Improving the Relationship: Open Adoption

Open adoptions are advantageous in several ways. Perhaps the biggest benefit of an open adoption is that the birth mother can watch her child grow up; she has an opportunity to have a relationship with her child and the adoptive parents. But the birth parent-adoptive parent relationship can be a tricky one. Use these tips to help you navigate the birth parent-adoptive parent relationship. 

Benefits of Open Adoptions

Before I talk about how to build a healthy birth parent-adoptive parent relationship, I want to tell you about some of the benefits of open adoption. Open adoption benefits everyone in the adoption triad in different ways. 

Open adoption can help a birth mother cope with grief and loss. A birth mother who knows she’ll receive photos and letters, emails and phone calls, or will be able to visit her child occasionally can more easily move past feelings of grief and loss after she places her baby. 

An open adoption allows the adopted child to get answers to difficult questions as they grow up. There are simply some questions adoptive parents won’t be able to answer, such as why the birth mother placed him for adoption and what his extended biological family is like.

Another important benefit of open adoption is receiving updated family medical history information. Maintaining contact with a birth mother gives her the opportunity to share her and her family’s medical history over time, which can be very important if the adopted child becomes ill. 

Building and Maintaining a Healthy Birth Parent-Adoptive Parent Relationship 

Setting Expectations

Open adoptions can look vastly different depending on what the birth parents and adoptive parents want and are comfortable with. In an open adoption, the adoptive parents may send letters and photos occasionally or they could talk on the phone and visit regularly. 

The terms of your open adoption, what types of contact, and how often that contact occurs should be discussed before the birth of the baby, if possible. Everyone involved should share what type of contact they want and are comfortable with. Everyone’s boundaries should be respected. 

It may help to write down the terms of your agreement so that everyone is on the same page. If you plan to talk on the phone regularly, how often will you talk? Will you talk once a month? If so, it might be helpful to choose a specific date and time to talk so that you aren’t playing phone tag. If visiting is part of your agreement, how often will visits occur? Will they occur on the child’s birthday or on a holiday? Will the birth mother’s extended family be involved? If so, to what extent?

Sometimes the birth mother may not want as much contact and communication as you do. That’s okay. It may be disappointing, but try to accept the birth mother where she is. Don’t push her to have more contact with you or her child than she is comfortable with. 

Clearly spelling out the terms of your agreement not only provides boundaries, it sets everyone’s expectations. Part of your agreement may be to revisit the terms of the agreement every so often and make changes, if needed or desired. It is natural for relationships to change over time, and your agreement should allow for changes to occur. 

Setting Boundaries

Your open adoption contact agreement will naturally provide some boundaries, but you should discuss things, such as how you will refer to the birth mother. 

If you are a birth mother, respect the adoptive parents‘ role as your child’s parents. Don’t criticize their parenting or tell them how you would have handled a situation differently. It is certainly okay for you to offer support and advice if they ask for it, but don’t overstep your bounds. 

If you are a birth mother who visits her child, refer to yourself by your first name when you visit. This will help a child learn who plays what role in his life. 

Respect the adoptive parents’ time. Try to be on time for scheduled visits. If you know you’ll be late, call and let the adoptive parents know. Decide beforehand what you will do and how long you will stay. It might be a good idea to meet in a neutral place, especially for the first few visits. Choose locations where everyone feels comfortable. The park, zoo, or a restaurant are some good choices. Before you leave, confirm when your next contact will be. This will set everyone’s expectations. 

Building Trust

Successful open adoption relationships are built on trust and good communication. Building trust takes time. 

Keep your word – follow through when you make promises, and don’t make promises you know you can’t keep. Take time to consider whether you can commit to something if you need to. Agreeing to something you aren’t comfortable with and backing out later will hinder your relationship. 

Always be honest in a birth parent-adoptive parent relationship – telling even one small lie can destroy the precious trust you’ve worked to build. Likewise, though it can be difficult and awkward to be vulnerable, don’t hide your feelings. Being honest about how you feel is important to build trust in this special relationship. 

When you make a mistake – and you will – admit it promptly. Don’t try to hide it. Apologize for the mistake, learn from it, and do better next time. 

Honest Communication is Vital

Above all, open, honest communication is essential to having a good working birth parent-adoptive parent relationship. Everyone should be honest with how they are feeling, what they need, and what they desire. It may be awkward expressing these sentiments, especially in the beginning, but open, honest communication is vital to having a healthy relationship. 

Recognize that everyone won’t agree on every decision that needs to be made. Try to find reasonable compromises whenever possible. It’s also important to recognize that any relationship has ups and downs. Try to work through issues as they arise. If you need help working through an issue, talk to your case worker or adoption agency. 

