I have found the concept of openness to be one of the scariest and most misunderstood concepts in adoption. Parents and professionals alike seem to be wary of the idea of openness in adoption. I’ve actually heard professionals recommend international adoption as the perfect type of adoption for a family looking to avoid openness and “always looking over your shoulder.”
Open adoptions, by definition, are the opposite of closed adoptions. Right?
Well, it’s not quite that simple.
A closed adoption typically describes an adoption where no identifying information is shared with either the adoptive family or the birth family. The birth family does not typically have the opportunity to choose the adoptive family. All decisions are made by a third party, such as a social worker, attorney, or agency. Not only is there is no contact between the birth family and the adoptive family, but the adoptive family typically has very limited or no information about the birth family. Closed adoptions are pretty rare in the United States, although they do still occur- particularly in cases of Safe Haven babies or other situations where infants are abandoned and no information is known about the birth family.
So, then, is an open adoption exactly the opposite?
Many families I talk to who are in the beginning stages of considering adoption have been led to believe that open adoption means “co-parenting.” Or in the case of children who have been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect, open adoption means being un-protective, allowing the abuser access to the child. Understandably then, openness certainly does sound “like a bad idea.” Threatening, even dangerous.
I encourage the families I work with to consider the idea of openness on a continuum where “completely closed” is at one point. And every other infinite point on the spectrum is some level of openness.
Openness may simply mean being honest with your child about the limited information you know about their life prior to you becoming their parent. This may mean being open about information that isn’t beautiful or positive. Openness may mean keeping keepsakes of your child’s previous life- pictures, toys, or other memorabilia. Openness may mean creating a life book with your child and including everything you know about your child’s first family (keeping it age appropriate). Openness may mean cultivating an atmosphere in your home where your child feels safe to ask you tough questions about their birth family.
Openness may mean different things to different people, and your comfort with different level of openness will likely change throughout your own journey with adoption. Most adoptive parents I know wish for more openness as their parenting journey unfolds…because even not-so-pretty answers to some of those difficult questions feels better than “I don’t know, honey.”