open adoption roundtable: on openness

The most recent prompt by Heather at the Open Adoption Roundtable asks open adoption bloggers whether they agree with some common critiques about openness in adoption. The views cited share one thing in common, “a certain point-of-view: that direct contact during early childhood between birth families and children placed for adoption may not be the best idea” and that adoptees, not their parents, should be able to decide if and when to initiate contact on their own timetable.

As a new adoptive mother in a fully open adoption, I obviously disagree with this view for many of the reasons discussed by other roundtable participants. (Go read the critiques and their responses.) I’m not going to reply to each point specifically, but rather discuss generally why I think early direct contact is important. Of course there is no one right way; each adoption will be different.

Adoption is, or should be, about the child. With truly child-centered adoption, we must consider what is right and best for the child — not what is right or best for the adoptive parents, or even the birth parents. Absolutely the decision whether to place a child rests solely with the expectant parents. But I think that once the parent decides to place the child, that child has a right to know and to access their family of origin.

In some states, closed adoption is still the norm. I realize that some birth parents have an expectation of privacy that conflicts with openness. Although I can appreciate this concern, it is my opinion that the child has a fundamental right to know. While open adoption is not for everyone (and a fully open adoption even more so), I think the ultimate goal should be ensuring the child’s access to birth family. Contact should be worked out on a case by case basis appropriate to the circumstances. Because the child is not yet in a position to determine what is right for him/her, it’s the responsibility of the parents — all of them — to ensure that access remains open until the child is mature enough to decide for him/herself what level of contact may be appropriate.

Too often I think adoptive parents reject openness because of their own fears and insecurities. They agree to minimal contact out of obligation to the birth parents, rather than from a desire to share the exciting developments of the child, or a need to remain connected for the sake of the child. They may even be relieved when a birth parent doesn’t want a lot of contact. But they don’t realize how beneficial the contact can be for everyone. Sure it may (will) sometimes be difficult (for the parents and even the child). Yet many aspects of parenting are challenging. Adoptive parenting includes a whole other set of issues that we signed on for. We didn’t adopt our child from nowhere. She came from an existing family with a unique history and ongoing story, a genetic predisposition and physical traits that she inherited from her family of origin. As her parents, we have no right to deprive her of experiencing that connection. To the contrary, we have an obligation to embrace it.

Our adoption agency downplayed the potential for a fully open adoption, catering instead to prospective adoptive parents who were concerned about (read: fearful of) openness. Even their best social workers repeatedly assured prospective families that just having information about birth family is beneficial for the child. And while I can’t disagree — especially having known adoptees from closed adoptions who craved that information with a primal urgency — I really don’t think that is enough.

I don’t believe it is enough for our daughter to simply know about her birth family. I believe she has a right to have them in her life in whatever way she can. It’s our job to provide that access. We are not only the caretakers of her story until she is ready to carry it herself, but we are also the bridge to her birth family. We have to build that bridge — lay the foundation and maintain its integrity by establishing honest and open relationships, respecting her story and the people in it, providing information and doing our best to ensure access. We have to be that bridge, for now. Some day, she can decide for herself how and when she wishes to cross it.

To those who say that contact would be confusing for the child, I fail to see how spending time among family would be any more confusing than trying to understand later why your parents never made that option available, if it was possible. Moreover, kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They take things at face value. They deserve our honesty and our guidance to help them work through the complexities that come with being adopted.

Adoption is complicated; the relationships are complex and dynamic. As members of the triad I think we all have an obligation to our children first and foremost. As parents, you are always making decisions about what is best for your child — from what they eat to who they spend time with. Yet at some point those decisions become their own. It’s our job to help guide them to one day make good decisions for themselves. Until then, that responsibility lies with us.

~ by luna on November 5, 2009.

6 Responses to “open adoption roundtable: on openness”

  1. Love the Bridge reference.

  2. I am the choir. You are the preacher 🙂

    “They agree to minimal contact out of obligation to the birth parents, rather than from a desire to share the exciting developments of the child, or a need to remain connected for the sake of the child.”

    I think this, too, and it makes me sad. For everyone. There is the potential for richness they are missing.

  3. Great post!!

  4. Dear Luna, I have an award for you on my blog. Don’t feel obligated to pass it along — just wanted you to know you are so very much appreciated & I am thinking of you! (((hugs)))

  5. […] (adoptive mom) at Life From Here: “To those who say that contact would be confusing for the child, I fail to see how spending […]

  6. […] with K, Baby J’s birth mom, without the same on the other side. Given our views about openness, it has also seemed strange to have somewhat of a double standard when it comes to our […]

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