10 Topics Adoptive Parent & Birth Mother Must Discuss Before Adopting

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10 Topics Adoptive Parents and Birth Parents Must Discuss

We hear from prospective adoptive parents pre-adoption that they feel that the expectant woman holds all the cards.  We hear from birth mothers post adoption that they feel that adoptive parents hold all the cards.  As uncomfortable as it may be to admit, there is some truth to both of these sides. So how do we cross the divide in a way that facilitates an ongoing relationship where the child can flourish.  Because after all, that is what both sides should be focused on—how they can establish an ongoing relationship where the child in in the middle, but not “caught” in the middle.

Both Sides Afraid of Being Judged

Lack of communication is the bane of many relationships, but none more so than the relationship between prospective birth mothers and adoptive parents.  Each side feels vulnerable. Each side is afraid of being judged.  When fear governs, true communication seldom happens, and lack of communication almost inevitably leads to problems in the future. It’s not easy for either side to talk about some of the issues that must be discussed.  Adoptive parents want to be chosen by the expectant woman, and are tempted to agree to anything.  Expectant women are in crisis and often aren’t sure what they want.  Fear and confusion rein.

Creating a Family pushes constantly for good counseling for expectant woman and adoptive families, but this doesn’t always happen and even when it does happen, all too often we hear that the deeper issues are never discussed until after the adoption.  Some of this is inevitable since how in the world can either birth parents or adoptive parents anticipate how the relationship should develop.  People change; life circumstances change; thus our goal in the pre-adoption discussions needs to be on setting a basic framework for the relationship and agreeing on a way to make changes as needed.   Use the following ten topics as a discussion starter.  What other topics would you add???

 Ten Essential Topics Every Adoptive Parent and Prospective Birth Mother Must Discuss Before Adopting

  1. What does open adoption mean to you?
    • What is your philosophy of openness and who is considered “family”?
    • Draw a picture with circles to show where you think adoptive parents and birth parents stand in relation to the child as an infant, at age 8, 18, and 28?
    • Describe how you envision the relationship when the child is different ages?
    • How would you react if the birth parent or birth family asked for the child to attend a birth family reunion with extended family members?
  2. How might you handle the open relationship if either the adoptive parent of birth parent moves?
  3. What form of communication works best for you: phone, in person meeting, emails, Facebook, letters to each other, letters via your adoption agency?
  4. Whose responsibility is it to initiate contact?
  5. Is it important to either adoptive or birth parents that they be able to name the child?
  6. What should either the adoptive parents or the birth parents do if they want to alter the openness arrangement?
  7. How would you like to be told if the other side feels that you have overstepped the boundaries?
  8. What do you want the child to call the birth mother?
  9. How would the birth parents like to be remembered on the child’s birth day, Mother’s Day, and Christmas or Chanukah?
  10. What role do you envision the birth extended family members (birth grandparents, aunts and uncles) to have in the openness arrangement?

Would you add anything to the list?

Image credit: Sean Driellinger

08/05/2012 | by Fact Sheets | Categories: Adoption, Other Adoption Resources | 23 Comments



23 Responses to 10 Topics Adoptive Parent & Birth Mother Must Discuss Before Adopting

  1. Erin says:

    I would add the need to discuss rules for sharing photos of the adopted child on social media. Some people are more private than others, and need to respect each other’s comfort levels when it comes to sharing information/photos on the Internet.

  2. Karen says:

    Thanks for the article. The one I’ve not seen is how to support a child in a closed adoption. The encouragement around open makes sense. But now as I’m hoping for a match, I realize I have very little info about closed adoptions.

  3. Monika says:

    Well other than calling the expectant mother considering adoption a ‘birth mother’ in the title (which she’s not until post-relinquishment), this is a good article. I definitely think that these conversations (like you said in comment #8) are critical to have with BOTH parents.

    As far as the comment in #7, it’s nearly impossible to get a birth father to speak about his experiences pre- and post-relinquishment. I’ve been a part of a birth parent panel where there was supposed to be a birth father present and he backed out at the last minute. There is a website now though called “Birthfathers Recognized.” I highlighted it in my own blog too. The website was started by a birthfather in an open adoption for ALL birth fathers to have a place to come and share their stories. The website just went live a couple of weeks ago and I’ve unfortunately not had a chance to peruse much to see if there are many stories on there, but this would give you the birth father perspective.

    • Dawn says:

      Monika, I hear your criticism of birth mother being used before she relinquishes. My problem is to use words that people will be searching for when they are seeking information. I alternate between “expectant woman/couple” and prospective birth mother. In this case I intended the “prospective” in the title to modify both “adoptive parent” and “birth mother” since neither is actually their title until after relinquishment. Boy, I sound like my 9th grade English teacher! Thanks for the link to Birthfathers Recognized. I’ll check it out.

