Adoption is a joyous time for many families. If you have adopted a child in an open adoption, the relationship you have with the biological mother, father or grandparents can be a lifelong connection that will benefit both you and your child. Open adoptions are designed to allow the adoptive and birth parents to know each other. Sometimes the adoptive family will have a relationship with the birth family that includes regular visits. Each family is different - and there is no typical birth family relationship. The following tips will help you build a positive birth family relationship.
Before the adoption
Creating a blueprint for the kind of relationship you and the birth parents want to have will go a long way to ensure a lasting and rewarding connection. If you don't have time to work out the details before the adoption, you'll want to do this soon afterward.
- Talk with your social worker. Be clear about what you are comfortable with when discussing how open an adoption you are interested in. Perhaps you are more comfortable just sharing letters and photos. Maybe you feel like visits a few times a year would be OK. Maybe you are open to more frequent contact. Being honest now will make for a healthier and easier connection later.
- Talk with the birth parents. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it will help to talk about what you each expect in the relationship after the adoption. It may take more than one conversation to find common ground.
- Put it in writing. Most open adoption agreements include the frequency and type of contact the birth parents will have with the adoptive family. Think of the adoption agreement as a tool to help you manage the relationship. The adoption agreement can help you avoid hurt feelings and confusion down the road. Here are some of the questions you might want to consider in the adoption agreement:
- When will photos be sent to the birth parents?
- How often will you communicate? Will you communicate by email or telephone?
- Will there be visits, and how often? Will they be supervised through your adoption agency or less formal?
- Choose the relationship with the child's best interests in mind. Try to include the emotional needs of everyone involved, but remember the child's needs come first.
- Consider including the biological grandparents. Generally, grandparents do not have rights to visitation as part of an open adoption agreement. However, you may choose to include the grandparents in your relationship, depending on the situation.
The first year
The first few months can be the most challenging for many families. Adoption is an emotional time for both you and the birth parents. You may still be getting to know each other and working out the details of your relationship.
- Consider the birth parent's grief. During the first months after the adoption the birth parents may be grieving, which can dampen your happiness. Try to keep in mind that the birth parent made the adoption plan out of love for your child.
- It's OK if your relationship is not like other adoptive families. Remember, each family is different. Try to find what works best for you and your family.
- Work out the details of your communication. How often will you call the birth parent? Many families stay in touch by email, by telephone or through a photo-sharing website. This is a good time to work out the logistics of communication.
- Put effort in your relationship. All relationships require at least some degree of nurturing. You'll want to make the effort for your child's sake.
As your child gets older
As children get older, they often have an interest in finding out more about their biological parents. If you've lost touch with the birth family, your child may want to renew the relationship. Even if you've maintained a relationship over the years, your child may want a deeper connection. Try to keep in mind that this is not a reflection on you as a parent, but a natural emotion for your child.
- If you've lost touch with the birth parent, your child may want to re-establish contact. You can try to find birth parents through the adoption agency.
- Take it slow. Remember, your child may not remember his or her birth parents. You might consider writing a letter with a list of your child's questions and encourage the birth parents to write back. As your child gets to know the birth parents, you can plan more extended visits.
- Support your child in seeking a relationship with the birth family. As children get older, they may want a deeper relationship with the birth mother, birth father or other family members. Do your best to support your child in this effort. Older children and teenagers are trying to find their place in the world and knowing their past may help them establish their identity.
- Remember, the most important thing in the relationship is your child. First and foremost, make sure your child's emotional needs are being met with the birth family relationship. If not, you may want to try something different.
Ways to stay in touch
Over the years, you'll want to keep the birth family updated on all the wonderful things your child has done. The birth family will enjoy hearing about your child's accomplishments, and your child will be proud to share them. Here are some ways to keep up:
- Create a website to post photos and other information about your child. You may also want to post copies of awards or a special school project. The website can be a good place for your child and the birth family to communicate. Look for options that let you create private spaces that can only be accessed with a login and password.
- Encourage your child to write letters. Especially if you've lost contact with the birth parents, letters will give your child the chance to share information. If you do get in touch with the birth parent later on, the letters will become a treasured gift from your child.
- Think of your child's birth parents as extended family. If you have decided on a very open adoption, include birth parents in holiday gift giving and, if you choose, in holiday activities. You may want to invite them to your child's birthday party.
- Keep up your end of the agreement. No matter what the relationship you have with the birth family, be sure to keep up with what you've agreed to. Try to remember that the open adoption was created in the best interest of your child.
- There are ups and downs in all relationships. Because of the emotions involved, the relationship can, at times, be contentious. The best way to solve your problems is to keep the lines of communication open.
- Be open to relationships with the biological grandparents or other family members. Especially if your child doesn't have a relationship with the birth mother, other family members may help your child feel connected.