Open Adoption: How It Works Best
Open Adoption: How It Works Best
Let's face it. Open adoption can be hard. Who really knows how it works best? Each family is different. You have different circumstances, different strengths, and different perspectives. However, as an adoptive parent, I believe adoptive parents play a huge part in making an open adoption work. If we have already resolved our infertility or other grief issues from the past, we can offer a clear head and strong heart while the other parts go through their grieving processes.
How do we do this? To me, being an adoptive parent means being a bridge. Bridges are strong and stable even when the waters rage all around. Bridges connect people and places. They hold people up. Adoptive parents link our children with their first family. If we are strong and steady, our children will learn to depend on us as they walk through life, and we, therefore, can better support their journey.
Adoption as Trauma
At first, adoption starts as a gaping, painful hole. There are many reasons adoption is necessary. Maybe the birth mother is too young or too overwhelmed or perhaps there is abuse or neglect. Still, an adoption means that a child is no longer with the woman whom he/she has been dependent on and tuned into since conception. This sudden change, though perhaps necessary, is traumatic for babies and children--not to mention the birth mother.
You see, our bodies are wired to sense any change as dangerous. This is why, even as adults, we tend to resist change. How often have you found yourself sabotaging a good change like a diet or a career change? It happens all the time. As an infant or small child, this ability to sense change and react to it by crying, for instance, is our most important way of staying alive. A baby senses he is cold which doesn't feel good. So, he begins to cry. A mother hears the crying and responds by covering him up. He feels better.The baby soothes.
When this process happens over and over again, we begin to develop a healthy attachment. Attachment influences the quality of our relationships for the rest of our lives. Since we are social beings, relationships bring meaning and happiness. So, as babies, our minds need this sequence of sensing change, feeling distress, and being soothed in order to thrive.
When an adoption triggers a change in caretakers, the child is thrust into new smells, touches, and sounds. Even when needs are consistently met, things feel different. Warning bells start to ring in the child's head. Higher than normal levels of distress result and can cause developmental problems. Definitely some kids are more resilient than others, but all of them will have to deal with the stress of change.
How To Build The Bridge
This is where adoptive parents come in. We want our children to attach. We want our kids to thrive. How open adoption works best is when the adoptive parents can connect their kids to those things that were familiar (in whatever ways we can safely do this). While it's easy to get caught up in feeling protective, we do not protect our kids by limiting contact with first families (outside of protecting against abuse). It hurts our kids' abilities to soothe and therefore attach. In this way, it ultimately makes the adoptive relationship less secure--even towards ourselves.
Our kids need that continuity. They need to have safe, stable connection with their first family in order to find their way back to themselves. As we do this, we not only bless our children, but we honor the loss and sacrifice made by their first family. Our children are able to attach better. Our children's first families feel more secure and therefore are able to grieve in a healthier way. This usually results in a better relationship with us, also. So, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, as we honor and foster that first attachment, we strengthen the bonds between ourselves and both our kids and their first family.
Connection Takes Commitment
A truly connected adoption requires an open pathway between the child and his/her first family. Adoptive parents hold the key to this. If you are struggling with how to make your open adoption work best, consider getting some support. Adoption relationships are more complicated, but if you build them the right way, they can be beautiful.