Common Problems In Open Adoption And How To Address Them

Like any relationship, open adoption requires work, compromise, empathy, and love.

Kenna Shumway November 22, 2016
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Like any relationship, open adoption requires work, compromise, empathy, and love. And, like any relationship, open adoption comes with its fair share of problems. When issues within open adoption arise, you can either open an honest line of communication, or you can shut down. The latter will most likely cause tension and resentment to build which, in the end, can damage the relationship to a point where not much is salvageable. It’s how we approach these problems that set the tone for a healthy or unhealthy open adoption relationship. Most importantly, addressing problems in an open and healthy manner give children a positive example for building and maintaining relationships.

One common problem I’ve seen in open adoption is deciding on names. Not names for the child, but what the birth family will be called. Honestly it can be an awkward situation, but it’s important to address and solve this issue sooner rather than later. There are so many different options and what works for one birth family may not work for the other. Some examples that I’ve heard for birth moms are, ‘tummy mommy’, Mama (birth mother’s name), ‘My (birth mother’s name), or simply calling them by their first name.

A few of these examples for birth mothers can be used for birth fathers as well. Extended family can be a bit more challenging, and truly it comes down to what makes everyone comfortable and happy. Naturally you will never be able to please everyone, but keeping an open mind and an open line of communication will make tackling this problem much easier.

Another common problem includes different social media platforms and what is appropriate for birth parents (and their extended families) to share on their personal accounts. Photo sharing is included in most open adoption relationships; and the technology available makes photo sharing effortless. It also makes it so much easier to involve the birth parent’s families.

From blogs to Instagram to Facebook, there are so many ways to update everyone. However, it can sometimes lead to problems if the adoptive parents are uncomfortable with what the birth parents are sharing and saying on their personal social media accounts. Addressing this problem and explaining why it causes anxiety or emotional discomfort is essential to keeping photo sharing a part of an open adoption. Allowing each side to express their thoughts and feelings without rash actions or harsh judgement will create a situation where a compromise can be reached.

Addressing problems in an open adoption can be achieved by using emails, online chat, or texting. These are great tools, but addressing harder problems with a voice call or in person is always better. It is so easy to take what someone is saying the wrong way. This then leads to defensiveness and if not further addressed, resentment. Physically hearing someone speak, feeling the emotion, and understanding the intent of their words is vital to successfully maintaining any relationship. This often times can be intimidating and flat out frightening, which is understandable. All the same, it’s something that needs to be utilized to address problems in open adoption.

Creating boundaries is a preemptive way to shoot problems down before they arise. This comes with a learning curve and a hefty side of trial and error. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of deal. Each open adoption is unique and what works for one family may not work for another. You have to work at it and as time goes on, you will most likely need to review and reset boundaries. Along with boundaries, there has to be flexibility from all included. Being mindful of other’s thoughts and feelings help each party work to find a compromise that is comfortable for all.

Open adoption is hard work, but if you can keep boundaries, compromise, flexibility, empathy, and love at the center, you can tackle any problem that arises.

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Kenna Shumway

Wife. Adoptive mom. Writer. Photographer. Endometriosis survivor, infertility warrior & adoption advocate. Rock star on weekends. Currently calls Ohio home with her pharmacist husband and their ginger son. Read more from her on her blog.


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