Making Long-Distance Open Adoption Relationships Work

With good communication and committed adults, open adoption can conquer the miles.

Melissa Giarrosso September 02, 2015
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When my husband and I opted to choose an agency that was a 12-hour drive from us, we knew we needed to consider whether or not we’d be able to keep an open adoption strong from that many miles away. Our child’s birth parents could live anywhere in Texas, which meant the drive could be 20+ hours from us, and before we jumped in, we needed to agree that we would make it a priority to keep the distance from becoming an inconvenience that caused us to ignore what we felt was best for our child. Talking together about what our priorities would be in our adoptions before the adoptions actually occurred helped us set up some realistic expectations for how we needed to move forward, what our limitations should be, and what kind of match we felt comfortable accepting.

When our son was born five years ago, we matched with a young lady who lived in south Texas, about 15 hours from our home, but she moved to California shortly after our son’s birth. She found us only days before her son’s birth, and I remember sitting in her hospital room and answering her questions about how we planned to stay connected. I was so glad my husband and I had already discussed these things, and I didn’t need to look to him for reassurance that what I was promising was something we were both committed to.

My main goal during this time was to never over-promise anything, and I ensured she knew that. The things we discussed as we tried to map out what our future relationship would look like consisted of the bare bones of what we knew we could all commit to, though we hoped to exceed all expectations as everything played out. So, in those moments, I promised her that we would come to her—wherever she was—once a year. Anything beyond that was her responsibility, and our home was open should she ever want to visit and stay with us. We also talked about Facebook and other forms of social media, how to share photos, how often we’d send updates, and how to address concerns or upset feelings, since we wouldn’t be able to sit face-to-face and work things out.

We have two very successful long-distance open adoptions, and I think two things have contributed to the satisfaction we all have in these relationships: communication and commitment.

When our daughter was born two years ago, we had very similar discussions with her birth parents before placement. We had nearly four months to get to know one another, and we all used that time wisely. We were able to work through our expectations early in our match, and when it came time for placement, my daughter’s birth mother and I sat side by side and made commitments to one another. One thing that brought her comfort was seeing how we had lived our promises in our first adoption, and though nothing is a guarantee, she could see that we were committed and had followed through.

My daughter has a huge birth family, consisting of her birth parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great grandparents. She is important to all of them, and the commitments we made to our daughter’s birth parents also extended to their family as well. We again promised an annual visit where we would come to them, offered to have them come and stay with us, and discussed things like social media, how to share photos, how often we’d send updates, and how to address concerns. We all had our expectations, and we all had our boundaries. Good communication has helped us twice with setting everyone up for success in a long-distance open adoption.

I believe we have two very successful long-distance open adoptions, and I think two things have contributed to the satisfaction we all have in these relationships: communication and commitment.

These relationships are a priority to us, and the only time these relationships begin to falter is when any adult triad member puts another priority ahead of what is best for our children, or something in life stands in the way of us being able to follow through with our commitments. Often, this is when communication saves us, and we’re able to work through whatever issues have arisen so we can all keep harmony in the relationship. With good communication and committed adults, open adoption can conquer the miles.

Here’s what a long-distance open adoption looks like for us:

  • We travel to wherever our children’s birth parents live at least once a year, though we’ve been able to over-deliver on that consistently so far.
  • Our home is open to our children’s birth families and we invite them frequently, though we’ve only had one visit from birth parents in the past 5 years.
  • We make a special trip for major life events, like graduations or weddings, if we aren’t able to coordinate them around an already-scheduled visit. We would do the same for other family members, and we want our children involved in milestone events.
  • We make the most of our visits, realizing that time is precious, and I organize an itinerary before visits so we do just that. I take into account who will be with us, what their interests are, the weather, cost, and how I can keep my children feeling secure and engaged throughout the visit.
  • No texting your grievances; it only leaves room for misinterpretation, and it’s impossible to get together over coffee and hash it out. We need to call and talk to one another so we can keep misunderstandings to a minimum. We need to respect the sanctity of our relationship enough to go the extra mile to minimize hurt feelings.
  • We are connected on social media with birth parents and family who are genuinely interested in how the child they love is doing and want to support our family and the open adoption.
  • We text photos frequently, giving peeks into our children’s everyday lives.
  • We talk on the phone about once a month, as friends, which includes talking about our children and how the open adoption is going.
  • We do little things to keep birth siblings feeling connected, which means texting or talking to them on the phone, acknowledging them on their birthdays and other holidays, and sending special videos just for them.
  • We FaceTime or Skype sometimes, or utilize things like Snapchat to keep the relationship between our kids and their birth families more dynamic.

I’d like to share what the hardest part about open adoption is for me. When I hear friends talking about how their child’s birth parent was able to meet them for lunch unexpectedly one afternoon, or how a birth parent stopped by on Christmas morning for a couple of hours to play, or see my birth mom friends attending special events like ballet recitals and baseball games, it makes me sad for all of us.

Distance has, in some ways, given us peace and the ability to readjust to our new lives, but it’s also something I sometimes wish could be different. Making that annual trip is a priority to me, but there is a lot of pressure to make the most of those visits, and I often wish there was less pressure. I wish my children could see their birth families more from the comfort of their own homes, in their own surroundings, to add to the security they feel from their own personal home base. Having these important visits out of town, from a hotel room, where we can’t abide by their schedules, makes these interactions harder on our children, and I wish it was possible to better cater to their needs.

All that said, would I trade what we have? Not in a heartbeat. We work through the issues in order to forge a relationship that will stand the test of time for our kids. Our children won’t ever be picking sides because they see that we all stand together, united for their benefit, putting forth effort, doing our best to make the miles between us feel far less substantial than they are.

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Melissa Giarrosso

Melissa Giarrosso is a Staff Storyteller at Adoption.com and a mom to two quirky kids through open adoption, all thanks to infertility and the belief that adoption is never second best. She and her family reside in a suburb of Memphis, TN where they remain faithful members of numerous open adoption communities, gently advocating the opportunities that open adoption affords all members of the adoption triad.


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