On Open Adoption

Common questions people seem to be asking are, “Is it going to be an open adoption?” and “How often do you have to let your child see their birth-mom?” and “Aren’t you afraid she will become their favorite parent?”

All questions that I have asked as well. Concerns that have troubled me, particularly when we officially submitted our application.

While Tyler and I both have cousins who were adopted, they all have closed adoptions. The “openness” thing is totally new to us. Having the birth-mom in the picture always seemed like it would be confusing to a child and create instability in the family. I imagined feeling competitive and possessive of this child that she had entrusted to us.

We automatically assume openness is for the benefit of the birth-parents, and in some ways it is. It’s reassuring to them to know that they made the right decision. That their child is doing well and loves his or her adoptive parents. They can still be a presence in the child’s life and not have to wonder if they are hated for choosing not to parent.

But more than anything, openness seems to benefit the child.

This weekend we attended a panel discussion at Bethany Christian Services. On the panel was a 28 year old guy who discovered he was adopted at the age of 4, but was not given any details about his birth-mom until he was 18. Several years ago, he finally got up the courage to reconnect with his birth-mom. The other panelist was a 15 year old girl. She has had an open adoption from the beginning. She sees her birth-mom every-so-often, and texts and emails her birth-mom now.

What kept coming up over and over from both of them was how important it was that they know their birth-mom. Neither had any insecurity with who their real parents were: the mother and father who had raised them and supported them their whole lives. But, having a connection to their beginnings meant so much to them and helped them feel secure in knowing they were wanted. 

0001-480It’s a little bit hard to relate to the deep connection they feel with their beginnings. For me, I’ve never really been too curious about my birth story. Perhaps because I’m afraid my parents will pop in the video tape and I’ll be scarred for life.

I also don’t feel like I look much like any of my family members, nor does that bother me at all. I don’t often think, “I got this trait from my dad” or “I have my mom’s _____.” I feel close to them, and I appreciate the interests that we share; but genetics – to me – are not foundational to my identity.

The panelists’ message was not new to us. We’ve been reading and taking other classes, and it seems that the more we hear from adoptive children, the more it is apparent that their beginnings are a crucial piece to their identity as an adopted child. They don’t care that they were adopted. They just want to know about this missing piece to their story.

I suppose — when I think about it — it’s a little like losing a parent. Those things that you normally never would have paid attention to become a precious connection to their memory. Maybe you’ve read the Harry Potter books. Peel back the many layers of that story and at its foundation is a narrative of a boy struggling to find his identity while avenging the death of his parents. No compliment is greater to him than hearing how much he is like his father or mother. The power of that connection to his parents is paramount, even though he lost them as an infant.

So what will an open adoption look like for us?

Hard to say for sure. Typical openness involves several meetings at the agency during the first year, and then once or twice a year after that, with pictures and letters in-between. It’s really just going to depend on what we believe to be most beneficial to our child.

But no matter what that relationship looks like, we want our child to think about their birth parents and to know that our home is a safe place to ask questions and explore their identity. And we are confident that when someday during that teenage-turmoil-phase they tell us, “You’re not my real parents,” their words will sting, but hold no truth.

And isn’t that what teenagers do anyway? Test to see how unconditional your love is? Sorry, kiddo… You’re stuck with us!

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2 thoughts on “On Open Adoption

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