this time, I would say don’t push Box 4 (but also, don’t push it away). Focus first on cultivating openness within your home, your heart, your relationship with your daughter. This will give you space and time to heal from your wounds and deal with your triggers. As you attune to her long-term needs for her roots, her story, her identity, this very opening to her is what will transform your fear of contact into a desire for contact –the shift into Box 4 that you want to want to make (<== that’s not a typo, wanting to genuinely want something.).

The focus on open-heartedness, on being cautiously vulnerable, will also help make boundary-setting easier. When boundaries are set from a place of love for your daughter rather than fear of hurting your own tender spots, they are more likely to be more functional, effective, appropriate.

Regarding the photos, that sounds like a conversation that needs to be had [please see Kellie’s comment, her second point, below]. You can say to the birth parent (let’s pretend we’re dealing with a mother named Kayla) the same thing you might say to a sister-in-law or aunt who posts pictures after you’ve expressly asked them not to. Firmly yet gently, I would say something like,

Kayla, do you realize that even after we asked you not to, you posted photos of our daughter online? We have reasons why we don’t want pictures made public, and we’re happy to tell you why we think it’s in Daughter’s best interest to have this policy. When you go against our reasonable wishes, it harms our relationship. I’m guessing that you WANT to have a trusting relationships with us, with our daughter, so that we can more fully include you in our lives. When you break our trust, it makes us want to hold back and not even give you the pictures because we think they’ll be misused. Isn’t that the opposite of what you want?

Sometimes I take the tone I would use with a loved one (say, my son or daughter) and use it with the birth parent [please see Kellie’s and Amy’s comments below]. By this I mean even if I’m furious, my goal is not to discharge my anger but to help them find their own reason to change their behavior. To teach them how to treat me instead of to punish them for not doing so.

Dear Readers, what say you?

See also: How to Set Adoption Boundaries

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About this Open Adoption Advice Column

  • Rather than tell people what they should do, instead I say what *I* might do were I in the asker’s position.
  • I reserve the right to call on others to help with answers from time to time, to tap into group wisdom.
  • Please understand I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.

As always, readers are encouraged to weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. I ask everyone to remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor, and that we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.

Send in your own question for possible inclusion. Subscribe so you don’t miss anything.