By Lindsey Martin, Counselor, LCSW. All relationships create opportunities to enhance our communication skills, but perhaps none more so than open adoption. Despite the trend in adoption towards openness, we have all encountered concerns about and arguments against open adoption. These arguments tend to be based on common myths and misconceptions and fueled by people’s fears. It can be difficult to know how to respond, especially with friends and family, who you want to have on your support team as you experience the adoption process.
OA&FS adoptive parents have shared that open and honest dialogue with their friends and families has been the most helpful approach to responding to concerns: “We had one person who had some concerns, but it was mostly due to preconceived notions and once we were able to explain the process, the love the birthmothers have when going this route, and the work that OAFS does to mitigate as many problems as possible, they seemed to come around.”
-Stacey Kryman, OA&FS adoptive parent
Deb & Corey Omey were open with their families about the agency, their profile, and the adoption process, but were clear that only a few people would be notified when they entered adoption planning, so that they could put all of their focus on building the relationship with birthparents at that time, without the obligation to keep everyone updated.
Most adoptive parents found that fears dissipated when friends and family were able to develop relationships with birth family and better understand the birthparents’ support of the adoptive parents and their commitment to the best interest of their children. When education and support are not enough to help people embrace open adoption, it can be helpful to express your hopes for how they will approach the situation:
“Primarily, we asked that people keep an open mind and respect that choosing an open adoption was a parenting decision we were making. We asked that they welcome our child’s birth family into our own extended family as we were doing. We did set some boundaries for those family members asking them to not say negative things about open adoption or our child’s birth family around us.”
-OA&FS adoptive parent
There are a lot of resources to help friends and family understand open adoption, including our website, which has a comprehensive resource center. Many adoptive families have found the videos on our site to be a helpful tool, as well as articles in magazines such as Adoptive Families, books like Hospitious Adoption by James Gritter and Making Room in Our Hearts by Micky Duxbury and the Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden with Crystal Hass, which were particularly useful to adoptive mother Jennifer Lucas. In on It by Elisabeth O’Toole was written to educate friends & family of adoptive parents about adoption. As we have seen for years, education about open adoption tends to shine a light into the darkness of misunderstandings. Many adoptive families have even found that with education and experience, the family members who were once most opposed to open adoption are now some of its strongest advocates.
Approaching friends and family with patience and empathy when helping them understand open adoption will help them to be receptive to new ideas. Think back to how you felt about open adoption when you first learned about it. Did you have concerns or fears that have since been resolved? Did you initially buy into some of the myths about open adoption? What did you learn that helped you to dispel those myths? Which resources were most helpful to you? How did you move to embracing the idea of open adoption? How can you share those messages that helped you with your families?
We know that educating your friends and family can be one more layer of complication to the open adoption process, but it can be especially worthwhile to teach people close to you how to support you through this journey. If you are struggling with this issue, your counselor is available to help you. The efforts that adoptive parents make to educate others will not only help you along your path, but will expand the ever-growing body of knowledge about open adoption.