"I do believe that it's important for anyone who is considering adoption to understand that they are not bringing a single child into their life -- they are bringing an entire family. That's just a fact. The old adoption model, and even many current adoption arrangements, try to ignore this reality, but ignoring doesn't work. Even if the adoptive family has no contact with the biological family and rarely discusses them other than in vague, almost mythological ways (such as the 'your birth mother was someone who loved you very much' story), that family, and especially the birth mother, is still there, fully present in the child's psyche. They may exist primarily as an absence, as a longing (spoken or unspoken), but they are still there."
I'd like to to expand on that a bit today. For adoptive parents, the choice between closed, semi-open, and fully open adoption isn't really a choice between having the biological family in your life or not. The first family is a part of your life regardless because they are a part of your child; the question for adoptive parents is: "How are you going to respond to this reality?"
I really appreciated the many thoughtful comments I got last week in response to my Attuned Adoptive Parent post, and I especially liked the following words from Martha Crawford, LCSW:
"Even when families are forrmed through international adoption - emotional openness to the first families: ie listening to children's wishes to search, supporting that process when it feels age appropriate, inviting your child to communicate about their first parents and then accepting whatever feelings or language emerge, offering acceptance and support with out fear or defensiveness - this to me, is the primary sacred task of being an 'adoptive' parent."
I love her phrase "emotional openness to the first families," and I believe it represents a key factor. If an adoption is nominally open on paper but the parents are not emotionally open to the biological family, the openness of the adoption is likely to be perceived as a burden rather than a gift and is much less likely to succeed in the long term. This lack of emotional openness is detrimental to the relationship between the adoptive parents and the biological family, and, sadly, it is ultimately detrimental to the relationship between the adoptive parents and the adopted child. By contrast, there may be situations where circumstances preclude regular contact with the biological family but the adoptive parents are emotionally open and therefore able to hold space for the child's experience, whatever it may be. In such situations, the adoptive parents communicate acceptance to the child and able to help facilitate his or her growth and healing.
Some adoptive parents (including my own) like to say that adoptive families are no different than other families; they are just formed in a different way. This well-intentioned sentiment is meant to communicate that adoptive parents love their children as much as if they had given birth to them. As an adoptive (and biological) mother I can attest that this is true; I love my two daughters with equal intensity, though my relationship is different with each of them, just as it would be different if I had two biological children. But being an adoptive parent is not the same as being a biological parent. It is different because something more is asked of us, the "sacred task" that Marth Crawford mentions above. The adoptive parent is asked to open his or her heart to something more than just an individual, separate child. Loving and accepting an adopted child means loving and accepting all that the child is and holds within them, including the unbreakable thread that binds them to another family.
Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos