Open adoptions-picture of first mom with baby

Open adoptions are all about relationships, and like all relationships, they are often complicated, but let’s be honest– open adoptions can take “complication” to a whole new high (or would that be low). Birth parents and adoptive parents often come from different backgrounds with different life experiences with varying degrees of “power” in the relationship.

People often say that many relationships such as marriages and friendships and in-laws have differences, so what’s the difference? While it is true that many relationships are built around or survive through differences, it is also true that there is usually more shared common ground  and societal expectations to smooth the way.

Given all this messiness, why bother with open adoptions? Why muddy up your life having contact with your child’s birth parents? Why run the risk of confusing children or making the adoptive parents feel less than biological parents…as if they were simply babysitters of someone else’s child. These were the questions being asked back when open adoptions first began in domestic infant adoption in the US, and questions that the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP) was designed to answer when it began in 1987.

I have long been a fan of the MRARP research project and we interviewed the two lead researchers of MTARP on a  Creating a Family show. Dr. Hal Grotevant and Dr. Ruth McRoy are the preeminent experts on open adoption and how we currently practice adoption in the US.  Being the research geek that I am, I was beyond excited to be able to interview them, but even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for research, you will thoroughly enjoy this show.




The Hassle of Relationships

Some open adoption relationships are smooth, easy, and enjoyable for everyone involved. Others are…not. These fraught open adoptions require a deep breath and prayer before every encounter. Most are somewhere in between. I don’t know about you, but this pretty well describes relationships that already exist within my biological family.

Why do we accept these complications in our biological family, but become overwhelmed when they happen with our child’s birth parents? Is it because we view the relationship with our bio relatives as “required”, and the relationship with our child’s birth parent as optional?

Why Go Through the Work of Open Adoption

Why go through all the bother of open adoption? In essence, that was the question the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project set out to answer 27 years ago when it began. They have continued to interview the same adoptees, birth mothers, and adoptive parents to see how open adoptions evolve. Their findings are fascinating.  The bottom line is that we go through the hassle of open adoption relationships because it is best for our kids, kind for birth parents, and good for us.

Open adoptions are good for kids

It’s All About the Attitude

Success in open adoption is no different from success in any other relationship—it requires commitment, communication, and flexibility…and the greatest of these is commitment. In the last year, I have seen adoptive parents consider closing an adoption for the following reasons:

  • Birth parents calling the child by the name they gave him, rather than the name his adoptive parents gave him.
  • Birth father referring to the child as “my child” on Facebook.
  • Birth parents not consistently showing up for a scheduled visit.

You will have to decide for yourself if these reasons justify closing an adoption, but I somehow doubt that these parents would cut out a biological relative for similar “offenses”.

This brings me to my #1 Rule for a Successful Open Adoption.  It’s called the Slightly Annoying Grandmother rule, and you really must check it out.

How would you rate the ease of your open adoption relationship? Feel like friends? Dread each meeting? Somewhere in between?

First published in 2014; Updated in 2017
Image credit: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen