Open adoptions have become increasingly popular over the years. In fact, at American Adoptions nearly all of the adoptions we complete are open or semi-open in nature; meaning nearly all of our adoptive families maintain some form of contact with their child(ren)’s birth parents.
However, like any relationship, the relationship between adoptive family, adoptee, and birth parents can be difficult to navigate at times. We believe that the key to a successful open adoption is a healthy set of boundaries.
Some open adoption relationships seem to flow together easily without the need to formally set specific boundaries, while others need more structure to be successful. Below are a few examples of fair and healthy boundaries for all members of the adoption triad.
Remember, no two adoptions are the same, so what works in one open adoption relationship may not work in another.
For Adoptive Families
Respecting a birth mother’s right to privacy
If you and your child’s birth mother are connected on social media or you have in-person visits, please consider her privacy before sharing any photos or information with friends and family. Tagging your child’s birth mother in a photo or status update could unintentionally share her adoption story with those she did not wish to tell. Before you share any photos or details be sure to talk with her about how she would like to handle social media.
Respecting a birth mother’s wishes
Not all birth mothers are comfortable with beginning frequent communication right off the bat. Be careful not to push her into an intimate relationship before she is ready. Talk with her as soon as possible about the type of communication she wants and how much privacy she would like to maintain. Follow her lead and allow her to open up at a pace that she is comfortable with. Occasionally reminding her that you’ll abide by her wishes regarding communication will reassure her that she’ll be able to open up if she feels comfortable with that at some point in the future.
Keeping your promises
If you and the birth parents initially agreed to send pictures and letters every 6 months, you should stick to that promise. If you make a plan to meet, don’t cancel the plans last minute. Don’t tell them you were “too busy” or send the photos weeks later. Make birth parents a priority. Be at your meeting on time. Make the time to put together a few cute photos and a heartfelt letter letting them know how the child is doing. It means more to a birth mother than you will ever know.
For Birth Parents
Respecting the adoptive family’s right to privacy
In the age of social media, it is all too tempting to share the adorable photos you just received from your child’s adoptive parents. But before you hit “share” it’s best to have a conversation with the adoptive parents about how they would like to handle social media. Some parents are completely fine with you sharing a couple photos on Facebook or Instagram. But others may want to keep their child’s life private and off of the internet. You should always respect this decision.
Knowing your role in the relationship
For some birth parents, it can be difficult to remember that they are no longer in the “parent” role. Your child’s adoptive parents are the ones making the parenting decisions. No matter what you think of their parenting style, don’t try to insert your own parenting opinions. Of course, you should still ask how they are doing and offer support when it is needed.
Keeping your promises
When it comes to keeping in contact with an adoptive family, there are a lot of logistics to work out. You probably have different schedules and you may even live in different time zones. This is why it is so important to plan meetings, photo calls and Skype sessions ahead of time. If you set a time for a phone call or make plans to meet, don’t be late and don’t cancel. Make the adoptee the priority. If you do have to cancel or if you are running late, give them a call to let them know.
Respecting your right to privacy
You’re never under any obligation to share your adoption story unless you feel comfortable doing so. If you do, remember to respect the privacy of your parents and birth parents.
Keeping balance in your life
For adoptees in open adoptions, take care of your needs in the adoption relationship. If you feel that you’d like to increase or decrease the amount of contact with your birth family, communicate that desire and the emotions behind it.
Keeping your promises
Adult adoptees of open adoptions who maintain communication with their birth family should try to follow through on promises to keep in touch just as their parents once did. This, of course, is now your choice. But it’s a small kindness that can go a long way.
Creating boundaries in an open adoption is a lot like creating boundaries in a romantic relationship or in a friendship. It takes some time, patience and a lot of communication to find what boundaries work best for each party, but once everyone is on the same page, the relationship can continue to grow without any major bumps in the road. The results are worth the effort!