My partner for the interview project was Meghann who writes over at: http://open.adoptionblogs.com (I don’t know why I can’t link this properly) I had to ask her a list of questions then post the answers to my blog and she had to do the same for me. For a list of the other participants and links to their interviews over at Interview Project – March 2010. I do want to say thank you to Meghann who agreed to be partnered with me, because I think a lot of adoptive parents would have found that too challenging and declined.

here is the interview.

Do you believe that your adopted children will have fewer issues because of being in an open adoption?

Fewer issues…no. I think they might have different issues, because they won’t have to wonder about the answers to the questions that would be a mystery if their adoption were closed—but then, they might possibly have more issues. By that I mean that, for instance, knowing why they were placed doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t have issues about having been placed, but also they might have other issues to contend with in dealing with the answer to the question “Why?” So maybe “more issues” isn’t quite right—just that they’ll have more information to try to process all at once (rather than in a closed adoption where, say, having to deal with their feelings about having been placed when they are young & then having to deal with the answers to their questions later, when they are older & in reunion).

I *hope* that they’ll have an easier time dealing with whatever issues they have because of their open adoption, and because everyone in their life is open *about* adoption—I hope that we (all of the adults involved) will succeed in creating a safe environment for them to explore their feelings, and that because they will have a relationship with their mother they’ll be able to talk to her when they need to, talk to us when they need to, talk to other people in their lives when that’s helpful to them, and because they’ll know it’s OK to talk about their feelings & thoughts about their adoption & whatever issues they might be dealing with, that being in an open adoption will help them in that way.

Do your children’s adoptions include all of their natural family or just their Mother?

Right now their adoptions include just their mother. I hope (and their mother does as well) that in the future their siblings & other family will be included, but so far that hasn’t been possible.

What criticisms have you heard about open adoption and do you think there is any validity to any of those?

The most common criticism I’ve heard is that it confuses children as to the roles of the different parents in their lives—this is the one that comes up quite a bit when people ask me about my children’s adoption. I’ve read a number of times on Web sites and forums that are opposed to adoption that because open adoption agreements can be ignored with impunity by adoptive parents, open adoption is nothing more than a marketing tool the adoption industry uses to convince mothers to place their children. (A less harsh version of this criticism is the [I think very good] advice I have often seen given to expectant mothers who are considering placing that they should make their decision as if their child’s adoption would be closed, because there is often no recourse if the adoptive parents choose to close it.) And a friend of mine (an adult adoptee) has told me that she disagrees with our open adoption because she feels we are making the decision for our children to have contact with their mother & that this decision should be left to them to make for themselves when they are older. Those are the ones that come to mind; I’m sure there are others that I’ll think of after I’ve sent this to you & wish I’d remembered while I was writing this.

I think this criticism all has some validity, but I don’t think it’s necessarily an illustration of how open adoption *is*, but of how it *can* be. I can imagine, for instance, that in an open adoption where all the adults aren’t on the same page about their own roles in the child’s life, or where the adults see the situation as a sort of power struggle, that could be confusing to the children involved; but the fact that it can be confusing under those circumstances doesn’t mean it is always confusing. I hate to admit that there is some validity to the second one, but while I don’t agree that open adoption is “nothing more than a marketing tool” (because I know so many people who are truly committed to their children’s open adoptions), I know that there *are* adoptive parents who don’t live up to the promises they made, just because they don’t have to—and I can see how the fact that this is even possible could make it appear to be just a gimmick. And I know there *are* agencies and attorneys who promote it as a panacea, knowing that it isn’t. The last one, I struggle with—the friend who made that comment is someone whose opinion I value highly, in part *because* it is contrary to most other opinions I’ve heard & so it makes me think—I can see her point, but I also think that, while we are building a relationship with their mother now, at the end of the day the choice about what kind of relationship my children want to have with their mother as they grow up and when they become adults will be theirs.

How many adults from open adoptions have you read the experiences of? What were their ages when they wrote? What did you learn from them?

Most of what I’ve read about the experiences of adult adoptees has been in online forums, and even more than that, I’ve learned from talking to friends in my day-to-day life who are adopted. I don’t know (online or in person) very many adults who grew up in open adoptions; the handful I do know range in age from their early twenties into their mid-thirties. (Until recently I haven’t been a big blog reader; I’ve always preferred the sort of conversational interaction on forums to reading blogs. Yours is actually the first blog I’ve read written by an adult who grew up in an open adoption.) And hands down, the most important thing I’ve learned so far about open adoption, I learned from them: That simply being in an open adoption isn’t good enough. Everyone involved—especially the adoptive parents—has to be all in; they can’t be in it half-heartedly, out of some sense of obligation or some misguided idea that they’re doing anyone a favor. You can’t do something that’s *that* important in your child’s life half-heartedly, because they’ll *know*. I’ve also learned that just being involved in an open adoption doesn’t necessarily mean that adoptive parents are entirely comfortable with adoption—and I wonder if this isn’t an artifact of the time periods we’re talking about, because 20 or 30 years ago adoption still wasn’t something that was talked about much, if kids had issues related to their adoptions they were told they were “ungrateful” or worse, etc., and as far as I can tell, simply being involved in open adoption didn’t adoptive parents immune from these attitudes.

