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Ask the Open Adoption Expert: Helping Family Understand

by Kathleen Silber

Q:"Our parents don't understand why we want the birth family to remain in our lives. How can we help them get on board?"

A: It's not surprising that your family members are anxious about the idea of an open adoption. After all, your parents are from a different generation, when closed adoption and secrecy were the norm. In the past, birthmothers were typically viewed negatively, for being pregnant out of wedlock, and for "giving away" or "abandoning" their children. As for the children, it wasn't common for them to be told they were adopted, let alone for them to have birthparents involved in their lives.

Your parents may also view the birthmother as a threat--someone who could change her mind and take away the baby, leaving you in pain. So some of their worries stem from a desire to "protect" you. They have witnessed your struggles with infertility, and they don't want you to experience any more disappointments.

In reality, a birthmother is much less likely to change her mind and reclaim a child if she has the peace of mind inherent in open adoption. In your case, the birthparents selected you, and, because you'll have an ongoing relationship, they'll know firsthand that their child will have a good life.

Begin by educating

To move past their stereotypes and fears, your parents will have to learn more about open adoption. You probably went through an educational process yourself, before making the decision to adopt. In my experience, it's an evolutionary journey. The more you learn about open adoption--especially about its benefits to your child--the more comfortable you become with it. Your parents have not had this opportunity to evolve in their thinking.

First, think about what convinced you that an open adoption was right for you. Was there a particular book that helped dispel any myths you held? If so, lend it to your families. Did an informational session hosted by an adoption agency or support group help you make up your mind? Many adoptive parents have told me that their relatives benefited from attending birthmother panel discussions. Listening to these women talk about the love that went into their adoption decisions, as well as the importance of an open relationship, can open a doubter's eyes.

The shift in thinking

As your family members learn more about your open adoption, they will see that the birthmother is not a threat. Much of their current anxiety is rooted in a fear of the unknown. They imagine the birthmother as a mysterious figure, lurking in the shadows, ready to grab your kid and run. Assure them that this is much more likely to happen in a soap opera than in real life!

You can do a lot to help your parents move past such fears if you have already been matched with a birthmother. Share photographs, letters, and information, so that she becomes a real person to them. Even better would be for your relatives to meet her themselves.

One couple I know, Bob and Lauren, took a dramatic step—they invited the birthmother, Jane, to the shower for their new baby girl. Both sets of their parents were skeptical about open adoption, and reacted negatively to this news: "Are you sure that's a good idea?!" However, as soon as they met Jane, their fears and negativity disappeared. They saw that Jane was a real person, and clearly not a threat.

By the party's end, both sets of grandparents-to-be were offering to pass along furniture for Jane's new apartment--they wanted to do something in return for the amazing gift she had given their family. Bob and Lauren were surprised by their parents' sudden turnarounds. In my experience, however, such changes of heart are common, once you remove fears, stereotypes, and unknowns--and replace them with a loving reality.

Kathleen Silber is associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and coauthor of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (Corona).


NORMALIZING OPEN ADOPTION

On adoptivefamiliescircle.com, a mom recently wrote: "After posting a photo of my daughter, her birthmom, and me on Facebook, several people said things like 'Oh, you are so amazing' and 'You are such a great mom!' I don't feel amazing; I do it for my daughter and because her birthmother is a part of our family. What can I say?" Here's how community members responded:


I know...I don't like those kinds of comments either. People don't understand that birth families are extended family for you and you're doing what's best for your child. If you had posted a picture with your daughter and her aunt, would people have been so delighted? I don't think so." --JOANNE0911

The myth that adoptive parents spend a lot of time worrying about the permanence of our connection to our kids seems to be hard to dislodge from the non-adoptive community's mind." --JEN4

Some people will never understand what you feel for your daughter's birthmother. Simply say, 'Thank you' or 'I love being a mom' or 'We make a great team.'" --MAMALION

Everyone else has pretty much summed it up. People are amazed at what adoption is today and how lucky we are to know our children’s birthparents." --LINCOLNLOG

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Comments

I thought the article was great, but unfortunately not every family is open to reason. I won't get into details here, but we had an adoption fall through 2 years ago (we are still waiting to be placed again). You can read our blog at http://www.babyknews.blogspot.com. Our family was brutal during the whole process. They made our lives a living hell. We couldn't reason with them. I just wanted to warn others that some families are not open to reason or fact. You may find yourself in a situation where your family will ALWAYS see the birthparents as the enemy no matter what you do. And when it comes to special occasions, you may be forced to choose between adoptive grandparents, aunts and uncles and the birthparents. :O]

Posted by: Phyllis at 10:41am May 20

We have 2 adopted children. Our first adoption is semi-open and our 2nd is an open adoption. My parents are struggling with this idea and it's been almost 6 months. Our daughter is almost 6 months, we adopted her from birth...Anyway...My parents keep on asking, now that it's been finalized why do we need to have her(BM)in our lives...my husband and I consistantly tell my mom that this relationship is not for us, but for our daughter's sake. I have also spoken with our agency, and thier recommendation was to give my parents a book to read on open adoption, and this may help the situation. As the author stated from the article, my parents do come from a different generation, and they are not as "open-minded" as we are. My mother also states that she gives me a lot of credit, that not a lot of people could do what we are doing. I tell her that if she were in my shoes she would do the same thing...We are very proud to adopt, and we would not change this for anything, and since we have had an open adoption with our second child, I have recently called up our first birth mom, because I would not want our son to think that we were closer to our daughter's birth mom, then our son's. We now have an amazing relationship with her, and we have even sent her clothes that my son used to wear, since she now has another son 18 months younger than my son...Our relationship has grown, and she is great. We are still on a rocky road with our daughter's birth mom, but I think that with time that will get better, or we can only hope...currently we are working on a contract with boundries as she has none, through our agency. We are hoping that this will make a difference with our relationship. She would constantly call every 3-4 days, send e-mails, and leave comments on myspace. I am sure this will all be resolved, and soon...thanks for letting me share...Melissa

Posted by: Melissa Selvaggi at 2:41pm Sep 23

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