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Open Adoption: Will It Confuse My Child?

Open adoption does not confuse kids. There can actually be a great emotional benefit to open adoption that enhances a child’s overall well-being.

There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence that shows open adoption is not confusing for children, and children can intuitively understand the difference between birth parents and adoptive parents. It is clear to them that adoptive parents are their primary caregivers, “mom” and “dad”, and birth parents have special and different relevance to their life. 

Without real information, children are curious and will create fantasies about their origins. Concrete evidence keeps them from fantasizing a different imaginary life, which can help them navigate past different steps of development. Additionally, if adoptive parents approach the topic of adoption and birth parents with negative feelings, or avoid it altogether, then the child may demonstrate similar negative feelings to their own adoption. 

Establishing healthy connections with birth parents can maintain open and honest communication with your adopted child. Here are some tips to help you navigate a positive open adoption experience:

  • Talk about adoption early. This helps to normalize it and allows you to encourage positive language adoption. It also allows your child to develop a clear understanding and distinction between the two families. It is important to show that the topic does not cause you discomfort, because otherwise your child will pick up on it and could feel negatively about their adoption.
  • Read books and watch movies about adoption. This will also help to normalize adoption for your child, and allow them to feel like they are not alone.
  • Speak about birth parents positively and respectfully. Choose your words carefully by saying they chose to place their child for adoption so they could have a safe home with lots of opportunities. 
  • Keep photos, letters, and trinkets from your child’s birth family available. These can be great conversation starters for your child as well as visitors. This normalizes talking about adoption with others outside of your family, and allows your child to feel comfortable talking about their own adoption story with new people. It may even give them a sense of pride to know their story and be able to share it.
  • Establish titles for your child. This is something adoptive parents and birth parents should discuss ahead of time. You might have the adoptee refer to their birth family as “birth mom” or “birth dad” or you can have them refer to their birth family by first name. In some cases, birth parents may get special nicknames or other titles. The most important thing is to keep it consistent to avoid confusing the child, and don’t worry that they will confuse their relationship with you, because it is clear to them who their mom and dad are – the people who tuck them in at night, feed them breakfast, and take care of them everyday.