Barriers to Communication In Open Adoption

Kat column topper

I talk about communication a lot and I can almost hear voices from around the blogosphere yelling,

But it’s not that easy!!!

And those voices are right, it’s not that easy. But not being easy doesn’t mean it isn’t important and necessary.

ID-10071118Barriers to communication come in all shapes and sizes. Some are external like frequently changing phone numbers, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Others are internal like fear of judgement, lack of communication skills, and desire to avoid any possible conflict.

No human being is immune to these barriers and they don’t disappear based on your constellation position. So what’s to be done? Figure out a way to overcome or ignore the barriers.

Paraphrasing the great Tina Fey–borrowing the concept from Sesame Street–you’ve got to go over, under, or through the barrier. I’m not saying you need to have some huge breakthrough in therapy and change your entire personality before you can have effective open communication. I am saying that you have to find a way to reduce your fear of judgement for long enough to have a conversation. You need to to find a way to ignore the personality conflict for long enough to iron out boundaries.  You have to get through the discomfort of possible conflict for a 20 minute phone call.

Now I can hear the voices are irritated with me telling them what to do and not how.  The problem is the how depends on you.

Perhaps you do well with role playing. Grab your partner, a friend, or a mirror and role play the conversation you need to have.

Hate role playing? Me too! Grab a pen and paper or open up a blank document and write (or type) what you want to say and what you need to say.  Edit it. Edit again. Feeling particularly emotional about the topic? Write out those emotions, then once they’re out you can either edit it until it’s something appropriate to share or you can delete and start over with less emotion.  When you think you’re done, grab your partner or a friend and ask them to read it for any possible miscommunication that could ensue. Then use it as your script during that next phone call or send it as an email.

Are you so very sure you’re being shut out? Brainstorm what other explanations there could possibly be. I’ll help you get started: could the other party be busy? Be going through some stressful stuff in other parts of their lives? Could they feel shut out by you? If you look for evidence that you’re being shut out you’ll find it, but take some time to look for evidence that you aren’t. Consider that there are other possibilities.  Then reach out. Worst case scenario is that your fears are confirmed. BEST case scenario is that you’ve established communication and strengthened the relationship, and in the grand scheme of things isn’t that a risk worth taking?

Which leads me to, “In the grand scheme of things”. In the grand scheme of things how horrendous is an awkward phone call? In the grand scheme of things how awful would it be if they really do judge me? (This also works on spouses: In the grand scheme of things how bad is waking up to a few dishes in the sink?)

The point is we are the adults. We chose this for ourselves and for our child(ren). They didn’t choose this life. We have to face the barriers and figure out ways around them (even if only temporarily) for their sake.  We owe them that. It may not always work, but at least some day when questions are asked you can tell them all the things you tried.

Have you found any techniques that help you overcome communication barriers in your open adoption relationship?

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 courtesy of master isolated images |

4 thoughts on “Barriers to Communication In Open Adoption

  1. I still have moments where I hesitate to call or email or text for fear of being intrusive, and I think I have a remarkably open relationship with my son and his family. But once I get past the fear, it all seems to fall into place. I love your advice – sometimes fear is the only thing standing in our way.

  2. Thank you for this! As I’m facing some anxiety about an upcoming visit, this is very timely! Yes – in the grand scheme of things, I can handle two hours of my life facing some (possible) awkwardness. That I owe it to our daughter to get over any little hurt feelings or issues that I have over a past encounter and just deal with it. Get over any little fears of being judged and just deal with a teeny bit of discomfort. Right on.

  3. I can’t tell you how many addresses, emails, locations, phone numbers etc have changed in the last 4 years, seriously, we could fill an album. But it’s 2013! Everyone can be found with a little effort.

    I find a few things help. One is, this is about our child and what’s best for him. So to this end, if members of his birthfamily seem distant, I poke them a bit.. after all it’s not about them either (well of course it is) but really, we ALL (birthfamily and adoptive family) need to keep connected for our mutual child.

    I’ve done countless adoption-related things that were really, really hard on me because they are the right thing to do and because this isn’t about me. I’m not strong and I never find it easy but I know the difference between right and wrong.

    I recently endured a very emotionally difficult situation where I repeated the same thing over and over in my head …”this is not about me, this is not about me,” and so on. But I’ll be revising that to “In the grand scheme of things!”

    Love your posts. Keep ’em coming!

Comments are closed.