  4. Kristine G. Acevedo Kristine G. Acevedo says:

    Good topic and post 🙂

  5. JavaMonkey says:

    On one hand, all of this openness sounds good. I admit that when I first heard of open adoption, it seemed way better than what I went through. Then, I took a step back and asked myself, “How would I feel if I had always known my biological parents, and they acted happy and satisfied that someone else was raising me”?

    I would have been upset. Very upset. It would have been worse than not knowing. It would have been like getting stabbed right through the heart. What child wants to hear a parent say that they’re happy about something like that? Absolutely no one. It would be worse than closed adoption. It would be worse than having no parents at all.

    It seems that openness is more a mechanism to calm the fears of both sets of parents. Biological parents get to see that the child is alive, well and (hopefully) properly cared for. The adoptive parents get legitimacy. They get the ultimate stamp of approval.

    How utterly sad and lonely for the child! What does the child get out of it, except for a lifetime prescription for Prozac? Is that really a life that we would wish upon anybody?

  6. Shannon LC Cate says:

    How will either side handle the other side not maintaining the conditions agreed upon? Maybe select a third party to arbitrate that if they are in a state that does not legally bind people to open adoption agreements.

  7. Maura says:

    We are still in the home study process, but when we (fingers crossed) get matched with a birthmother I will definitely look up this list as a reference. I idea of printing it out is great because it gives all parties a common starting point for the discussion.

  8. Christina Chowning says:

    I’ve thought about it alot and I would love to hear him call me mommy, but I simply am not his mommy. Kids call me Nina cause my name is too hard for lil ones. I don’t want to be called ‘Aunt’ or ‘Birthmom’ I know that. I think just my name or Nina and when he is older he can call me whatever he chooses.
    I want my kids to be refered to as his brothers and sister for sure, and I believe they do but I will have to ask them about that as well.

  9. Christina Chowning says:

    We discussed just about all these things and then some. Reading this I realized we me and my sons parents have never talked about what they will call me. I know he is being raised knowing who I am and all about me and my other kids, but I have no clue how they are going to reference me, thus what he will learn to call me. I will def be including that topic in my next letter. Great article and so very important to discuss those things pre-match.

    I would add to discuss certain medical things ahead of time too, ie a boy being circumscised and immunizations. Those were things we talked about ahead of time as well. Some people are very strong in their beliefs of those things and covering those things pre-match saves tension and sometimes anger post-placement.

  10. Christie says:

    I know that when we first meet them and talked about how we saw the open adoption going – we got completely bewildered looks back from them. Most of what we envisioned hasn’t come to pass though we did try. I know that our agency talked to them about what open adoption was, but I don’t think that they believed them. We did cover several of the topics above. We also have an agreement in place, but things have definitely changed which you have expect. I think that you also have to let go of any preconceived notions of how it will all go and that way you can be happier with how it will be.

    I never felt that the birth parents had all the power because while connecting with our son, I still thought of him as their son. It took several weeks before I really felt like he was OUR son. By that time all the paperwork was signed and we moved into maintaining relationship status.

    From what I have personally experienced and what I have heard from others (on the adoptive parent side), it is pretty much the adoptive parent’s responsibility to keep in contact. In fact, that it what our agency teaches prospective parents during the adoption process. Please know when I say that I am generalizing as every relationship is different in its own way. However, the bio-parents do need to keep information up to date so that contact can happen.

    Most adoptive parents I know, want more contact than they have. However, the adoptive parents to which I refer are parents that are involved in support groups and the like – so they like to be involved already.

    I dislike discussing his bio-parents side to the relationship as I don’t know what they actually think about it and how it was arranged. We still have contact with bio-dad and brother and intermittent contact with bio-mom. We call his brother his brother and refer to them by their first names, figuring that our son will decide what to call them when he is older and understands the relationship.

    ‘Cause when you get down to it – it is REALLY about him. It would be easier for us to not have to maintain this other relationship, but we want the best for him. We want him to have access to as much as possible. When he grows up HE can decide what the relationship will look like at different ages. When he is young we guide a lot of it, but later it will be his decision with us supporting him. I think that sometimes we all (bio and adoptive parents) get wrapped up in expectations that we forget who the focus is supposed to be in the relationship – the child.

  11. Erika says:

    Hi Dawn, another amazing post! How about discussing whether visits include the birth parents boyfriends and girlfriends? They are not extended family in my book and if you meet with the birthparents together as we do, this could be messy.

