Being a birth mother and an adoption advocate means that I spend a lot of time working with hopeful adoptive and adoptive parents. Having the opportunity to educate them about birth parents is one of the most rewarding things I do. If adoptive parents and birth parents understand one another, they have a great chance of enjoying a happy, healthy open adoption relationship.

It’s totally normal and okay for adoptive parents to be nervous about their relationship with their child’s birth parents. But with a better understanding, it’s not so bad. Here are 7 things I wish adoptive parents knew about birth parents.

1. Open adoption does not mean co-parenting with birth parents.

This is the number one misconception I see among hopeful adoptive parents.

Here’s how open adoption works: After termination of parental rights, YOU take YOUR baby home. You make all the parenting decisions because this is your baby. The birth parents are NOT the parents. We are there to love on the child and answer any questions they may have about their adoption story. It’s very possible for a birth mom to have a positive, rewarding, non-parental relationship with your child.

2. Birth parents do not usually change their minds.

Most of the time, when a mother and father sign termination of parental rights, they don’t change their minds. There are a lot of horror stories out there about adoptive parents taking baby home, only to have their hearts broken days later when the birth parent changes their mind. Yes, there is a revocation period in most states where a birth parent can change their mind after signing. Yes, this sometimes happens, and that is completely within their right if they choose to do so. But that’s not usually what happens. Usually adoptive parents go home with baby, and baby stays until finalization and forever.

3. Your child deserves to know about their birth parents.

It is vital for adoptees to know their adoption story. Hiding the fact that your child is adopted will do them nothing but harm. Being adopted is in no way shameful, but if you don’t tell your child they’re adopted you are feeding into the idea that it is. And it is very possible that your child will find out and feel deeply hurt and confused that they were not given this very important piece of information about themselves.

Adoptees have a right to know about their birth parents. Sharing age-appropriate information with your child – and allowing them to have a relationship with their biological family  if it’s safe and possible – is the best way to help your child feel comfortable with their adoption story and have a healthy identity development.

4. We aren’t that scary.

I’m not about to try and sabotage your relationship with your child or take over your role as a parent. I trust you, or I wouldn’t have placed my child with you. I’m not silently judging you all the time or plotting ways to take away your child. I just want to be there to love on the child I bore and be there for them when they need it.

5. The grief never ends.

I am not ever going to “get over” placing my child or “move on” with my life. Sure, things will change and I won’t be sad forever and always, but I will always grieve to some extent. I don’t want you to feel guilty because of this. You haven’t done anything wrong by adopting my baby. But I do want you to understand and keep the promises you made me. If you promised me visits and updates, please stick to your promises. These visits and updates mean more than you will ever know. They help me heal. Maybe sometimes I will need to step back, but just knowing that you are there when I am ready makes my heart feel better.

6. We can be friends.

I consider my birth daughter’s adoptive parents some of my closest friends. We don’t just talk about her, we talk about all kinds of things. I like it better that way. I care about them, and I want to support them. Creating and maintaining the great friendship that we have makes our open adoption so much more fulfilling and easy.

7. Birth parents deserve respect. 

Placing a child for adoption is not a reflection of poor character. Maybe your child’s birth parents are young. Maybe they’re struggling with a myriad of challenges that make adoption the right choice for the child. No matter their life choices, they did make one amazing choice – they placed their child with you. They are the reason you are a parent. It is not okay to talk badly about them, ESPECIALLY in front of your child.

I’m not scary, and open adoption isn’t scary. You can do this. Your relationship with your child’s birth parents doesn’t need to feel any different than the relationships you have with the rest of your extended family- it won’t be perfect, and it will take work. But the effort you put in will come back to you tenfold in love both for you and your child.