The Challenges of Explaining Open Adoption to Your Children

Each child, each experience is so different. There's going to be a learning curve.

Karla King July 27, 2018
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One of our biggest fears in entering foster adoption was pursuing open adoption. We already had an open adoption and were witnessing the beauty of having a child and birth mother in each other’s lives. When we decided to move forward with foster adoption, we were told horror story after horror story. We were advised against open adoption, and quite frankly, we were labeled naïve for our decision to pursue it.

In any experience, there’s a learning curve. We knew, going in, that the “rules” could not be the same for our first and second sons. That was just the reality. There is so much more to consider in a foster adoption. What we found is that we have a moderately open adoption.

Explaining open adoption and all its complexities to our young children has been interesting. Our children are young, but also curious. Even if it’s vague, we are very careful to use truth. Our children are currently ages six, four, and three. We like to use words that are positive and try to keep neutral expressions when we are navigating this path. My youngest two are particularly sensitive to my facial expressions.

We allowed my middle son and his biological mom to see each other this past Christmas. And while we had good intentions, we learned quickly that neither one was ready. While we were hopeful that it would be good timing, our first concern is always our son. His biological mother ended up relapsing again, and while we support her, we also need to be mindful of her mental health needs as well. It’s a process. He asks occasionally, and she asks very frequently when they can see each other again.

For my son, it’s easier. We talk to him about how his birth mom has been sick, that she’s working really hard to be healthy so she can see him again. We reiterate that our job is to keep him safe and healthy.  And that sometimes, it means that it’ll just be a little longer. He accepts this. Sometimes he expresses disappointment or sadness, but more often than not, it’s just acceptance.

For our daughter, we have recently had to rethink open adoption. We have known the challenges in this relationship since early on. There has been a lot of damage by her birth mother due to mental health issues and a cognitive delay. We have tried diligently to work through that and have very recently had to make the decision that it isn’t in the best interest of our child, and more importantly, it’s very unsafe for our daughter to have contact with her biological mother. We have slowly and carefully broached this topic. The reality is that our daughter may not truly understand for years. I hope when she’s older she will understand that it’s not what we wanted; it’s what we needed to do to keep her safe.

For us, open adoption means full disclosure. Our children will have hard questions for us and their biological parents. I want them to know that mistakes were made. We are all human. We all make mistakes. And even though their biological parents have made mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they are “bad people.” It’s important for us to model forgiveness and love. To us, open adoption is just that. We pray that our children will know that, despite the problems that come in life, they were loved, are loved, and will forever be loved. We hope that open adoption will help alleviate feelings of inadequacy and abandonment. While we are not naïve enough to think it will wipe it all away, we hope to make it manageable. Tolerable.

As with anything, we will continue to nurture and explore open adoption. We are committed to doing the best for our children even when it’s difficult. It’s not easy to watch your children love their first mother, but it’s beautiful. And it’s worth it. These children are so worth it.

Are you ready to pursue a domestic infant adoption? Click here to connect with a compassionate, experienced adoption professional who can help get you started on the journey of a lifetime.

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Karla King

Karla King is a passionate open adoption advocate, adoptive mom, foster mom, wife, reader, avid creator of food, stay-at-home mom, and Christian. She loves taking care of her family, supporting others on the adoption journey, and watching the world through her children’s eyes.


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