Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

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 listed at Open Adoption Bloggers 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. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.

Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

What a strange and appropriate time for me to get this prompt; Mr. Book and I are in the middle of a long conversation about whether to tell Ruth and Nora that we may need to officially switch to a semi-open adoption (I say officially because Mr. Book contends that we are already in a semi-open adoption). I’ve also been working on a message to them about this, which is a much-gussied-up version of: You break promises to us over and over again. That sucks, but we can deal with it. But once Kit is old enough to notice (being as Joey doesn’t care at all), if you’re still not doing what you say you will, we’re done. Send us pictures if you feel like following through on that part of the agreement at some point, and we’d appreciate an email once or twice a year about how Cricket’s doing; we will send him birthday and Christmas gifts, and will make sure that you have our contact information. But that’s it. I will stop writing to him, we will stop badgering you to Skype, don’t visit us, don’t contact our children, and don’t help Cricket contact us.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever send that message. If I did, we would still talk to Joey and Kit about Cricket—we’d say that his parents aren’t able to make a relationship work right now, but that we can try to get to know him when he’s grown up. Or something like that. Even if we do decide to pull back, there’s probably no need for an announcement: If I stop nagging, I am confident that contact will dry up entirely. The other night, I got a text message from Ruth containing a question from Cricket, and I was just angry—contact only happens when it is useful and convenient for them. Please, interject yourself into my evening and then vanish again for months. No, really, feel free. (I answered the question and was friendly.) I could run down a list of broken promises from them, but really, what is the point? They cover all the bases, from visits to contact to photos to Skype.

The most likely outcome, I think, is that I will send a message that—if there is an assertiveness scale from 1–10, and if the last message was a 2—is more like a 4 or 5. Here are things you have promised to do and failed to do, here are my concerns, I can imagine that in a year or two we may end up mostly cutting contact with you because of this and because of Kit and Joey.

How did we get to this point? Well, I don’t think Ruth and Nora think that we have a failing open adoption, so this is just to note that they would give a hugely different answer from mine and ours. But I would say that when we all agreed that we wanted to be like family, it would have helped to know that Ruth has cut off most of her family; since the adoption happened, she has also ended her marriage, and her best friend has ended the friendship. She doesn’t seem able to sustain relationships, and ours has lasted this long only because we want so desperately to have a connection to her son—but as that feels less and less likely, we too are thinking about walking away. I still believe that Nora never wanted an open adoption, and sometimes wonder whether she ever wanted to be a parent.

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10 thoughts on “Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

  1. You’ve done so much and tried so hard. I think Cricket will someday see that you’ve been there all along.

    • Part of the reason that the text made me angry is that I am in the middle of working out whether to mostly cut off contact, and I get a text that says “Cricket wants to know whether Joey still likes Blue’s Clues.” And I feel like the worst person alive. Cricket has done nothing to deserve the hard things that just keep happening to him, and it is basically all my fault. Guilt leads to anger pretty easily with me.

      • I know how painful guilt feels, especially over something we can never change. I get angry too and feel so much remorse. And when the people I love are hurting or struggling, it makes my feelings of guilt/anger/regret worse. While our situations are different, you’re definitely not alone in these feelings.

        My MIL uses the phrase “everything was working against us [that night].” To an extent it feels true here. R&N portrayed their relationship and desire for openness in an inaccurate light. The agency acted unethically too, as I recall. They didn’t provide counseling, if I remember right. They just capitalized on your desire to give Cricket a wonderful life and your feeling that you maybe did not deserve to parent (because the pregnancy came unexpectedly and it seemed you and Mr. Book were on different pages).

        You had no way of knowing that R&N would renege on their promises or split up or approach contact in such a one-sided, self-focused way. On a positive note, it sounds like they truly love Cricket. None of this makes it easier to live through the hard things happening to him, I’m sure. But I just needed to say that this is not your fault.

