Open Adoption and Post Visit Meltdowns

ID-10071118As I write this I’m wrapping up my East Coast adventures that included an open adoption visit with my son as well as an adoption conference. During one of the many wonderful conference sessions we were reminded that a child acting out during or after a visit is to be expected and is not in and of itself a reason to discontinue visits. The mention of not ending contact due to tantrums, meltdowns, or bad behavior was really just that. A brief mention, so I don’t have an exact quote or even quite remember which of the amazing presenters said it, but it stuck with me.

This is actually something I get asked about a lot in my work. Not because adoptive parents are looking for reasons to close an adoption, but because they want to be good parents. It hurts to see your child hurting, and as parents we all want to stop whatever it is that may be hurting our children.

My son had a hard time at the end of my visit right before I arrived at the conference. Since my son didn’t name his feelings and I’m not inside his head, I won’t presume to do so, but I know he was feeling things, and so was I.

I was feeling sadness, guilt, love, joy, grief, anticipation, and so much more all at the same time. It’s hard to deal with a lot of emotions at once, especially when they’re conflicting emotions. As an adult I used my skills to handle those emotions. Children can’t always do that.

My son actually held it together quite well for most of my visit, but in the last moments of my last day some feelings combined with other things going on in his life affected his behavior.

It was hard for all his parents to watch. It would be completely understandable if for a moment his parents thought about discontinuing visits. I know as his birth mom I consider that sometimes when I see this kind of behavior. Not because I don’t want to see him, but because I think it might be easier for him if I weren’t there.

It wouldn’t be easier though. Sure he may not have the emotions from interrupted schedules, over-stimulation, too much sugar, and saying goodbye, but he would have other feelings.

Perhaps feelings of abandonment. Feelings shame or guilt based on the assumption that his behavior drove me away. Feelings of not being loved. Feelings of being disconnected.

So if feelings are inevitable, why err on the side of continued contact? Because as he gets older, learns more skills, and has more contact his visit meltdowns are getting fewer and less intense. Because by staying in his life I can show him unconditional love. Because by sticking it out through his feelings I can comfort him and remind him of his worth. Because by allowing him to feel his feelings and express them in any way he’s able as he learns those new skills, he is learning it is okay to have feelings and it is okay not to hold them inside.

Have you experienced post visit emotions (your child’s or your own) that left you reconsidering openness? How did you handle it? Not in an open adoption yet? How might you handle it in the future?

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and will soon be returning to school to pursue a PhD in Social Work and focus on adoption related research .  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.

Image courtesy of master isolated images |


8 thoughts on “Open Adoption and Post Visit Meltdowns

  1. I love this — feelings ARE inevitable, with or without contact. I think the thing that contact does is make the feelings unavoidable and I know that’s hard for everyone. I’ve talked to parents who want to totally avoid the sadness related to their children’s adoption and so they keep secrets or close down the open adotion and I get that impetus (to protect our children) but there is no avoiding sadness. Either it gets driven underground or it gets put off.

  2. We have not visit-related but adoption-related meltdowns. As an adoptive mother who had been hoping for visits and has been disappointed I thank you for your dedication even when it’s painful. Your son needs you.

    I use meltdowns as openers to teach the kids to talk coherently about how they feel and to reinforce that it is okay to feel many ways–even paradoxical ways–about adoption and family. What a great boon to these efforts to have a birth parent there reinforcing it too–and proving that they are loved forever, no matter what.

    Your son and his parents are very lucky to have you.

  3. I find this article so enlightening. I like how noticed how if felt for you to have all those feelings at once, and used that to help understand your son better.

    And yes on your last paragraph. Each time we part, we all get better at it.

  4. This is great Kat. We have this pretty much every single time we have a visit or oovoo call. But I always remind myself: He’s little. He has meltdowns all the time when things are a bit much (and they are always hard to witness), but newsflash, kids have meltdowns all the time! It’s part of life. I know your son is older but Jeez, I have meltdowns all the time and I’m, um, well over 10. And it’s good because it means he IS showing emotion. And we can’t stop living and this is waaaaaaay to important to stop. I also think, every time , it gets a wee bit easier. And like you said, as he gets older, he’ll manage his emotions better and he’ll be SO GLAD that his birthmom cared to keep meeting with him, keep caring about him. He will totally get that down the road. Anyway, love to hear more about the adult adoptee panel as well.

  5. Grerat post. To this day (25 years later) I still have a symphony of emotions – all of which you mentioned above. Guilt (still!) and love and wistfulness – but never regret. I feel so lucky to have been in an open adoption since the beginning. It just hurts sometimes and I find myself crying uncontrollably. My poor husband…he’s learned to give me my space and allow me to process the feelings.

    Once I’ve really felt everything, I’m good again.

  6. We don’t have visits, as both of my children’s birth families live in faraway states, but I cannot tell you the number of times on adoption forums I’ve seen adoptive parents want to close adoptions because of their kids’ meltdowns. It really saddens me.

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