Openness varies in every adoption, ranging from 3rd party updates to fully integrated lives. How do we know what we are doing is right for our situation and that the children involved have the balance they need? I asked a bunch of birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents to share with me the mistakes they’ve made in their adoption relationships. So kick back and learn from their mistakes (and give ourselves some leeway . . . we all make mistakes). 

1. Making assumptions. Whether it’s assuming that everyone’s interpretations of the openness agreement are the same, assuming the other party needs a break, or assuming the worst when you don’t get an update, you have to be willing to reach out, talk, ask for clarification, and make sure everyone is on the same page. You know what they say about what happens when you assume . . .

2. Not communicating through difficulties. All relationships go through hiccups. Adoption is no exception to this rule. It is high intensity and your relationship is formed on a whirlwind of emotions. Not everyone will always agree and sometimes boundaries are crossed. You just have to be okay with speaking up to keep things on track.

3. Skipping the small stuff when getting to know each other. Early in the adoption match or adoption placement, many people forget to get to know the person behind the adoption relationship. The child brings the birth parents and adoptive parents together, but to have a lasting relationship, a foundation of more than just the child should be established. Don’t forget to get to know each other as people!

4. Listening too closely to outsiders. Do you tend to allow the instruction and advice of others weigh too heavily on your adoption relationship? Keep in mind that 1) no two adoptions are alike and 2) those with little exposure to adoption often give lousy advice. Take a step back and reflect on your triad and what works best for all of you.

5. Forgetting that all relationships evolve. Whether your adoption started as closed and is now open or started off as very open but dwindled down to less frequent contact, remember that ALL relationships evolve over time. It’s okay for things to change. Just keep your child as the focus of the adoption relationship and you won’t get too far off track.

6. Forgetting that openness isn’t co-parenting. Sometimes in a desire to appease everyone, adoptive parents will seek too much approval from the birth parents. If you find yourself doing that, step back, put your trust in yourself and in the birth parents’ decision to place with you, and allow yourself the grace to raise your child. Open adoption doesn’t mean that every decision you make for your child has to be run by the birth parents. Seeking to co-parent can be very stressful on the entire triad and limit adoptive parents’ ability to bond with their child.

7. Forgetting that being TOO open can be harmful in SOME situations. Sometimes people need to be selective about the things they share. Know the parties involved and what everyone can handle. Provide truthful information as needed. Sometimes extremely open adoptions can be confusing to the child and cause more trauma to the birth parents. You need to feel out the situation and find the balance that fits your triad.

8. Forgetting that the relationship should be organic, not an obligation. Build a foundation for your relationship but don’t force it if it just simply isn’t there. Hold up to your agreement for updates, visits, and photos, but if you simply have nothing in common, don’t try to force a friendship to be there when it doesn’t exist. Being fake doesn’t do anyone any favors.

9. Letting your introverted personality limit contact. Be upfront about your character flaws. I can relate to this one. I am terrible at follow-through sometimes. I adore my son’s birth parents, but sometimes life gets hectic, I retreat to my room for some down time, and I completely forget to send a picture I really wanted to share. Find ways to work around your limitations so they don’t hold you back. If you aren’t one for lengthy phone calls or sitting down to write a letter, ask if social media or texting works better for updates. You can find a way to uphold your end of the deal. Promises shouldn’t be broken.

10. Thinking contact and openness solve all adoption problems. Is it proven that open adoption is the best way to help someone who was adopted as well as providing peace of mind to the birth parents? Of course! But that doesn’t mean more contact and more openness is going to solve all problems. Emotions are a tricky thing. You have to be willing to roll with change and find the best solutions to addressing adoption problems as they arise.

11. Trying to fix the other adults’ life problems. Sometimes the adults in the relationship go through trying times and the other party wishes they could step in and “fix” it for them. While it is completely normal to want to help people we care about, we have to realize that they cannot overstep and fix other people’s problems for them. If there are resources you know about to help them help themselves, maybe that is what you can offer. Otherwise, sometimes they just may need a friend. That goes both directions too. I suffered a great loss about a year and a half ago. My son’s birth mother checked in on me frequently and gave me exactly what I needed . . . a friend. She couldn’t fix me, but she could support me.

12. Forgetting to listen to the child’s needs. As your child grows older, his needs also change. He may desire more or less contact with his birth family. You may feel that talking about his birth parents regularly is what he needs—and he may just want to live life without the constant adoption talk. You may think your withdrawn teen does not want to discuss adoption at all—but he may be craving some conversation. It’s good to check in with your teens and ask them about their needs so you can be sure they are being met.

What open adoption mistakes have you encountered?