Parents are all too familiar with the phenomena called Mommy Wars. I was watching a Disney movie called Zapped with my older son the other day, and the main character accused her boy crush of pretending to be competitive with other boys in order to be friends with them. He turned the tables on her and said that girls pretend to be friends in order to be competitive. How many of us are guilty of that? We have the choices between organic or regular, formula or breast milk, stay-at-home or working mom, public or private school, and the list goes on and on. Every day people compete with one another in so many areas of life. Parenting is no exception. How far can we take it?
In the adoption community, just like anywhere else, people are often in competition. Parents may try to one-up each other, but add adoption into the mix, and it’s just one more way for parents to compete with one another. But how much is too much? We strive to have healthy open adoptions. Adoptive parents often are looking to one another for help and guidance in navigating open adoption. When these conversations ensue, it is common to find adoptive parents starting to the judge themselves, or worse, each other, on what adoption should look like. These parents begin asking themselves, “Is my adoption not open enough? Should it be less or more open? How can I make my adoption the most open adoption around? Why is she all buddy-buddy with her child’s birth mother and I can’t get mine to return a phone call?” The fact is open adoption is not one size fits all. No two open adoptions look the same.
Why do we do that? Why do we compete with one another? We want to do everything that is absolutely best for our children. We’ve all heard the old “mama bear” adage. We take things to heart, get offended easily, and are ready to strike whenever we feel our cubs or our parenting is being threatened or criticized.
When our children come to us through adoption, it’s only natural for us to try to educate ourselves in areas that we were not already knowledgeable. In training to become adoptive parents, we learn that open adoption is not only healthy but the more common and encouraged practice for adoption relationships. When we learn that something is healthier than the previous counterpart, as open adoption is to closed adoption, we naturally gravitate toward the new findings. But just because open adoption is healthier does not mean that the more open it is, the healthier it is. Open adoption can be a very beautiful relationship, but open adoption is also not always possible. Members of the adoption triad all have to work together to make an open adoption possible.
Going into an adoption placement, you may have envisioned a certain way your open adoption would look. That doesn’t mean that over time the openness will not change, grow, lessen, or just evolve. It is our job as adoptive parents to ensure our child’s best interests are being met. While I do not encourage closing an open adoption, I do encourage parents to listen to the needs of their child. We do not have to have the most open adoption out there. What we do need to do is keep our promises and make our open adoption work for everyone that is in the relationship.
We should support one another as adoptive parents. We should not ever make any other adoptive parent feel guilty for the level of open adoption that is in their relationship. We don’t know the whole story. We should not fake our way through a relationship in order to keep up appearances. What we should do is keep our child’s best interest at heart. If that means an open adoption with regular visits and contact, that is amazing! But what happens when the child needs less? What happens when the child needs more? Does the appearance we display to other adoptive families really matter? Is hurting our child for the sake of “saving face” worth it?
So next time you are in that chat room or adoption group and you see a mom bragging about her open adoption, know that she is insecure, too. When you see someone quietly wishing her adoption could be more open, know that she is envious of what you may be overwhelmed by. Come together and support each other. If there are obstacles, offer words of encouragement and advice on how to navigate the relationship. Educate without lecturing. Support without judgment. We are in this together, so let’s leave the Mommy Wars for other areas. In adoption, we need support!