Open Adoption

One good in our modern time is an effort to do adoption better, to consider the impacts of mother/child separations and not to change identities and birth certificates to make the adoptive parents feel better.

Here are some preconceived notions about open adoption –

  • Open adoption is basically co-parenting.
  • Adopted children grow up hating their birth mothers.
  • Adopted children grow up hating their adoptive parents.
  • Most open adoption relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents eventually break down.
  • When they’re older, adopted children eventually return to live with their birth parents.

Are these myths or truths?  They are myths.  Here are some accepted understandings about what open adoption is and is not.

In open adoption, the line between family members is clearly defined. The adoptive parents and birth parents do not have shared custody. Adoptive parents are legally responsible for all decisions relating to their child’s welfare. Birth parents are often involved in the children’s lives, but they do not have legal rights over the child.

Children understand the difference between their adoptive parents and their birth parents, and what their roles and responsibilities are. And so do both sets of parents.

Open adoption allows adopted children to having an ongoing relationship with their birth parents. As a result, they have the ability to ask their birth parents questions surrounding their adoption, making them less likely to have doubts or to feel bitterness towards their parents.

Adoptive parents usually introduce their child’s adoption story at a young age. Unlike in the past, it’s not something hidden from them. Because children know their adoption story, there is less chance of them creating a fantasy about their origins. And also there is less resentment about their adoption since it is something that is openly discussed and a part of their life from an early age.

Although some open adoption relationships do break down because of disagreements between adoptive parents and birth parents, the vast majority of them are successful. Because most open adoption agreements are NOT legally binding, the key is to create lasting relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. For the sake of their children, birth parents and adoptive parents must be willing to not only acknowledge but honor each other’s role in this relationship.

For most adopted children, home will be considered that which was their home with the adoptive family. That’s where they were raised and that’s where they usually live, until they are old enough to move out and live independently as an adult. Adopted child are almost always interested in their birth family, but they usually do not go back to living with them, except in cases of family reunification.

Then and Now

Back in the 1930s, when my parents were both adopted, they first spent as long as 6 months with their original mother.  As I have come to know more about the impacts of adoption on adoptees, I have learned about the pre-birth development and bonding that takes place in the womb but is not complete at the time a baby is born, but continues during the first year of a baby’s life.

Knowing my parents had these precious first months with their original mothers matters to me since I have learned about the importance of that to any child’s development.

By the time my sisters each gave up a baby to adoption, the adoptions occurred immediately after birth.  The adoptive mothers did not have the pre-birth preparation that my sisters had as the original mother.

However, each of these children have been supported in their need to know the families they were originally conceived within and I do think that is valuable because my parents died knowing next to nothing (perhaps some vague names and location details) about their own birth and adoption experiences.

The unmistakable fact was and is – unwed mothers need help.  My sisters needed help and my parents were not going to step in with a long-term commitment to use their financial resources supporting either of them and their children.

Many adoptive parents have been comforted by the secrecy of closed adoption and sealed birth records.  Many have felt threatened by their children’s reunion with their original parents

Social workers believed that to save children they had to deny them information about their past. To help them, they unintentionally hurt them.  Some social workers believed that keeping adoptees’ identities secret allowed the adoptee to make a clean break with their past.  Secrecy protected adoptive parents from intrusion by birth relatives.  It protected the privacy of single mothers.

Social workers believed that after surrender, the mother would simply go on with her childless life as though nothing had happened.  It was believed that “normal, healthy” adoptees would have NO curiosity about their roots.

Both of these were myths and never true.