Open Adoption. It’s Good Except When It Isn’t

Colton placement in DenverNot many generations ago, adoption was secret and often considered shameful for both the birth mother and the adoptive child. In loving consideration for this “shame,” adoptive parents habitually attempted to hide the adoption from the community as well as the child.

Secret keeping, of course, is always a recipe for disaster since human beings aren’t really emotionally designed to keep secrets. In fact research suggests keeping a secret is actually unhealthy and causes stress. Carrying around major confidences causes a rise in stress hormones and related physical problems.

The last few generations have hopefully erased the shame and need for secrets for both adoptive children and birth mothers, moving us into the space where we have open adoptions. Children know about birth families and adoptive families give updates and communicate with biological families.

Open adoption is good, except when it’s not.

For many years the prevailing theory was that open adoption confused children as to who their parents were and kept birth mothers from successfully moving on with their own lives. Research has debunked these methods. In fact open adoption can do the following:

  • Help children understand adoption
  • Relieve the fears of adoptive parents
  • Help birth mother resolve their grief

Open adoption is good when it eliminates secrets and shame. Open adoption is good when it allows children to have answers. Open adoption is good when it gives birth mothers a window into their children’s lives and relieves fears or an improper placement.

There are so many forms of open adoption–from yearly letters without identifying information to weekly face-to-face contact.  However, with social media, openness often takes on a whole new form. Are you going to be friends on Facebook? Are you going follow one another on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or exchanges “chats?” Will the birth family be included in group texts about the child’s swimming lessons? Will the adoptive family be asked to “save the date” for an upcoming wedding?

When deciding on what type of openness between the birth family and the adoptive family, everyone involved needs to remember that this arrangement is about meeting the needs of children, not adults.

As in any relationship, boundaries for both the birth mother and for the adoptive family are necessary and healthy. In our next blog, we will discuss the boundaries we try to help families establish which will insure an open adoption is good for all the parties involved and the situation they both find themselves in.