March 26, 2004, Newsletter Issue #32: WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP SHOULD WE HAVE WITH OUR BIRTHMOTHER?

Tip of the Week

There is no typical open adoption relationship. You may feel a close kinship to each other, a warm friendship, an uncomfortable or even a conflictual association. You may contact each other by mail, telephone or in person. The actual degree of closeness is not determined by the contact you have with each other, although it may be one of the influences. There are many relationships conducted on a limited level of contact, yet the participants felt that they knew each other. There are other adoption relationships where the Birthparents and adoptive parents see each other regularly, but have not progressed beyond being polite to one another. If your relationship is not like the ideal relationship you have heard about, do not automatically conclude that there is something wrong. As long as everyone`s needs are met, especially the child`s, and as long as the relationship is not based on fear, distrust or anger, your choice for an open adoption relationship may be fine just as it is. Nevertheless, if you think your relationship can be more meaningful, do not be afraid to put more energy into it.

Many open adoptions are cordial, but somewhat reserved. For most people, telephone calls have become the preferred mode of communication. Even people who telephone or visit each other sometimes feel detached. They say, "we have nothing in common but the child." Adoptive parents often tend to concentrate on reporting the child`s milestones to the birthparents.

Sometimes people feel distant from each other because although they get along, one of them may not have the skills necessary to build a close relationship.

Birthparents who have not faced their loss may find it troubling to be around the adoptive family.

Sometimes the adoptive parents` unresolved infertility keeps them from developing a sense of entitlement that would allow them to relax around the birthparents. Feeling threatened, they may be unusually sensitive to any signs not viewed as the child`s "authentic" parents. They may look for reasons to cut off contact with the birthparents.

People are prone to recreating the relationships they knew in their families of origin. If relationships in families are healthy, the prospects of your open adoption relationship being meaningful are increased.

Many open adoption relationships have a warmth that comes from having shared a common difficulty, allowing yourself to be vulnerable to another human being and responding to that person`s vulnerability, and being committed to a common goal. The Birthparents may seem like good friends of the family or an aunt and uncle. There is a caring for one another. Many people in open adoption relationships gather on holidays, the child`s birthday and for other special occasions, just as families do. However, just as not all family members are equally close, not every open adoption will produce a deep relationship.

Sometimes emotional intimacy does not develop in a relationship because it is not an equal relationship. The adoptive parents usually have more control in the relationship than the birth parents. Unless they are able to reach out to the birthparents in ways that enable the birthparents to feel they are participating in the relationship and not at the mercy of the adoptive parents` goodwill, the relationship will not progress beyond courteousness.

Sometimes, however, members of the birth family do not want or understand the need to maintain a relationship with the adoptive family because they have not had enough information about open adoption. They may not want to get attached to the child because they are afraid they will be hurt if the adoptive parents cut off contact with them.

Like all relationships, your open adoption will have peaks and valleys. As you overcome each hurdle, you will learn what to expect from each other and will gain confidence in your ability to make the relationship work.

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