Open adoption has a plethora of situations and issues that can be hard to navigate. The adoption of my son was unusual in the sense that he was 14 months old and his birth parents were married at the time of placement. However, though married, they were separated and had quite a tumultuous relationship. This meant that from day one my husband and I needed a game plan for us to include both Harley’s birth mother and birth father—even though they didn’t get along.

It was important for us to know both his birth mother and his birth father’s interpretation of their relationship with each other. It has been incredibly helpful to know about their history, although I will be honest, it was hard not to make assumptions and take sides. This is really a time to open your heart and accept that while you don’t understand their pain, you can love them and support them regardless of their past.

There was a lot of back and forth, together or not together, the year after Harley was placed with us. When the times were good, they were GOOD, but when they were bad, they were BAD. Ultimately, Harley’s birth parents divorced and we truly feel like that was a wise decision on both their parts. Even though they divorced, my husband and I try very hard to include them equally in Harley’s life.

Here are a few tips from my experience:

One of the most imperative things when navigating this particular issue in an open adoption is to NEVER—and I mean EVER—in the presence of your child, speak negatively about his/her birth mother or birth father. Even if your child is very young, it doesn’t matter.  Children are very perceptive and will be able to sense any unfavorable feelings you have towards either birth parent.

While it is important to know their history with each other, don’t involve yourself in their relationship. You can listen and be supportive, but it is not wise to play psychologist to either birth parent. Let them manage their relationship with each other. You don’t need that stress. Included with this is not taking sides. We had a very hard time not doing this. But remember: everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has dark pieces to their past. It helped us to remember that regardless of all that, both these individuals made the joint decision to place their child with us.

Do your best to include each parent equally.Giving equal time to both birth parents can be tough. If your birth child’s birth mother or birth father feels as if the other is included more, it can cause resentment. This can in return cause relationships to deteriorate and trust in one another dissipate.

Lastly, always be transparent and truthful. Assumptions cause animosity. Always say what you mean and mean what you say. And work hard to understand clearly what’s going on with each birth parent. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.

Having an open adoption is a beautiful thing. It needs to be tended to, nurtured, and loved. I hope these tips help you navigate what can sometimes be a sticky place in an open adoption.

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