July 17, 2007

Open Adoption is to Marriage as ...

Several weeks ago T and I participated in the wedding of Puppy's godfather. (My stellar contribution was tripping down the stairs as I walked off the stage. Yes, I am that awesome.) As I listened to the ceremony, I thought about the comparisons which are sometimes made between marriage and open adoption. (Any kind of life partnership could be substituted for marriage.) It's not a perfect analogy, but there are definitely some parallels between marriage and the relationship between the adults in a healthy open adoption:
  • Two (or more) families join into a new kinship unit.
  • It requires a lifelong commitment.
  • The nature of the relationship is best understood as covenental, rather than contractual.
  • The participants are interdependent. If one member pulls away from the relationship--even with just cause--it hurts everyone involved.
  • It involves intentionality and choice--you're committing not to a concept or abstract idea, but this specific person.
  • Honesty, trust, and hard work are required. That includes proactive honesty--raising issues and sharing hurts in appropriate ways.
  • A sense of mutual respect and partnership between peers are important for the health of the relationship. When those things are lacking--on either side--the relationship can't function properly.
  • If you don't want really to do it, it's best for everyone if you don't enter into it.

As with all analogies, this one eventually breaks down. Setting aside the most obvious differences (i.e. this isn't Big Love), one key difference is that open adoption should focus on the needs of the child. Decisions should be made with the interests of the adopted child placed higher than those of either set of parents. There is no parallel in marriage to this coming together solely for the sake of another. (Spouses do come together to parent, but that is not a necessary function of being married. In other words, you can be married without parenting.)

Similarly, there needs to be a unique emotional space and flexibility present for the child to have a voice as he or she matures. While it's the relationship between the parents that is usually at the forefront in the beginning of an open infant adoption, it should fade as the child's own relationships with each set of parents begin to develop. Not that the relationship between the parents should wane, but rather it should fade as the focus of the adoption.

What specifically got me thinking about the connections between marriage and open adoption was the officiant's comment about making sure your own emotional and spiritual needs are met, rather than only looking to your partner to do that. If we're always looking the other person for all our affirmation and validation, then we're not really free to think about them and serve them. As partners in marriage, we should be striving to meet one another's needs, not sitting back waiting for the other person to take care of us.

I thought about how that is so key to the health of our open adoption. I need to have confidence about my role in the adoption and in Puppy's life. If I'm always looking to K or even Puppy to validate me, then I'm less able to think about their needs or how I can serve them. Conversely, if I am confident and fulfilled within myself, then any external validation I receive is just icing on the cake. I think the same is probably true of K and R as the first parents. Our affirmation of their role is terribly important, but their confidence should ultimately come from the fact that they were and are his first parents and have important contributions to make to his life because of that. We can--and should--turn to one another for support at times. No one else knows as well as we do what is going on inside this adoption. That is one of the ways we can serve each other. But if all four of us adults come into this with self-confidence (combined with a sensitivity towards what is going on for the others), then we'll be in a good place to love unconditionally on the Pupster. And that is the whole point.

(Sorry for the disjointedness of the post--I know it needs a good edit. It was languishing unfinished in my drafts folder, but I wanted to put it up in response to the discussion over at Jenna's blog, The Chronicles of Munchkinland.)


Anonymous said...

I'm linking to it (and lifting -while crediting-) your list of similarities. Basically, it's about 1600 words, some of mine, some of yours, some of others, about the topic at hand. It will be on Friday's birth/first parent blog in the morning. I'll be gone (camping, woo!) so hopefully too much poo doesn't hit too many fans. Muahaha.

SJ said...

I really like this post :) You put the topic into words so much better than I have been able to.

Miriam said...

Such a well-written, even-handed post! I especially will think about this, "making sure your own emotional and spiritual needs are met, rather than only looking to your partner to do that".

I can imagine as an aparent (we are in the "pre" camp as of now) it would be tempting to gauge your parenting (especially early on) by how well you and the birthparents are getting on. It must become more complex, as you said, as the child's relationship with each set becomes something in which s/he has some say.

I've been told first-hand stories on both sides of that now. The "happy endings" are inspiring.

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