When birth and adoptive parents communicate through open adoption, it can be a great benefit for their lifelong relationship and emotional well-being. Open adoption is also important for adoptees — knowing their biological parents and maybe even biological siblings. Most kids are happier when they have more openness with their biological family!
But, if you’re not familiar with the benefits of open adoption, you may be wondering, “Does open adoption confuse kids?”
“Adoption confusion” is a commonly-searched term that may refer to many things. Birth parents may think their child will be confused about their decision to place him or her for adoption. Adoptive parents may think their child will be confused about who their parents are or that birth families will want to co-parent. The truth is: Open adoption does not confuse kids.
If you, as adoptive parents, approach the topic of adoption and birth parents with uncertainty or frustration, then your child may have similar negative feelings regarding their adoption. On the other hand, if you have established healthy connections with birth parents and maintain open and honest communication with your child, then no one will be confused about their adoption relationships.
Here are some tips on how to set your child up for a happy and healthy open adoption experience that is far from confusing:
1. Start Talking about Adoption Early
It’s important to start talking about adoption and birth parents with kids when they are very young. You can certainly talk about adoption to your infant! They won’t understand, but you will get the benefit of practice with normalizing adoption and using positive adoption language.
When open adoption is addressed early on, children develop a clear understanding and distinction between their two families. As adoptive parents, it’s important to be open and honest with your child from the very beginning about their adoption. If you are uncomfortable with talking about adoption in your home, your child receives the harmful message that their adoption causes you discomfort — practice positivity!
2. Normalize the Topic of Adoption
Many families are created through adoption, and open adoption has become the norm. But when a child is very young, their capacity for understanding complex details about their adoption is still developing. Address adoption at age-appropriate levels, and continue as they grow in age and understanding. Reading books about adoption with your young child or watching movies about adoption is a good way to keep adoption an ongoing and normalized topic in your home.
When discussing birth parents, it is important to always speak positively and respectfully. You can tell your child that their birth mom chose to place them for adoption because she loves them very much. She wanted her child to have a safe home with lots of opportunities that she may not have been able to provide at that point in her life.
Many adoptees say that they talked about adoption with their families openly and often, which made their adoption story normal to them. This is the goal! If your child can’t remember a time when they didn’t know they were adopted, then you have successfully normalized adoption for them.
3. Ask Questions and Answer Questions
When your child is at an age where they’re beginning to ask a lot of questions, this is the perfect opportunity to make sure they know and understand their birth family relationships and open adoption story. You can ask how your child feels about being adopted, how they feel about their birth parents and how they feel about their adoption story.
Your child may not be able to answer questions fully, but they can express themselves through emotions such as happy, sad and even, “I don’t know.” Give your child the opportunity to explore their feelings about adoption and encourage them to ask as many questions as they would like.
When you’re asked questions, this is a great time to set the stage for how your child can view and interpret adoption in a healthy way. Remember, if you don’t know an answer to one of your child’s questions, it’s important to tell them that you don’t know. Honesty is crucial because it builds trust, acceptance and peace of mind.
It may also be helpful to have your child’s birth mother involved in answering questions — this is another reason why open adoptions actually decrease confusion for young adoptees.
4. Keep Photos and Letters Visible and Accessible
The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true for nearly all situations. If you have family photos displayed around your house, you can add photos, trinkets and letters from your child’s birth family to your collection. These items can be wonderful adoption conversation starters with your kids and visitors. You can allow your child to explain the photos of their birth family to those who ask about them. This can help normalize adoption for others and give your child pride in their two loving families.
5. Establish Titles
Those unfamiliar with adoption often worry about titles: “What will children in open adoptions call their adoptive and birth parents? Who is ‘mom’ or ‘dad?’”
People also may worry about role confusion: “Will a child understand the difference between their mom and birth mom in an open adoption?”
Children have no confusion about who tucks them in at night. And, just as your child will clearly understand who “grandma” is, adding “birth grandma” to their family roster is simple.
Your child will call you “mommy” or “daddy,” because that’s what you are. When you introduce your child’s birth parents and siblings into your everyday family discussions, they’ll also have clear titles. Maybe you’re comfortable with saying “your birth mom” or maybe you refer to birth parents by their first names. Maybe your child’s birth parents have their own special title or nickname. However you decide to reference your child’s birth family, keep it consistent.
In an open adoption, the birth parents may be present through phone calls, video chats and visits, but it’s clear who moms and dads are.
Moms and dads are the ones they see every morning and every night before bed. You eat, play and learn together. Every day you share your lives. The relationship between adoptees and their birth family is special, but it is a separate and different relationship than the one shared with “mom” or “dad.” Open adoption may seem like it’d be a confusing concept, but to children, it’s simple and natural.