Be Flexible

Relationships change over time. Your needs as an adoptive family or the birth mother’s needs and wants may change over time. The birth mother may become busier with her career. You might relocate to another part of the country. You will inevitably get busier as your adopted child grows up. School, sports, dance class, theater, music lessons, and play dates will occupy more of your and your adopted child’s time. 

Everyone should be open and honest about their needs, wants, and availability as they change. Be open to changes in the relationship. Recognize that as the adopted child grows up, he may want more or less contact with his birth mother, and his wishes and needs should also be taken into account. 

What If the Birth Mother Withdraws?

A birth mother may withdraw for a number of reasons.

Post-Placement Adjustment: It is fairly common for a birth mother to take a step back in the first year post-placement. A birth mother may need more time to grieve than she anticipated, or receiving updates about the baby or visiting may bring up emotions she didn’t expect to feel. 

It may be helpful to stipulate that the birth mother should initiate any contact post-placement. This way, she won’t receive updates or communication before she’s ready. 

Getting More Comfortable with the Adoptive Family: A birth mother may decrease her contact or communication over time once she sees that you are loving and caring for her child. When a birth mother feels comfortable with the way the adoptive family is caring for her child, she may begin to focus on other aspects of her life, such as her education, career, or other important relationships. 

Dealing with Personal Issues: Another reason a birth mother might withdraw is because she is dealing with personal issues. If a birth mother is struggling with a mental health issue, alcohol or drug problem, or health condition, she may not want to disclose that to you. 

If a birth mother withdraws from you, try giving her a little time. That may be all she needs. If you have concerns, you may want to reach out to your case worker or adoption agency. 

How Can I Help My Adopted Child Have a Good Relationship with His Birth Mother?

As your adopted child grows older, he will develop a relationship with his birth mother. Adopted children in open adoptions tend to have fewer identity issues than those who are placed with closed adoptions. Everyone has a right to know where and from whom they. 

Maintaining contact with your adopted child’s birth mother allows the adopted child to get answers to questions you, as an adoptive parent, may not be able to answer. Your adopted child might want to know if he has any biological siblings, where his hair color comes from, or why he was placed for adoption. 

As your adopted child grows up and starts developing his own relationship with his birth mother, you may experience a host of emotions and insecurities. Know that you will always be your adopted child’s parent but that there are advantages to him having a relationship with his birth mom. Remember that, in general, allowing an adopted child to have a relationship with his birth mom is beneficial to him. 

Be Positive

It is critical that you do not talk negatively about your adopted child’s birth mother in front of him. If you are upset, frustrated, or irritated with your adopted child’s birth mother, it is okay for you to talk to your partner or a trusted family member or friend about it, but never say negative things about the birth mom in front of your adopted child. Of course, you should always address any issues you have with the birth mom directly in an assertive and compassionate way. Working through issues as they come up will help you maintain a healthy relationship with the birth mother. 

Support Your Child’s Decisions

As your adopted child grows up, he will develop his own relationship with his birth mom. When he’s young, you should take the lead, deciding what types of contact he has with his birth mom and when. However, as he grows older, you should take your child’s feelings and wants into account when it comes to the contact he has with his birth mom. Your adopted child may want more or less contact with his birth mom as time goes on. 

It is inevitable that your adopted child will have disagreements with his birth mom from time to time. You can support your adopted child by helping him learn how to navigate these disagreements. Sit down with your adopted child and his birth mother to help facilitate an open, honest, and productive conversation to resolve issues that arise. 

Seek Help if You Need It

There is absolutely no shame in seeking out help if you need it. If you are having trouble resolving any issues with the birth mother or need help resolving an issue between your adopted child and his birth mother, reach out for help. You can reach out to your case worker, adoption agency, or to an adoption-focused therapist in your area. Sometimes, it can be incredibly helpful to get a different perspective on the situation from an objective third party. 

Individual counseling may help a birth mother work through her emotions both before and after placement has occurred. An adopted child may benefit from individual or family therapy as he grows older and begins to deal with his own emotions surrounding his birth mom and placement. 

Open adoptions can be beneficial for everyone in the adoption triad – the birth mother, adoptive parents, and adoptee. By maintaining a healthy birth parent-adoptive parent relationship, you are providing your adopted child the opportunity to get to know his birth mother and learn who he is and where he came from. 

Remember that all relationships have their ups and downs and that you are maintaining a working birth parent-adoptive parent relationship in the best interest of the adopted child. Open, honest communication, building trust, setting healthy boundaries, and setting expectations will go a long way in helping you maintain a positive relationship that will benefit your adopted child.