Things change: jobs, school, moving, illness, marriage, divorce.
Participating in an open adoption doesn’t make us immune to life’s changes. Not even if we have a legally binding communication agreement.*
For instance, it is entirely possible that all parties agree on one visit per quarter, however, as the years pass our schedules change. Someone gets a promotion or new job that keeps them super busy from January to April. Another person is working in a field which has its busiest season around the holidays. That is two really busy quarters in a row. Should a visit be planned during those times anyway because it was agreed upon? Or was the spirit of the agreement to have four visits a year and could those visits all take place in the spring and summer?
As much as we wish we ruled the universe, there are sometimes outside forces that come along and throw wrenches into our plans. You could have a visit planned for the weekend and your child comes home with a huge project due on Monday. Do you reschedule? Try to get it all done and still have the visit?
Sometimes visits happen across longer distances which necessitate more advanced planning including plane tickets or hotel reservations. Does the purchasing of a plane ticket mean the visit is on no matter what?
I’ve experienced life getting in the way as a birth mom from both sides. While looking at graduate schools and now PhD programs I always have that thought in my head, “What if I move closer to them, will they feel like I”m crossing boundaries?”. After talking about my anxieties I now understand that while I shouldn’t choose a school just because it’s near to my son’s adoptive family, I also shouldn’t rule out a school because of proximity. I should choose the school that works best for me and if it’s closer to them, they’d love to see me more. The day after booking my air travel for my 2011 visit I got a call from my child’s mom. For some pretty good reasons the visit needed to be adjusted. However, I felt like the world was ending and the adoption was closing. We managed to work out the details and the modified visit went off without a hitch, but to this day (in fact it did happen today) when her number comes up on caller ID in the period before a visit, my heart skips a beat and I irrationally worry that something is wrong or the visit is off. Regardless of my anxieties, having that discussion and reworking that visit was the absolutely best thing we could have done for the situation.
As a social worker I’ve been asked by adoptive parents as well as by birth parents about how a life event may influence their open adoption or how to approach the subject of a life choice with another participant in their open adoption. Communication is an essential tool for any relationship and open adoption is no different. How have you had to adjust over the course of your open adoption relationship? How might you navigate some of these situations or others like them if they occur in your future?
*Open adoption communication agreements are not legally binding in all states
About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy. She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.