Exploring Open Adoptions

Sibling adjusting to a new adopted baby

If you are starting the adoption process, chances are good you have learned or heard about the different types of adoption: open, semi-open and closed. Today, almost all types of adoption have some level of openness. Openness can be incredibly beneficial for adoptees and is something worth exploring and leaning into as an adoptive or prospective parent. If you are asking yourself the question, “Is open adoption confusing for kids?” rest assured that this is a commonly asked question, and the answer is no. Open adoption does not have to be confusing for kids but adoptive parents have to play an active role in this process. The truth is, levels of openness in adoption are more beneficial than harmful in most cases. 

Here are some tips to eliminating confusion and establishing a healthy understanding of adoption for kids:

  • Talk about adoption early. As an adoptive parent it is essential you talk about adoption early. Even if your child is too young to understand, there is still a benefit to practicing and normalizing conversations about adoption. Talking about adoption early will allow the child to create an understanding of their story from the start, it will help them clarify distortions and create distinctions between their adoptive and birth family. It will also inherently send a message that conversations around adoption are welcomed and safe. The more you normalize conversations about adoption the more your child will feel affirmed in navigating and initiating conversations about adoption themselves. Adoption should not be a topic that is tiptoed around, if you feel uncomfortable navigating conversations about adoption reach out to your adoption agency or other adoptive parents for support
  • Clear is kind. In every way, in all conversations, be honest and open with your child about their adoption. When you are clear and honest with your child you can clarify and address any misunderstanding or distortions they have created about their story. As a positive practice, answer questions your child has in an honest way but keep answers developmentally appropriate. Adoptee and clinical therapist Andi Coston, LCSWA, said it best: “Tell your children their stories in ways they don’t have to undo them and rebuild them later.” If your child asks a question you do not  know the answer to, you can say “I do not know.” Making up answers or changing answers as your adoptee gets older is dangerous, it establishes dishonesty and mistrust. Be clear, be honest and encourage your adoptee to ask questions. 
  • Talk positively of birth parents. Regardless of the backstory or the reasons behind why your child was placed for adoption, always use positive language when talking about birth parents. As your child matures and develops, they will create their own narrative, understanding and opinions about their birth parent. It is not appropriate for adoptive parents to persuade or convince their children to have certain views or perspectives of their birth parents. 
  • Establish titles and language. As a positive practice, establishing language around adoption and being consistent with using that language from the start is incredibly beneficial in eliminating confusion. Using the term “birth mom” “birth grandparent” can help establish roles for biological ties. You can also allow your child to come up with a nickname or a name they feel comfortable and safe using for members of their birth family. 

Adoptive parents: your adoptee will always know that you are their mom or dad. While nothing can change who birthed them, you are their parent. 

  • Practice visibility. Keep letters, cards and photos of birth parents or families visible. This is a great way to normalize open adoption. Not only can these be great conversation starters where your child can learn it is safe and encouraged to ask questions about adoption but it also can help them feel confident in owning their adoption story. While it may not feel “normal” for a child to have two families, it is something that can and should be celebrated and positively viewed but it requires you to frame it that way. 

While it may feel a little daunting and even scary navigating the nuances of open adoption, be affirmed that there are resources and support available for you. Your adoptee feeling safe, seen and loved is what is most important. Providing them space and language to ask questions and be curious about their birth family and their story is essential. Lean into the discomfort and be willing to ask for help if you need it. 

By: Ramya Gruneisen 

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