Because open adoption can look different in every adoption, there isn’t one specific definition. It comes down to the wishes and agreements made between the biological and adoptive parents.
In a fully open adoption, the biological family would most likely have direct contact with the child through methods such as email, phone calls, and visits. Of course, the adoptive parents are involved in these interactions. If anything was not in the best interest of their child, they could decide to modify contact.
The biggest benefit to open adoption is most likely the connection your child could have with their biological parent/s. This can be especially important as your child grows up and is trying to determine who they are and understand their identity. It can take much of the mystery out of their adoption and help them get answers to questions they are sure to have. Another practical benefit is that if you have a relationship with the biological parent/s if you ever have medical questions, you can simply go to them and ask.
It’s very important to understand that an open adoption in no way takes away from your rights as an adoptive parent. It’s an addition, not subtraction. Open adoption is a way to keep the tie between your child and their biological family. If that relationship can be maintained healthily, it can be an amazing benefit to both your child and your entire family.
In comparison, closed adoption is when your family will have no contact with the biological family. On the surface, this may sound appealing in some ways. My advice if you feel this way is to analyze why it’s appealing. Is it because it is what you feel is best for you or your future adopted child? If it’s for you, it may be a good time to think and pray about what God’s best is for your family.
In the past, people often chose closed adoption but open adoption is now becoming much more common. From what I have seen, it’s the norm now. I think that is because when a family researches they realize the benefits typically outweigh any cons. However, you may find some birth parents that prefer closed adoption. We have friends who have never met their child’s biological parent because that was the birth mothers wish. They would love to have an open adoption but it’s just not an option at this time.
Again, the benefits of an open adoption can include…
- Your child having the opportunity to learn about their biological parents which can remove a lot of the questions and mystery. It can also help them with their identity and self-confidence.
- Protection for your child against a sense of abandonment. The ability of your child to communicate with their birth family can help limit a sense of abandonment that many adopted children often experience.
- Absence of a need to search. If your child already has a relationship with their birth family, it eliminates their need to search.
- An open dialogue about any medical issues that may arise.
- Sibling connections. There is a chance your child may have siblings they would not otherwise have the chance to know if open adoption is not chosen.
- Affirmation- In an open adoption, it’s typical that the birth parent/s choose you so knowing that you met them in person and you were the ones they chose can add to the feeling of certainty that this child was meant for you.
- Reduced fear- for some adoptive families, the uncertainty surrounding the birth parents can be heavy. With open adoption, communication with the birth parent can help ease any apprehension.
- In transracial adoption, a connection to the birth parents can provide your child with an important connection to learn about their ethnicity.
How exactly does open adoption work?
The terms of an open adoption can vary for each family. You might agree on annual updates and photos or perhaps even regular phone calls and visits. It’s up to the birth and adoptive family, often with the help of an agency, to define these parameters. The goal is that everyone involved is as happy as possible with the agreement and that it is in the best interest of the child.
In our case, we have an open adoption with our children’s birth mom. For us, this is very relaxed. We have a Gmail account set up just for us to send pictures to her regularly and we meet up if she wants to. These visits do not always happen as we never push and leave the decision up to her. So far, we’ve only gotten together a few times. Sometimes, she will reach out to see how we are doing. So, most of our contact is updates and pictures through email. It works well for us and she knows that the door is open if she would like more contact.
A good idea is to talk to your adoption professional or the agency you are working with, so you can ask any questions you have. Also talking to other families that have an open adoption can be a great way to learn more. Just remember that just because one adoptive family’s open adoption looks one way does not mean that is what yours will be like. The good news is that you get to help determine what you want the agreement to look like.
For more information on open vs. closed adoption, check out this post.