  12. anon WP said:

    Wow, excellent and difficult questions. The only thing I would add is that, like any good plan, it should probably be revisited from on a regular schedule. Sure, we might be doing brilliantly very quickly, but I would imagine that going through these questions again, maybe after a year or so, would provide an opportunity to make changes and adjustments in a structured way. But then again, not being in such a relationship yet, I don’t know if it would be an unnecessarily awkward way to go about it…

    So as a question back, Dawn, how on earth do you go about initiating that conversation? Do you try to answer the questions as “homework” first? Seems like one of those things that would be awful to just sort of spring it on someone…

    [[Creating a Family blog] at 2:04 am on May 9, 2012]

  13. Dawn said:

    anon WP, you are so right that whatever plan you set up needs to be flexible because with almost certainty, it will need to be adjusted. That’s why we included that question on how the parties want to handle making adjustments. And yes, you are right too that as with any big serious conversation, it is often awkward to talk about and especially awkward to start the conversation. In an ideal world, the counselor working with the birth mother would help start the conversation. If not, one of the reasons we developed this list and titled it the way we did was to help initiate discussions. You can print it off, and give it to the prospective birthmother, and say that you found this list and wondered if she’d be open to to talking about these topics. This “talk” shouldn’t be a one day event; rather, it can be used over several meetings/phone calls/ Skype video calls. Both parties need time to think about the topics and to adjust their ideas based on what the other side needs.

    This is such an interesting question that I’ll throw it out for comments/suggestions on our Facebook Support Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/40688106167/ to see how others have started this conversation.

    [[Creating a Family blog] at 12:02 pm on May 9, 2012]

  14. anon WP says:

    Dawn, thanks for the advice. I was thinking about this again the other day, and I realized I’d missed one last point – this conversation needs to happen with the birth father as well.

    You remember this old riddle? “A little boy gets hurt, and his father takes him to the emergency room. He needs surgery, but the surgeon walks into the room and says, ‘I can’t operate on him – he’s my son!’ How is that possible?”
    Back when I was a youngling, I remember being embarrassed that it took me waaaaay too long to get the answer. With adoption, I feel a little like the riddle could be:
    “An adoptive parent is talking with a birthparent about holidays and visits. The birthparent say, ‘sure, I’d love to see my son at Christmas and all, but Mother’s Day? Not really my thing. Let’s aim for June instead.’ What’s going on?”

    I don’t think you have the same blind spots as I do, but it bothers me that I find I have to remind myself to “remember” birthfathers rather than just treating them as equals in the whole process. Working on it…Actually, do you happen to have a radio show with a panel of birthfathers? I know you’ve had discussions with birthmothers that were really enlightening, but I would guess that fathers may have both similar and complementary concerns, and I’d love to hear their thoughts.

    • Dawn says:

      anonWP, birthfathers are often overlooked, often because they are uninvolved, but also often because we don’t treat fatherhood the same as motherhood. You are of course absolutely correct. These conversations are critical for either of the expectant parents. No, we have not done a show with a birth father panel. It’s a great idea.

  15. Thank you for this post
    Have a good day
    Cruise and Travel Agent

  16. anon WP says:

    Wow, excellent and difficult questions. The only thing I would add is that, like any good plan, it should probably be revisited from on a regular schedule. Sure, we might be doing brilliantly very quickly, but I would imagine that going through these questions again, maybe after a year or so, would provide an opportunity to make changes and adjustments in a structured way. But then again, not being in such a relationship yet, I don’t know if it would be an unnecessarily awkward way to go about it…

    So as a question back, Dawn, how on earth do you go about initiating that conversation? Do you try to answer the questions as “homework” first? Seems like one of those things that would be awful to just sort of spring it on someone…

    • Dawn says:

      anon WP, you are so right that whatever plan you set up needs to be flexible because with almost certainty, it will need to be adjusted. That’s why we included that question on how the parties want to handle making adjustments. And yes, you are right too that as with any big serious conversation, it is often awkward to talk about and especially awkward to start the conversation. In an ideal world, the counselor working with the birth mother would help start the conversation. If not, one of the reasons we developed this list and titled it the way we did was to help initiate discussions. You can print it off, and give it to the prospective birthmother, and say that you found this list and wondered if she’d be open to to talking about these topics. This “talk” shouldn’t be a one day event; rather, it can be used over several meetings/phone calls/ Skype video calls. Both parties need time to think about the topics and to adjust their ideas based on what the other side needs.

      This is such an interesting question that I’ll throw it out for comments/suggestions on our Facebook Support Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/40688106167/ to see how others have started this conversation.

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