Maintaining contact with the birth family has become the preferred method of adopting a child. Adoption experts recommend an open communication between birth family and adoptive family to give your child the opportunity to make sense of his past; and open adoption provides additional benefits for you and the birth family, too. Here we share the basics of open adoption and how to make it work for you.
What is open adoption?
In its simplest sense, open adoption is a form of adoption that allows birth parents to know and have contact with the adoptive family and child. Depending on your state laws and the adoption agency you work with, you may hear open adoption defined differently. In fact, most everyone – even those who have placed their baby or adopted a child – will have their own definition of open adoption. This is because every open adoption plan is unique. No two adoptions are the same. At Adoption Choices of Florida, we allow you to define what “openness” will mean for you and your child.
Generally speaking, in an open adoption:
- Expectant mothers are given the option to choose a family to raise their child. They can talk with them, meet them in-person, and have them at the hospital if they wish.
- Birth parents have some level of on-going contact or relationship with the adoptive parents and the adopted child, depending on what feels comfortable for everyone.
- Children know they have been adopted and may have relationships with their birth parent(s).
- Ongoing communication takes place between the birth parents and adoptive family, whether directly or mediated through an agency. Contact may involve letters, pictures, phone calls, emails, and occasional in-person visits, whichever is most comfortable for everyone involved. (Some open adoptions involve just the exchange of letters and pictures. Some families celebrate holidays together. The level of contact is typically defined first by the birth mother and her adoption agency, then with the adoptive family).
Is open adoption better than closed adoption?
Study after study describes the practical and psychological benefits of open adoption for the adopted child. Not only will the child have access to her medical history and valuable information about any other traits she may inherit, but adoptive parents will be able to get a better sense of the reasons the child was put up for adoption.
An open adoption also lets the birth family maintain ties to the child. Birth parents feel relieved when they know the child is doing well, and this helps them to feel that they made the right decision. Being available to answer questions and to demonstrate that they wanted the child to have a better life is meaningful [for them].
What's the "right way" to do open adoption?
Spoiler alert: there is no right way. How "open" is defined can vary from annual updates sent through an adoption agency to close bonds, such as the birth and adoptive families celebrating birthdays and holidays together. What's fascinating is that we have such varying degrees of best practices around open adoption, and you have different agencies with different definitions and different ways of doing things. But really it's about keeping the door open. You can make an amazing extended family around your children, where you're in charge as the parent but you include the birth family and birth parents.
Won't an open adoption just be harder on everyone?
The bottom line is that open adoption can be complicated. But in the end, it's worth it for everyone involved. And rest easier knowing feeling fearful about open adoption is completely normal.
A successful open adoption is founded on a mutual love for the child and a focus on his or her best interests. It requires trusting, open-minded, and respectful relationships between both families. You can make open adoption work by:
- Keeping your child’s needs and best interest a top priority
- Establishing clear roles and expectations with the adoptive family in the very beginning
- Pursuing ongoing counseling to ensure your emotional stability
- Maintaining respect for everyone involved in the adoption, including yourself
- Preserving trust in your adoption relationships
- Always keeping communication open, honest, and consistent
- Staying open-minded and flexible as needs and feelings change
- Making your open adoption plan with an experienced, trusted, non-profit adoption agency who will be there for you both now and in the future
The way a fully open adoption works is through open, honest, and direct communication between an adoptive family and the birth parents. If you choose an open adoption, the birth family and the adoptive family will have identifying information about one another (phone numbers, email addresses, names, etc.). In an open adoption, it is important to remain flexible, as your needs and the needs and wishes of your child may change over time.