January 11, 2011

Answering Two Questions About Open Adoption

On Sunday, Jessica at O Solo Mama posed some questions for folks living out open adoption. She called them ignorant questions, but I'd just call them honest questions. Heaven knows I have similar ignorant honest questions for folks who adopted internationally, since all I know of that experience is what I've read and heard.

If I'm summarizing Jessica fairly, she sees healthy open adoptions with ongoing contact and adults intentionally working together for the sake of their shared child and thinks that's great. But she also wonders if it's realistic to think that all (domestic) adoptions can or even should be that way. Anyone who's been a part of one knows that open adoption can be hard. And certainly there are people who get into them without who aren't properly equipped or supported. Adoptive parent break promises, first parents struggle with grief, etc. So, she writes, "I question whether most people have the stomach for open adoption or if it even best for most. Perhaps it is only best for those who can."

There are seven questions; I started off with two of them in this post. To give newer readers some sense of where I'm coming from, we're in full contact with all four of the kids' first parents and some of their extended family, in relationships that currently range from healthy to challenging.

I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.

This honestly hasn't been an issue for my children (at five and almost three years of age). This is the only family structure they've ever lived in, so to them it's just how our family is. Eddie is old enough to understand that most children are raised by their birth parents (although he'd probably articulate it a different way). But we interact with lots of families for whom that's not the case, because of adoption or informal kinship foster care sort of arrangements. So in our life our family is different from the cultural norm but not unique: just one of multiple possible family structures. Eddie sometimes talks about Kelly and Ray as his other mom or dad, but it's very clear to him who's in the everyday parenting role.

We do have one first family wing who is hung up on this.  They feel pretty strongly that they are the true family and we're usurpers. They don't see how we could all co-exist in the child's affections. The kids thankfully haven't been caught up in that--it's all been between the adults--and I'm spending a lot of thinking about how to best respond as the adoptive parent. Because fully open adoption doesn't work if either the adoptive family or the birth family is denying the "realness" of the other.  But from the kids' perspective? So far having multiple sorts of parents in their lives isn't problematic or odd.

It reminds me of the day a little girl told Eddie that Mari couldn't possibly be his sister because they're not the same race. He just looked at her like she was speaking gibberish. Of course she's his sister, she's standing right there. They have that same certainty about their parents. Of course they can have two moms and two dads--after all, there we are.

Even if the adoptions were completely closed, their first parents would still exist. My children were born to one set of parents and are being raised by another. There are and will be layers to their emotions about that.  That part is adoption, not open adoption. Open adoption makes tangible what is true; it turns existence into presence. If anything, at this young age, I think knowing their first families as real people has hastened their understanding of adoption.

Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?”

I haven't. Perhaps part of that is due to the fact that, for different reasons, none of the children's first parents is in a place to raise a child any more than they were at the time of the adoptions. Some even less so. Watching them with their biological families, I'm glad that Eddie and Mari have those connections. I'm grateful they experience being with people who mirror them in so many big and small ways, even if it's not every day. I think about how those relationships might deepen and become more independent of Todd and me in the future as the kids mature. But I've never considered undoing the adoptions.

(There's another blogger I hope weighs in on this question, because her child is older and they now sort of informally share custody with his first mom. So it's not a completely off the wall idea.)

When Eddie's sister was born a few years ago and we thought that Kelly was going to raise her, I wondered if Kelly wished she could also now parent Eddie--if she was thinking, "ooops." (Even though she was saying the opposite.) But I've learned it doesn't do anyone any good for me to be second-guessing what others are feeling.

9 comments:

Waiting Lisa said...

"That part is adoption, not open adoption. Open adoption makes tangible what is true; it turns existence into presence. If anything, at this young age, I think knowing their first families as real people has hastened their understanding of adoption."

This is my favorite part of your post. It's what everyone needs to realize about open adoption.

Sigh. Reading posts like this always makes me feel bad about not having more of an open adoption. Unfortunately, it is completely out of my control.

Sonya said...

We have fully open adoptions with both of our boys. At 8.5, our oldest has begun to feel the grief of not having his bio brother and sister in his everyday life. After our Christmas visit, he seemed a little sad. It makes me question if the "in your face" info/contact that comes with open adoption is the best, but it is what it is. There's no way to protect our kids from the hurt that they will feel, it is there no matter how open an adoption is.

luna said...

I love these responses, Heather, especially the first one. I'm going to link from mine, if you don't mind.

Lavender Luz said...

I really like the part Waiting Lisa mentions. So well said.

And this, too: "Because fully open adoption doesn't work if either the adoptive family or the birth family is denying the "realness" of the other. But from the kids' perspective? So far having multiple sorts of parents in their lives isn't problematic or odd."

Adoption of Jane said...

Great responses Heather!

cynthia said...

Yes, and yes, and yes. I'm so glad you're articulating my thoughts- it really saves me a lot of time.

JC said...

THIS really touched me:

"Even if the adoptions were completely closed, their first parents would still exist. My children were born to one set of parents and are being raised by another. There are and will be layers to their emotions about that. That part is adoption, not open adoption. Open adoption makes tangible what is true; it turns existence into presence. If anything, at this young age, I think knowing their first families as real people has hastened their understanding of adoption."

You put into words exactly how I feel, but can't articulate to friends and family. Thank-you so much, you made my day!

O Solo Mama said...

"Even if the adoptions were completely closed, their first parents would still exist."

This is my reality too. Thanks for weighing in.

harriet glynn said...

I'm going to weigh on this one as part of the roundtable. I wrote a post a while back attempting to explain that all adoptees have (or had) birthparents, whether they came from an orphanage in Russia or are in closed adoptions locally.

Adoption can be heavy man but like you said that's got nothing to do with it being open!

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