April 09, 2007

Our Role in All This

I have been thinking some about our role as the adoptive parents in Puppy's open adoption. Giving your child a connection to his or her birth parents is often a big motivator for prospective adoptive parents considering openness. But how much power do we really have to "give" that connection? I've seen adoptive parents (including myself) put a lot of pressure on themselves to ensure that their child has the Best.Relationship.Ever. with his or her first parents. The perceived strength of that relationship morphs into an indicator of how "successful" their child's open adoption is.

On one hand, we really we have very little control over that. We could try to prevent a relationship from forming, but we can't make Puppy love K or R any more than we can force him to love us. And we can't even guarantee that K and R will remain a consistent part of his life over the long haul. Situations change and people change. If K or R ever pulled back from contact, I would certainly share my perspective on how their pulling away could hurt Puppy. But I'm not the relational puppet master of this adoption. If I put pressure on myself for Puppy to have a super close relationship with his first families, Puppy will undoubtedly pick up on it at some point. And down that road lies disaster.

On the other hand, I feel that T and I have responsibilities beyond standing back and watching Puppy's relationship with his first parents unfold on its own. I once heard a panel of teenagers share their thoughts about their open adoptions. One of the common themes among this particular group was an appreciation for the foundations their adoptive parents laid for their relationships with their first families. They were now at the point where they could pick up the phone and call their first parents on their own. But they recognized that at the beginning of the adoption a lot of effort had been put into establishing a basis for those connections. Things like organizing visits and initiating phone calls, freely sharing information about their history, and generally creating an atmosphere of openness in the family. To this group of teens, those actions had been crucial.

Some critics of open adoption say that it robs adoptees of their choice about whether or not to have a relationship with their first parents. I have trouble understanding the argument behind their position. We don't give Puppy a choice about knowing his grandparents or cousins or our friends. They are a part of our life, therefore they are a part of his. There are certainly some unique issues with first families that generally aren't there with other family members. But those issues aren't caused by first families being integrated into an adoptee's life, they are caused by the adoption itself. If anything, the integration of the first families may provide a positive context for sorting through those issues.

I suppose it is similar to how we treat other extended family relationships. T and I put the effort into having their pictures up in our house, telling Puppy about them, and visiting to provide opportunities for everyone to get to create memories together. We hope our relatives will also put in the effort to connect with Puppy, but we don't force it. Neither do we tell Puppy to feel a certain way about them. Trying to force a child to demonstrate love for someone rarely works. My guess is it more often ends up backfiring.

T and I can't force relationships between Puppy and his first parents. We can't guarantee there won't be friction or hurt between them. But we can make sure we're not hindering the relationships. We can step back at times in order to provide space in Puppy's life for them to develop. As the adoptive parents in our personal triad, we are uniquely able to lay a foundation of respect upon which Puppy and his first parents can build. The rest, I suppose, is up to them.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Heather said...

Thank you! It's definitely something I'm still thinking through.

Brandi-Your Personal Assistant said...

I'm not the relational puppet master of this adoption

Consider that stolen my friend. I am having some issues with first dad and needed just these words!

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