Life Happens: Learning to Adjust In Open Adoption

Life happens.

Things change: jobs, school, moving, illness, marriage, divorce.

Participating in an open adoption doesn’t make us immune to life’s changes.  Not even if we have a legally binding communication agreement.*

For instance, it is entirely possible that all parties agree on one visit per quarter, however, as the years pass our schedules change.  Someone gets a promotion or new job that keeps them super busy from January to April.  Another person is working in a field which has its busiest season around the holidays.  That is two really busy quarters in a row.  Should a visit be planned during those times anyway because it was agreed upon? Or was the spirit of the agreement to have four visits a year and could those visits all take place in the spring and summer?

As much as we wish we ruled the universe, there are sometimes outside forces that come along and throw wrenches into our plans.  You could have a visit planned for the weekend and your child comes home with a huge project due on Monday.  Do you reschedule? Try to get it all done and still have the visit?

Sometimes visits happen across longer distances which necessitate more advanced planning including plane tickets or hotel reservations.  Does the purchasing of a plane ticket mean the visit is on no matter what?

I’ve experienced life getting in the way as a birth mom from both sides.  While looking at graduate schools and now PhD programs I always have that thought in my head, “What if I move closer to them, will they feel like I”m crossing boundaries?”.  After talking about my anxieties I now understand that while I shouldn’t choose a school just because it’s near to my son’s adoptive family, I also shouldn’t rule out a school because of proximity.  I should choose the school that works best for me and if it’s closer to them, they’d love to see me more.  The day after booking my air travel for my 2011 visit I got a call from my child’s mom. For some pretty good reasons the visit needed to be adjusted.  However, I felt like the world was ending and the adoption was closing.  We managed to work out the details and the modified visit went off without a hitch, but to this day (in fact it did happen today) when her number comes up on caller ID in the period before a visit, my heart skips a beat and I irrationally worry that something is wrong or the visit is off. Regardless of my anxieties, having that discussion and reworking that visit was the absolutely best thing we could have done for the situation.

As a social worker I’ve been asked by adoptive parents as well as by birth parents about how a life event may influence their open adoption or how to approach the subject of a life choice with another participant in their open adoption.  Communication is an essential tool for any relationship and open adoption is no different. How have you had to adjust over the course of your open adoption relationship? How might you navigate some of these situations or others like them if they occur in your future?

*Open adoption communication agreements are not legally binding in all states

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy.  She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption.  She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.

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4 thoughts on “Life Happens: Learning to Adjust In Open Adoption

  1. My daughter’s first family cancelled a visit last spring – they were supposed to come for her dance recital and cancelled the week before. My daughter was heartbroken and I was angry. I wasn’t sure I believed the reason given (work schedules) and when we tried to schedule an alternative, there were all sorts of reasons why we couldn’t do it. As we approached our daughter’s bat mitzvah, I was terrified that they wouldn’t show – but they did, and it was WONDERFUL.

    So it was interesting, to say the least, to see my own experience mirrored here from the perspective of someone in the “opposite” position. Thank you for that – for reminding me that we are all creating this together and we are all invested and we are all, almost certainly, anxious.

    My husband and I have considered job changes and we will take our proximity to our family into account – our parents, who are aging, and our daughter’s first family, both. That may or may not be a dealbreaker but it will definitely be a consideration. Other than that, it’s just what you say – communication – along with reflection and awareness so we understand our own reactions as well.

  2. ” I should choose the school that works best for me and if it’s closer to them, they’d love to see me more. ” – that sounds like good logic!!

  3. So glad this was posted as I am currently struggling how the juggle all of the changes in our birthfamily. Birthdad is currently out of the picture due to safety concerns, birthmom has split from him and has the children. I’ve been helping her get her feet back on the ground but also am starting to feel that I need to take a step back for a bit. Things the past few months have been incredibly intense in the birthmom’s life and I’ve felt like I’ve been dancing around the ‘enable’ vs the ‘empower’ side of ‘helping’. It has been very hard and I’ve had to lay down some boundaries so that we can just go back to focusing on our relationship of our daughter and not all about ‘saving’ the birthfamily. It has been very hard on my heart but it has been very difficult.

    Openness changes over time. So our relationship, even in just a year, has changed. But in many ways, our birthmother and I have become much closer. I’m just trying to figure out how to take a step back when things get very uncomfortable for us…that we’re in a bit over our heads…as the focus is no longer about our daughter.

    It’s been hard. I really value and care for them so of course I will persevere. Any thoughts or advice would be GREATLy appreciated.

    And thank you again for this post. It’s timing was perfect. ;)

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