  2. It makes me so sad and really confusedto read about this! I am an adoptivemom whohas an open adoptionand we have allworked really hard at this. I’m so sorry for your situation. I can’t imagine not responding to my daughter’s Birthmotherwhen she calls or emails. She and her new boyfriend spent 3 days with us this fall and now they are getting married. They asked our daughter to be the flower girl in their wedding and we are all so excited. I have always realized that the best thing for my daughter is to have a good relationship with her Birthmother and family, but we have also been so blessed to have her in our lives. I wish i could tell every potential adoptive parent that the joys of opennessand the gifts of openness are so much greater than any problems that.might arise. We have worked through any issues and we have all benefited from this wonderful relationship.

  3. {{{{{{{{{{SusieBook}}}}}}}}}} You are in such a difficult situation. When I was writing my book, I was writing for people like R&N. I just wish they would see. See from Cricket’s viewpoint. Would that, could that change their ability to connect with you? Maybe, maybe not. As you say, R seems not to be a relationship person.

    (May I ask what drew you to them in the first place? Maybe you’ve covered this here and I’ve forgotten.)

    And while it would be so hard to declare yours a semi-open adoption, it would be an assertive step in setting your very reasonable boundaries about what is and isn’t OK for your family.

    Abiding with you as you chart your course. XOXO

    • It means a lot to me to have your blessing—I seriously considered trying to anonymously send Ruth and Nora a copy of your book, but worried that that would backfire badly.

      Let me write separately about how I chose them? It will take awhile.

  4. I hesitated to respond here, as I felt it was a bit cheeky of me to offer my opinion when you don’t know me. However, I discovered your blog about a month ago and have been moved and impressed by so much that you’ve written. It sounds as if the unfulfilled promises for openness have been so hurtful, and I can see Lori Lavender Luz’s point about the value of setting boundaries for your family.

    In the next two or three years, though, I wonder if you would start to see contact being initiated more and more by Cricket. (My 9 year old has an email account (supervised) and sends off messages to friends and family on her own initiative.) Right now, Cricket’s very young and doesn’t have much autonomy. It’s easy to squash a three or four year old’s requests to talk to someone. It’s much harder to do so with a seven or eight year old, and gets harder (eventually impossible) as they grow. You may be closer than you realise to being able to have more direct contact with Cricket.

    Soon, he will be able to read cards and letters you write to him. Perhaps, instead of being opened by Ruth and read to him, they will be saved for him to open and read when he comes home from school. They may even encourage him to write back – you never know. And if things are kept completely open, Ruth and Nora may be more likely to indulge a request from him to “Skype with Mama Susie tonight”, Ruth obviously feels comfortable right now texting you with a question to keep Cricket happy, even if she is not particularly concerned about keeping you happy. I have the impression, from what you’ve written, that she’s fairly oblivious to the fact that you are unhappy about it – or perhaps she’s aware and just doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

    But. If you lay down any lines in the sand, however delicately articulated, however tactful (you seem as if you are extremely discreet and careful in your language), any references to the broken promises and disappointment will be taken as criticisms. And doing so at this point may well result in Ruth and Nora limiting Cricket’s contact with you at precisely the time when he may just be starting to reach out. If Ruth isn’t speaking much to her own family, she is likely capable of hanging onto her bitterness tenaciously. If she feels criticised by you, she may be less likely to encourage Cricket’s interest in making contact with you in future. You don’t have much power in this relationship with Ruth, and I realise that really, really stinks. Cricket, ultimately, will have much more power with Ruth than you. He doesn’t yet, but things are going to change, in subtle but significant ways, in the coming years. And if Ruth feels … well, safe, and … unthreatened … by you and Mr. Book, I can imagine that she would be less inclined to get in between you and Cricket .

    Again, please excuse the audacity of this coming from a stranger. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve read so much of your blog, and I feel like I know you a little, even if you don’t know me.

  5. Just wanted to say thanks for your bravery on the journey you’re on, and for your bravery in sharing this here. I sometimes have the opportunity to train prospective foster/adoptive parents; what you’ve shared in this post captures something I really want them to know — your commitments are important; your failure to keep openness hurts everyone.

  6. oh this is just too sad.

    I also wish they would read lori’s book. maybe it would help them try to see it from cricket’s perspective to just open their hearts to this kid and what he needs, now and later. and I agree with addison that I wish every adoptive parent respected their commitments.

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