Do you seek out information about the experience of adoptees, or only that of other adoptive or natural parents?

I try to find out as much as I can from as many people as I can. (I’m like that with everything.) As far as adoption experiences are concerned…I figure every adoptive parent’s experience is unique, and certainly there are things I can learn from other adoptive parents, but at the end of the day their experience is going to be different from mine. Every adoptee’s experience is unique as well, but I think reading about different people’s experiences & how they view them (and why they view them that way) gives me an insight into the different ways my own children might view their own experiences someday.

I have also read a lot on Web sites and forums that are against adoption. I honestly had no idea anyone was against adoption until I started thinking about adopting—I guess I just hadn’t really given it much thought. I read quite a bit early on from those sites, and reading about the experiences of people who didn’t see adoption as all sunshine and roses was really eye-opening, and it had a tremendous impact on my understanding of adoption.

In one of your blog posts you write “”Success in open adoption means the contact agreement is irrelevant; contact happens because everyone wants it, not because it is prescribed in a legal agreement.” So what happens if you or your partner decides you don’t want it?

I can’t imagine a circumstance in which we would decide we didn’t want contact, but hypothetically speaking—I guess it wouldn’t matter what we wanted, because our open adoption is legally binding & enforceable by the courts. And if we didn’t live in a state that allowed legally enforceable open adoption agreements, I think we would still have a moral obligation to live up to our agreement.

That said, in the context of the original quote—I wouldn’t consider such an open adoption to be a “success,” though—I think a successful open adoption means that everyone is fully invested in it & that no one is doing it only because they “have to.” I think a half-hearted open adoption is probably better than no openness at all, but I’m not sure how much better, because the children involved would have to pick up on the fact that something isn’t “right” & that would have to have a negative impact on them.

Have you any thoughts about the power dynamics between the different sets of parents in open adoption?

This is a tough question for me to answer, because I can only speak from my own experience & I’ve never thought of our relationship with our children’s mother in those terms. I know such dynamics exist in open adoption; I’ve read discussions on support forums where first mothers ask for advice on how to approach concerns with their children’s adoptive parents because they fear that if they upset the adoptive parents they might cut off contact. And I also know of circumstances where adoptive parents *have* gone on a sort of power trip because they were unhappy with something their child’s first mother did or said. So clearly there is a power imbalance there, and I think it is something that can be addressed in the way open adoption is done—for instance, if open adoption agreements were legally binding across the board, adoptive parents couldn’t cut off contact with their children’s first parents in that way—but I suppose it can never really become balanced.

I recently read a statement in doing research for a blog entry a really concise description of the purpose of open adoption: in part, it is “to maintain and celebrate the adopted child’s connections with all the important people in his or her life.” I guess I hope—or I wish? Because it seems too much to hope sometimes when I read some of the things I do & see that what I think of as “old” attitudes are still really entrenched in a lot of people—that if adoptive parents always approached open adoption with that purpose in mind, there wouldn’t *be* a power dynamic to be concerned with; perhaps the dynamic would still exist, but the party with the power wouldn’t ever consider abusing it.

Do you think open adoption should be mandatory and legally binding, why or why not?

Legally binding, absolutely. I think…I wish I didn’t have to think it should be legally binding, but I’ve heard enough stories about adoptive parents who agreed to open adoptions & then cut off contact later on that I think it needs to be. I think there are circumstances in which it would be in the child’s best interest to close an adoption temporarily—if there are issues that would impact the child’s safety & well being (physically or emotionally)—but those rare circumstances could be addressed in court. It bothers me that in states where open adoption isn’t legally enforceable, hopeful adoptive parents can promise the sun and the moon before they adopt & then take it all away on a whim if they’re so inclined.

