When you get married you are probably looking more for a partner than for in-laws. The idea of in-laws may even be intimidating. You’ve probably heard stories of the interfering mother-in-law. Or perhaps you’ve heard about spouses who couldn’t let go of the apron strings and commit to the relationship.
These are many of the same worries prospective adoptive parents have with open adoption. They worry that the child will be confused about who his parents are, or play one set of parents against the other. They worry about losing their privacy if the birth parents call or visit. They worry that the birth parents won’t be able to let go of the child – that they will want the child back. They worry that they will be constantly competing with the birth parents for their child’s love.
Every adoptive parent, whether in a confidential adoption or an open adoption, fears someday losing their child physically or emotionally to the birth parents. They fear that if they are measured against the birth parents, they might be found inadequate. Confidential adoptions were begun to protect birth parents and adoptees from society’s attitudes. But by suggesting that adoptive families need protection from the birth parents, the adoption system has implied that only if this barrier exists can adoptive families feel secure and be a real family.
Accepting open adoption requires that prospective adoptive parents first face the basic fears that all adoptive parents have, but are able to bury if the adoption is to be confidential. This can be accomplished through pre-adopt education classes (provided through adoption agencies, conferences, or independent educators), books and webinars, and through personal contact with birth and adoptive parents – especially those in open adoptions. Once those fears have been addressed, the risks that open adoption presents are similar to those in any relationship. And the skills that can be used to address those risks are skills that many of us already are using in relationships or can acquire with a little assistance.
However, comfort with open adoption really develops when the concept is no longer an abstract idea but a relationship with real people – when adoptive parents meet the right birth parents. The commitment becomes even greater when the child grows up and the adoptive parents see that the love between the adoptive parents and the child is strong and is not threatened by the birth parents’ presence.
Lois Melina, author of the highly regarded books, Raising Adopted Children and Making Sense of Adoption, has published Adopted Child newsletter since 1981. Melina’s newsletter has gained an international reputation as a trusted resource for adoptive parents.