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How to Open a Closed Adoption

When the Adoptee Is Still a Minor

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With a minor child, adoptive parents are still very much a part of the process of opening a closed adoption or starting an adoption reunion. An open adoption will include the following on the part of the adoptive parent:

  • open communication that involves listening
  • flexibility
  • being aware of own feelings

Don't be surprised if feelings of jealousy or anger start to creep up. The feelings of anger may be more of an issue when an adoption was from the foster care system and abuse or neglect were an issue in the birth home. But as children get older, we can't always protect them from the realities of their past.

1. Examine expectations.

Ask each member of the triad to really think about their expectations. What do they wish to gain from an open adoption? What is expected?

Take this time to also consider the type of contact. Will their be face-to-face visitation or phone calls? Are emails appropriate or letters through regular mail? How about the holidays or birthdays? How much contact and how often?

2. Communicate expectations to all involved.

Maintain open communication within your core family. Share concerns and fears with honesty and respect. Remember to speak respectfully of the other parties, even if you personally have an issue with another triad member. This is not something to share with the adoptee who will already feel caught in the middle. These feelings are best left to a private journal or a close friend.

3. Prepare your child for contact.

Even if your child seems excited by meeting birth family, it's still a good idea to prepare him for contact. The amount of preparation needed will vary from child to child, and will depend greatly on his developmental and emotional stage. It's far better to thoughtfully prepare a child than to have to undo stress and worry afterwards.

4. Be aware of signs of grief.

An open adoption is not a cure for grief. In fact,there may be some grieving behaviors, especially at the beginning of the reunion. Don't give up on the open adoption, and be prepared to help the adoptee through the changes. Sadness after a visit or letter from birth mom does not necessarily mean that the visit or letter is a bad thing. Be prepared for this by having a working knowledge of the signs of grief and how to help your child through the process.

5. Get input from the adoptee.

If the adoptee is old enough to contribute, ask for input on how reconnecting should begin. What age is "old enough"? That is best left to you, the parent, or an outside party such as a therapist who is working with your child. Each child is different and at a different emotional and developmental age, regardless of his years in age.

No matter what the age of your child, always listen and respect his ideas and thoughts. Share your thoughts too. Think of it as the adoptee's input with your guidance. This is especially important if the adoptee is blurring some boundaries.

6. Maintain boundaries, especially in the beginning of the new relationship.

Remember that even though you are all linked together by a child that you all love, you are still strangers. It's OK to want to take time to get to know each other and develop a working relationship.

Some boundaries may include: do not accept rides, no unannounced visits to the home and limited visits at the adoptee or adoptive parent's work. If your child's adoption was from the foster care system and abuse was an issue, the boundaries may become even more important to the child's sense of well-being. Our son wanted our home to be "his safe place." If drugs and alcohol are an issue, then communicate this to your child, and make plans on how to handle the situation if a birth parent shows up for a visit under the influence.

7. Reach out to the birth family.

We chose to begin with a letter to the birth parents. Each of our boys read the letter and approved of its contents. In the letter we shared that the boys wanted to begin slowly with letters to our PO Box address. We also included an update on how each of our children had been doing over the past few years, highlights as well as struggles. Others may choose to start with a phone call. There are pros and cons to each option. In writing, you have proof of what was said, but writing sometimes leaves much to interpretation. Choose what works best for your family. Again, include your child in this decision.

8. Plan the first face-to-face meeting.

After the initial contact and establishing some sort of line of dependable communication, families may wish to work towards meeting face to face. Consider having the first meeting in a neutral location like a zoo or restaurant. This will allow everyone to feel more comfortable as no one has a "home turf advantage."

9. Expect highs and lows.

Highs and lows will probably be a part of this process, emotionally as well as behaviorally. This will not be an easy transition, but it may be well worth it. An open adoption can be very healing for all involved.

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