Tuesday, April 17, 2018

5 Simple Guidelines for a Successful Open Adoption

Let me start by saying, there is nothing "simple" about open adoption.  I've said time and time (and time and time) again that open adoptions take A LOT of work.  Like any adoption, open adoptions are complex and bittersweet.  

But there are ways you can work to make your open adoption more likely to be successful.   

After twelve years in the adoption community and almost a decade of parenting adoptees (as well as almost a decade of open adoptions), here's my best advice:

1:  Make short-term, organic promises.  

I've seen it way too many times:  agencies encouraging hopeful/new adoptive parents to promise the world to the expectant/birth parents.   And it's not OK.   

The thing is, none of us can project the future.  So to commit to certain things (visits, phone calls, e-mails, etc.) from the child's placement to when the child is eighteen is unrealistic.  It's sets the relationship up to fail.   

It's also a tool unethical adoption agencies use to lure moms into placing their children for adoption.  After all, she will get to see her child, know how her child is doing, and perhaps be a big part of the child's life, maybe even the child's day-to-day life.   The mom may then believe that she is somehow co-parenting the child and the adoption won't be "that bad" of a decision.  Instead, it'll be a win-win.   

Making short-term, organic promises allows the relationship to develop naturally and at a healthy pace vs. rushing, making unhealthy decisions, and projecting the future.  

What is short-term?  Well, I'd say six months at a time, or a year if you know each other well.  But definitely NOT birth to age eighteen!  

Which leads me to point #2...

2:  Do what you child wants and needs. 

When your child is old enough to have a say-so in the openness, which I firmly believe he or she should, his or her input on the openness should absolutely matter.   

Because the open adoption should be centered around the adoptee:  the innocent party who was left to the will of adults.   

Even when a child isn't old enough to verbalize how he/she feels about openness, parents can observe their child's behaviors and reactions before, during, and after visits.   

There are certain things my kids don't have a choice in right now.  They have to go to school.  They have to brush their teeth.  They have to attend church with us.   There are some situations in which they simply don't have a choice.   But in the openness with their birth families?  They absolutely have options.  

3:  Be flexible.  

Things change.  People change.  This is HARD for someone like me who is type A (aka:  controlling).   I think being open to change is incredibly important.  The people who placed the child, and the people (you) who received the child aren't going to forever remain the same.  We might move.  Divorce.   Change careers.  Add more children.   This is called life, ya'll.  Real life.   

Therefore, we have to be open to changes.   We can't have rules so rigid that people can't be human.  

However, I do draw the line at broken promises.   This is absolutely detrimental to the child.  Some flexibility?  Of course.  But breaking a child's heart by not showing up (especially multiple times) is unacceptable.  

4:  Communicate (don't guess).  

We all do it.  We guess what another person's motivation is.  Their thoughts.  Their feelings.  And assuming simply harms relationships.   

Instead, we need to ask questions, be open to responses, be honest and empathetic and grace-filled.  

If an issue arises (let's say you're frustrated that your child's birth mom posted pictures of your child online when you're family guideline is not to do so), instead of stewing about it, being passive-aggressive, or assume she's out to make you angry, ask.  

Difficult conversations are only more difficult if you choose to avoid an issue for a long period of time.  

The explanation could be very simple and completely opposite of what you supposed.   

Likewise, invite conversations.  Ask your child's birth family if there's anything they want to talk to you about.  Touch base and see how things are going.  Then re-calibrate and move forward.  

5:  Stay in your lane.  

There are certain things that are nachobusiness.  Yes, you read that correctly.   

You are not in charge of the birth parents or their choices.  You are not their judge or jury.  Likewise, they are not yours.    

Only if something they are doing or saying is harmful to your child, should you revert to #4 and speak up.  

(I love the "stay in your lane" phrase so much that I dedicate an entire chapter to it in my new book.)

For more open adoption information, please visit my friend Lori's blog and check out her book.  

What has made your open adoption successful or unsuccessful?  What would you tell those new to open adoption or those considering whether or not to have an open adoption? 

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