The whole adoption world seems to be shouting the virtues of open adoption these days. Children are more secure, there are more people to love your child, extended families are enriched, and more. And yes, open adoption has many virtues! Benefits for the birth parents, the adoptee, and even the adoptive family are bounteous. So what happens when, for whatever reason, a birth parent chooses to close a previously open adoption? How do you help your child cope with the loss? Especially if your child is old enough to have had interaction and developed a relationship with the birth parent?
I adopted my son when closed adoption was the norm. Those of us who have experienced closed adoptions have learned to help our children cope with their very real feelings of rejection. Additionally, all of the unknowns play a role in our children’s lives and we have worked to manage those and help piece together the few facts we can find. For some, it is a life-long pursuit. For others, adoption and lack of information about and contact with birth families are really not issues. So it is with those who experience an open adoption only to have it closed. Without a doubt there will be rejection and wondering to deal with. For some, the feelings will be significant. For others, just a little work will create enough healing that the issue dissolves.
If your child is old enough to understand open and closed adoption, to have a relationship with the birth parent, and to realize that relationship is now “on hold,” conversation will be the key to healing. Conversations centered around the following will go a long way in helping your child understand and accept, all the while recognizing the great love that surrounds him/her.
Closing the adoption is about the birth parent, not about you.
The child must come to understand that when the birth parent chooses to remove herself from the relationship, much like divorce—it has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with the parent. Children often have a tendency to blame themselves. It may be enough for parents and siblings to surround the child with love and to let them know they are not the cause of the closed adoption. It may take some professional help.
Closing the adoption isn’t about love or lack of love.
No parent ever really stops loving their child. If possible, get a letter or something tangible from the birth parent, expressing his or her deep love for the child. Call your child’s attention to this often and remind them that they are truly loved.
This doesn’t mean your child can’t think about and love his or her birth parents.
Let your child know that talking about their birth parents is still a welcomed conversation. Thinking about them, loving them, longing for them . . . that’s all fine. Just because the birth parent isn’t actively in their lives doesn’t mean they can’t pray for them or write letters to one day give to them. From your child’s position, they can continue to give and share and love as much as they want.
Seek advice from professionals, or talk with others who have experienced a closure. There may be grief counseling needed or longer-term assistance. As long as you are attentive to your child and focus on their feelings, you will instinctively know what is needed.