3 Secrets to Successful Open Adoption

Success in open adoption is no different from success in any other relationship—it requires commitment, communication, and flexibility.


The most crucial component to a successful open adoption is the commitment of all parties to the relationship. When we are biologically related to someone, the commitment is reinforced by societal expectations.

Cutting off all contact with your mother or grandmother is not unheard of, but frowned upon with the expectation that a major line has been crossed and that all efforts have been made to salvage the relationship. If you have had to cut a relative out of your life you’ve almost certainly spent time justifying this decision in your mind and likely have a short summary to share with others when the topic comes up. In other words, it’s not something that you have done lightly.

The same should be said about relationships with birth mothers and birth family. There may be a reason why you have to cut off contact, but it should be a big reason. I’ve heard the following reasons given by adoptive families for wanting to close an adoption:

  • Birth parents calling the child by the name they gave him at birth, rather than the name the adoptive parents gave him.
  • Asking for $160 “loan”.
  • Failing to show up for a scheduled visit.
  • Referring to the child as “my child” on Facebook.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if the above acts are bad enough to warrant cutting of all contact, but if you wouldn’t cut a biological relative out of you and your child’s life for doing it, then you shouldn’t cut a birth parents out of your life for doing it.


Communication is the breaking point for many a relationship. Communication is hard–not so much the words that are spoken, but the words that remain unsaid.

Both sides need to be able to express their needs without being pushy. As I used to tell one of my kids that struggled when younger with the tricky art of communication: There is a line between being assertive and being aggressive, and it’s not all that fine of a line, you just need to be looking for it.


Relationships, like the people that are in them, are not static. They must bend and flex over time. What is reasonable for a family with one child and a single birth mother, is not necessarily reasonable for a family with two school aged kids heavily involved in sports, and a birth mother that now has a husband and two kids that she is parenting. What is reasonable for a toddler with no voice in the relationship might not be reasonable for a teen with a strong opinion of what she wants. What is reasonable if you live 1000 miles apart is not the same as if you lived 10 miles apart. You may have always spent the day after Thanksgiving shopping with your sisters, but if this is the only day that your child’s birth family will be in town, then you need to willing to give a little.

Open adoption relationships take effort, but the rewards for all parties are usually worth the commitment, awkward communications, and flexibility.

How would you describe your relationship with your child’s birth parents? Easy? Difficult? In between?

P.S. If you are in an open adoption or considering one, you really must read My #1 Secret Tip for a Successful Open Adoption.

Image credit: Helen Penjam (eggs); bluewaikiki.com (milk); david pacey (flour)