Know your role. I’m not my daughter’s parent. I’ve recognized this fact from day one, and I’m very careful not to cross that boundary. As a birthparent, it’s so important to recognize the role that you play in your child’s life. If you’re not sure what your role is, talk to the adoptive parents. For example, I view my relationship with my daughter similar to that of an aunt who is there to love, support, and mentor her. If you are able to visit often, be sensitive to the fact that you are not in control of the everyday happenings in your child’s life. Some people have a hard time with this, but this is the reality of the open adoption situation. Here’s one small example from my own life: When Deanna was about two years old, her hair grew in like a mullet – nearly bald on top, with long hair in the back. Her adoptive mom just wasn’t ready to cut her hair yet. As much as I thought her hair would look better trimmed, I knew that this wasn’t my decision to make, so I kept my opinion to myself. A few weeks later, Deanna got her first haircut and De mailed me a few precious locks of her hair. All along, I have recognized that I entrusted Deanna’s parents to raise her, and that meant giving them complete authority to make all decisions regarding her wellbeing. I respect the decisions they make, and I let them be who I asked them to be – Deanna’s parents.
Know when to speak up. While it’s important to not overstep boundaries, it’s also important to be honest and open in your communication. Maybe I’m a bit biased – I have a degree in Communications – and I know from experience that this is easier said than done, but if there is something bothering you, speak up! Don’t let something fester inside of you – say how you feel and talk about how to resolve the issue. How you say things can be just as important as what you say. Approach sensitive subjects with kindness, respect, and full disclosure. Visits are usually the main topic of concern for many birthmothers – we wonder, Am I going to be cut out of the picture? Adoptive parents should keep this in mind when debating whether or not to change your visitation agreement and ask for more space. The fear of being shut out plays into the mind of nearly every birthmom. Will there be a day when the adoptive parents just don’t want me around anymore? I believe that both adoptive parents and birthparents need to be reassured.
Be hospitable. I once heard that open adoption can be compared to the relationship between in-laws. Sometimes you get along and sometimes you don’t, but you try your best to love your in-laws. Why? Because you love your spouse. In the same way, birthparents and adoptive parents should strive to compromise because they share an incredible love for their child. In another adoption book written by James Gritter, Hospicious Adoption, Gritter says that hospitality creates a context in which remarkable things can happen. With regards to measuring the satisfaction of adoptive parents and birthparents with their arrangements, Gritter found that satisfaction isn’t necessarily based on the frequency of visits, but rather on the quality of those relationships. He reflects: “I confess that the contact between birth and adoptive families is less frequent than we expected. More eye-opening, though, is the quality of these relationships. Where shame once prevailed, we now see affirmation. These relationships are meaningful, enduring, and healthy….None of us anticipated in those early years that friendships would develop between birth grandmothers and adoptive grandmothers…The amount of contact between families may be less than we envisioned, but the breadth and depth of their interaction is greater than we ever imagined.”