Since the mid-1970s, open adoptions have been widely accepted as more compassionate and enlightened than the secretive adoptions of a previous generation. Indeed, the confidentiality that once defined adoption is no longer the norm. While international adoptions remain mostly closed, as do many public agency adoptions, domestic adoptions increasingly involve contact between adoptive parents and birth parents.
Degrees of Openness
For many families, open adoption remains controversial and misunderstood. Even among experts, definitions of “open adoption” vary wildly. In its simplest sense, an open adoption is one in which the adopting parents and the birth mother (and possibly the birth father) have some form of contact, directly or through an agency or lawyer.
At one extreme are the families who exchange letters and pictures but have never met. At the other are the children whose adoptive and birth families socialize at least once a month or more.
Most open adoptions lie somewhere in the middle, according to Grotevant and McRoy, exchanging letters, pictures, and phone calls, and
Putting the Children First
Most importantly, experts say, biological and adoptive parents must remember that open adoption is about meeting the needs of children, not adults. Openness does not simply wipe away the feelings of grief, fear, or insecurity that can swirl around an adoptive placement.
“It removes the mystery, but it doesn’t remove the grief,” said Claude Riedel, a psychologist and family therapist who co-directs the Adoptive Family Counseling Center in Minnesota. “The reality is that, at certain stages, it’s normal to have questions: why did you choose not to parent me, not to keep me? And there may be complexities: have you kept your other children, but not me?”
Now that the first open-adoption generation is under way, social workers are becoming more aware of the role of siblings in these arrangements. An adoptive child’s relationships with biological siblings need to be taken into account. And two children adopted into the same family may have different degrees of openness with their birth mothers. Openness may also affect decisions about family size.
Benefits of Open Adoption for You
Choosing adoption is a loving parenting decision that shows you care for your child. The benefits for you of placing your child through open adoption may be—
- A sense of control over decisions about placing your child with adoptive parents
- Comfort in knowing your child is growing up safe, healthy, and loved v Support in dealing with your feelings of grief and loss that can come up after placement
- Personal relationships with the adoptive parents and the child
- Greater satisfaction with the adoption process. Birth fathers, grandparents, and other members of the birth families also can benefit from communication with the adopted child and/or the adoptive family. “We celebrate our son’s birthday surrounded by friends and relatives, including his birth mother— she’s part of our family now.”
Benefits of Open Adoption for Your Child
Open adoption can provide your child with a sense of connection and completeness. Openness may answer many of the questions that adopted children in closed adoptions often struggle to answer such as: Who am I? What are my birth parents like? Why was I placed for adoption? The possible benefits of open adoption for your child include—
- Links to his or her birth mother, and possibly birth father, brothers, and sisters—doing away with the need to search for them
- Removal of the feelings of secrecy and shame that can come up at different points in his or her life, although not all of the time v Increased self-worth, and a sense of identity and security that comes from firsthand answers to identity questions
- A sense of belonging, which may lessen his or her feelings of abandonment v Connection to his or her cultural and ethnic background and ancestry
- Better access (than would be possible in a closed adoption) to important medical information, such as factors that can lead to disease, or medical conditions that exist in the birth families v Better understanding of the reasons for placement
- A sense of knowing that he or she looks like someone else or has characteristics that come from a blood connection Benefits of Open Adoption for Adoptive Parents Adoptive parents, who may be frightened at first by the idea of an open adoption, may come to realize, once they are comfortable in their new parental roles, that they also benefit. Some of the benefits for them are—
- Access to one or more birth family members who can answer background and other questions that the adoptive parent cannot v Access to important medical information
- Warm relationships between birth and adoptive families that can create uplifting and valuable lifelong connections for the adopted child and lessen the sense of loss he or she may feel
- Delight in being “chosen” as adoptive parents and more confidence in parenting that comes from being chosen v Less fear of birth parents reclaiming their child because they know the birth parents and their wishes
(Some Text obtained from Adoptive Families “Understanding Open Adoption”)