Last time I wrote about ways potential adoptive parents and expectant parents considering adoption can evaluate their expectations in the hopes of finding better matches which could lead to more sustainable open adoptions. Today I’ll be addressing those of us already in open adoptions.
We’ve already agreed to something, perhaps we put it in writing or perhaps it’s remained a verbal understanding. Either way we’ve made a commitment. Since research implies that most adoptions which close do so as a result of misunderstanding, I’ll start with the best way to avoid misunderstandings: communication.
Be it the open adoption relationship or any other relationship, communication is key. It’s not always easy, but it is always important. If you’re familiar enough with your schedule to foresee a busy season approaching, let the other parties know. Just as you’d tell a partner, friend, or family member, “I’m not going to be able to hangout much in the next few weeks–stuff is getting really busy” something similar can be said to the other party (or parties) of your open adoption.
If the reason you’re less engaged in the relationship is because you became surprisingly busy, emotionally overwhelmed, or any other unforeseen reason, when you get a second let the other person know. You don’t have to share every detail of what you’re going through if that’s not the kind of relationship you have. A quick text or email can head off a lot of misunderstanding,
Sorry I’ve been out of touch, things are crazy I’ll check in when everything calms down.
Don’t have the electronic connection? At some point you’ll be in a grocery store–pick up a “thinking of you” card or a blank card and write that one sentence inside of it before mailing it off. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to write a full letter, but with a card there is no pressure to fill up a full page.
Some adoptions close not because of a misunderstanding, but because one or more participants decide they’re ending the relationship. I know I’ve already mentioned that open adoption is a commitment that we agree to for our child(ren), but I don’t think it’s something that can be said too many times. But what happens when we’re not exactly loving the way things are going?
There are three questions I recommend asking yourself:
- “Is this unsafe?”
- “Have clear specific boundaries been established?”
- “How would I respond if this were (insert close friend or family member here)?”
If the answer to the first question is “yes,” I suggest the follow up of, “Is it really?”
I say this because as humans when we’re uneasy about a situation we can often feel in danger or at risk in situations that really are safe. Perhaps your visits take place in a location you’re not used to–is it really unsafe or are you projecting your discomfort? Obviously if a situation is actually unsafe you should not put yourself or your family in that situation. However, that does not mean if a situation is unsafe that you need to close the adoption.
Some possible ways to increase safety:
- Talk about it: whether or not the conversation dispels your fears, it’s good to get it out in the open
- Adjust or reiterate the boundaries and expectations of your relationship (see next section)
- Adjust the means of communication temporarily. “Temporarily” is the key word here, but also make sure you’re concrete. “Visits don’t feel safe right now for x, y, z reasons (which hopefully you’ve already talked about with the other party). Let’s keep in touch via phone calls and Skype for now and talk about visits again in January” is much different than, “We’re not going to be able to see you in person anymore (or for awhile).”
Boundaries and Expectations
Maybe you started your open adoption relationship with clear boundaries and expectations, maybe you didn’t. Regardless, as time goes by we tend to relax our boundaries because we’re more comfortable with the other people involved, laziness, or a multitude of other reasons. The only way to return to previously established boundaries or to build new ones is to talk about them. It may be awkward, even painfully so, but it’ll pass and it’s important.
The best way to figure out if we’re treating our adoption relationship differently than other relationships in our lives is to make the comparison:
- Would I end the relationship with my sister in a similar situation?
- Would I stop letting my best friend see my child if she also did x?
- Would I stop visiting my nieces if their dad annoyed me?
What If It’s Still Uncomfortable?
It’s important to remember that we made this commitment for our children (I told you it couldn’t be said too many times). We’re in this for them. Sometimes that means we will have to put our discomfort aside and do something we really don’t want to do. Isn’t being uncomfortable for a few hours a few times a year worth it for your child?
Have you ever wanted to close your adoption? What brought you back from the brink?
Ever thought the other parties were closing the adoption? Were you able to recover? If so how?
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.
Image credit: nattavut @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net