When should you close an open adoption
Is there ever a time to close an open adoption? Practical solutions to annoying problems in open adoptions.

I run a very large online support group for adoptive parents, and within the last year I’ve heard the following reasons why adoptive parents, who had agreed to an open adoption, were considering closing the adoption or reducing the degree of openness.

  • Birth father promising to come at a certain time and then either showing up late or not at all.
  • Birth parents show up for visits high.
  • Birth mom and extended family not respecting adoptive family’s rules: eating sweets, screen time, wearing seatbelt, etc.
  • Birth mother curses constantly around the child.

The Pain of Closing an Adoption

The Creating a Family Adoption Support Group is made up mostly of adoptive parents and infertility patients, but also birth parents and adult adoptees. Some of the most heartbreaking posts I’ve seen in all the years we have run this group are from first moms who were promised an open adoption, but then for seemingly fairly trivial reasons or no reason, the adoptive parents closed the adoption.

Imagine it, if you can. Making what is likely the biggest decision you will ever make based on the belief that you will receive regular updates, or pictures, or visits…and then—nothing. Imagine a lifetime of wondering and worrying with no recourse. I literally can’t let my imagination go there. The pain is too great.

I know that there are reasons why adoptive parents might need to close an adoption or drastically reduce the degree of openness, but these reasons need to involve the safety of the child, not the annoyance of the adoptive parents.

Practical Solutions to Annoying Problems in Open Adoption

Open adoptions are family relationships, and just like every family relationship, difficulties will arise. And just like any other family relationship, when these “situations” happen innovative ways can usually be found to maintain the spirit of openness while protecting the child (and the adoptive parent’s sanity).

Problem: Birth father promising to come at a certain time and then either showing up late or not at all.

Solution: Rather than close the adoption, schedule to meet at a park or fast food place with an indoor play area. Either don’t tell the child in advance or reduce expectations (“David may be joining us, but then again, you know David—he may or he may not.”) Plan on playing at the park for a couple of hours and if he shows, he shows; if he doesn’t, you’ve had a fun afternoon at the park.

Problem: Birth parents show up for visits high.

Solution: This is a tricky one and presents a fine line for adoptive parents to walk. There is no one size fits all solution. First, make very clear that you expect them to be straight during any meetings because it is what is best for the child. Ask them to set the time of day to meet when they will most likely not be stoned.

If you are uncertain whether they will be impaired, select a public place with lots going on to entertain the child, such as a park or a performance, to make it less obvious to your child. If they show up obviously stoned out of their gourd, cancel the visit and do something else fun with your child. If they are just every-day stoned, I would personally go through with the visit, but obviously watch carefully any interaction with the child.

I should point out that several people on our online support group disagreed with me on this because they believe that even young children are aware when adults are impaired. Further, a few pointed out that being around a parent that is high, could trigger emotional flashbacks for children who have experienced this before. All are very good points that parents have to consider when deciding to continue a visit or cancel. You are the parents, and you have to decide what is best for your child.

If birth parents continue to show up for visits drunk or stoned, you may have to discontinue visit and explore other ways to maintain the spirit of openness, such as having a private Facebook group to share pictures and cute stories, connecting with other extended family members rather than birth parents, etc.

As my child ages, I would be open and honest about their birth parent’s drug or alcohol use and consider this a great learning opportunity to talk about drugs, what they do to people, and the genetic connections with addiction. At some point bring the child into the decision of what degree and type of openness they want considering their birth parent’s addiction.

Problem: Birth Parents not respecting our rules re. eating sweets, screen time, wearing seatbelt, etc.

Solution: I think it is important to separate things that are safety issues from things that are parental preferences. Of the listed rule violations, the only one I would consider non-negotiable is seatbelts. If my child’s birth mother drove with my child not buckled in, I would not allow her to take my child places in her car. Period. No reason to close the adoption, but a good reason to alter what she could do with the child.

If she buckled him in a seatbelt, but not a car seat, I would always make sure that I brought the car seat and install it myself in her car. I would stress that this was a non-negotiable rule for me. If she didn’t put the child in the car seat, I would not allow my child to be driven in her car.

As far as giving my child forbidden candy or screen time, I personally wouldn’t sweat it unless my child spent a lot of time alone with the birth parents. Who doesn’t have a memory of a relative that let you get away with more than your parents. My grandfather kept candy in his pockets that he freely gave me—even right before a meal. It not only didn’t hurt me, it gave me wonderful memories.

I would stress that the screen time should not involve free internet access because that is a safety and health issue, but so long as it is playing more Minecraft than is allowed at home, occasional excess won’t really hurt your child, and is no reason to close an adoption

Problem: Birth mother curses constantly around the child.

Solution: Most of us moderate our colorful language when we are around children. It is very possible that your child is the only child in his birth mother’s life, so she is not used to toning down her language. Explain to her that you would prefer to keep the conversation G rated because you don’t want your child to be punished at school if he curses, but if she lets a choice curse word or two or twenty slip, I wouldn’t worry about it. Tell your child that you wish Suzy wouldn’t use that type of language, but she has a hard time remembering.

Children understand that adults can say words that they are not allowed to say. My father cursed like a sailor—in fact, he cursed more inventively than most sailors. I was absolutely never allowed to follow suit. I don’t remember thinking it was a double standard or being confused about the rules—Dad could curse because he was an adult, and I couldn’t because I was a child. (And for the record, I didn’t grow into an adult who curses… much.)

Open Adoptions are All About The Big Picture

Open adoptions are like any family relationship—they take flexibility and the ability to see the big picture. And the big picture is that we are in this relationship with our child’s birth parents because it is in our child’s best interest.

Open adoptions often require us to put aside our insecurities and desire for control. Doing this is hard—very hard. We do it because we made a promise. We do it because we will have to answer to our child one day. We do it because it is best for this child that we love more than life itself.

How would you handle these situations. Do you agree that they do not warrant closing an adoption?

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Image credit: Marc Moss