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What's the Difference Between Open Adoption vs. Co-Parenting?

Any woman can have a relationship with her child after placing them for adoption. But, what if you’ve already been parenting your child? Will you continue your parenting roles after the adoption? Not exactly, no. To learn more about open adoption, call 1-800-ADOPTION now.

If you decide to place your child for adoption, you can still be part of their life as much as you’re comfortable with. But, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be co-parenting with the adoptive family.

We know that this can be a big adjustment when you’re already used to parenting your child, and you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect. That’s why we’ll go over everything you need to know in this guide.

If you’d to speak with a specialist right away, you can always contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION.

What is Open Adoption?

On the most basic level, an open adoption is a relationship in which the adoptive and birth families share identifying information and build a relationship with one another. Both parties will start with pre-adoption contact and continue building their relationship long after the adoption is complete. 

For Caitlin, a birth mother, knowing that she’ll be able to be part of her child’s life was one of the greatest things she ever did:

“Knowing that I can be around and be there — I don’t even know how to put it into words… I’m like a cheerleader on the sideline, and that’s more than I could have asked for,” she said of her open adoption relationship. “He gets this family who can take care of him and do everything I couldn’t, but he can also know that I didn’t just give him away. I had a purpose for him, and it was meant to be.”

Open adoptions take many shapes. Because every birth parent has their own preference with how much contact they’re comfortable with, no two open adoptions are the same.

No matter what level of contact you’re comfortable with, your adoption specialist can help you come with a plan and find a family that has everything you’re looking for.

What Can I Choose in an Open Adoption?

In an open adoption, you can choose to have as much contact as you’re comfortable with. Most women decide to have some degree of openness and usually choose between a fully open or semi-open adoption.

If you choose to have a more open adoption, then you might share:

  • Personal contact information, including first and last names
  • Visits on holidays and birthdays
  • Regular picture and letter updates
  • Video calls, phone calls, emails, text messages

In an older child adoption, your child and the adoptive family will need some early bonding time together. But then, having a high amount of post-adoption contact is typically best for you and your child.

What’s the Difference Between Open Adoption and Co-Parenting?

There are a lot of people, including adoptive parents, who are unsure about open adoption because they don’t know what the boundaries are, or how to establish them. 

Once you complete your adoption paperwork, and the period of revocation has passed, you will officially terminate your parental rights. At this point, all responsibilities will be transferred to the adoptive family, and you will no longer be your child’s legal caregiver. While you can still be a part of your child’s life, all legal, medical and parenting decisions will be made by your child’s adoptive family.

Because of these new boundaries in place, it can be a big adjustment when you’ve already been parenting your child. But, it’s important to understand that once you sign your adoption paperwork and placement occurs, that is now their child. Whatever decisions the adoptive family makes for how they raise their child you must respect it, even when it’s hard.

Can I Still Spend the Same Amount of Time with My Child?

Right now, it’s normal to feel worried about how your child will handle the transition of living in a new home and environment.

It’s only natural to want to check up on how they’re doing by visiting them if you can, and catching up on the phone to spend time together while you’re apart. But while your intentions are good, it might not be the best thing for your child or for the adoptive family.

After you place your child with the adoptive family, it’s important to respect their early bonding time during the initial open adoption. How long this last depends on your unique situation, but it can be up to a few months. While the adoptive family will of course want you to be involved in their lives, they’ll need some space as they spend some time building their relationship.

Additionally, it will be hard for your child to understand the transition and form an attachment with the adoptive parents if they’re still spending most of their time with their birth family. While this can be hard, it will be good for everyone in the long run.

Rest assured that the separation won’t last forever, and you’ll be able to spend more time with them later down the road.

So, Why Choose Open Adoption?

Research has shown time and time again that open adoption has countless benefits for you, the adoptive family and the adoptee. For many women, choosing open adoption plays a big part in their healing journey. 

Randi, a birth mother, has a great open adoption relationship with her child’s adoptive family. She even gets to pictures of their millstones though the adoptive parents' blog:

“Every picture, it brightens my day. There are two things I check every day, the blog and my Facebook,” Randi said. “When I see a random picture that she puts on there, it just makes me feel like she’s not forgetting about me and keeping up with what she said she was going to do.”

Open adoption might not be co-parenting. But through this type of post-placement relationship, you can still build a fulfilling and life-long bond with your child and the adoptive family.


If you have any other questions about the difference between open adoption and co-parenting, we’d be happy to answer them.

And if you are considering adoption for your older child today, you should know that our agency is able to provide placement services for children up to 4 years old. You can give us a call whenever you’re ready at 1-800-ADOPTION to learn more about the open adoption process.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is American Adoptions the right adoption agency choice for many birth mothers?

American Adoptions is one of the largest licensed adoption agencies in the United States. Each year, we work with thousands of women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and offer assistance to these women. Our large, caring staff is able to assist you seven days a week and provide you with one-on-one counseling about your pregnancy and available options.

You should choose an adoption agency where you feel completely comfortable with their services and staff. With American Adoptions, you will work with an Adoption Specialist who is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Adoption Specialist will be your advocate and will provide support and guidance as you create an adoption plan that is right for you.

How will the family tell my child about me and the adoption when my child is older?

Each family has their own style of introducing adoption to the child. When you are matched with an adoptive family, you can ask them this question. If you would like your Adoption Specialist to discuss it for you, just let her know. He or she can share your wishes or provide good ideas from other adoptive families.

You will also be able to share what you want your baby to know about you. You can complete a keepsake booklet to share hobbies, stories, photos of you and your family and a letter to your baby. The adoptive family can provide this to your child as he or she grows older. Be as creative as you like! Some birth mothers have even knitted a special blanket as a gift to their baby or given a similar symbol of their love.

The father of your baby can fill out the birth father's keepsake booklet or write a letter too. You may have other family members who would also like to share photos or a letter to the baby. This is your opportunity to pass on your and your family's love and to share your personality, history and reasons for choosing adoption. The adoptive family will treasure whatever information you provide and will share it with the baby at an appropriate age. In most adoptive homes, the word adoption is in the child's vocabulary early on, and adoption is celebrated in their lives.

Additional Resources

Teen Pregnancy - Information for Young Women

While not every woman who chooses adoption is a young mother, many are. Through adoption, many young women have found an ability to give their babies the best life possible, while finding the opportunity to realize their own dreams, as well. Call American Adoptions today at 1-800-ADOPTION.

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Do adoption terms and phrases leave you feeling confused? Learn the meaning to key adoption words and phrases with our comprehensive adoption glossary.

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