What to do When One of Your Children Has an Open Adoption and the Other Does Not

This, my friends, is a tricky position to be in. And I’ve been there. When we adopted my second son, Braden, his birth mother did not want to have any contact with us or him. She thought it would be easier to place him if she didn’t see him at birth or ever again. I didn’t know what to do. At the time, we had a semi-open relationship with our first adopted son Tysen’s birth family–and they were asking for a truly open relationship, since they lived only 30 minutes away us.

Working with Braden’s birth mother provided me with a wonderful opportunity to respect someone else’s wishes while offering support and love as I felt impressed. A dear friend of mine (who has adopted six children—all from different birth families) reminded me that everyone grieves differently. Some people keep their child’s room exactly the same as the day they died, while others need to pack everything up and put it away. Neither method is right, it is simply how that individual copes. It is important for us to honor a birth family’s decision to have an open or closed relationship in adoption because this can really be about how they are coping with their grief.

I didn’t try to convince Braden’s birth mother that open adoption was “the right” way to move forward. We gave her space to make her own decisions and experience adoption in her own way. That said, we felt it was important for us to create a bridge for future communications and connection. We sent her photos and updates regularly the first year and then less frequently as years passed. Over time, she became more comfortable with us and her adoption experiences. Eventually, she began asking for photos and giving us updates on her life.

Now, even though we were able to move towards a more open relationship with Braden’s birth family, it still did not compare to the open relationship Tysen’s birth family had with us. I wrestled and wrestled with how to create balance for both of my adopted children, particularly when my kids were little, because toddlers work in a land of equal portions and “fairness.” I began to fear the day one of my children would say, “Why don’t I get presents from my birth mom on my birthday?” or “Why can’t I see my birth mom?” or “Why doesn’t my birth mom love me?”

Well, it happened. One day my son said to me, “Why don’t I ever get a presents from my birth mother on my birthday?” He wasn’t angry. He was curious (and perhaps a little jealous) and wanted to know why his brother got presents from his birth mom on his birthday. In the end, this moment I had feared for years wasn’t as traumatic as I thought it would be.

We answered Braden’s question with honest love. We told him first and foremost his birth mother loves him very much. And we reminded him how she now has a husband and two other children to take care of and that she asked us to love and take of him for her. I asked him if he wanted me to contact her and he did. I asked her if she would be willing to send a special gift on his next birthday and she graciously accepted that opportunity. He was thrilled!

I learned a few things from this experience. First, I need to help my children feel loved by me (and dad and siblings) and also by other people in their worlds. Second, I need to allow my children to ask for extra love when they need it. Third, I need to allow others to offer love (“show up”) how and when they can.

I wish I hadn’t feared the inequality so much. I really had a hard time watching my children not have the same relationships with their birth families. But the truth is, my kids have different relationships with lots of people in their lives. One may to connect to a teacher more. One may have more friends. We see one grandmother every week and our other grandmother only a couple times a year because she lives out of state. No relationship will mirror another exactly, and they aren’t meant to.

Now I see how not only do my children need different relationships, but so do their birth families. I can also see how the toddler who screams and whines about fairness eventually receives gifts from life, God, and those he loves that are perfectly tailored to him individually at the exact moment in his life that he needs it. It reflects God’s hands in the details of our lives.

If I had one last piece of advice to offer my younger adoptive mom self, it would be to have hope. The truth is all relationships have the potential for change. We can all practice trusting that things are OK as they are, and at the same time, leave room for growth and change. Love what is and might be.

“Life brings me only good experiences.  I am open to new and wonderful changes.” – Louise Hay