Bridging the Gap In Open Adoption

Hello everyone and happy September. I hope you all had a pleasant summer and didn’t miss us too terribly much during our summer break…who am I kidding, I hope you missed us a lot!

ID-10034886At the agency I recently worked at, in an effort to expand our knowledge of attachment, we watched DVDs of a training by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.  A lot of what Dr. Neufeld says made sense, but one thing stuck with me beyond all else.  He talked about bridging separation by allowing the child to look forward to the next contact.

While Dr. Neufeld focused on what he termed the “transplanted child” (i.e. youth who are or have been in foster care), this concept is also applicable to children adopted as infants or even non-adopted children.

At its simplest and most basic, it is the difference between saying, “I’ll miss you while you’re at school today,” and, “I’ll see you at 3:00 p.m.”  One emphasizes the separation, while the other focuses on the reunion. One of the reasons this practice has stuck with me (aside from it making very good sense) is that I’m not sure how I can apply it fully in my own situation.

Social Worker Kat can easily embrace this idea in a couple of ways:

  • Have next visit date set by end of this visit
  • Next contact doesn’t have to be in person, it could be a telephone call or a card.

Birth Mom Kat (and Long Distance Auntie Kat, for that matter) is struggling to make that list a reality.

I don’t know when I’ll visit with my son next.  I know a visit will happen, it’s even possible that another will happen in 2013 (!!!), but at this point I don’t know exactly when. It takes a lot of planning and schedule coordinating and I refuse to promise a visit that may not happen.  Is saying, “Let’s compare school schedules,” concrete enough to bridge the separation?

Even coordinating a phone call takes a lot of work. Calculating time differences, taking into account school/camp/extracurricular activities (his and his brother’s), guessing which parent he’ll be with at a particular moment in order to know which cell phone to call all come into play. That’s not even mentioning my work schedule and commute.

And yet saying, “I’ll send you a card or a letter,” does not seem like enough.

Dr. Neufeld does make room for non-direct/psychological connections such as, “I’ll be thinking of you every night before bed,” or even, “Hold on to/take care of this item for me until I see you next,” but I haven’t yet found a way to work these things into my open adoption.

What are things do you do or could you do to bridge the gaps for your kids, whether they live with you everyday or not? Do you think focusing on the next contact would be beneficial?

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She previously worked as a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and is now pursuing a PhD in Social Work with a 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.

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5 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap In Open Adoption

  1. I do this with my kids most of the time. I do think that when you can’t promise a specific thing, you can at least promise to be planning or thinking about a person or a visit. Re: birth parents who are completely unpredictable, I try to do the best I can by saying “even if we don’t see her often, she will always be your mother.” It’s not nearly as good, but it’s something.

  2. You have exactly named what is lacking in our current arrangements with our daughter’s first mother. Its not that we want something written in stone – but we want that bridging for our daughter. We know with distant relatives that we have on-going plans and conversations about when we will see them next. It seems the same is needed in our open adoption – the spoken assurance that there is a next time. The non-direct connection ideas are great. It would help give our daughter something to grab onto emotionally – and be a good closing to visits with her first mother. I see this “gap” you speak of quite clearly – as our child is still quite young, I don’t think she is attuned to it as much but having some kind of practice in place is ideal. The benefits are myriad – but especially the on-going-ness of such things…it would help keep the wheels in motion, so to speak.

  3. Love this concept. I’ll try to do that with my two young daughters. As a birthmom whose son lives on the other coast, it’s been tricky over the years since we didn’t know when a next visit would come. But now that he’s 25, it’s so nice to be able to text, Facebook or message whenever we want! 🙂

  4. We use skype visits to bridge the gap between face to face visits since we live quite a distance from our son’s first mom and her parents. The other thing we have done to bridge a separation gap is to keep their names alive in the daily and weekly conversation of our family…along with the names of our extended family that we don’t see that often. We say such things as, “do you remember who gave you that toy?”. We also pray for all our extended family at bedtime prayers. Our son’s biofamily is just part of our extended family. In our hearts and minds we have married our son’s first family. We love them and they are extended family to us all. We have all chosen to form a circle of love around this precious boy. Some are joined by blood and all are joined by love.

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