Open Adoption: Like It’s Our Job*

Kat column topper

*For those unfamiliar with the phrase, Urban Dictionary explains “Like it’s my job” to mean,

to do something excessively, repeatedly, or to an extent that it becomes one’s trademark.

Example: I sometimes eat cake LIKE IT’S MY JOB! (No, seriously I do…but I digress…)

I recently attended the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative 2013 Conference: Reframing the Adoption Discourse. In fact the first draft of this post was typed on the bus and at various airports while I was coming home this weekend.  However it got lost in the interwebz, so bear with me in my sleep-deprived-less-than-coherent recreating of it.

During one panel Tara Linh Leaman said, “It’s not the adoptee’s job” She was referring to the expectation some have that those who were adopted trans-ethnically must educate others about race, but it reminded me of so much more. I often hear things from parents like, “We’ll take our child’s lead when it comes to openness.” It sounds good on the surface and I’m sure it’s mostly said in well meaning ways, however let’s delve a bit deeper.

We’ve turned our children into adoptees either by relinquishing them or by adopting them. We did it. We chose this, they didn’t.  So how could it possibly seem fair to stop exerting effort at that point and force the child (or adult depending on when it occurs because, yes–adoptees do grow up) to initiate all the next steps. What if we embraced our roles in openness like it’s our job? What if we knew that when we signed up for this life, we signed up to maintain it for life?

What if at the beginning instead questions being asked about *if* openness is desired in the adoption, we treated it as a given. Asking, “How do you plan to make visits work for this child?” or something similar. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t hear the voices of our children, only that we shouldn’t place such a heavy burden on their shoulders from the outset.

What do you think? Should establishing openness to maintain an adoptee’s genealogical legacy as intact as possible be the job of the birth and adoptive parents? Or is there benefit to waiting until the adoptee brings it up or turns a certain age?

About the author:
Kat Nielsen (neé 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 @KMNielsenMSW.

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10 thoughts on “Open Adoption: Like It’s Our Job*

  1. Thank you for this post, I agree with the point particularly at the beginning to have these conversations with the adults involved as usually you are dealing with an infant or toddler unable to make these decisions at the time.

    We had these conversations before each of our daughter’s were born with each of their birth mothers and birth fathers and extended family, to ensure we all wanted the same thing. We ourselves wanted for our future children to never have to look for their families, we never wanted them to think who do I look like, we never wanted them to not know who and where they came from.

    From the other side, we wanted to be sure we had the same ideas as those making the adoption placement. We had the time to discuss before each girl was born so that helped and we had a professional who believed these were the conversations to have openly and honestly with each other. Ellen Roseman was the guide for all of us in navigating the early ideas and conversations and guiding us in the early days of our own expectations.

    I see our girls now who know no different who is their family and who they were born to. For them this is their family, although they were not involved in the early decisions they are involved in the daily lives of all of their family and for them it’s pretty ordinary.

    • I wish the effort you went through pre-adoption were universal, so glad you were able to lay that groundwork for your children.

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  3. Excellent post! I’ve always hated it when adoptive parents put the responsibility for maintaining an open adoption on the adoptee’s shoulders. Would they say, “Well, we’re not sure if we want them to have a relationship with their grandparents. We’ll let them decide when they’re older?”
    I don’t think so.

    • Yes! Drawing the grandparents (or aunts or any other family member) comparison makes so much sense to me and yet gets so much pushbacks from others.

  4. I am kind of taken aback that we, as adoptive parents, would “take our child’s lead” when it comes to openness! A child is a child! They model behaviour after their parents … so wouldn’t this relationship fall upon the shoulders of the parents rather than the child? I am not expecting to take my daughter’s lead on her relationship with her aunts, uncles and grandparents … so why would I expect her to lead me in the relationship with her birth family?

    Another thing – my daughter started out her open adoption as an infant … how could I possibly take her lead on any relationship from her? Sometimes she starts crying when she goes to her dad when I have to leave the room (she’s 8 months!) … would this mean that I would take her lead and never let my husband care for her while I cook dinner?

    My daughter will have input into her relationship with her birth mama when she is old enough to make those choices. Until then, it’s OUR JOB AS PARENTS to lead the way … and then have our daughter model our behaviour.

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