Any adoption is complex. An open adoption magnifies that complexity: birth parents take on a new, different role towards the baby and his or her new parents, while adoptive parents create space in their lives not just for the baby, but also for the birth parents.
Each parent involved is adopting a new role with the others when it comes to a new open adoption. That can make the first year particularly challenging.
These tips can help you take on open adoption challenges successfully by starting off right in year one.
Take Baby Steps
While the baby may not be walking just yet, it’s your turn to take the baby steps. For birth and adoptive parents, taking the time to build a genuine relationship with each other in year one is key to the child’s well-being and a healthy on-going open adoption.
- Calendar the steps to building the relationships. Together, perhaps with the assistance of the agency staff, the birth and adoptive families can specify what types of contacts will take place at what intervals during the first year. Avoid rushing things or cramming in contacts. Taking it one step at a time ensures that there will be a next year, and a year after that to keep building relationships that meet everyone’s comfort level and, most importantly, is in the best interest of the child.
- For the birth parent, it is smart to avoid high demands. Those tend to have the opposite result than the one you seek. Instead, take slow steps to get to know the adoptive parents and any other children they may have.
- As adoptive parents, you have been given a new gift. Take time in the first year to understand how the birth parents are acclimating after the adoption. Try to walk in their shoes. Take steps over time to learn more about who they are as people and what matters in their lives.
- Build into the year one calendar two or three times for the birth parents to communicate with the adoptive parents actually caring for the baby. Birth parents want what is best for the baby, and seeing positive interactions in the baby’s new home is strong confirmation that their baby is thriving and that they made the right choice to place the child in your care. This communication can be in the form of in person visits, photos, FaceTime, or any other form that works for both families.
Trust takes time. Embrace the time it takes – it’s an investment in the future.
Share Personal and Family Histories
Fears are natural in any open adoption. Birth parents may experience fear of a total loss of contact with the baby. Adoptive parents may experience fear of burdensome demands.
The strongest antidote to these natural fears is knowledge. It is equally important for the birth and adoptive parents to generously share their personal and family histories.
- Sharing stories provides a compelling way to build trust. It also enables the adoptive parents to offer information that adopting parents need such as medical history, family history, and a better way to answer future adoption questions from the child.
- Sharing stories is a powerful tool to replace fear, and perhaps guilt, with peace of mind. Birth parents may feel that their decision to turn to adoption has been validated when they get to know the adoptive parents better. And adoptive parents are likely to let go of any fears once they get to know the birth parents better.
The papers have been signed. It’s official. Now what?
The answer is that beyond the basic fact that the adoptive parents are the legal parents and have both the role and responsibility to make decisions for the baby, every open adoption looks different.
- Birth parents have a new role in the baby’s life. While the breadth and depth of that role is fluid and will be decided by both the adoptive and birth parents, in year one birth parents need to take time to consider what they prefer that role look like: friend, distant cousin, annual visitor, or present in name only.
- Adoptive parents need to consider that they are building a family in year one and need the emotional space to engage with their new baby. Only they can know what levels and frequency of contact with birth parents will enable them, the baby’s new parents, to develop their family bonds.
Boundaries may change over time, in either direction. They often do in open adoptions.
Whatever the year one plan for contact between birth and adoptive families, either or both parties may develop life changing situations or experience a shift in emotional needs.
- If, during the first year, bonds have grown stronger amongst the parents, the adoptive family may find itself welcoming more frequent or new types of contacts.
- On the other hand, birth parents may find themselves so happy with how the baby is thriving in the new home that they start to pull back.
Recognizing that boundaries are necessary, and that boundaries may change over time, helps both families to successfully negotiate new contact agreements.
The foundation for your open adoption’s success is the relationships built among the parents during year one.
Are you just beginning the adoption journey? Whether you’re looking to adopt or to place your child in a loving home, we are here to support you through every single step. Get started today.