“That’s not fair!” How many times do you hear that phrase? I thought it when I was going through infertility treatments after losing a baby born prematurely. I uttered these words as a prospective adoptive parent going through all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops to prove we would be good parents. I have occasionally heard it from my children when they wish their open adoption arrangements were the same as their siblings’.
Here are five tips for managing feelings related to differing open adoption relationships and how to “keep it real” instead of “fair”.
Tell your children about each of their adoption stories from the time they are placed with you. Kids love hearing everything you know about their births, placements, biological relatives, etc. Tell these stories in family settings often when all your children are present, so they know each other’s stories.
They realize from an early age that each adoption story is different and unique. Each birth parent has a different personality, lifestyle, and communication agreement.
1. Emphasize that each of your children is loved by their birth families. Talk about the different ways people express love. For some, expressions of love come in the form of gifts; for others, it is shown in words or by actions. No matter how love is expressed, they are loved.
When one child receives a gift from a birth family member, keep it low-key. Don’t hide it, but don’t flaunt it. For example, have them open it privately rather than gathering the family around for a grand opening.
2. Don’t feel like you need to make it “fair” to the others by dividing the gift or by going out and buying something for the others. Learning at an early age that life is not always “fair” is an important life lesson.
Allow your children to express feelings of jealousy and talk through it. It is okay to feel that way. Feelings are natural.
3. Recognize loss. As adoptive parents, we may be tempted to think our children have been given more because of adoption. It may be hard for us to think of the loss in our children’s lives because we are giving them a home, family, and security. But loss to an adoptee is real and natural. Let your adopted children express their loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and grief without taking it personally. Be empathetic and understanding of their desire to know their biological families and histories more fully. Let them grieve the loss of relationships because, quite frankly, life isn’t fair.
4. Discuss your family situation with birth families. It’s okay to let the birth family of one child know how their gift-giving is affecting other children in the family. If it is a big problem, set some boundaries. Let them know it is all right to send gifts, but to keep it simple and only on special occasions, or suggest they send a gift the family could enjoy together, like a movie, book, game, etc.
Life isn’t fair, but it is real. Challenges help us grow and how we react to circumstances in our life shapes who we ultimately become. Don’t take this opportunity for growth and development away from your children by trying to make open adoption fair.