Closing an Open Adoption

What to do when an open adoption becomes strained.

Sarah M. Baker July 03, 2014
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Some people may think that closing an open adoption is okay. They may think that promising an open adoption is just a means to becoming parents and that closing it has no effect on the child. After all, closed adoptions used to be the norm, and open adoption agreements often aren’t even legally enforceable. I often hear people state that they would only close the adoption if the environment for an open adoption became unhealthy. And while I too am guilty of making this statement, I think the phrase “closing the adoption” needs to be looked at closer.

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Countless studies have proven that an open adoption is healthier than a closed adoption. That doesn’t mean that all open adoptions are equal. Open adoptions can vary and can look very different. While one open adoption may just be knowing names, cities, and medical history, other open adoptions may include pictures and letters, while wide-open adoptions include frequent visits and are more like extensions of the family.

No one is saying really which is best for the child. It really depends on the situation. But some degree of openness is good! One thing is for sure: The birth parents should not be treated as a burden or not worth being in your life. Adoptive and birth parents should come to an agreement on what level of openness they want. Let the birth parents give you a guide and go from there. This is their child they are entrusting you with. Finding the right fit is essential to a long-term relationship.

I often hear of parents saying they would close the adoption if the relationship with the birth parents became dangerous or unhealthy. I urge parents to reconsider that statement and chose wisely the boundaries they set. Using the open adoption as a punishment or reward is not a good idea. Closing an adoption pretty much means moving addresses, changing phone numbers, and ceasing contact. While there may very well be some situations that could require that, going into your own Witness Protection Program because of some unhealthy behaviors is likely not necessary.

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Some ways you can work through the tough time in the birth parents life without “closing the adoption” are:

  1. Limit visits by setting rules like visits may only be with you present, or setting guidelines for what you are comfortable with during the visit, i.e., “You may not show up to a visit late, under the influence, or with your new boyfriend/girlfriend.”
  2. Until the unhealthy behaviors are corrected or improved, they may only get pictures and emails so that the child is not exposed to the damaging behavior. Let them know that it is they who entrusted you to protect and parent their child, and for you to uphold that, you have to limit how much negative conduct they are exposed to. It will preserve the image your child has created of them.
  3. Tell them you would like to have scheduled video calls for updates, and if you deem the situation safe, then the child can also join the conversation.
  4. Offer to help them get clean, find work, get housing, etc. I am not saying you need to provide them monetary support, but loving support to their problem can go a long way.
  5. If contact is not possible for whatever reason, continue talking to your child about their birth parents. Stopping contact does not mean they are not a part of your child’s story or identity. Talking about the situation in age-appropriate language shows compassion and that you still love the people that gave them life. You may be angry with them, but it doesn’t delete them from existence. We have to set our pride aside sometimes.

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What does closing an adoption say to your child? 

  1. That you break promises.
  2. That you are hiding something from them.
  3. That you don’t value their heritage.
  4. That something about them is wrong or damaged. (They are a product of these people after all.)
  5. That they did something wrong and are being punished.

Protecting our children can come in many forms, but we have to think about what the long term effects of completely closing an adoption has–not just for the child, but for us and for the birth parents. You signed up for this, so see it through. No one ever said open adoption was always easy, but it is good.

What type of things have you had to do if that status of your open adoption needed adjusting?

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for Adoption.com and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.


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