Mandatory…I’m not sure. Some mothers who place their children don’t want open adoptions, and I feel really strongly that the entire decision, including openness, needs to be on the first mother’s terms, at least initially. I think it might not be a bad idea to make *some* contact mandatory—say, requiring adoptive parents to send updates to the agency or attorney regardless of whether the child’s first mother wants contact, so that later on if she decides she wants contact the information is available to her; and perhaps requiring first mothers to keep current contact information with the agency or attorney so that the child can more easily reconnect later on, but I’m not sure how that would work, and I think it still doesn’t address the issue of the child—open adoption is supposed to be about the child. I don’t know how to reconcile my feeling that you can’t (or shouldn’t) force a mother to place on terms she’s not comfortable with and my belief that open adoption really is in the best interests of the child. And I can’t seem to come up with a solution to this one.

One thing that I think is as important, if not more so, than making open adoption legally binding and/or mandatory is somehow making education—real, effective education that addresses open adoption as in the child’s best interest and *really* gets hopeful adoptive parents to understand its importance—mandatory. This comes from my own experience: The agency we worked with requires hopeful adoptive parents to agree to some amount of contact (I’m going by memory here, but I believe the minimum requirement was being willing to meet the child’s first mother and also send photos and updates to the agency on a particular schedule regardless of whether there was ongoing contact between the first parents and the adoptive parents). This was fine—by the time we contacted the agency we already knew we wanted what I guess would be called a semi-open adoption; we weren’t sure we were “comfortable” with ongoing personal contact, but we were OK with sending letters & photos & whatnot. Then we attended the agency’s required classes, and we learned about open adoption, and we got to talk to adoptees and adoptive parents and first mothers in open adoptions—and at some point we “got it.” We were made to understand, first, how important a child’s connection with his or her first family is and how important it is to be invested in maintaining that connection, and, second, that it wasn’t about us, or what we were comfortable with. And I think getting hopeful adoptive parents to understand these things is important.

Did you ever think about supporting your children’s Mother so she could parent them rather than adopting them yourself?

This is another hard question for me to answer, because I’m finding it hard to answer the way I want to without giving up more details about their mother’s personal circumstances than I’m comfortable giving. So forgive me if this is a little vague… Anyway, I don’t think this would have occurred to me, because the determining factor in her decision to place them wasn’t something we could have changed. She didn’t choose to place them for material reasons, or lack of support, or because she didn’t think she was capable of parenting them; had she chosen to parent, there would have been ramifications that impacted all of her kids (she has other children she is parenting) in a way that was unacceptable to her, and nothing we could have offered in terms of support would have changed that.

I’ve probably made this question harder than it has to be, because I’ve tried to think of it in terms of different definitions of “support.” For instance, could I have said to her, “I know you want to avoid this consequence that you think will not be good for your kids, but maybe it wouldn’t be negative after all; maybe being with you would trump that negative impact”? And I guess I could have, but when I first spoke to her—when she told me her reason for choosing to place J—she had spent the better part of a year thinking about things & deciding what she thought was in the best interest of all her kids. Somehow, my saying, in effect, “I know you *think* this is what is best for your kids, but I’ve thought about it for five minutes & here’s what I think” seems…patronizing, I guess.

I also tried to think about this question in more hypothetical terms—if D’s reason for choosing to place her daughter had been different, if it had been a circumstance that our support (material, emotional, or otherwise) *could* have changed, would I have thought about that. And I really can’t answer that question in any satisfactory way. If her reason had been that she didn’t think she could afford to support another child, for instance, we wouldn’t have been in a position to financially support another family, but we could have made sure that she had explored all of the resources available to her that might make it possible for her to afford it. I like to think I would have done this, but it’s easy to say hypothetically what you *would* have done in a situation when you’re looking at it in hindsight. So even though I’ve been thinking about this question for the last week I feel like I’m not really answering it satisfactorily.

In one of your posts you write “Our relationship with JellyBean’s first mother hasn’t yet progressed to a place where spending family time together near the holidays or whether to buy gifts for siblings or what sort of card to send have been anything but theoretical concerns—“ How much face to face contact between your children and their Mother do you think is appropriate? How much do you currently have?

Answering your last question first—for the time being we’ve been leaving the amount of face-to-face contact up to their mother. Initially we wanted J’s adoption to be more open than her mother did, so I’m very conscious of not wanting to be too “pushy” about face-to-face contact. Our “official” agreement calls for one visit per year, but she and I have talked about wanting to visit more often than that. We had a visit planned early last fall but D was unable to make it, so J has seen her only once since she was placed with us. (At the time I wrote the post you’re quoting, our son wasn’t born yet; he hasn’t seen his mother since he was placed with us.)

As far as how much face-to-face contact I think is appropriate…however much they want. Obviously because our children are so small, right now the adults are making that determination, but eventually it will be up to them and their mother to figure out how much face-to-face contact they all want.

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