What is Open Adoption?

Open adoption is a kind of family formation. It is an agreement and  commitment that the birth family and adoptive family make to each other and to the child. It is a commitment to be part of each other's lives on an ongoing basis.

It’s like a marriage in some ways. When two people marry, they are joining with each other and they are joining their families. In open adoption, the adoptive family is joined with the birth family through the child.

Because the child is too young to do this, it is up to the adults to maintain the relationship with one another. So the adoptive and birth parents make a commitment to one another for the child  to have connections with members of his birth and adoptive families.

Open Adoption Relationships:

Like all families, the kind of relationship members of a family have with one another varies. Generally, these relationships fall into one of three types:

Extended Family Relationship:
People have different kinds of relationships with extended family members. Some maintain frequent contact  with one another. Some see each other only on significant family holidays and occassionally email or call one another.

Be specific about what amount and kind of contact you hope to have with your child and the adoptive parents.

What extended family relationships in an open adoption have in common is that you will be considered a family member. Ask adoptive parents how they maintain contact with their family members. This may give you an idea what kind of relationship you could have with them.

Friendship Relationship:
In a friendship open adoption, you spend time getting to know one another, visit each other's homes, and keep in touch by phone and email. You may or may not recognize each other's birthdays, give gifts at  Xmas. Usually, in this kind of open adoption relationship, you are not included in family gatherings such as Christmas dinner. 

What  friendship open adoptions have in common is a sense of enjoying each other's company.

Acquaintance Relationship:
In an acquaintance open adoption relationship, people keep in contact with one another but it is usually through email, texting or letter. They may get together once a year or get together sporatically. 

What acquaintance open adoptions have in common is contact is focused on information sharing and not necessarily on building a relationship with one another.

Relationships Change:
Of course, like all kinds of relationships, open adoption relationships may change over time. Sometimes the relationship feels like an extended family and sometimes like an acquaintance. Relationships need flexibility in order to survive. However, people in all forms of open adoption relationships honor and respect the birth bond between the child and the birth parents and recognize that children benefit from having some form of relationship and contact with members of their birth family on an ongoing basis. However, the frequency of contact and the way you connect with each other may change many times over the years.

Are open adoptions legally binding?

These relationships are entered into in good faith, based on trust and respect.

Birth parents and adoptive parents can discuss the kind of relationship they want to have with one another now and in the future. Some like to write down these thoughts into what is called an open adoption agreement. These agreements are reminders of their intentions and plans. It is always a good idea to have a plan. Although plans can be changed, they give everyone an idea where they are headed. These agreements are not initially considered legal documents.

However, if an open adoption agreement is made verbally or in writing (open adoption agreement) and one party does not abide by the agreements made, the other party can use the services of a lawyer to go to court. The court then may make the agreement legally binding.

What are the benefits of open adoption?

First and foremost, open adoption benefits the child. The child grows up knowing all the pieces of his or her family history. Like biological children, they grow up knowing their birth parents and birth relatives. The child has a firm understanding who he or she looks like in the family, where his or her interests came from, etc. The child also knows that s/he continues to be important to her birthparents. There is no room to doubt whether the child's birth parents loved and cared for the child. Information about all aspects of the child's family history is also readily available. And this kind of ongoing relationship eliminates the possibility that the child may look at every man and woman who bears a resemblance to him and wonder is that my mother, is that my father. The child never has to wonder whether their birthparents would welcome them back into their lives because they are part of their lives.

What kind of problems occur in open adoption relationships?

All families have problems. Open adoption families are no different. Often in the beginning of a relationship, people are not sure what to expect from one another. Birthparents are grieving the loss of their child. At the same time, they are trying to figure out what their role is in their child's life.
Adoptive parents are focused on their new role as parents of the child. They are usually tired from sleepless nights. They also are trying to figure out how the birth family fits into their  family structure. This is a time of great transition.
Understanding how the other person feels and good communication are essential throughout the relationship.  As the relationship develops, there can be other challenges.  To help you better understand the development of an open adoption relationship throughout the years, I would recommend the following books:

"Family Matters" by E. Wayne Carp

"Children of Open Adoption and Their Families" by Kathleen Silber and Patricia Dorner

"Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience" by Betty Jean Lifton

"The Spirit of Open Adoption" by James Gritter

"The Open Adoption Experience" by Lois Melina and Sharon Roszia-Kaplan

What is a birthparent's role in a child's life?

Birthparents need to be secure in the role they have in their child’s life. If they are not, the child loses.

It is important to look at the child's needs when sorting out your role in the child's life. A child needs someone who:

A child needs their birthparents to love them and to be there for them.