1. Choose your words with care.
Open adoption is a highly emotional journey, one that can have many bumps along the way. Always think about how your words will be taken by the recipient before you say them. One of the most common complaints heard from both birth and adoptive parents is that the other side said something they found offensive. Maybe the birth mom referred to herself as “mom,” which bothered the adoptive mom who was struggling with her own feelings of entitlement to parent the child. Maybe the adoptive parent posted about the adoption being finalized on Facebook without thinking to tell the birth parents first. Just always try and think of the other side before you act.
2. Communicate face-to-face if at all possible.
Text and emails are easily misunderstood. What could be sent in a lighthearted manner may be taken completely differently by the recipient. Minimize this risk by addressing any issues that may arise either face-to-face or at the very least by Skype or Facetime.
3. Ask, don’t assume.
Don’t assume that you know what the other side is feeling. If something is unclear or you are unsure, just ask. Most disagreements in open adoptions occur when one side thinks another side is stepping outside their “agreement” of openness. Whether it is a birth parent asking for more visits than originally planned or an adoptive parent not sending an update when it was expected, if something is amiss, ask. Don’t jump to the conclusion that the birth parent is trying to co-parent or that the adoptive parent is closing the adoption without talking it through.
4. Be honest.
Maybe as a birth parent you do want more updates, or as an adoptive parent you aren’t comfortable with your child spending alone time with the birth family. Be honest in your expectations and be willing to listen to the request without being defensive. It is hard to do, but always try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and don’t speak out of fear. If you need a day or two to process before responding to a request or change, then say that. But respect the other side’s feelings and be honest about when you will be able to respond so you don’t leave the other side hanging.
5. Acknowledge loss/fears.
We all have fears in adoption, but they can affect levels of openness if they aren’t addressed. Fears by either party that the adoption will be closed, fear that a child will be resentful that they were placed, fear that the child will someday resent the adoptive family . . . the list goes on and on. But talking openly about these fears can alleviate a lot of tension, and you may even find yourself laughing about your fears later on.
6. Send ‘unscheduled’ updates.
This is for all members of the triad, not just adoptive parents. A quick ‘thinking of you” or cute kid pic goes a long way in telling someone you are thinking about them. It also confirms for both sides that you are committed to openness.
7. Always respond in a timely manner.
So you got an update or received a quick message. Responding in a timely manner is just plain being respectful. Even if the update took you by surprise, a quick “Thanks” to a message or “Cute” to a picture lets the other party know you received the message and confirm that you are still invested in openness.
8. Seek help if needed.
Maybe you hit a bump in your openness and discussing it amongst the triad hasn’t resolved it. Many agencies have post-adoption departments that will help you resolve an issue at little or no cost. Sometimes just getting the perspective of an outside party can help you see the other point of view.