What Makes Open Adoption Relationships Successful?

extended family group enjoying an outdoor meal

In 11 years as a birthmom in an open adoption, I’ve joined many adoption groups or met other birthmoms in person and have witnessed the different range of stories from positive to negative. I’ve observed within their stories, along with my own, what seem to be the keys to successful open adoption relationships—and what makes them full of tension. Now, open adoption can look different in every situation. Our adoption has been filled with emails, phone calls, and recently the marvels of FaceTime. Additionally, we have had sleepovers, birthday parties, and Christmas get-togethers. In short, it is very, very open. It is a beautiful thing and I truly wish everyone in an adoption could experience what we have. I write this with the hope that successful open adoptions will happen more and more.

So what makes a successful open adoption? Here’s what works for us:

Keeping the child’s best interest at heart

Above all else, we want what is best for our child. I think any loving parent would agree with that statement. Right? The fuel for making good decisions for our daughter is based on what she needs. It’s not always about what I need as a birthmom who misses her child, and I’m sure there are times her adoptive parents don’t want to share, but we want what is best for her. For us so far, we agree that means a very open adoption that looks like one giant extended family. Both sides can play important roles for the child!

Having open & honest communication

As with any relationship, communication is key. Being honest and open from the very first interaction as potential adoptive parents and birthparents and into the years down the road is needed in having a successful adoption. This includes not making promises you can’t keep, from either side. I’ve seen countless times how heartbreaking it is for an adoptee to desire more contact, or a birthmother to be promised more openness when later it becomes a closed adoption. This is where many of the angry birthmoms stem from in this new generation of open adoption. Feeling lied to seems to be a common theme in the open adoption world and this area could certainly use some positive change and accountability. In our adoption, we have had many loving, yet tough conversations over the years, and have been able to share our feelings about the situation to continue to have a good relationship and resolve the issue.

Knowing the expectations

On the same note, knowing what each party is expecting of the other is a huge help. We are humans—not mind readers. Though open adoption is typically not legally binding in regard to the openness with the birth family, we agreed and drafted a “contract” that we had notarized outlining what we expected of each other. Things like a minimum of two visits a year (birthday and Christmas) and updating each other of address or phone number changes were included to ensure we would never lose contact. Of course, as I have married and had my own family or as their family has gotten involved in other activities, things have ebbed and flowed with visits. Some years we meet the bare minimum, while others far exceeded our expectations. At the very least, we both expect those two visits. Again, this takes honest communication with each other. Setting healthy boundaries apply here as well, knowing when and how to contact each other.

Being an emotionally healthy person

Birthmothers need counseling before, during, and after placement. It is crucial for a birthmother to feel supported, heard, and to work through the decision and the grieving process afterwards. Counseling also helps see that they are more stable to be a healthy influence in their child’s life. The same could be true for adoptive parents. Emotional baggage can affect any parent, regardless of adoption, so it is a good idea to deal with those to better one’s self. Again, aiming to be a healthy person for the child and for the adoption relationship. There is a level of respect and maturity necessary for successful open adoptions. Counseling can be so beneficial in having a neutral person to talk with and develop good ways to approach a situation and move towards positive changes and healing.

Not feeling threatened by one another

I feel like this may be one of the biggest factors that I’ve observed in healthy open adoptions versus adoptions filled with bitterness. I am not threatened or upset that my daughter’s mom is her mom. I have accepted that and know that isn’t my role. Sure, it is hard at times as I miss her daily and wish I could be that role, but I do not hold any bitterness towards her. In the same respect, it seems she doesn’t hold any grudges against me for looking like our daughter or being the one to pass down a trait. We are secure in our roles knowing our daughter needs both of us. She provides her daily nurturing and caregiving, and I am here when she needs me to be the root to her biological family. It’s become a beautiful network of nature and nurture.

What works for your open adoption? Do you have any ideas to share?