July 25, 2008

Q&A: Can an Adoption Be Too Open?

Sonya & Scott (whose boys are cute as buttons) ask, "Our agency group has been having the ongoing discussion about how much is too much in open adoption. Both of our adoptions are very open. We visit at each other's houses, our youngest has even been babysat (he's 20 months now) at our house by b-mom and her mom. Our oldest (now 6) was taken fishing by his b-mom and husband (not BF) about 6 months ago. Trust is a big issue--our motto is "let go, and let God". What do you think??"

I don't think there is such a thing as an adoption being too open, if it's working for all of you.

Of course, I'm coming at this as a proponent of integrated adoption: the idea that we should weave the relationships with our kids' first families into our regular lives, rather than segregate them into a special adoption category. Here I'm also influenced by the likes of Jim Gritter, who argues that adoption without ongoing, direct (Gritter would say face-to-face) contact isn't really open adoption. Once you've accepted in-person contact as the standard, then why not fishing trips? Why not babysitting?

Now, not every open adoption will look like those in Sonya and Scott's family, and not every open adoption should look like theirs. My friend sees her mom almost every day; they often drop by one another's houses unannounced. My mom and I would go crazy if we did that--it wouldn't fit our personalities. It doesn't mean my friend's relationship with her mom is better than mine. It's just different, because we're different people. This is why I think it's so important pre-placement to talk not just about numbers of visits and letters, but the less concrete stuff. How does your family communicate? How do you spend time together? How do you stay connected to the people you care about? What makes you feel like someone cares about you?

Ideally, openness will develop organically in an adoption and meet the needs of all parties. Which means sometimes we'll need to take a deep breath and try something outside our comfort zone--that necessary trust that Sonya mentioned. Other times we'll sit on our hands out of respect for someone else's boundaries. I'd love for Puppy to meet more of his first dad's extended family, but that's not something they're comfortable with yet. And sometimes we'll be the ones setting the boundaries. There is a short list of people I'd ask to babysit my kids, and not all of their first parents are on it right now.

It's all about figuring out what's healthiest for the people actually involved in a specific adoption. So no one can lay down a general rule for how much openness is appropriate. In my mind, there is nothing inherently "too open" about how the adoptions in Sonya and Scott's family have developed. In fact, I think it's pretty cool.


Mama Bear said...

great topic! very thought provoking- since I ma in such an open adoption I love hearing other stories!

luna said...

I like the term integrated and what it means. it's true, "open" is so broad and vague, and often misunderstood for so many reasons. I like the recognition that it can be different for everyone.

I'd like to hear more about how your own families have embraced your integration. have you written much about this?

I also just ordered the gritter book.

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Sonya said...

Thanks so much for your perspective. I like the idea of birth family integration into our everyday lives. Unfortunately, our attempts haven't really been successful. Our family members don't really seem to warm to the b-moms at birthday parties and such, I think they feel awkward and don't know what to say. At church, everyone seems to be watching and really confused by the relationships they are witnessing. Anyway, we decided it's easier for us not to involve others, for it just to be the four of us when there is any b-family contact. :o(

Heather said...

@luna--Did you order The Spirit of Open Adoption? I feel obligated to warn you that the content is solid but it's seriously one of the most poorly edited books I've ever read. It's a bear to get through. Which is too bad, because I think it turns a lot of people off from reading it.

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