The current prompt over at Open Adoption Bloggers is a good one. Does it get easier? It’s a question my clients ask, too, and my answer is Yes. And No.
Open adoption relationships are just like any other relationship — relationships grow and change, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. In the case of domestic infant adoption, things usually start our simpler where it’s mostly adults trying to navigate expectations. As the child grows, their wants and wishes enter in and that always complicates things. Parents — by birth or adoption — don’t have as much control over how kids see things as they might think they do and so no matter how carefully they’ve planned out how to “do” adoption, our children might have other ideas.
So the birth and adoptive parents who hoped for lots of fun visits may have a child who sulks and refuses to enjoy them. Or the birth and adoptive parents who hoped to have a carefully constructed semi-open adoption may be confronted with a child who hungers for more.
In foster to adopt where there is openness, the beginning can be especially hard since there is a lot of upfront baggage everyone has to work through. Children may not be ready for contact but there might need to be some way to maintain connection and then there might be more relationships — siblings still parented or placed elsewhere, grandparents who may have cared for the children for a time.
Families change. People get married and divorced. New babies arrive. People move. Families make plans together at the very beginning not knowing — because how can anyone know — how drastically things might change. People get sober. People start drinking. People convert to a new religion or leave a church altogether.
These things are true of any relationship and so they are also true of the open adoption relationship.
And just like any other relationship, we get better at them if we work at it. Birth parents and adoptive parents can’t control what happens or what other people do, but we can get better at maintaining healthy boundaries and loving people through change. We learn how to trust the love between people even if we can’t always trust their choices. We learn how little control we have over how other people choose to live out the relationships with us and with our children.
Sometimes, certainly, we need help with our relationships and the challenge in open adoption is that few people understand it. Our friends might not, our family might not, and even the professionals we turn to may not. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct mistaken assumptions about openness in adoption made by my colleagues.) So then we might need to rely on each other for help and answers. We might need to look for open-minded professionals and help them build their competency. We might need to sit down and think hard on what led us to openness in the first place and trust that those values that brought us here still matter. And we might need to remind ourselves that open adoption is ultimately a relationship and that we know that relationships grow, change, evolve — all of them do — and that we can grow, change and evolve with them.
So yes, it gets harder (because change is hard) but it gets easier (because we get better as we grow, if we want to).
There is always hope.