Priorities: Getting Out What You Put In

What are the key ingredients to making an open adoption actually be an open adoption?

Aren’t open adoptions just open because birth parents and adoptive parents agree that the relationship is an open one, share phone numbers and have an occasional visit?

Let’s return to the basics. It’s often been said that open adoption is a relationship. In all actuality, open adoption is not a relationship, it’s several relationships. It’s the relationship between adoptive and birth parents. It’s the relationship between adoptive parents and adopted children. It’s the relationship between birth parents and the child they placed for adoption. On top of this, let’s throw in the relationship the child has with grandparents, both through adoption and birth. And what’s the relationship between siblings…those in the family who lives together day-to-day and those who are seen during visits?

So back to the ingredients. If we are going to have this thing called open adoption, and it involves all these relationships, how will it look and how does it work? There are many cliches that come to mind, including “you get out of it what you put into it.” The crux of most relationships comes down to this  simple saying.

Think about a great relationship that you once had, but no longer do.

Maybe it was a relationship between your best friend in high school. Maybe it was your first love. Maybe it was with a co-worker from your last job. Why is this relationship no longer great? In all likelihood, it’s not because of some huge argument. Relationships tend to drift away because they are not made a priority. Things happen. Phone calls or texts don’t get returned immediately and then become forgotten. The in-box of the email keeps getting more and more new emails on top of the original from that friend. The talk of “we should get together someday” never actually makes it to an actual date.

Now think of a relationship you are still in and all is going well. It’s a safe bet that phone calls and texts are returned. Conversations happen regularly. Time is spent together. Plans are made—and kept. The vague “someday” becomes “next Friday”.

Not all relationships are meant to last forever. There are good reasons why certain relationships are not a priority. A former co-worker with whom you shared an occasional drink after work is not the same as the person connected to you through a child you both adore. Adoption, on the other hand, is a lifelong set of relationships.

In an open adoption that works well, the relationship with the child is the priority. Because it’s a priority, you plan ahead. You put dates on the calendar. You answer texts. Not only do you answer texts, you initiate texts or calls. You don’t worry about whose turn it is to do what.

And you do this open adoption relationship thing because you know the child benefits.

The child knows they are loved. They learn their identity, both from the birth parents and from their adoptive parents. The child can deal with reality, not fantasy. And in the end, this set of adoption relationships helps create an adult who can create healthy, loving relationships of their own.

Healthy, loving relationships. Isn’t that what we all are hoping for?


Words Matter: Telling Your Child’s Story

As a society, we tend to throw around words that then become labels.

Words serve as codes and conjure pictures in our minds. These pictures then shape our attitudes. Attitudes become beliefs. And these beliefs are what we pass on to our children.

Here at ASC we have long advocated for the use of positive adoption language. Positive language serves to remove both stereotypes and judgements. For example—to say a woman gave up her baby evokes a pictures of an uncaring woman who just quits. She quits being a mother. She quits caring for her child. She is then deemed a quitter. This is negative language at its worst. Positive language says a woman placed her child for adoption. She made an adoption plan. The picture that comes to mind shows a woman with purpose and intent. Far from being a quitter, this woman is choosing and acting in a way that provides love, care, and stability for her child.

The use of positive language for your child’s story may involve more than just those things related solely to adoption. There may be pieces to your child’s story that involve birth parents who use drugs, have mental illness, or are in the United States illegally. It can be easy to use that shorthand and refer to the birth parents as addicts, or crazies, or illegals. What will your child think of their birth parent if this is how you think of them?

Here’s a quick guide to positive language for situations that may apply to your child’s adoption story.

While not all the words on the left are negative in and of themselves, they should be used with caution. Don’t let the “less positive” become just a label!

As you wonder who your child’s birth parents will be, or wonder how your child’s birth family is doing now after the placement, practice using the more positive language. If you slip up, give yourself some grace. Just keep on going. This is not an all inclusive list—if you’ve got a term or phrase to share, just let us know!