What do you do if an open adoption becomes strained? Many people think, just close the adoption, problem solved. And some adoptive parents make promises of an open adoption to become parents with an intent of closing the adoption later. While even others will admit, if the environment for an open adoption became unhealthy, they would close it. Closed adoptions used to be the norm after all, why consider the effects on the child?
Countless studies have proven that an open adoption is healthier than a closed adoption. That doesn’t mean that all open adoptions are equal. Open adoptions can vary and can look very different. While one open adoption may just be knowing names, cities, and medical history, other open adoptions may include pictures and letters, while wide-open adoptions include frequent visits and are more like extensions of the family.
We are not arguing which is best for the child…it is firstly up to the birth parents and it really depends on the situation. As mentioned though, some degree of openness has been proven to be good for all 3 parties – the birth mother, the adoptive parents, and the child. Adoptive and birth parents should come to an agreement on what level of openness they want; finding the right fit is essential to a long-term relationship.
Experiencing tough times might make you want to reconsider the level of openness you’ve previously agreed to. Some ways you can work through the tough time in the birth parents life without “closing the adoption” are:
- Limit visits by setting rules like visits may only be with you present, or setting guidelines for what you are comfortable with during the visit, i.e., “You may not show up to a visit late, under the influence, or with your new boyfriend/girlfriend.”
- Until the unhealthy behaviors are corrected or improved, they may only get pictures and emails so that the child is not exposed to the damaging behavior. Let them know that it is they who entrusted you to protect and parent their child, and for you to uphold that, you have to limit how much negative conduct they are exposed to. It will preserve the image your child has created of them.
- Tell them you would like to have scheduled video calls for updates, and if you deem the situation safe, then the child can also join the conversation.
- Offer to help them get clean, find work, get housing, etc. We are not saying you need to provide them monetary support, but loving support to their problem can go a long way.
- If contact is not possible for whatever reason, continue talking to your child about their birth parents. Stopping contact does not mean they are not a part of your child’s story or identity. Talking about the situation in age-appropriate language shows compassion and that you still love the people that gave them life. You may be angry with them, but it doesn’t delete them from existence. We have to set our pride aside sometimes.
Closing an open adoption can possibly say to your child:
- That you break promises.
- That you are hiding something from them.
- That you don’t value their heritage.
- That something about them is wrong or damaged (they are a product of these people after all).
- That they did something wrong and are being punished.
Protecting your child is most important. Consider long term effects of the adoption openness. Not just for the child, but for yourselves and for the birth parents. Open adoption isn’t always easy and closing adoption isn’t always the answer.