MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’: What it Teaches Us About Open Adoption

The key to a success in open adoption seems to be, well, openness.

Rebecca Tillou September 18, 2015
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I admit it. I am 35 years old, and I thoroughly enjoy the MTV show Teen Mom. It is my guilty pleasure, if you will. As a member of the adoption community (an adoptee), I became enamored with Catelynn and Tyler’s adoption journey. For those who are not familiar with these MTV stars, they were a teen couple who chose open adoption for their daughter who was born when they were 16 years old. They completed the adoption through the same agency I was adopted through. I found myself feeling proud of the two teens, as if they were my own family members. It must have taken a lot of courage, unselfish hearts, and many tears to decide to place their child, Carly, with a couple who desired a child to love.

Teen Mom followed Catelynn and Tyler through Catelynn’s pregnancy, their daughter Carly’s birth, and Carly’s “Open Adoption Ceremony.” The ceremony entailed Catelynn and Tyler handing their daughter over to Brandon and Teresa, Carly’s adoptive parents. The show continued to follow this teen couple as they grew, matured, and continued through life. The show tuned in to Catelynn and Tyler’s open adoption with Brandon and Teresa, and showed clips of their first reunion.

Teen Mom outlined a few of the particulars of the adoption plan that brought these two families together. Part of the adoption plan from the start was that Brandon and Teresa would send Catelynn and Tyler photos of Carly as she grew, and they mutually decided when they would all meet so Catelynn and Tyler could have time with Carly.

Brandon and Teresa were adamant that Carly was not to be in the public eye, and this meant they did not want photos and videos of her posted on social media. Catelynn and Tyler understood Brandon and Teresa’s thoughts about the public eye, but a small piece of Catelynn and Tyler wanted to be able to post photos of Carly. Carly was, and always will be, a part of them. She will always be their biological daughter.

In one of the recent episodes, Tyler made a photo montage of Carly and posted it on social media. Brandon and Teresa saw the post and became upset. Their differing opinions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed on social media created some tense moments between the four parents. This led to an open discussion between the four of them and Dawn, the social worker who is assigned to Carly’s open adoption.

Dawn became a mediator between the two couples when they wanted to openly discuss the true feelings surrounding Carly and social media. I watched this episode, and I was impressed how this open adoption had “openness” as a recurrent theme. I realize not every open adoption is as open and amicable as Catelynn and Tyler’s. I realize not every open adoption has a social worker as involved as Dawn. But watching this episode, where hearts opened up and honest feelings poured forth, made me realize how important mediation can be in open adoptions, and how, well, openness really is the key to a successful open adoption.

As the two couples discussed their frustrations with the open adoption plan, Catelynn and Tyler realized that all four of them have similar fears about the open adoption. This discussion helped reassure each person that if they had concerns about part of the open adoption agreement, or didn’t agree with a portion of the agreement, they could comfortably sit down and openly discuss it.

This talk also required each person to place their heart on the outside, if just for a little while. For example, Brandon, Carly’s adoptive father, disclosed how he and his wife are fearful at times that as Carly gets older, she may want a relationship with Tyler and Catelynn, a closer one than she has now. These feelings must have been hard for Brandon to reveal, but his words were an exact reflection of how Tyler and Catelynn felt the day they placed Carly into Brandon and Teresa’s arms.

Being open in certain situations can be difficult, but if you keep an open mind, peace and understanding can be close behind.

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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with nofas.org and thearg.org to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.


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