Open Adoption Roundtable 14

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. You don’t need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

Publish your response during the next two weeks–linking back here so we can all find one other–and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

For this round Lori of Weebles Wobblog reached back through time to a post I wrote lo these many months ago after spending an afternoon with my daughter’s first mom. In it, I wondered aloud if there was a common definition of a successful open adoption. Is it even possible to define, given the myriad factors involved? Here’s how Lori poses the question:

If there’s one thing we all might agree on, it’s that we’d like our open adoptions to be successful. But what does “success” mean to you, when speaking about open adoption? Do you think it may mean something else to the others in your triad?


So I’ve been having some real trouble with this OART; my list has been sort of short and grim. If the adoption has no casualties = success! The prompt has really gotten me thinking about the distance between success and what I most want—it is significant. I’m going to make a list of what I believe are the elements of a successful open adoption:

  • I guess the minimum required for an open adoption to be successful is a relationship in which there is contact and the child is safe and not damaged by that contact. But that’s a bit grim, isn’t it? Let me steal a life from OAFS and say that I am talking about “floors, not ceilings.” Let’s see: what are the other hallmarks of success?
  • No one in the relationship feels victimized by the adoptive relationship. I’m not saying that they can’t feel victimized by the adoption in a successful OA—but the ongoing relationship is not contributing to that feeling.
  • Similarly, those in the OA feel that others in the OA respect them and their roles. The adoptive parents are not babysitters, the birthmother was not a stunt double.
  • Promises are kept: the adoptive parents send pictures when they say they will, birth parents send gifts when they’ve said they will, and visits take place as scheduled.

It’s a pretty sad list, but I think that’s all that I require for “success”; of course, my picture of the ideal OA is pretty far from this bare bones list. But when you consider how difficult OA and the idea of OA seems to be for so many people, I think I’d like to keep my expectations reasonable.

I think it’s possible to have a success open adoption even when:

  • The adults don’t particularly like one another
  • The birthparents regret the adoption
  • The adoptive parents disapprove of the birthparents’ life choices
  • The birthparents disapprove of the adoptive parents’ parenting choices
  • The birth parents are not together or even friendly with each other
  • The adoptive parents divorce

I think fundamentally, success means an absence of antagonism. It is important to me that I see myself as on the same side as Ruth and Nora—that gets complicated when our interests are seemingly opposed. But I’ve heard from birthmothers who see the adoptive mother as the enemy, and it makes their situations sound harder than mine. If we’re not working together, we’re working against one another, and I don’t want to be trying to win Cricket away from his parents. I entered into an open adoption in part because I believe that love is not zero-sum—that I need not squabble with Cricket’s moms for this limited and precious resource.

Success, in my mind, also means putting the child first. Even if different people in the relationship have different ideas of what would be best for the child, having the kid’s wellbeing as their number-one goal helps to reinforce the idea that the birth and adoptive parents are working together. If it seems too hard to pick out a birthday present for your placed child because every time you try, you start crying, remembering that the child comes first should help you to find a way around the weepiness (online shopping is a godsend). If you hate the way your child’s birthfather tells rambling, pointless anecdotes whenever you get together, remembering that he is valuable to the kiddo can help you invite him back.

That said, I hope for more than success. I want happiness and love.

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8 thoughts on “Open Adoption Roundtable 14

  1. I really like your take on this. I think it must still be terribly hard and often frustrating, but your approach does seem designed for success!

  2. If success implies the opposite is failure then the question itself is maybe a set-up. I went into our adoption process believing that for a child not having secrets would be more comfortable than huge unknowns & also believing this: more love is more love. That’s true about every family, especially every family with complicated twists (is that basically every family?). I still think it holds up re: adoption. And that’s only part of the story, quite obviously.

    I want happiness & love for you & for all. I love that.

  3. I think this is a great list. but I especially like your last line:”That said, I hope for more than success. I want happiness and love.” That is the key to any relationship really.

  4. Susie – I’m writing mine right now, and I’m going way the other direction. Ceilings not floors. I think you’ll get they “why” when you read my post, but I just wanted to come here and say first that I REALLY like what you wrote. And I COMPLETELY understand it.

    I think it does set us up for success, which is great…I’m just in a place where that isn’t going to work for me right now.

    I just really didn’t want you to think that my response is in any way a critique of yours. 🙂

    • In some ways, I really want to see a critique of my list–if you insist that success means better than I’ve suggested, I’d be glad. Why not insist that it has to be better than this?

  5. I’m a fan of high floors. 🙂

    I really like your idea that even if conditions aren’t “just right” (i.e. your bullet list), success is still possible. And that all the child’s parents are valuable to him/her.

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