Open Adoption Roundtable #43: Talking With Family Members About Open Adoption

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. We’re up to Open Adoption Roundtable #43. 

How did you talk to your extended family about open adoption prior to adopting/placing? How did they respond? For those with non-receptive family members, were you able to have more successful discussions with them post-adoption?

I’m not sure we ever talked to our families specifically about open adoption. When we were adopting, we created a web site, and one of the pages included some Q&A. One of the questions was, “Are you going to tell him he’s adopted?”. Our answer was something like, “Because he will be of a different race than we are, it will be obvious that he is adopted. However, yes, we are going to tell him, from day one. We will also have an open adoption, meaning that we will have continuing contact with his birthmother.” That was the extent of our “discussion.”

My mom did not like us talking about Jackson’s birthmother. She didn’t think I should be sending her pictures. Max’s mother is more receptive, though still not totally comfortable, I think. My grandmother doesn’t really seem to fully understand the existence of my children’s birth parents, so I don’t talk about them much around her. My extended family will ask about them, with a sort of fascinated curiosity. At my grandmother’s 90th birthday last year, one of my aunts was asking about Cassie’s birth parents, then she suddenly became very disturbed about the existence of my blog, and told me that I should shut the whole thing down. In her defense, she had had a lot of wine at the time.

We put some pictures of Jackson’s birth family in our adoption profile scrapbook when we were on the road to adopt Cassie. We included that we wanted an open adoption, which to us meant letters and pictures, as well as possible visits. When we talked to Laine, she asked if the adoption would have to close after one year, to which I said, “no!”. I guess that’s how they did it on Teen Mom or something.

Basically, my approach to open adoption and the rest of my family is this: If they have any questions, they are free to ask. Everyone has access to this blog, and I know a few of my family members read it. I’m open about the fact that we have open adoptions, but it’s not something that we make a point of discussing. I do want them to know that we feel that open adoption is important and in the best interest of our children. In fact, I may put that in our holiday newsletter this year.

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11 thoughts on “Open Adoption Roundtable #43: Talking With Family Members About Open Adoption

  1. I have heard the one year thing a few times as well which is just strange to me. My opinion is open adoption is more about the children and one year of openness…. Well the child would never remember. There was another mom in the Nicu who shared w me she placed her son and got letters and pictures for one year. She was shocked that I would want to visit D. I felt bad because I think this other mother thought that the one year thing was how it worked- was she miss informed on purpose? Another family in our neighborhood adopted a boy from FL. When I shared we agreed to letters and Pics 4x year plus a visit their response was – “that’s alot! that for the first year right? Then you go to annual letters?” Neither of these people used our agency and I actually wonder if the couple in our neighborhood chose out of state as our agency is the only one in the area and they mandate at least semi open. Sometimes I wonder where adoption myths start but this one is more common then I thought.

    • I was commenting on a post by Danielle at Another Version of Mother, and she mentioned that the adoptive parents on the Internet form a bubble. Most of us are pretty much for open adoption. She thinks that off the Internet, more adoptive parents are, at best, ambivalent, or that they don’t understand it. I’m wondering if she’s right. It also seems to be that a lot of agencies sell openness to expectant/birth parents, but tell adoptive parents that they can do whatever they want.

      • I do agree that the Internet circle I follow makes me forget those that are not supportive of openness. It seems like when I meet “real life” adoptive parents I’ve been disappointed.

  2. that’s sad that they aren’t more supportive of you in your relationships with their birth families, and i don’t really see why they find your blog so upsetting. hopefully as time goes on they will gain a better understanding.

    • Well, my grandma actually grew up in foster care. She thinks it’s great that we adopted our kids. She’s just from a completely different era. That is one thing I’ll say for my family – they’re all pretty supportive of adoption in general, even if they maybe don’t get the “open” part. None of them (except that one aunt, who said something that once) has ever said they’re not supportive of open adoption, it just doesn’t impact them. To me, what matters most is that my kids (when they’re older) and their birth parents support open adoption.

  3. I think there must be a generational thing going on. My parents were none too thrilled with our contact with Ms J. They “understand” why, but I don’t think they really “get” it. It’s sad.

    I know when we signed our “Communication Agreement”, we only had to send 4 updates the first year, and then yearly after that. I was shocked, and immediately told Ms J’s attorney that we wanted to do more if she wanted. Thankfully, she did. I couldn’t bear to just send one update a year!!

    BTW, thanks for your recent comment!

    • I remember reading something about a person who could only send a specific number of pictures per year. This month, I’m ordering about 170 photos just for the three birth parents and one birth-grandparent. I can’t imagine being constrained.

  4. I think most people don’t get adoptions in general so it doesn’t surprise me when they are shocked to hear we have a semi-open adoption (through foster care). My mom is finally getting used to the idea but when she tells her friends they are very surprised. My mom doesn’t totally get it but like you said, it’s not about her, it’s about my daughter.

    When we first started down this path, we were very much for closed adoptions. We talked to a particular open adoption advocate and it totally changed our mind. While we are willing to have more contact, right now isn’t the right time for our family in our particular situation.

    • I’m so glad that you were able to see another point of view. I’ve recently run into some people who are adamant that their way is the right way, no ifs, ands, or buts. And, while I am a proponent of open adoption, I understand that there are levels, and that openness may ebb and flow throughout the years. Everyone’s situation is different.

  5. I think it’s amazing and wonderful that you decided to go with open adoptions. That way, your kids never have to wonder about that “secret family” and they never have to think you were trying to hide anything. A friend of mine is actually going through a terrible time with this right now: She couldn’t handle more children and adopted out (I’m not sure of the proper term) her twins. It was supposed to be open, but at 1 year the family cut all ties to her. When she tried to call, they changed their number. They moved and gave her no forwarding address. When she finally found someone who knew where they were and tried to get in contact, they took out a restraining order against her!

    • I don’t think I knew about your friend. I hate adoptive parents like that! Hate!
      Oh, and the positive adoption language would be “placed for adoption.” Most birthmothers I read like that term the best.

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